Tag Archives: PKK

The only way to save Turkish democracy is a competent opposition

If the opponents of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hope to unlock his increasingly autocratic grip on power, they need to join forces, then work to divide the ruling AKP.

It’s a bridge too far to say that the Turkish opposition is responsible for a decade and a half of losses to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

But there’s no doubt that his opponents certainly haven’t posed an effective brake on Erdoğan’s accelerating chokehold on Turkish democracy.

Turkish voters, according to official tallies, narrowly approved sweeping changes to the Turkish constitution on April 16 that bring far more powers to the Turkish presidency with far fewer checks and balances against the newly empowered executive.

This was always Erdoğan’s plan.

It was his plan in August 2014, when the longtime prime minister stood for (and won) the presidency, introducing a de facto presidential system in Turkey. Prime minister Binali Yıldırım essentially serves at the pleasure of the Turkish president today.

It was his plan last weekend, when he won (or possibly stole) a victory for a de jure presidential system through 18 separate constitutional amendments, many of which take effect in 2019 with a likely joint parliamentary and presidential election. Most immediately, however, Erdoğan will be able to drop the façade of presidential independence and return to lead the party that he already controls indirectly. (It’s a step that apparently won praise, almost alone among Atlantic leaders, from US president Donald Trump and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán.)

It was his plan when, after the longtime ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) failed to win an outright majority in June 2015, he plotted a crackdown on the Kurdish minority — after years of progress in integrating Kurds by relaxing restrictive and counterproductive restrictions on Kurdish language and culture — to engineer a majority win in a new round of elections five months later. Continue reading The only way to save Turkish democracy is a competent opposition

What we learned about Turkey from Saturday’s coup attempt

Turkish soldiers stand guard in Taksim Square Saturday night. (Sedat Suna / EPA)
Turkish soldiers stand guard in Taksim Square Saturday night. (Sedat Suna / EPA)

Something like tense calm seems to be settling on the streets of Istanbul and Ankara after an attempted military coup in Turkey early Saturday morning. Turkey

But the reverberations of the failed ouster will be felt for months and possibly years to come. Though the coup didn’t enjoy the full support of the Turkish military, it was something of a shock — and a throwback — to see tanks rolling through major Turkish cities. Amid the chaos, there’s still much that we don’t and, perhaps, cannot know about the fallout of the July 16 coup.

In other ways, the failed coup gave us quite a glimpse — in at least four ways — into the state of Turkish politics, culture and democracy.  Continue reading What we learned about Turkey from Saturday’s coup attempt

Turkey’s election result the best possible outcome

Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is now set to lead a majority government in Turkey. (Facebook).
Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is now set to lead a majority government in Turkey. (Facebook).

Though there’s plenty to be pessimistic about in the five months since Turkey’s last parliamentary election in June, the result in today’s repeat snap elections is perhaps the best possible outcome for the various domestic and international actors with a state in Turkey’s continued stability.Turkey

The Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party), the conservative Islamist party that has dominated Turkish politics since 2002, scored the most crushing victory in its history — more than when it initially came to power and more than its prior peak in the 2011 elections. That’s despite a turbulent election campaign marred by an early October suicide blast in the capital city of Ankara, the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the modern Turkish republic.

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With 99.00% of all votes counted.

Though the AKP will not win the two-thirds majority that it hoped for to enact the constitutional changes that president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to rebalance powers away from the national assembly and to the presidency, the result gives the AKP a clear mandate to govern without seeking a coalition partner. The AKP’s path to a majority victory wasn’t pretty, and there’s a compelling case that Erdoğan has seriously damaged his legacy and, he further undermined the rule of law, fair elections, internal security and press freedom over the past five months. But the victory means that Turkey will not face a third election in the spring and all the destabilization that another months-long campaign period would mean.

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RELATED: Ankara bombing curdles already-fraught
Turkish election campaign

RELATED: How the AKP hopes to regain
its absolute majority in November

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Most surprisingly, the AKP managed its overwhelming victory while the leftist, Kurdish-interest Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP, People’s Democratic Party) still won enough support to win seats in the national assembly. That feels like something of a miracle, given the increasingly tense atmosphere across southeastern Turkey, where polling took place under conditions of near civil war between Turkish military forces and the radical guerrilla group, the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party).

