The Turkish local elections on 30 March 2014 have been a major victory for the ruling AK-Party which is based on Islamic values. It is been said that these elections were a big test for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who faces serious allegations of corruption. The voting results shows that Turkish citizens still endorse their Prime Minister: his AK-Party won with 44% of the votes which represents a 6% decrease compared to the general elections in 2011.
In total they have won 51 out of 81 states. The second winner is the Kurdish BDP who has won the most states in their home area: South East Turkey.
It was an election containing all the elements of a true thriller: riots and election violence which resulted in the killing of 8 people, dispute over the capital Ankara which the AKP booked a narrowly victory, three female candidates made history by becoming the first female major of the countries metropolitan cities and one of them in Diyarbakir: the largest city in South East Turkey where Kurdish people are the big majority of the region (Hurriyet, 2014; Anadolu Agency, 2014).
The campaign between the four big parties can be described as harsh. Especially between the AK-Party and their main challenger the Republican’s People’s Party, the CHP of Chairman Kemal Kiliçdaroglu. The third party, the Nationalists People’s Party, MHP, and the Kurdish Democratic and Peace Party, BDP, were also conducting a hard campaign against Erdogan’s AK-Party and vice versa. The opposition parties were all accusing the AK-Party of corruption with hard language by calling him a ‘thieve’. Some of the accusations were based on recordings of several conversations between top AKP members which even included the Prime Minister, and led to the resignation of three Ministers on December 17th, 2013.
One of the recorded conversations depict Erdogan instructing his son to hide millions of dollars cash which is denied by the Prime Minister who said that it was fabricated (Letsch, 2014)
Another leaked conversation depicts the deputy chief of staff, the intelligent chief, the Secretary and undersecretary of Foreign Affairs conversing on a war against Syria under a false flag operation. This last tape was just released a few days before the elections and thereafter have YouTube and twitter been blocked under the name of national security (Moore, 2014). It is widely assumed that the movement of the Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen, who lives in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania, and who is involved in a power struggle with Erdogan, released these conversations. Gülen is an influential Ieader whose Hizmet movement (Turkish for Service) has hundreds of schools in more than a 100 countries scattered over Europe, Central Asia, Africa and the USA. Education is the trademark of this organization. However it is also believed that Hizmet holds influential key positions at the police, the judiciary, and the intelligence services in Turkey.
The accusations of corruption and the leaking of phone conversations was, according to Erdogan, a conspiracy of foreign and internal powers, hereby referring directly to Gülen and indirectly to the USA and Israel. As the voting results shows; this argument has enjoyed significant credibility among the Turkish people. It was an enormous disappointment for the CHP since they could not profit from all the scandals of the AK-Party. The CHP aimed to receive 30% of the votes but just had 28% and have won only 13 states, which is a slightly increasing compared to the last elections.
The BDP contains 7% of the votes if there independent candidates (for vote technical reasons) will be counted as BDP (Source Anadolu Agency).
The second winner
The second winner of the elections was the Kurdish BDP that is strongly connected to the PKK, the guerilla movement of jailed leader Abdullah Öçalan who was captured in 1999 by Turkish authorities after being the most wanted man for since his PKK started a guerilla war 1984 for an independent Kurdistan.
The BDP participates in the elections since the eighties although many times under different names since the party was banned several times under accusations of ‘terrorist activities’. Up until the uprising of the AKP in 2002 they had won the elections in the South East region by huge majorities. Nowadays however, the BDP are sharing the votes with the AKP, who appeal to the Islamic identity of the Kurdish people who are in general quite religious, while the BDP appeals to the ethnicity of the Kurdish people.
Nevertheless, the 2014 election can be seen as a victory for the BDP since they have won almost all the states in the South East region including two take-overs from the AKP: Mardin, and Bitlis. They also maintained their leading position in Diyarbakir, a symbolic city that was once considered as the capital of a future independent Kurdistan, and Van the other major city of the region. This result awards the party a stronger position in the negotiations with the AK-Party regarding the Kurdish issue, since they can now portray themselves as the representatives of the majority of the Kurdish people. Moreover this result may strengthens their demand of ‘democratic autonomy’ of the South East region. On the other hand can the AKP argue that the BDP is not the only representative of citizens with a Kurdish background since they are the second party in the region.
It must be acknowledged that the position of the Kurds under the AK-Party governance has been improved through the implementing of some serious reforms: the ban on Kurdish languages and identity was lifted, the celebrations of Kurdish holidays are allowed, and some economic investments are made in the relatively poor region. Erdogan claimed numerous times that his administration made an end to the “ignorance politics” or the “assimilation policy” of his predecessors, while the BDP attributes this to the result of their struggle (http://www.dw.de/turkish-pm-unveils-reforms-to-increase-rights-of-kurdish-minority/a-17128423) .
Nevertheless it was in late 2012 that Erdogan has said that the negation process with Imrali continues, referring to the island where Öçalan is serving his life sentence. It can be seen as a great improvement for him personal as for his PKK that Turkey are acknowledging them as interlocutors of the conflict. The state once portrayed Öcalan as the greatest enemy of the state through a tremendous smear campaign in the media for the past 25 years. A few months after the announcement gave Öcalan a written statement that was read by BDP MP’s on Newroz, the Kurdish New Year, in which Öcalan called for a cease-fire, a withdrawal from Turkish territory, and an end to the armed struggle (Letsch, 2013). A well-equipped modern army that fought a tuff guerilla war against the PKK with human right violations on both sides and resulting of 40.000 dead’s came, at least for temporarily, to an end (Sinclair-Webb).
