Turkey: As Erdogan manoeuvres to retain power, country faces uncertain future

Supporters of the left-wing People’s Democratic Party.

By Dave Holmes

July 7, 2015 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- One month after Turkey’s June 7 parliamentary elections, the country still does not have a government. Ahmet Davutoglu of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) remains caretaker prime minister. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains the dominant figure in the AKP and is actively manoeuvring to retain his party’s leading position. The president is supposed to be an impartial figure above party politics but Erdogan pays scant regard to such constitutional niceties.

The elections were marked by two significant and related developments.

First, the left-wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP) smashed the undemocratic 10% threshold, achieving 13.1% (6.1 million votes) — an increase of 7.5% over its 2011 result — and 80 deputies in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly. While the HDP’s core support lies in the downtrodden Kurdish community, the party reached out to all the oppressed and exploited across the country.

Second, the AKP dropped almost 9% from 2011 (4 million votes) and lost its parliamentary majority. The biggest factor in the AKP’s slide was the collapse of its vote in the Kurdish community. The two main elements here were Erdogan’s failure to help the Kurdish-majority northern Syrian town of Kobanê last year when it was besieged by the Islamic State gangs, and his failure to seriously commit to the peace negotiations with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Disenchanted Kurdish voters largely moved over to support the HDP.

Other factors were widespread opposition to Erdogan’s desire to set up a dictatorial presidential system and popular concern over the worsening economic situation (an April report said that two-thirds of Turkish children live in extreme poverty, according to European Union standards).[1]

The AKP now has 258 deputies. It can rule only in coalition with one of the other parties or with their external support. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) has 132 deputies and the rightist, anti-Kurd Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has 80. So far a viable coalition has proved elusive.

According to the constitution, if no new government is formed within 45 days of formal negotiations beginning, fresh elections must be held. But unless something major changes, much the same result can be expected.

A ‘restoration’ government?

In theory, the three opposition parties could come together and form a “restoration” government to repeal and undo the worst of the AKP’s anti-democratic laws and practices. The AKP’s grip on the courts, the police and the media should be broken; anti-corruption investigations that were halted should be reinstated; the president’s constitutional impartiality should be enforced; the state’s undercover military support to the Islamic State forces in Syria should be stopped; and the 10% election barrier should be scrapped. After a period such a coalition could call fresh elections which, with these reforms in place, could be expected to yield a markedly different result.

However, such a government is impossible due to the MHP’s extreme anti-Kurd stance. It refuses to even talk to the HDP, let alone be in coalition with it or be in a coalition dependent on its support. The MHP is also vehemently opposed to peace talks with the PKK.

On July 1 a new parliamentary speaker was elected. Despite its minority position, the AKP got its candidate up due to the backhanded support of the MHP. In fact, the AKP is politically closest to the MHP and an AKP-MHP coalition would seem to be quite likely. However, each party is scared of losing supporters to the other so a lot would depend on exactly how such a coalition is packaged.

A coalition with between the AKP and the CHP is also a possibility. The HDP has always said it will not enter into any coalition with the AKP.

Fresh elections?

Erdogan is doubtless also weighing the option of going quickly to fresh elections. But unless he can create a new situation (e.g., a security “crisis” involving the PKK or the Kurds over the border in northern Syria) a new election would be unlikely to deliver a majority for the AKP and might even make its position worse.

Furthermore, business wants stability. Writing in the June 29 Hurriyet Daily News, Mustafa Sönmez reported: “Turkish business circles want to see the end of post-election uncertainties and express their concerns to politicians. Many of them are under huge debt burdens. Their biggest concern is the possibility of the non-establishment of any coalition government and entering a snap election period, which will both increase political risks.”

The same article also reported that business groups want the Kurdish peace process continued. Clearly, a resumption of the war between the PKK and the state would be an economic disaster for Turkey.[2]

Erdogan desperate to keep power

Erdogan has been the dominant political figure in Turkey since 2003. He has been the driving force in establishing a very authoritarian, undemocratic and corrupt system. He has sought to bring all independent power centres under AKP control. A government not fully under the AKP’s control threatens all this.

A few examples illustrate the reality of AKP rule in Turkey.

