Situation of Turkey’s Kurds following Davutoglu’s Resignation

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Mohammad Ali Dastmali
Expert on Turkey Affairs

After Ahmet Davutoglu stepped down as the leader of Turkey’s ruling AK (Justice and Development) Party as well as the country’s prime minister, the question is: which one of different issues related to Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies will change? Perhaps, the most important domestic problem for Turkish government is the issue of Kurds’ demands and government’s conflict with militants of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Will the war with the PKK become more intense after Davutoglu is gone, or will there be any hope about ceasefire talks getting underway again?

In AK Party literature, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is usually introduced as the main architect of the latest round of long negotiations and subsequent ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK. However, besides Erdogan, the effective role played by Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), should not be ignored. Fidan was the same person who met with the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, in the prison on the Imrali Island. But even at that time, Davutoglu, as the country’s foreign minister, played an important role in negotiations.

Davutoglu had correctly convinced Erdogan that expansion of political and economic relations with the European Union (EU) and completion of the effort made to turn the country a full member of the EU were closely related to resolution of the PKK problem. Therefore, he argued, Turkey should get over this problem at any rate and project a suitable image to the world for the expansion of its diplomatic relations and strengthening of its soft power. On the other hand, Davutoglu made a trip to Kurdish majority city of Diyarbakir as Erdogan’s special envoy and in his speech, promised the city’s people that he would learn to speak Kurdish soon. He also made improvement of relations with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, both as foreign minister and prime minister, a priority on his agenda. In line with this policy, Davutoglu invited Salih Muslim Muhammad, the co-chairman of the Democratic Union Party of Syria (PYD) to Turkey and made occasional use of the capacities of PKK’s legal affiliate, that is, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). In recent months, however, and following violent measures taken by the PKK, the government has shown harsh military and police reactions to the party’s measures.

Officials in Ankara have announced that more than 4,000 members of the PKK and about 400 Turkish military and police forces in addition to about 200 civilians have lost their lives in aerial attacks as well as urban clashes in Kurdish regions of the country. A review of the past records of the PKK will reveal that the past few months have been the bitterest part of the PKK’s life in terms of casualties. During these months, Turkish army has been able by taking advantage of drones, advanced equipment, satellite photos and a vast intelligence network, which uses hundreds of active agents inside and outside Turkey’s borders, to deal drastic blows to the PKK. Apart from that, a serious effort is underway to cancel judicial immunity of lawmakers affiliated to the PKK in a bid to put co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, Selahattin Demirtas, along with his aides, behind bars.

The strategic mistake made by the PKK when it decided to take the war into cities after gaining experiences through fighting in Kobani and other Kurdish dominant regions of Syria in order to get people involved in the conflict, was followed by major political, military and security gains for the AK Party.

Although the sharpest attacks against the PKK were carried out under Davutoglu as prime minister, he was more informed and more experienced than to believe that the PKK can be eradicated through military and security means. The historical memory of this pacifist academic was more powerful to allow him forget that once Tansu Çiller, the first female prime minister in history of Turkey, wore a military uniform and went to the war front with the PKK announcing that militants must be uprooted. However, despite all major military breakthroughs at that time, the PKK was not annihilated. Perhaps Davutoglu was trying to find a way to prelaunch peace talks, of course not through past means, but by giving far less important and smaller concessions.

Of course, even if Davutoglu had continued as the leader of the ruling party and the prime minister of Turkey, he could not have found a way to get Demirtas and other figures involved in peace talks, but he could have brought trusted Kurdish and non-Kurdish figures to talks in order to convince the PKK to totally withdraw its forces from Turkey. Now, however, conditions have drastically changed and Erdogan, along with the prime minister who would succeed Davutoglu, will stop at nothing less than disarming the PKK. At the same time, when it comes to political campaigning and in order to get his plan for changing the country’s political system from a parliamentary to a presidential one approved, Erdogan would easily enter a deal with the pan-Turk Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). In doing this, he may use incessant attacks on the PKK – which is considered as ideal behavior of government by the MHP leader, Devlet Bahçeli – as a means of getting support of MHP’s lawmakers in the parliament.

Key WordsTurkey, Kurds, Ahmet Davutoglu, Resignation, Justice and Development, Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, National Intelligence Organization (MIT), Hakan Fidan, Abdullah Ocalan, Diyarbakir, Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas, Kobani, Dastmali

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