A question of ‘survival’ versus ‘Kurdistan’

Ahead of this month's municipal elections, the main ideological debate in Turkey revolves around the question of national survival.

Ahead of this month’s municipal elections, the main ideological debate in Turkey revolves around the question of national survival. The People’s Alliance – comprised of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) – views the term in two ways. First, it promises to ensure that Turkey won’t stumble and pledges to maintain a commitment to resist attacks that the country encountered in recent years. The alliance recalls the turbulence that began with the Gezi Park revolts and the December 2013 judicial plot, and extended to the July 2016 coup attempt.

From their perspective, the new national consciousness that the July 15 resistance engendered represents the main pillar of Turkish politics. Secondly, there is the opposition’s electoral alliance, known as the Nation Alliance, with the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Due to its approach to the PKK terrorist organization’s “trench” strategy, the HDP remains marginalized in Turkey. The movement faces criticism for failing to distance itself from terrorists and its support for the People’s Protections Units’ (YPG) claim to northern Syria. After all, northeastern Syria remains under YPG control, even though Turkey has been successful in its domestic counterterrorism campaign.

Unfortunately, the terrorist organization continues to enjoy U.S. protection. Against that backdrop, the People’s Alliance attacks the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Good Party (İP), and the Felicity Party (SP) – the main members of the Nation Alliance – for ignoring those issues and shaking hands with the HDP leadership.

The opposition, by contrast, avoids the subject of national survival at all costs. It is not that they lack a sense of national survival. As a matter of fact, the CHP has been viewed the AK Party and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as a threat against the Republic’s survival since 2007. Most recently in the June 2018 election campaign, they relied on that rhetoric with references to “dictatorship.” The opposition’s current silence is part of an effort to downplay the discomfort that CHP, İP and SP voters are experiencing over their cooperation with HDP.

Yet HDP Co-Chairman Sezai Temelli’s following remarks have caused an outrage: “We will win in ‘Kurdistan.’ And in the west, we will make the AK Party and the MHP lose.” Those words fueled an ideological debate on CHP Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s partnership with the HDP, raising awareness about the party’s relationship with PKK terrorists and its dream of “Kurdistan.” The Turkish president responded at a campaign stop: “There is an eastern Anatolia, a southeastern Anatolia, a Black Sea region, an Aegean region and a Marmara region in my country. Yet there is no such region as ‘Kurdistan’ in my country.”

Separatist Kurdish nationalists desperately want a special status for the “Kurdistan” region. Even in the form of autonomy, that designation would represent a first step toward an independent nation-state. We already know that autonomy is no stopgap when it comes to ethnic nationalism.

Quite the contrary, such concessions fuel separatism. Spain learned that lesson in Catalonia and the Basque country. The independence referendum in northern Iraq was a more recent case in point. As such, the PKK/HDP elite’s references to “Kurdistan” go beyond some everyday practice among Kurdish voters or a revival of the Ottoman-era name. Nor is it about the democratic rights of Kurds in Turkey as citizens. It is a designation that challenges Turkey’s territorial integrity and a demand by Kurdish nationalists with an eye on secession.

Having witnessed how the PKK’s dream of statehood in Syria derailed the reconciliation process in Turkey, its emphasis on “Kurdistan” cannot be drowned in silence. No wonder why the Democratic Left Party (DSP) became so popular among voters who are alienated by CHP and İP. Erdoğan’s recent call on separatists to go to “Kurdistan” in northern Iraq, likewise, was a challenge to the HDP elite rather than Kurdish voters themselves.

Any Kurdish voter who sees his or her future in Turkey, like all citizens, has an indisputable claim to this country.
[Daily Sabah, 8 March 2019]
In this article