1. In December 2013 a corruption scandal erupted as police investigations became public. It involved cabinet ministers, family members, senior state officials and businesspeople. Tapes of phone conversations made at this time were later leaked revealing then-prime minister Erdogan instructing his son Bilal to “zero” (i.e., dispose of) huge sums of money stashed in various relatives’ houses for fear of raids by prosecutors.

Erdogan’s response was to label the whole thing a conspiracy by his former allies in the Islamic Hizmet movement of Fethullah Gülen to topple the government. He launched a crackdown on supposed Gülen supporters, targeting thousands of police, prosecutors and judges across the country. This January the AKP-dominated parliament voted not to lift the immunity of four ex-ministers implicated in the scandal.

However, the issue will not go away and both the CHP and MHP have called for the graft probe to be reinstated and for Erdogan’s son to be investigated. This will be an issue in any coalition negotiations.

2. The campaign to intimidate the police force and convert it into a docile instrument of the regime continues. Recently, hundreds of police trainees were prevented from graduating on the basis of an oral test. Clearly, perceived loyalty to the regime was the criterion.[3]

3. In January 2014 gendarmerie officers stopped three trucks bound for Syria. The trucks were under the control of MIT, the Turkish security service. Ostensibly carrying humanitarian supplies, they were found to be carrying weapons (presumably destined for Islamist forces). The government denounced the gendarmerie action, saying it breached national security. Erdogan called the gendarmes “traitors”. This year, four prosecutors and a gendarmerie colonel were arrested over the incident.

4. In June, Bülent Kenes, an editor of the English-language Today’s Zaman, was given a 21-month suspended sentence. His crime? He sent a tweet implying that Erdogan’s late mother would have been ashamed of her son for what he was doing to Turkey. Many others have been charged with insulting Erdogan.

5. Previously the nine-person board of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK), which oversees (censors) broadcast media, has been dominated by the AKP. Following the election it was expected that the AKP would lose its majority but it now wants to adopt a new method of filling the board positions which would allow it to retain control.[4]

6. Lately the media in Australia has been focusing on mafia links to the major political parties. Such things are not unique to Australia. On June 13, Erdogan was photographed chatting with leading crime figure Sedat Peker. The occasion was the wedding of notorious anti-Kurd hate propagandist Taha Ün, who was marrying the personal secretary of Erdogan’s wife. Erdogan was an official witness at the wedding.[5]

Preparing for war against the Kurds?

Initially many Kurds had high hopes for Erdogan and the AKP but that is long gone. Erdogan has shelved the so-called settlement process with the PKK and the Kurds. He now denies there is a Kurdish issue.

For reasons of political survival, Erdogan appears to be stoking the fires of an anti-Kurd Turkish nationalism and trying to create a scare campaign around Kurdish gains in Rojava (the Kurdish-majority liberated zone in northern Syria).

There have even been reports that the army is giving military training to the Kurdish Hizbullah (Hüda-Par) organisation. This is an Islamist outfit that in the past has carried out armed attacks on the PKK. Is the state once more going to use Hizbullah to promote Kurd-on-Kurd violence? Recently a Hüda-Par leader in Dyarbakir was killed and then several HDP members were assassinated. These killings have all the hallmarks of an operation of the Turkish security forces.

The great June victory of the YPG/YPJ (Peoples Protection Forces/Women’s Protection Forces) and their Arab and Assyrian allies in liberating Gire Spi (Arabic name: Tel Abyad) and linking up Rojava’s Cezire and Kobanê cantons has deeply disturbed the chauvinistic Turkish regime. It is charging the liberation forces with “ethnic cleansing” of Arabs and Turkmens and with promoting “demographic changes”.

These charges are baseless. While the YPG/YPJ is predominantly Kurdish it includes many non-Kurdish elements. The Rojava charter, to which the YPG/YPJ scrupulously adhere, is all about different ethnic and religious groups cooperating, controlling their own affairs and living amicably together. In the territories between the cantons, Kurds are in the minority. Progress against IS forces in these areas is only possible on the basis of alliances, especially with Arab groups.

If part of the population of Gire Spi fled the town into Turkey prior to its liberation, it was mostly to escape the expected fighting and destruction. Many refugees are now returning.

Threat of intervention in Syria

Following the liberation of Gire Spi, Erdogan tried to promote a Turkish intervention in northern Syria, along a line from Jarablus westwards towards Efrin canton. Ostensibly aimed at the Islamic State, it’s real aim would have been to stop further advances by the YPG/YPJ. However, he met with a lot of opposition and this project now appears to be off the immediate agenda.

