Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Kurds and Ergenekon

Recently re-elected DTP leader Ahmet Türk has attracted attention recently for his great hope that the Ergenekon investigation will make the Turkish state more amenable to Kurdish politics and the kind of political freedom enjoyed by minority politics in other states. His faith in the investigation, which is largely being led by police and security officials close to AKP, has cut the DTP in two. The DTP's other leader, Emine Ayna, has been much more reluctant to endorse the investigation and has expressed skepticism in that the intention of the investigation is anything other than securing political benefits for AKP. From Today's Zaman:
Successfully concluding the investigation into Ergenekon, a shady network that stands accused of trying to overthrow the government, will ensure social peace in Turkey, said head of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) Ahmet Türk said on Saturday.

He argued that that the Ergenekon case -- in which the Ergenekon crime gang, the members of which include political party leaders, retired army officials, businessmen and intellectuals, is being tried on charges of carrying out tens of murders and assassinations with the ultimate aim of overthrowing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and previous governments -- will not produce a reliable outcome if murders committed by unknown assailants in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern regions are not exposed. “This is considerably important in revealing the mentality that is attempting to create a feud between the Turkish and Kurdish peoples,” he said. Türk went on to claim that “about 170 executives of the [DTP] party were killed” and indicated that they would try to ensure that the victimized families appear as co-plaintiffs in the Ergenekon case.
Difficult to follow, the investigation into Ergenekon is almost as interesting in terms of the reactions it provokes than it is in terms of what is actually being revealed--especially as the latter is characterized by highly-unreliable media reports generated by leaks motivated by political games. What makes the reactions of Türk and Ayna more than simply interesting, but important, is that they reveal just how divided Kurdish political elites are in their approach to AKP and reaching consensus with the Turkish state. As political analysis of a developing understanding between AKP and the military gains currency among observers, as well as a particular validity following the Constitutional Court's narrow decision to save the party from closure and the TSK's decision not to purge itself of allegedly Islamist officers (Aug. 5 post), the "Kurdish question" is coming to be asked in a new context.

The Kurdish question is particularly significant in that the issue of PKK violence and the prospect of a renewed war in the southeast--and this time, with perhaps greater implications to be felt outside the region--has united pro-AKP forces with the ruling old guard. Following the Dağlica ambush last year and the anti-Kurdish sentiments that culminated across Turkey as the state moved to flex its muscle, AKP leaders were presented a test: Was the government capable of dealing toughly with the PKK and meeting the hawkish demands for retaliation that the Turkish public required? Gül's procurement of assistance from Washington and tough talk resolutions promising intervention in northern Iraq won the party credibility with much of the Turkish public, but it also dealt a great deal of cognitive dissonance in the minds of many Kurds with whom AKP had made inroads.

Although those in the DTP or who are supportive of its alternative politics are most definitely not in this grouping, AKP's hawkish positioning strengthened the hands of hawks within DTP. Party members like Ayna instantly decried how correct DTP was to doubt the sincerity of AKP's politics in the region and how little the party understood the Kurdish situation. While AKP had attempted to win votes in the southeast by promises of economic development and playing on the politics of Turgut Özal, who supported Kurdish cultural rights and is popular in the region, its bow to the establishment and the familiar demands of the Turkish public for revenge in the short-term rather than a long-term solution to the conflict empowered the hawks within DTP at the same time it dwindled the power of doves like Türk as the power of doves like Türk dwindled.

The question of an incipient AKP-military détente in a time of renewed PKK violence and increased calls to deal hardly with the organization again raises an important question for DTP politics. Türk, who has made efforts to separate te DTP from PKK violence and tried to move the party closer to a genuine renunciation of PKK terror, will face a more difficult time in so doing if tensions continue to increase and support for the PKK in the southeast increases. If the Turkish state renews strong-arm tactics and does not take a hard-line against the kinds of discrimination and targeting of Kurds throughout the country, as happened last fall when numerous Kurds were beaten and targeted in mob violence, those who are willing to work for compromise and the consensus requisite to initiate a dialogue that might one day bring about a solution to the Kurdish question will be marginalized.

How does Türk's endorsement of the Ergenekon investigation stand out in all of this? For Türk, denouncing Ergenekon is a gesture made toward AKP as the ruling party of the day. In expressing faith that the investigation might route out those in the Turkish state who perpetrated human rights violations against the Kurds in the war of the 1990s and who have continued to take advantage of opportunities to cause ethnic strife within Turkey, Türk is practicing a politics of conciliation. When Tansu Çiller basically authorized armed thugs within the country's deep state to do the dirty work to be carried out in often violent extremes against Turkey's Kurds, she reversed the emerging conciliatory policies of Özal and instead raised tensions between Kurds and Turks to a boiling point. Türk's statements are helpful in that they offer a means by which the state might atone for past wrongs and suggest that the demons that got in the way of a successful peace in the past might be exorcised as a result of the Ergenekon investigation.

By applauding the AKP-led investigation and expressing hopes that it might result in ridding the state of those who desire to foment ethnic tension, Türk's statements contrast with Ayna. Ayna and the hawks in DTP have grown increasingly embittered as AKP struggled to save itself from closure over the coming months, but made little effort to do the same for DTP. For Ayna, Ergenekon, like the politics of the closure case, are about little more than achieving the self-interested aims of AKP. While Türk is opening a door for conciliation, Ayna is skeptical, embittered, and reluctant to work with a party whose politics do increasingly seem to resemble that of the "Islamist banana politics" described by Ece Temelkuran (March 13 post).

For more on Kurdish politics, see July 22 and June 14 posts.

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