This cease-fire has been in place for a year and can also be considered a huge improvement
In his last statement, which was read on the 21st March of 2014, on the Newroz holiday, the jailed leader praised dialogue and that both parties have shown goodwill while concurrently criticizing the government for delaying the peace process. At the same time he called to choose the path of ‘democracy’ and warned against certain elements that threatens the negotiation process (FiratNews, 2014) .
The BDP has repeatedly stated that the key to the resolution lays in Imrali and are asking for the release of Öçalan as their condition to bring peace. It would be a real spectacle if this condition were to be met, which will lead to the leader being perceived by his followers as their ‘Kurdish Nelson Mandela’. Furthermore the Kurds are no longer demanding an independent state, but a system of federalism with autonomous regions (Hurriyet Daily News, 2012)
celebration of Newroz day in Diyarbakir (2014)
Support for the democratic opening is a condition of success
There are indeed some actors within the country that are firmly against this peace process, also referred as solution process or democratic opening (demokrat açilim) in Turkey.
Perhaps the assassination of three female members of the PKK in Paris in January 2013 can be regarded as the greatest threat to the peace process until now. One of the assassinated female was Sakine Çansiz, the co-founder of the PKK and it occurred at the start of the talks between Öçalan and the government. New suspicions, although they are only that, points the involvement of the Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) (Gezer, Ö. et al).
In addition there is also the missing support of certain groups and political parties.
If we take a look at the political parties, there are two parties that can play a significant role in this process, namely the MHP and CHP. The former is firmly opposed to the demokrat açilim arguing that not negotiations but fighting against terrorists will help to end terrorism. This party was also disappointed by the elections (Çitlak, 2013).
Coincidentally the leader of the nationalist party Devlet Bahçeli was part of a coalition in 1999, when Öçalan was captured and the coalition parties decided not to execute him while the nationalists were always the hardest opponents of the PKK, an argument that is often used by Erdogan to attack the leader.
The position of CHP in regard to the democratic opening can be described as questionable. The founder of the Turkish republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the party which was the only allowed party until 1950 when his successor Ismet Inönü made a transformation to a multiple party system. The main pillar of CHP is to defend a secular Turkey of Atatürk wherefor a strict distinction between religion and politics is required. They had strong connections with the army. In addition, the CHP includes nationalistic elements (ulusalçilar) that are deeply rooted in the party. On the other hand it can be described as revolutionary for the party, to have, for the first time a chairman who has a Kurdish (and Alevite) background. Kiliçdaroglu is from Tunceli (or Dersim which is the original name that many Kurds prefer as the official name), a symbolic rebellious state since the Ottoman Empire. Earlier Kiliçdaroglu supported to give Kurdish lessons on private schools and said that the ulusalçilar in his party want to hinder the peace process (UlusalKanal, 2012).
That Turkey has made some serious steps forward in the democratic opening symbolized the apologies of the Prime Minister for the massacre of Dersim during 1936 – 1939 when Atatürk was the president of the new established republic. Exact numbers regarding the number of people killed during the uprising are unknown but it is estimated to be around 13000 people who died by aerial bombings and poison gas. Erdogan accused the CHP here for, since they were in office at the time and furthermore asked Kiliçdaroglu to apologize on behalf of his party which he did not (BBC, 2011).
But the CHP supported the secret talks between the PKK and MIT in Oslo during 2009 - 2010 which were leaked to the press.
Kiliçdaroglu said that if these negotiations lead to the disarmament of the PKK, they should continue but not secretly (Radikal, 2012).
This support can be considered as surprising since the Turkish political climate is very harsh and the CHP is conducting a harsh oppositional role against the AKP and have numerous times criticized the democratic opening. It is important for the AKP to have support in this process despite their majority in the parliament and their massive supporters among the citizens: this is not enough to reach a definitive peace agreement.
In order to resolve such a complex conflict which has a history of three decades of a guerrilla war, it is important to have a broad support through the society including civil society organizations, famous artists, scientists, and journalists among others.
In the article Building Peace In Sri Lanka author Camilla Orjuela states that civil society actors in peacebuilding are representatives and in touch with ‘the people’. In contrast to the parties of the armed conflicts (guerilla movement or the state) that often claim to represent ‘the people’ to different degrees but this claim depends whether the parties can stay in power and sustain their legitimacy. “Peace cannot only be agreed on the top level, civilian protest or non-cooperation can become decisive for the continuation of both war and peace” (Orjuela, 2003: 197).
The corruption barely affected the elections: the AKP won by an overwhelming majority. The CHP and MHP have had disappointing results from the elections while the Kurdish BDP can be seen as the second winner by winning the most states in South East Turkey while remaining the largest in the region. This will probably strengthen their position in the negotiations with the Turkish state, especially regarding the democrat açilim. As we have seen; to reach a definitive peace agreement the AKP needs a broad support, not only from the political field but throughout the whole society. To win support at the political level the position of the second party of the country, the CHP, can be crucial. Their position seems to be unclear since they have currently been criticizing the democrat açilim while the chairman also expressed his support to the negotiations in Oslo with a few conditions included.
The role of CSO’s can be decisive in securing the support within the society since they are very close to citizens and represent them at the lowest level. CSO’s are capable to transform the public opinion that is mainly very hostile to the PKK.
If it comes to a decisive peace agreement it would be one of the few ethnic conflicts that ended by peace and can serve as an example for the Middle East.
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