Turkey’s military command was unenthusiastic, most likely fearing a potential clash with Washington, which has been providing close air support to the YPG/YPJ against the Islamic State forces.

IS-controlled Jarablus is to the west of Kobanê, on the Turkey-Syria border on the west bank of the Euphrates river. It is a major supply point for the IS forces in northern Syria. It is probably the next big target for the YPG/YPJ and its allies — and their current US partners.

Furthermore, a caretaker Turkish government has no authority to undertake such an intervention, especially on such a contrived basis. The CHP has denounced any increased involvement in Syria. The public would be largely against it. It would have risked igniting the Kurdish population within Turkey. All in all, it would have carried enormous risks.

After June 7 many hoped that some of the worst aspects of Erdogan’s rule would now be undone. But things are turning out to be a lot more complicated and so far there has been no “restoration”. At this point, Turkey’s future is uncertain. If Erdogan and his backers prevail, it is unlikely to be a happy one for the mass of the people.


[1] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/two-thirds-of-children-live-in-poverty-in-turkey-report.aspx?pageID=238&nID=65461&NewsCatID=341

[2] http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-business-circles-in-between-debt-calendar-and-snap-election-fears.aspx?PageID=238&NID=84657&NewsCatID=345

[3] http://www.todayszaman.com/national_hundreds-of-police-candidates-eliminated-in-new-witch-hunt_392440.html

[4] http://www.todayszaman.com/national_rtuk-president-reveals-ak-partys-plans-to-keep-majority-on-rtuk_392900.html

[5] http://www.todayszaman.com/anasayfa_erdogans-friendly-chat-with-mob-boss-at-wedding-sparks-outrage_386623.html



Sibel Hurtas Contributor,  Turkey Pulse

July 1, 2015

Dilek Ocalan of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, niece of jailed Kurdistan Workers Party leader Abdullah Ocalan, returns to her seat after taking her oath at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, June 23, 2015. (photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas)

Author: Sibel Hurtas Posted July 1, 2015

In 1991, iconic Kurdish activist Leyla Zana became the first Kurdish woman elected to Turkey’s parliament. While taking the oath, she uttered a few Kurdish words that were to alter her life. In the ensuing chain of events, Zana and several fellow Kurdish lawmakers were expelled from the legislature. She had her parliamentary immunity revoked and found herself in prison for a decade.

The nationalistic uproar Zana caused in parliament was frequently evoked last week, when another remarkable Kurdish woman took her parliamentary oath. Dilek Ocalan  the niece of Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) — was among 80 members of the Kurdish-dominated Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who assumed their seats in the new parliament. Ocalan’s sheer presence in the legislature comes as a striking illustration of how far the Kurdish struggle has progressed and transformed Turkey since the days Zana was booed for simply speaking in Kurdish.

Dilek Ocalan is the daughter of Fatma Ocalan, the sister of the PKK leader who's serving a life sentence on the prison island of Imrali. A 27-year-old university graduate, she has been forced to shoulder the burden of her surname since her childhood. With politics omnipresent in her life, she served in the party assembly of the HDP’s predecessor, the Peace and Democracy Party, focusing closely on women’s rights. She has been active also in nongovernmental groups and the HDP’s women's branch, which nominated her for parliament from her native province of Sanliurfa.

In the 2011 elections, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 10 seats in Sanliurfa, while the Kurdish movement had only two. The HDP’s historic showing in the June 7 polls altered the balance. The HDP won five seats, and the AKP seven.

The outcome in Sanliurfa, where Dilek Ocalan ran second on the HDP list, speaks of deep local sympathy for Ocalan’s niece, unlike the widespread hatred and aversion her surname provokes across much of Turkey. By fielding the young woman as a candidate, the HDP had taken a serious risk, as it campaigned on an inclusive platform and sought to lure support not only from Kurdish but also Turkish and other ethnic constituencies, within which the name “Ocalan” could have had a repellant effect.

Yet, the HDP’s vote both in Sanliurfa and nationwide proved that Dilek Ocalan’s candidacy had no damaging impact. Her election to parliament comes as a watershed in overcoming concerns and prejudices among Turks against Kurdish activism in national politics. With her mere presence in the legislature, she has set the ball rolling in breaking taboos.

