Thursday, June 2, 2011

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back (Maybe More)

PHOTO from Radikal

It seems the AKP took two big steps forward when it announced what was initially billed as a "Kurdish opening" in July 2009 (the initiative later went through many name changes), froze in place (following the nationalist uproar in October 2009 after the Habur affair), and then three steps back in recent months as the party campaigns for the June 12 elections. Though Prime Minister Erdogan had a chance to re-set his approach to the Kurdish conflict during an AKP campaign rally in Diyarbakir yesterday, the prime minister instead sounded the same notes he did in Van two weeks ago when he denied the existence of the Kurdish problem and then proceeded to blame the CHP for its creation.

In addition, as Hurriyet columnist Sedat Ergin points out, the prime minister burned all bridges with the pro-Kurdish, PKK-affiliated BDP, making it near impossible for him to work with the party in the future. Accusing the BDP of basically behaving like a terrorist organization, he said the strength of the BDP came from the PKK and then proceeded to link the CHP with the PKK. Instead of denouncing violence and pushing forward a democracy agenda as CHP leader Kemal Kilicdarolgu did when he spoke in Diyarbakir the day before, Erdogan relied on attacking opposition parties. The CHP and BDP are fascists, according to Erdogan, bent on stoking separatism and tearing the nation apart. As in Van, he wrongly pinned the existence of the Kurdish problem on the CHP's association with the Dersim rebellion in 1937-38, going so far back as to attack former Ismet Inonu, who was not even in charge at the time.

Perhaps most disturbingly, the prime minister relied on the religious card, accusing the BDP of promoting Zoroastrianism in the region (still, I want to know where this comes from) and waging a campaign against imams (see past post). For Erdogan, it seems the Kurdish problem is solved. Nowhere in his address was there even a mention of carrying on the Kurdish initiative, which did little in actualizing all the hopes it initially engendered. Instead, the focus was on economic development (more "Islamist bananas," as Milliyet columnist Ece Temelkuran articulated in 2007), an old theme the AKP sounded in 2008 and that most observers thought it had transcended during the Kurdish initiative (for a history of Erdogan's addresses in Diyarbakir and the prime minister's recent nationalist turn, see this past post).

As Milliyet columnist and leading Kurdish expert Fikret Bila (in Turkish) postulates, for Erdogan, the Kurdish problem is in the past. The demands for constitutional reform put forward by the BDP are irrelevant, and are only used by the "bad Kurds"  to stir up trouble. Never mind that the CHP has also put forward serious constitutional changes, including mother tongue education and removing the ethnic chauvinism that currently defines Turkey's constitutional understanding of citizenship.

"How can Muslims ever follow the BDP?" asks Erdogan. In the prime minister's world, at least at the moment and in the midst of competing for the nationalist vote with the ultra-nationalist MHP, the days of denial and assimilation are over. It is too bad that there are plenty of Kurds who do not feel this way, and too bad that until their demands are met by the state, Turkey's Kurdish conflict will rage on.

For a good play-by-play (or, step-back, step-back) accounting of the speech, see Hurriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan's column (in Turkish). For an English-language news account, click here for coverage from Hurriyet Daily News.

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