TODAY’S MESOP COMMENTARY : When the Enemy of My Enemy Turns Out to Be…Also My Enemy / By DAVID ROMANO
6.2. 2014 – RUDAW – Of late, the Kurdish political movement in Turkey seems to have become a supporter of Prime Minister Erdogan’s government. Mustafa Akyol’s recent column for al-Monitor asks, “Why is the PKK siding with the AKP in the AKP-Gulen conflict?” As evidence of the support, he refers to a recent interview with PKK commander Cemil Bayik in which Bayik states that “Behind the [Gulen] community, there is America; they want to get rid of Erdogan.”
This is, of course, exactly the conspiracy theory being advanced by Mr. Erdogan – instead of addressing the serious evidence of corruption in the highest levels of his government, Mr. Erdogan has been counter-attacking with claims of a Gulen Movement parallel state and American inspired plot to bring down his government. Even PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, from his prison cell on the island of Imrali, has been supportive of his captors in the dispute, criticizing “those who want to set our country ablaze once again with the fire of a coup.”
The Kurdish political movement in Turkey clearly lacks much in the way of genuine friends, so they opt for the next best thing: supporting the side that hasn’t been quite so bad to them as the others. It’s a bit like a woman who stays with an abusive boyfriend, saying “he doesn’t beat me as much as my previous boyfriends.” Most Kurds believe the main opposition party in Turkey, Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) still believes in too many old style Kemalist notions of denying Kurdish identity. The Kurds suffered terribly for far too long under such policies. The far-right National Action Party (MHP) still does not seem to believe Kurds exist in Turkey, so anyone who identifies as a Kurd remains unlikely to find any friends in that direction. And while many liberals, leftists and moderates in Turkey are friendly to Kurdish identity and demands, they seem to lack much in the way of an organized political movement.
Of the significant political actors, this leaves Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and an unofficial political force, the Gulen movement – followers of Turkish imam Fethullah Gulen, who remains in self-imposed exile in the United States. The Gulen movement has established schools, student dormitories and other institutions all across Turkey and much of the world. In Kurdish parts of Turkey, however, the movement seems to compete with Kurdish nationalist parties and organizations to win over young people. Those who go to Gulen do not learn Kurdish language, culture, history or politics, but rather risk assimilated to a Turkish ethnic identity. Recent revelations also appear to cast Fethullah Gulen and hence his movement as quite hardline vis-à-vis the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), advocating an exclusively military and covert action oriented “solution” towards Kurdish unrest. This seems hardly any different than the old Kemalist approach towards the Kurds, unfortunately.
In contrast, Mr. Erdogan and the AKP went further than any previous government in Ankara when it comes to recognizing the Kurds as Kurds, allowing Kurdish language into the media, universities and private schools, embracing the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq and even negotiating directly with the PKK and Ocalan. It was also the AKP, with the Gulen movement’s help, that finally pushed the military back into its barracks and defanged the Kemalist “deep state.”
Unfortunately it was also Mr. Erdogan and his AKP that reneged upon a previous “peace process” with the Kurds in 2009. It was Mr. Erdogan’s government that probably sent covert operatives to France to assassinate PKK leaders in 2013, at the same time it was negotiating the latest peace deal with the PKK. It was the AKP government that sent its fighter planes to bomb 32 poor Kurdish smugglers to death in Sirnak province and never so much as apologized, and it is Mr. Erdogan and his underlings who seem intent on arming Jihadi groups in Syria and snuffing out Kurdish autonomy there by any means necessary.
The Kurds therefore know that in this case, the enemy of their enemy is not their friend. They may be calculating that if the AKP government reneges upon its current peace process commitments, they can just return to the battlefield. Especially because the conservative, religious AKP has so little in common with the leftist, secular Kurdish movement in Turkey, the current cooperation is likely both tactical and temporary.
Hopefully if the time comes to again oppose the AKP, the old “deep state” will not have already been completely replaced by a new authoritarian apparatus, killing all the democracy gains of the last decade. To lessen the chances of this happening, Kurdish political groups in Turkey should realize that they have something in common with Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s CHP and other political actors arrayed against Mr. Erdogan, and not burn their bridges with them. It should be possible to cooperate with the AKP without parroting Mr. Erdogan’s conspiracy theories. Kurds in Turkey might try and find a better way to support the peace process which doesn’t involve sitting idly by while independent media, academia, business, the judiciary and other institutions of society increasingly fall under the government’s dictatorial control. They could use the opportunity to actually build better relations with progressive Turkish parties.
Most of all, they should remember that Fethullah Gulen, whose followers have a lot more in common with AKP supporters, was also once an ally of Mr. Erdogan and his government.
David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since August 2010. He is the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and author of The Kurdish Nationalist Movement (2006, Cambridge University Press).