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While HDP leader attorney Selahattin Demirtaş has called for a peaceful approach to the fight for greater Kurdish autonomy, AKP officials, including Erdoğan and prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have tried to tie the party to the more militant PKK as a years-long ceasefire, the product of advanced peace talks between the Turkish government and PKK leaders, unravelled in July in the wake of a suicide bombing in Suruç (and attributed to the jihadist ISIS/Islamic State/Daesh). Turkey’s hurdle rate for winning seats in the national parliament is 10%. That means, with around 10.6% of the vote, the HDP is entitled to 59 seats, but with just 9.99%, the HDP would have won exactly zero seats. The latter outcome, just five months after the HDP celebrated the first time an expressly Kurdish party won seats in the Turkish assembly, would have greatly undermined Demirtaş’s argument that Turkish Kurds can work through the democratic system for greater autonomy, self-government and other minority rights.

It’s certainly not the outcome Erdoğan would have been hoping for because, had the AKP taken those 59 seats, it would have the elusive two-thirds majority Erdoğan has sought since winning the Turkish presidency last August. In the long run, however, even if Erdoğan dislikes it, it’s much better that the Kurdish minority feels like it can benefit through democratic participation.  Continue reading Turkey’s election result the best possible outcome

A deadlocked assembly could mean a third election in Turkey

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Since the initial June parliamentary elections in Turkey, the country has weathered more instability than at any other period since the Islamist Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) came to power.Turkey

On the eve of fresh elections this weekend, consider all that’s happened since the June elections when the AKP lost its parliamentary majority:

  • Coalition talks failed between prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the two secular opposition parties that were most likely to support an AKP-led government.
  • Since 2011, the value of the lira has fallen by 50% against the U.S. dollar and Turkey’s once galloping economic development is slowing — to just a projected 3.2% in 2015.
  • A suicide bombing on July 20 in the southern city of Suruç killed 33 people. In response, Kurdish forces attacked Turkish police after Turkish officials downplayed the need to secure areas of southeastern Turkey that are most heavily populated by the Kurdish minority.
  • Turkish forces responded to the Suruç attack by joining the military effort against ISIS/Islamic State/Daesh, the Sunni radical group that has extended its ‘caliphate’ across eastern Syria and western Iraq.
  • Turkish forces also used the Suruç attack to wage a much more aggressive attack against the militant  Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party), escalating a conflict that had previously been working its way toward a peaceful settlement between Turkey’s government and the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Öcalan.
  • Another suicide bombing on October 10 in the Turkish capital of Ankara at a peace rally became the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Turkish history, further polarizing Turkish voters who alternative pointed fingers at ISIS, the government and the PKK.
  • Critical media voices have been harassed or prosecuted by a government whose record on press freedom was already deteriorating.

In the June elections, the AKP won just 256 seats in the Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly), 20 short of a majority. It was the first time since the AKP first came to power in the 2002 elections that it failed to win a majority, scuttling Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s to consolidate power in the Turkish presidency after won Turkey’s first-ever direct election to the mostly ceremonial office last summer.

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The AKP fell so low because, for the first time in Turkish history, a pro-Kurdish party, the leftist Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP, People’s Democratic Party), ran for election on a unified list and won enough support to meet the 10% electoral hurdle for winning seats in the National Assembly. With the HDP taking 80 seats, it made it that much more difficult for the AKP to reach an absolute majority.  Continue reading A deadlocked assembly could mean a third election in Turkey

Ankara bombing curdles already-fraught Turkish election campaign

Two explosions blasted Ankara on Saturday, resulting in over 100 deaths in the worst terrorist incident in modern Turkish history. (AFP/Getty)
Two explosions blasted Ankara on Saturday, resulting in over 100 deaths in the worst terrorist incident in modern Turkish history. (AFP/Getty)

Arguably no one can claim that he or she speaks more for the Turkish conscience than Orhan Pamuk, the only Turk to win the Nobel Prize for literature.
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In unusually strong terms, Pamuk told the Italian daily La Repubblica yesterday that the divisive policies of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are partially to blame for creating an environment of instability and chaos that served as the backdrop to Saturday’s deadly bombing in Ankara:

“The electoral defeat enraged Erdogan,” Pamuk told the daily, arguing that the setback, which resulted in new elections being scheduled for November 1, was also behind the recent resumption of hostilities between the army and Kurdish militants.

“He didn’t succeed in convincing the Kurds to give him their votes for his plan to create a presidential republic,” Pamuk said. “That is why he decided to go to the polls again on November 1. But neither the government nor the army were satisfied with how things were going and they agreed to resume the war against the Kurdish movement.”

The country now finds itself even more divided in the wake of a terrorist bombing that has now killed more than 100 people, the deadliest such attack in the history of the modern Turkish republic.

