Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Puppets of the PKK!, Says Erdogan

PHOTO from Hurriyet

Prime Minister Erdogan addressed AKP's parliamentary group meeting yesterday, telling BDP parliamentarians that "they could not even use the restroom without being attached to their master's strings." Erdogan was likely incensed by charges that BDP deputy Hasip Kaplan incited the beating of Naif Yavuz and strong statements in recent days by BDP leader Selahattin Demirtas.

Though AKP officials have long charged that the BDP is closely affiliated to the PKK, Erdogan's strong language evinces the intense animosity between not only the BDP and his party, but also the Turkish public. There are news reports that the KCK operations have revealed links that speeches of BDP parliamentarians are drafted by or with the input of PKK leadership, and that BDP addresses are often coordinated with terrorist attacks. Though the government is short on hard evidence, accusations of the BDP taking its orders from Kandil are likely to heighten tensions with the BDP in the coming weeks. Demirtas, for his part, compared the nationalist resistance movement to that of the Palestinians and told supporters in Diyarbakir that Kurds would "fight like Palestinians."

Erdogan's demonstrable anger is no doubt related to his utter frustration with the BDP. The AKP has been trying to broker a peace agreement since 2005. The biggest blow to these efforts came in October 2009 when a return of PKK militants returned at the Habur border crossing to be greeted by Lurdish nationalist politicians and Kurdish nationalist crowds flashing victory signs. The AKP had designed the affair to be a solemn proceeding to mark the inception of a larger peace process, but was instead met with Kurdish nationalist fanfare and an enraged Turkish public irate over what it perceived as victory celebrations for terrorists. Soon after, the AKP's "democratic opening" rapidly began to crumble and the party distanced itself from Kurdish nationalist politicians.

The failed attempt also seemed to disrupt ongoing secret negotiations the AKP and MIT, Turkey's intelligency agency, had been holding with Ocalan and PKK representatives from Europe and Kandil. Tape recordings of negotiations held in Norway between unidentified representatives of MIT and the PKK were released this past August, and in a landmark moment and to Erdogan's credit, the prime minister defender MIT and its director Hakan Fidan, as well as the potential value of the talks at the time. Yet the prime minister has said that talks have since stopped, and there is no evidence otherwise to contradict that whatever negotiations were occuring between 2005 and 2009 have begun anew.

Further, relations with imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, jailed in isolation on a small island called Imrali just outside of Istanbul, have also soured. Ocalan had sounded a calming note in early July, calling BDP politicians to end their boycott of parliament and calling a peace council to be formed. Yet, after these declarations in early July, the PKK launched a major attack in Diyarbakir that killed 13 soldiers. The attack coincided with the Democratic Society Congress (DTK)'s declaration of autonomy, though DTK leaders denied any connection. Erdogan quickly seemed to lose confidence in Ocalan -- either because he could not control the PKK, which in fact has multiple command centers often at odds with each other, the most important of which is Murat Karayilan's command over the organization from Kandil, or because the exiled leader betrayed him. The fact that the attack occurred right before the Ocalan's call to extend a July 15 ceasefire, and that public statements of and intelligence on PKK leadership in Kandil seemed to reveal the PKK had a different intention, lends evidence to the former. At the end of July, Erdogan declared Ocalan powerless, and shortly after cut off the exiled PKK leader's access to his attorneys, through whom the PKK leader would issue announcements to Kandil, the BDP, and the hardline Kurdish nationalist masses who support him. Talks with the BDP to re-enter parliament also collapsed.

The situation only intensified in the months ahead, though the BDP did decide to end its boycott of parliament just days before it reconvened at the beginning of October. Yet, again, soon after this decision the PKK killed 24 soldiers in Cukurca (Hakkari), the fourth most deadly attack in the history of Turkey's conflict with the PKK. The October 19 attack sparked public outcry throughout the country. In response, Erdogan increased pressure on Iraq to drive the PKK from Kandil and operations against the KCK intensified. On October 30, police detained 48 alleged KCK operatives, including controversial publisher Ragip Zarakolu and Busra Ersanli, an academic at Marmara University who was a member of the commission established to work on the constitution. KCK operations continued throughout November and December, and on December 20, over 50 individuals, mostly journalists, were detained in what police said was an operation targeting the press wing of the KCK.

With Habur, the DTK declaration, and Hakkari hardly water under the bridge, the increasing militancy of the BDP's rhetoric has curried the party little favor and driven Erdogan and members of his party to nationalist excesses of their own. Erdogan and other officials' impatience and outright anger toward the BDP, which were fully manifest in yesterday's parliamentary group meeting, have led to conjecture that the party could be closed. Yet doing so would come at tremendous political cost for the AKP. The closure of the BDP's predecessor, DTP, in December 2009, led to a wave of international criticism and significantly hampered the political process.

Whether the AKP likes it or not, the BDP is the only legal representative of Kurdish nationalism and Kurdish nationalists' only conduit into the Turkish political system. If the BDP were to be shut down, the alienation of Kurdish nationalists from the political process alredy exacerbated by the KCK operations would be near complete. Therefore, though many opinion leaders are pointing to the example of Batasuna's closure in Spain, which shared a comparable relationship to ETA before its closure in 2002, it should also be noted that Batasuna enjoyed much less political support and that the Basque nationalist political landscape was and is far more plural than the Kurdish nationalist scene in Turkey.

For these reasons, it is unlikely that the BDP will be closed; however, at the same time, it is also highly likely that the AKP will be conciliatory, especially when the militant rhetoric is escalating in intensity. The best indicator for this is the government's continued dedication to its coordinated, rapid response security measures, despite the incident in Uludere, and that Erdogan, though expressing great regret in the days following the strike, has since continued to defend the Turkish Armed Forces and intelligence agencies. It seems the state is intent to express its authority over elements of the Kurdish nationalist movement after months during which the movement used a combination of politics and terrorism in its own efforts to assert power.

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Erdogan also had strong words for Taraf, which has run stories in the past few days alleging that last week's air strike in Uludere that killed 35 innocent civilians resulted from intelligence collected by the MIT, as well as the CHP and its leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who has called for a parliamentary investigation of what happened.

UPDATE I (1/5) --  President Gul and Chief of General Staff Necdet Ozel met yesterday about what occurred at Uludere. Interestingly, Hakan Fidan, head of MIT, also attended the meeting. MIT is at the center of the schedule as allegations emerge that the attack resulted from faulty intelligence provided by the organization.

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