Wednesday, April 20, 2011

AKP Takes a Nationalist Turn

In the wake of massive unrest sparked by the Election Board's decision to bar 12 BDP candidates from running for parliament (see below), Prime Minister Erdogan has declared that "there is no Kurdish problem." The declaration came during an introductory meeting of the AKP's parliamentary candidates. Remarks included:
"The Kurdish problem in this country no longer exists. There are the problems of my Kurdish brothers and sisters who are abused. They tell that the AKP withdrew the Kurdish origin candidates in the Southeast region. As I said before, they either speak with ignorance or they do not know that we nominated our professional candidates there.

. . . .

We see no difference in our peoples, regardless of their origins and identities. We do not discriminate between Kurds and Lazs. What matters is a single identity and to be a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. However, some people are troubled with this flag. Why does this flag disturb? The colour of this flag was taken from the martyrs of all of us. A single nation, single flag and a single land is coming. A single land with 780 thousand square meters. The land which will belong to all of us, not to any ethnic constituent or a group. This state is all ours and will not be separated. My Kurdish brothers and sisters can easily speak their language there. Having enabled speaking Kurdish in prisons and Kurdish courses, we will continue our way with this step”.
The remarks reflect a nationalist turnabout for the party, which in July 2009 declared a "Kurdih opening."  The Kurdish opening followed a famous speech in Diyarbakir in 2005 in which the prime minister said "the Kurdish problem is my problem."

Perhaps Erdogan thinks the problem is "solved" now, but the statement certainly flies in the face of a Kurdish opening that produced little in terms of concrete results other than a change to the political parties law that allowed campaigning in Kurdish and another to the criminal code that halted treating minors as adults in criminal trials, a practice that had landed thousands of Kurdish children in regular courts.  

More likely, it seems the party is going after nationalist voters, namely those inclined to vote for the ultra-nationalist MHP. The party is hovering at the 10% threshold parties must meet to enter parliament. If the party fails to meet the threshold, its votes will get dispersed between the AKP and the CHP according to Turkey's D'Hondt system of proportional representation. If this happens, the AKP would be much closer to a 2/3 majority in parliament, allowing it to unilaterally push through a new constitution.

All the same, Erdogan's most recent bit of rhetoric stands in contrast to statements he has made in preparation of and since the government's "Kurdish opening."  In May 2009 in Duzce, Erdogan argued that Turkey's historical treatment of minorities is "a result of a fascist mentality."

It is not the first time the prime minister has backed down from statements on the Kurdish issue. In a historic speech in Diyarbakir in 2005, the prime minister spoke of a multi-ethnic Turkey, eschewing references to nationalism. Yet, in another speech delivered in Diyarbakir in 2008, Erdogan referred to "one nation, one flag, one motherland, and one state," a reference that deeply bothered many Kurds and in many ways affirmed what was already the party's growing distance from a key sector of pro-Kurdish cultural rights voters in the region.

For past posts on the break, click here (reflecting on the Kurdish question at the end of 2008) and  here (reflections on my trip to Diyarbakir when this speech was given) and here (on what Ece Temelkuran penned as AKP's policy of "Islamist banana" charity and a clairvoyant piece by Kerem Oktem).

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