The Ankara attack and its political fallout are now set to dominate the last 19 days of the election campaign, and it augurs the possibility of ominous threat to Turkish democracy.

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RELATED: How the AKP hopes to regain
its absolute majority in November

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Erdoğan, elected president two years ago and whose Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) rose to power initially in 2002, has not yet delivered more than a short statement in response to the bombing. Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s remarks Saturday initially blamed ISIS/ISIL/Islamic State, Kurdish  nationalists or left-wing activists for the attack, though the government says it now believes, on the basis of hard evidence, that the Islamic State is behind the bombings. The attack is similar to a suicide bombing in the southern border town of Suruç that killed 33 people in July — and that set Turkish armed forces in action against Islamic State. Nevertheless, ISIS militants, who are never incredibly bashful about such attacks, have not taken credit for the bombings.

Selahattin Demirtaş, a Kurdish human rights attorney who leads the Kurdish-interest HDP, blamed the government for stoking tensions that led to the Ankara bombings. (Facebook)
Selahattin Demirtaş, a Kurdish human rights attorney who leads the Kurdish-interest HDP, blamed the government for stoking tensions that led to the Ankara bombings. (Facebook)

The Suruç attack also brought angry reprisals from Kurdish militants against Turkish police and military personnel. Erdoğan responded by escalating tensions, thereby bringing to an end a years-long ceasefire with the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party), an armed Marxist group that has intermittently fought the Turkish military since the 1980s. Until this summer, greater cultural autonomy and political freedom for Turkey’s Kurdish population, and a growing sense of security and peace under the mutual ceasefire, had been one of Erdoğan’s most crucial legacies.

No longer. Continue reading Ankara bombing curdles already-fraught Turkish election campaign

How the AKP hopes to regain its absolute majority in November

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Unable to form a governing coalition with any of Turkey’s opposition parties after more than a decade of one-party rule, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s strategy for scrambling politics prior to the country’s return to polls on November 1 is becoming increasingly clear, and it’s a cynical maneuver that could ruin one of Erdoğan’s most important legacies.Turkey

What’s clear is that Erdoğan and his chief lieutenant, prime minister and former foreign minister Ahmet Davutoğlu are determined to take back their majority in the 550-seat Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly), even if it means bending the rules of traditional democracy. With each passing day, the Turkish military’s intensifying engagement both against the Islamic State/ISIS and Kurdish militants within the Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê (PKK, Kurdistan Workers’ Party) seem designed to shake up Turkish politics enough for the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) to return to power without resorting to a governing coalition.

While there were already worrying signs that Erdoğan was attempting to harass Turkish media in the lead-up to the June campaign, he now seems to be going even farther by arresting and raiding the most critical voices in the press. As Erdoğan’s push against Kurdish militants increases, he has openly discussed persecuting all Kurdish politicians, even those with few ties to the PKK.

To understand what’s going on requires an understanding of the arithmetic of Turkish politics, especially because many polls show that voter preferences haven’t particularly changed since June.

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RELATED: How Turkey’s Kurds became a key constituency in presidential election

RELATED: Coalition politics returns to Turkey after AKP loses majority

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In the June 7 parliamentary elections, the AKP won around 41% of the vote. That’s far ahead of any of its opponents, but it wasn’t enough to secure a majority, let alone the supermajority that Erdoğan wants to revise the Turkish constitution and consolidate more power in the presidency. Continue reading How the AKP hopes to regain its absolute majority in November

Both Greece, Turkey could be headed for snap elections

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August may be among the most quiet periods of the year for world politics, especially in Europe as workers spend weeks away on holiday. Greece Flag IconTurkey

But events earlier this week made it very likely that two Mediterranean countries could hold snap elections later this year, adding greater political uncertainty to a European electoral calendar that will see elections for a new Labour leader in the United Kingdom next month, a new regional government in Catalunya (with implications for the Catalan independence movement) and new national governments in Portugal, Poland and Spain.

Greece’s troubled far-left government may call a vote of confidence as it begins implementing the country’s third bailout package, finalized with European leaders last weekend despite onerous conditions that could retard economic growth for years. The bailout and its aftermath could split prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s ruling SYRIZA (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, the Coalition of the Radical Left). With far-left SYRIZA rebels already opposed to the bailout and with other opposition parties refusing to prop up Tsipras’s government, Greece could be forced to hold its second election since January, when SYRIZA first swept to power.

