Thursday, September 10, 2015

Attacks on HDP offices in Turkey: The Unholy Alliance of AKP and PKK

In the past few months, many HDP (Peoples' Democratic Party) offices had been (and is still daily being) assaulted by mobs. This poses a stark contrast to the election results (June 7) that catapulted HDP above the national election barrier by 13%. HDP's electoral success was a colossal achievement. In previous parliamentary elections, the Kurdish candidates had run as independents and could not reach beyond 6% of the seats overall. However, HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş's success in the presidential elections in 2014, led to the HDP decision to run as a party in June 7 parliamentary elections. Many people, including myself, criticized HDP for taking such a huge risk, because failing to pass the 10% national barrier would mean no HDP representatives in the parliament, and consequently, an AKP (Justice and Development Party) super majority that would benefit the most by the missing HDP seats (as AKP has been the second most popular party in the Kurdish regions). However, HDP successfully forged a left and humanitarian coalition that received many Turkish votes, in addition to the bulk of the Kurdish votes. HDP's almost unbelievable achievement is a huge development for Turkish democracy, and not only because it helped bringing and end to the AKP majority rule. HDP's success is extremely valuable for bridging the gap between the Kurd and the Turk with a democratic and peaceful agenda. I will most likely blog another post just on that topic. In this post, I would like to talk about the increasing hostilities HDP has been facing since before the elections.

Above is the video of a mob attack to the local office of HDP at Balıkesir, my hometown, on September 7. On that day, several HDP offices in other cities were also attacked. Here are some more pictures from that assault on September 7:

HDP headquarters in Ankara were also attacked in the evening on September 8. Some nationalist (!) protesters were recorded chanting: "We do not want [military] operations. We want massacres..." Merging PKK with HDP, these nationalist (!) mobs were indeed calling for mass killing of Kurds... Others were also targeted by the angry mobs. In a bizarre and ugly incident, a Kurdish man was forced to kiss an Atatürk statue... I am personally dumbstruck in finding out how so many people around me adopted a hostile, almost fascist, discourse almost overnight. This cartoon below represents my situation pretty well:

 One morning when you wake up: Columnist Yılmaz, Facebook friend Suat, Ayça from Twitter, Cab driver Gökhan, Cousin Serkan, etc.

So why did things go down for HDP after such an incredible electoral success on June 7?

The answer is clear: AKP and PKK are in an unholy alliance, using violence and terror, to undermine HDP, which emerged as a significant threat to them on June 7. Using violence to undermine a democratically elected political party is not a new phenomenon in Turkey. What we are observing is yet another incident of violent repression of a group which is eager to participate in a political system that is unwilling to accept it within. It appears, undermining HDP is beneficial both for AKP and PKK at the moment.

There had been various attacks to HDP personnel, offices and meetings during the election campaigns before June 7. The deadliest one was a bomb explosion during the HDP election meeting at Diyarbakır on June 5, only two days before the election. It was a miracle that only a few people died. It was also significant that the HDP leaders called for calm and peace in the wake of the explosion despite several deaths and many injuries. The worse attack took place at Suruç, a small town at the Syrian border, after the election on July 20. Most of the thirty two people who died were there as a part of a socialist youth federation (a HDP component) that was organizing a relief effort for the Syrian refugees at the border camps. This explosion was clearly the turning point. ISIS was blamed for both of the bombings, however many people, including myself, identified "deep state" forces as the culprit. Apparently, the PKK did so too. Since this event, PKK started to attack Turkish security personnel in south-east Turkey, delving straight back into the nightmares of 1990s. Two days after the Suruç massacre, on July 22, two police officers were found dead at their home at Urfa. PKK claimed responsibility for the attack. PKK, in an ambiguous statement, a week after the incident, claimed that the killing of the police officers was an independent action of local guerillas, not based on a command from PKK headquarters (link in Turkish). The conflict escalated nevertheless. In the past month, hundreds of people died. Turkish security forces attacked PKK targets not only inside Turkey, but also in Iraq and Syria. We do not know the exact number of guerilla casualties but the numbers seem to be in hundreds. Currently the southern town of Cizre is under permanent curfew and there are reports of civilian casualties under sniper fire. PKK reciprocated. Many security personnel were gunned down or bombed over the past month and a half. Most tragically, 16 soldiers were killed in a bomb blast at Dağlıca on September 7. On the next day, 13 police officers were killed in another explosion at Iğdır. Some people argue that this recent steep escalation indicates the entry of more experienced PKK forces, who had most likely been busy fighting against ISIS in Syria, into the scene.

I am not a security analyst and I will not try to speculate on why Turkey and PKK would go back into a dire military struggle against each other while they are both busy fighting a much more dangerous threat to the south: ISIS. That is just beyond me. However, I believe there is a very good domestic reason for both of them to attack each other: Undermining the burgeoning HDP.

The escalation of violence is undoubtedly the antidote to HDP's success in bridging the gaps between Turkish voters and the Kurds. HDP, with its unwavering call for equality and human rights, had managed to reach many people. HDP co-leader Demirtaş's easy innate charisma had captured many people's interest, and when they listened, they surprisingly found a humane and friendly discourse. Violence is in the process of undoing this unbelievable achievement. When people are dying left and right, calls for ceasefire and peace appear naive. They fall on deaf ears. People once sympathetic fall back on discourses of animosity. The memorized and internalized enmities resurface with stronger resilience. However, AKP and PKK meet in this unholy alliance because they are both threatened by HDP's success.

