Turkish opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s new pose on the Kurdish issue started a heated debate in politics. This new pose of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), states that the Kurdish-problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) could be the legitimate interlocutor for the solution, which is to be found on the Parliamentary ground. This pose can determine the tone of politics in the 2023 Presidency and Parliamentary elections and is likely to influence the result.
Now the eyes are set on President Tayyip Erdoğan whether he will go back to his former stance, and acknowledge the Kurdish problem, or stick with his recent line, such as “There is no Kurdish problem, there is the PKK terrorism problem”; PKK being the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party waging a bloody armed campaign against Turkey since the early 1980s.
Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the ally of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) denounced CHP and Kılıçdaroğlu for serving the PKK because of considering the HDP (the third-largest party in the Turkish Parliament) as a legitimate interlocutor. Bahçeli wants HDP to be shut down by the Constitutional Court and all executives and MPs to be banned from politics. On the other side of the coin, it is crucial for the HDP to set a new policy for itself and whether it can come of age as a genuinely independent party; not under the influence of the PKK headquarters in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq.
The background of the debate
In the first years of the AKP power, Erdoğan used to look enthusiastic about finding a solution to what he used to acknowledge as the “Kurdish problem”. In his 2005 manifest in a Diyarbakır rally, he said that as the Prime Minister of the country it’s his due to come up with a solution. After two attempts of dialogue with the PKK, the latter being with the imprisoned founding leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan via the Turkish intelligence (MİT), and the HDP, Erdogan made a sharp turn in 2015 focusing on security-based policies.
There were two main factors in doing that. Firstly, PKK wanted to renew the bargaining terms of the dialogue after the US chose PKK’s Syria wing PYD and its armed wing YPG as the ground forces to fight ISIS; not its NATO partner Turkey. Secondly, Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the HDP declared that they would not let Erdogan be the one-man rule president of the country right before the June 2015 elections, which Erdoğan lost AKP’s Parliamentary majority. In the meantime, the PKK declared that the “solution process” was over and Erdogan, with the help of Bahçeli, declared a snap election the same year in November, crushed the PKK in the southeast, and won the election.
Erdogan saw the USA behind the Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen-sponsored coup attempt on July 15, 2016, as well. With the help of Bahçeli once again, he won the 2017 referendum to collect all executive powers in Presidential authority and denied the existence of the Kurdish problem but a terrorism problem. 2019 local elections when the CHP won the mayorship almost all the major cities, Erdogan suspected that it was because of Kurdish voters. He was right but that was mainly because of Erdogan’s alliance with Turkish nationalist Bahçeli.
Since then Erdogan and Bahçeli are accusing CHP of secretly allying with the HDP, hoping that it would ruin CHP’s alliance with the center-right Good Party (İYİ) with vivid nationalist tendencies as well. So far Kılıçdaroğlu was extremely cautious of not posing together with the HDP figures and that’s why his recent pose on the Kurdish problem is surprising.
CHP’s pose and the evolution of the debate
The debate has started on September 19 when the first episode of a documentary titled “Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu and his Alliances” was released. There he was saying the following:
* “There is a Kurdish problem that the political establishment has not been able to solve for the last 35-40 years. We need a legitimate body [as interlocutor] to solve the Kurdish problem. The institution you call the state cannot deal with an illegitimate body. Erdogan did this. He made the state deal with Imrali [the island prison where Öcalan is kept since 1999]. Imrali is not a legitimate body.
* “Who is the legitimate body? We can see HDP as a legitimate body. They have public support. They are elected to the Parliament. They are in the parliament, doing their duty. Therefore, if this problem is to be solved, we can solve this problem with a legitimate body”.
You would expect an immediate reaction from Bahçeli, for instance. But surprisingly the first reaction came from Sezai Temelli, a former co-chair of the HDP. He said that the address and the interlocutor are Öcalan, thus İmralı. That was a political gaff devaluating HDP, devaluating HDP’s role in the Parliament and also the Parliament. Not only Mithat Sancar, the current HDP co-chair but also Demirtaş from Edirne prison refuted what Temelli said. They said HDP was the legitimate interlocutor and the legitimate ground is the Parliament. Temelli had to say that it was his personal view, not the Party.
Then there was surprise support for Kılıçdaroğlu. Musavat Dervişoğlu, as a nationalist politician and a Parliamentary spokesperson for the IYI, said that if the HDP is in the Parliament and assuming duties like Deputy Speaker to chair the parliament, it is legitimate. So, Kılıçdaroğlu’s new pose on the Kurdish issue was not a problem for his ally, the IYI leader Meral Akşener.
Bahçeli’s patience was over. He said the following:
• “Considering the HDP as a legitimate body means dealing with the PKK. The CHP administration took action to find the rotten codes of political fortune and future in the shabby darkness of Qandil caves.
• “There is no such thing as the Kurdish problem in Turkey. (…) CHP and HDP, together with the IP (IYI), got into the wake of global imperialism and established an unnamed negotiation bridge from Qandil to Imrali within the scope of a stale scenario.”
Before Kılıçdaroğlu, Deva Party leader Ali Babacan responded to these words. “There is a Kurdish problem and the solution is in politics,” Babacan said on his Twitter account.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s response to Bahçeli, which was published on September 22, was in parallel with the IYI viewpoint: “When HDP chairs the Parliament as the deputy Speaker, they [MHP] should not raise their hands and ask for a word. If they do so, that is inconsistent with what they say. There should be some logic.”
Kurdish politics is in defeat-fatigue
Meanwhile, it could be seen that the new pose of the CHP threw a curveball not only the HDP but PKK affiliates as well. Veysi Sarısözen wrote the following in the PKK-leaned web site Yeni Özgür Politika:
• “There is nothing wrong with the mission that Kılıçdaroğlu has set for the HDP. The problem is to ignore the undeniable missions of Imralı and Qandil.”
It was possible to see a similar attitude in the statement of Asrın Law Office, which represents Öcalan before the courts. Although the law office’s statement seemingly promotes the role of the HDP, but shows Öcalan and Qandil as the address, with a concerned tone. However, there is a public opinion that Qandil is not in its former power. On the one hand, Turkish security operations, on the other hand, the PKK’s loss of human resources in Syria, despite the weapons, training, and support they receive from the US and strongholds in Iraq, have been weakening Qandil’s power recently. The Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is aware of this situation and is closely monitoring the developments, having contacted not only the ruling AK Party and HDP but also the main opposition CHP in Turkey.
Currently, there is another factor that strengthens the possibility of a solution to the Kurdish problem based on legal and legitimate politics. This was emphasized by the participants in a video conference organized by the Dicle Social Research Center (DİTAM), which is headquartered in Diyarbakır, and most clearly expressed by CHP’s Kurdish origin MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu, who was on a tour to the east and southeast at that time.
According to Tanrıkulu, both Kurdish politicians and Kurdish voters were frustrated and tired of the current line of struggle, which constantly condemned them to new oppression, imprisonment, and defeat. Instead of the separatist line, they wanted to have a role in ruling Turkey. “All opposition parties have a job here,” Tanrıkulu said.
That’s why the CHP’s new pose on the Kurdish issue is a candidate to change the tone of politics in the upcoming elections and most probably the result of it.