Across the Aegean Sea, Turkey may find itself forced to hold a repeat election after the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (pictured above) apparently failed to find common ground with Turkey’s two largest opposition parties, leaving it just shy of a majority in the Turkish parliament. Without a working majority, Erdoğan may be forced to call a new election by August 23, when Davutoğlu’s mandate to form a coalition government expires. Continue reading Both Greece, Turkey could be headed for snap elections

Coalition politics returns to Turkey after AKP loses majority

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The hand-wringing about Turkish democracy turned out to be overwrought — electoral churn is alive and well, despite the efforts of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to consolidate the power of his ruling party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party).Turkey

For the first time since the AKP came to power in 2002, Erdoğan wasn’t technically leading the party after winning the presidency last year. Nevertheless, his presence was clear enough in the weeks leading up to the vote, threatening journalists and campaigning openly in defiance of the traditional independence of the office of the presidency, which Erdoğan hoped to strengthen significantly by changing Turkey’s constitution.

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RELATED: Turkish election a referendum on
Erdoğan-style presidentialism

RELATED: Who is Selahattin Demirtaş?

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Erdoğan hoped to win the 330 seats necessary to initiate constitutional changes to shift power permanently to the presidency and away from the assembly. Instead, the AKP fell to just 256 seats, 20 short of a majority. While that’s enough for the AKP to remain the largest party, by far, in the  Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly), voters rewarded Erdoğan’s overreach by forcing the AKP to seek a coalition partner, a novelty after nearly a decade and a half of one-party rule.

Accordingly, the results bring more questions than answers. Though the election is probably good for the long-term stability of Turkish democracy, the result could mean a considerable amount of short-term instability, a prospect that’s already spooked Turkish markets this morning.

For the first time in Turkish history, an explicitly Kurdish party will hold seats (as a party) in the Turkish parliament. It’s a great opportunity for political pluralism, but it also brings risks. If Erdoğan turns too sharply against his Kurdish rivals, he could tragically damage the strengthening trust that he’s built over the past decade between the Kurdish minority and the Turkish government.

Prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Erdoğan’s former foreign minister, had pledged to resign in the event that the AKP failed to win enough seats to form a government, so his future is very much in question. If he goes, Erdoğan will be hard-pressed to find a reliable ally who satisfies both wings of the AKP and who will also govern in deference to Erdoğan’s wishes.

Moreover, shifting to coalition politics will prove difficult for the AKP, most especially Erdoğan. Even if he manages to find a junior coalition partner, Erdoğan might be anxious to hold new elections to restore the party’s majority. As much as the June 7 elections affirmed the resilience of Turkish democracy, snap elections might prove an even more serious test if Erdoğan is willing to resort to extralegal steps — especially after he flouted presidential impartiality and the AKP devoted significant state resources to its election victory.

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Erdoğan, over the years, has gradually consolidated authority into a narrowing group of advisers, to the point that he’s sidelined senior AKP figures, including co-founders like deputy prime minister Bülent Arınç and former president Abdullah Gül, who might otherwise challenge his authority. Increasingly, Erdoğan gradually shifted away from democratic best practices that emphasize liberal freedoms and consensus-building. Turkish voters are also becoming impatient with a slowing economy after years of booming expansion. Continue reading Coalition politics returns to Turkey after AKP loses majority

Who is Selahattin Demirtaş?

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He’s 42 years old, socialist, Kurdish, a native Zaza speaker and an Ankara-trained attorney who encourages gentle outreach to the Armenian diaspora and champions the cause of LGBT rights in a conservative country with a 12-year Islamist government. Turkey

Nevertheless, Selahattin Demirtaş is well on his way to becoming the most potent opposition leader in the 12 years since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to national power in Turkey. Notwithstanding grumbling about Erdoğan’s Islamism, authoritarianism, presidentialism or Turkey’s wilting economy, Erdoğan remains the most important figure in Turkish politics since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the military officer who essentially founded the modern state of Turkey as a secular, democratic(ish) republic in the 1920s and 1930s.

Enter Demirtaş, a virtual political pop star, who challenged Erdoğan for the presidency last year and won 9.8% of the vote. Since the August 2014 presidential campaign, Demirtaş has only become more popular, and he hopes that Sunday’s election will mark a breakthrough performance for his party, the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP, People’s Democratic Party), a merger of several left-wing groups and the Kurdish Democratic Regions Party.

If he succeeds, the HDP will be the first pan-Kurdish party to clear the 10% electoral threshold to win seats in the Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Assembly). In the past, candidates from Kurdish parties have run as independents. This time around, Demirtaş is betting that he can achieve the 10% support that would double Kurdish representation in the Turkish parliament.