Not long ago, even calling the PKK leader “Mr. Ocalan” was deemed a criminal offence and landed many in court for praising terrorists, a charge that carries up to two years in jail. Despite efforts at reconciliation, the PKK remains on Ankara’s terrorist list over its three-decade armed campaign in southeast Turkey.

In Turkish, the honorific “sayin,” often translated as “mister,” means "esteemed" or "honorable." Referring to Ocalan as “sayin” became a gesture of Kurdish defiance, and many Kurds, among them veteran politician Ahmet Turk, ended up with jail terms of at least six months. In 2012, the appeals court finally put an end to the prosecutions, ruling that calling Ocalan “sayin” fell within the scope of freedom of expression under the European Convention of Human Rights. Yet, pressure against calling Ocalan “sayin” has remained in place.

At the June 23 swearing-in ceremony in parliament, Dilek Ocalan was announced as “Sayin Ocalan” as she took to the rostrum to be sworn in. The two words, which had landed many in court for years, were now uttered in the highest echelons of the Turkish state.

Dilek Ocalan’s parliamentary debut was also a striking illustration of how Turkish political culture has matured since the days when the “others”  Kurdish nationalists like Zana or hijabi women like Merve Kavakci  were booed and kicked out. In 1999, Kavakci could not even take her oath when her arrival in the house triggered a secularist fury. She was forced out of the general assembly and subsequently stripped of her seat.

In sharp contrast, calm and respect prevailed in the house for Dilek Ocalan’s arrival. Under parliamentary traditions tasking the youngest members with certain duties, she even served on the temporary secretarial board, announcing the lawmakers as they were sworn in. In one memorable episode, former Labor Minister Faruk Celik shook her hand without looking in her face, to which she responded with a gracious smile.

Dilek Ocalan’s incident-free debut is remarkable in terms of breaking prejudices, endorsing pluralism and, most importantly, stamping out the notorious lynching culture in Turkey.

To better grasp its significance, let's recall the level of loathing for Ocalan. Routinely called a “baby murderer” in the Turkish media, Ocalan was nabbed in 1999 while on the run in Kenya. His capture triggered a nationalist frenzy as many called for his execution, demonstrating with ropes or burning his picture in the streets. The hate speech went beyond Ocalan and grew into a wave targeting all Kurds. The Nationalist Action Party, the main supporter of the demonstrations, now shares the parliamentary benches with the HDP and another, younger Ocalan.

Ironically, the most vocal objections to Dilek Ocalan’s parliamentary bid came from her family. In remarks in April, Mehmet Ocalan, her uncle and Abdullah Ocalan’s brother, had argued that she was too young for politics and that the PKK leader would have also disapproved of her candidacy.

Despite the good start in parliament, politics for Dilek Ocalan is far from being a bed of roses. On social media, she was targeted not only as a Kurd but also as a woman with irreverent sexist comments about her distinct facial features — thick eyebrows, black eyes and a mole above her upper lip. Yet, many social media users rallied in support with a message in response: “We are all Dilek Ocalan’s mole.”

Dilek Ocalan has so far stayed away from the fuss. After the oath-taking ceremony, she rushed to her home province of Sanliurfa on the Syrian border, where dozens of Syrian Kurds were hospitalized after the Islamic State’s June 25 attack on Kobani across the border. While she worked to help meet the needs of the wounded, fellow activists crossed to Kobani as Turkish Kurds mobilized at the border to offer support.

Dilek Ocalan’s election to parliament is a striking illustration of how Turkey’s Kurds are able to integrate into parliamentary politics after decades of denial, assimilation policies and political banishment. The HDP’s breakthrough means that a major psychological threshold has been passed on the way to the PKK laying down arms and ultimate peace. The HDP demands freedom and a political role for Abdullah Ocalan. It believes he could make a bigger contribution to peace between Ankara and the PKK with direct participation in politics rather than exerting influence via relatives, deputies or representatives.

The possibility of Ocalan making it to parliament one day seems highly unlikely. Still, one should not forget that the possibility of an Ocalan niece in parliament seemed equally unlikely a decade ago.

Read More: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/07/turkey-pkk-ocalan-niece-breaks-taboos-politics.html