In the run-up to Turkey’s national elections next month, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is seeking the support of a rather unusual group – the country’s Kurdish minority population.
Perhaps as a sign of the great strides that Kurds in Turkey have made in recent years Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who is widely expected to win a third consecutive term – told a heavily Kurdish crowd in the southeastern city of Sirnak that for us, there is no separation between Turks and Kurds.
Erdogan has also vowed to build new schools, airports and hospitals in the relatively desolate and destitute southeast, which is dominated by Kurds.
However, while Kurds have generally supported the AKP in prior elections, some Kurds are apparently not enamored with Erdogan. What complicates matters for Erdogan is that AKP is also seeking the support of Turkish nationalists, which is anathema to most Kurds.
A prior rally in the Kurdish town of Hakkari drew only about 1,000 people, with many shopkeepers shutting down in response to the Prime Minister’s visit.
Erdogan’s chief rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of principal opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), has largely received a warmer welcome for Kurdish groups.
Speaking to a crowd in Hakkari, Kilicdaroglu promised to grant autonomy to local governments, a major demand of the Kurdish-controlled Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). He also vowed to reduce the 10 percent threshold rule for parliament (which has long been blamed for keeping out smaller parties, especially Kurds, from the national government).
The CHP leader also said he would seek to investigate the scores of unsolved murders reported in the area.
Meanwhile, Erdogan and his party are skeptical of the CHP’s devotion to the Kurdish cause, charging that BDP members and supporters are actually attending the CHP demonstrations.
The CHP, which has never acknowledged the Kurdish issue in this country, is today hand-in-hand with the BDP,” Erdogan said at the Sirnak rally.
“The CHP, which has denied the Kurdish identity and the Kurdish language for many years, is today collaborating with the BDP.
Despite gains made by Kurds over the past decade, the southeast remains a dangerous and volatile region, as many Kurds want to secede from Turkey.
Last week, a dozen members of the illegal Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) were killed by Turkish security forces as they tried to enter Turkey from northern Iraq. About 50 people as a whole have been killed over the past two months in clashes between state security forces and Kurdish nationalists.
The PKK was even blamed for a recent attack on a convoy of Erdogan supporters.
Sirri Sakik, a BDP deputy, told reporters: The tension has been increased by the government on purpose, to collect more [Turkish] nationalistic votes in the elections.”
Of more urgency, the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, established June 15 as a deadline for the government to make real progress on the question of Kurdish autonomy.
Ocalan has warned “either a substantial negotiation process starts on June 15 or a great war. Both would be great as they are sacred and meaningful.
Amidst reports that Ocalan and Turkish officials may have communicated to come up with a solution, the PKK remains outlawed in Turkey and is regarded as a terrorist group in most Western nations.
PKK commenced a war in 1984 against the Turkish state to create an independent Kurdish homeland – about 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict ever since.