During the election campaign, HDP co-leader Demirtaş had a one-sentence parliamentary group speech on March 15, 2015.: "Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: We will not let you become the president!" The nationalists and Kemalists had been arguing that AKP and HDP were conspiring to exchange Kurdish rights for Erdoğan's presidency under a new presidential regime (with increased powers). To dispel such worries, HDP's response was: "We will not let you become the president!" (To avoid confusion: Yes, Erdoğan is the president of Turkey since 2014. The full title of the office in Turkey's parliamentary system is Cumhurbaşkanı, i.e. "President of the People." Başkan, i.e. "President", is used for presidential regimes.) This was arguably the most effective HDP slogan throughout the entire campaign. One of Erdoğan's close aids even called this slogan a provocation!

In essence, HDP's entry into the parliament by beating the 10% national barrier was sufficient to bring down AKP majority rule. The math is clear. It is very hard to achieve a parliamentary majority with four major parties. HDP had delivered. By blocking an AKP majority, they had crushed any hopes of a constitutional change that would deliver extra powers to the president. In the aftermath of the elections, the ultra-nationalist MHP (Nationalist Action Party) rejected a coalition with HDP in it, and this destroyed any chances of a coalition with no AKP participation. On the other hand, HDP rejected any coalition with AKP in it, especially after the June 5 Diyarbakır explosion and the Suruç massacre. This left few possibilities for a coalition and it became clear that AKP preferred a new election to hopefully force a majority in the parliament. How? By undoing HDP in elections where  violence and terror is rampant. The AKP government has shelved the peace process and escalated violence to force HDP down the 10% barrier, by disenchanting Turkish voters of HDP and/or by physically making it impossible to vote in various Kurdish towns for security reasons. In other words, AKP is playing with fire in escalating violence. The goal is to close down south-east Turkey and steal any sympathy for HDP in the rest of the country by forcing a mental equation of HDP with PKK. With more and more security personnel being killed by PKK attacks, PKK is further demonized. However, with each death, pressure on HDP increases. HDP calls for the state to cease military operations and calls for the PKK to cease attacks and drop arms. However, these calls fall on deaf ears. Declarations that equate HDP with PKK appear on paper and TV everyday. Especially the social media reeks with racist and fascist calls. It is in this bleak atmosphere that mob attacks against HDP offices increased. When coffins of soldiers and police officers are arriving daily, HDP offices are presented as the most suitable targets for the protesters' self-righteous fury.

If AKP is ready to drop the peace process and risk nation-wide ethnic violence to force HDP down, why does PKK cooperate with it? I will offer two speculations on this: A cynical one and a political one. The cynical speculation is short and simple: PKK had struck a deal with AKP over presidency in exchange for the recognition of certain Kurdish rights within a new constitution. In this scenario, HDP would fail to beat the 10% barrier, which would result in an AKP super majority to unilaterally change the constitution. HDP foiled this deal by its successful election campaign which was very hostile to AKP. Inevitably, both AKP and PKK are eager to punish HDP now. I have serious doubts about such a scenario. I really doubt such a strong understanding and agreement could have developed between PKK and the AKP government. Moreover, I really doubt HDP could afford to defy PKK in such a blatant manner. PKK, after all, wields the gun...

The second scenario is based on my reading of the politics of the Kurdish movement in Turkey. We have to acknowledge that the Kurdish movement had achieved its recognition by the Turkish state, thanks to the PKK and its armed resistance, despite the capture of its leader by Turkish security forces in 1999. The most significant actor in the Kurdish movement in Turkey is undoubtedly the PKK. HDP is strongly connected to the PKK. It is important that PKK holds the gun, but PKK also represents generations of resistance and sacrifice for the Kurdish population. Öcalan himself, despite capture and incarceration, is still a powerful leader. However, I believe HDP's recent electoral success and Demirtaş's personal charisma has challenged these dynamics. HDP now offers a democratic solution to the Kurdish problems. In other words, HDP had achieved what PKK could never imagine to: Reaching to the Turkish electorate. So the question arises: What would happen to the PKK if HDP takes over the leadership through increased public support and legitimacy across the entire country? I believe that some PKK leaders are not very happy about such increased popularity of HDP and Demirtaş. The violent responses to the state operations that killed dozens of state security personnel achieves several things: i) Undermining HDP's position; ii) Consolidating PKK components; iii) Demonstrating to the Kurdish population, once again, who wields the weapon and who is there to defend them. I am obviously not an expert on such organizations, and I do not believe all PKK leaders share this mindset, however I believe leaders are not always so eager to give up hard-won power and respect.

In summary, AKP and PKK both have their reasons to undermine HDP through violence and terror. Moreover, this unholy alliance which is based on attacking each other is a struggle over the control of a group of people (mostly Kurdish but also some Turkish) who deliberately chose to support a discourse of democracy, peace, and human rights. However, neither AKP nor PKK are ready to recognize this democratic choice. Instead, they have decided to suppress it with increased violence and terror directed at each other. It falls on us to recognize this deceit and offer a hand to HDP. It falls on us to defy calls that equate HDP with PKK. It falls on us to defy the ultra-nationalist discourse that aims to forge fascists out of regular people through manipulation of their fears.

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