Polls show that it will win anywhere from 8% to 13% in the June 7 elections and, provided it meets the 10% electoral threshold, between 57 and 72 seats in the Grand National Assembly, though most observers believe the HDP will skew even higher than polls capture.

On the campaign trail, Demirtaş has championed a leftist agenda not atypical for a social democratic party across Europe — a call for a rise in the minimum wage, calls for national unity and respect for all Turks and, most astoundingly, greater rights for Turkey’s LGBT population — not the easiest sell in the conservative, Islamic country of 77 million. Though he’s emerged as the star of the 2015 campaign season, he points out that he’s only the co-chair of the HDP. Like Germany’s Green Party, for example, Demirtaş serves alongside Figen Yüksekdağ, a female activist from the socialist wing of the HDP.

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Yüksekdağ (pictured above) founded in 2010 the ‘Socialist Party of the Oppressed’ and joined forces with the HDP in 2014, and brings to the HDP campaign an emphasis on feminism and the kind of leftist economic policy that wouldn’t be out of place at a SYRIZA rally in Greece or a Podemos rally in Spain. Though she’s not as flashy as her co-chair, she provides greater depth to the HDP, which could transcend the Kurdish electorate and appeal to the wider circle of Turkish liberals.

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RELATED: How Turkey’s Kurds became a key constituency in election

RELATED: Turkish election a referendum
on Erdoğan-style presidentialism

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The HDP will largely draw its support from Kurdish voters in the southeastern corner of Turkey, but Demirtaş has attracted support from liberals across the country, including secular urbanites in Istanbul and Ankara disenchanted with  12 years of Erdoğan rule.  Continue reading Who is Selahattin Demirtaş?

How Turkey’s Kurds become a key constituency in election

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After a century of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country, Turkish Kurds must wonder with astonishment how they have become increasingly in the span of less than a decade one of the most important swing groups in Turkish politics.Turkey

When prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan won Turkey’s first direct presidential election last week, he undoubtedly did so with the support of a significant portion of Turkey’s Kurdish population, which amounts to something between 15% and 25% of Turkey’s 76 million people. Continue reading How Turkey’s Kurds become a key constituency in election

Amid Iraqi turmoil, Kurdistan settles new regional government

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The conventional wisdom is that with the growing crisis in the rest of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan has never been better.iraq flag iconkurdistan

‘Better’ is a relative term, of course.

But for a region that also features severe corruption, intense political rivalries, a bloated and unaffordable public sector and fiscal dependence (for now, at least) on Baghdad, Iraqi Kurds have reason for optimism.

With Kurdish peshmerga forces in full control of Kirkuk, the Kurdish regional government can now lay claim to the entire historical region of Iraqi Kurdistan. Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, notorious for his crackdown against Kurdish identity and nationalism, encouraged Arabs to relocate to what Kurds (and Turkmen) consider their cultural capital.

Under Article 140 of Iraq’s newly promulgated 2005 constitution,  the national government is obligated to take certain steps to reverse the Saddam-era Arabization process and thereupon, permit a referendum to determine whether Kirkuk province’s residents wish to join the Kurdistan autonomous region. Like in many areas, from energy to electricity to education to employment, Iraq’s national government has made little progress on the Kirkuk issue. Kurdish leaders now say they will hold onto Kirkuk and its oil fields until a referendum can be arranged. Realistically, there’s little that Baghdad can do to reverse Kurdish gains.

That, in time, will give Iraqi Kurdistan the oil revenues that it needs for a self-sustaining economy, in tandem with growing Turkish economic ties that crested last year with the completion of a pipeline between Kurdistan and Turkey that allows the Kurdish regional government to ship crude oil out of Iraq without Baghdad’s approval.

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RELATED: Don’t blame Obama for Iraq’s turmoil — blame Maliki

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In that regard, the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS or ISIL, الدولة الاسلامية في العراق والشام, ad-Dawla al-Islāmiyya fi al-’Irāq wa-sh-Shām‎), which now controls much of northern and northeastern Iraq, including much of al-Anbar province and northern cities like Mosul and Tikrit, has been a boon for the cause of Kurdish nationalism.

ISIS, which has newly re-christened itself simply the ‘Islamic State’ (الدولة الإسلامية‎), has declared a 21st century caliphate over the territory it holds in Iraq and in eastern Syria, with ambitious, if unrealistic, designs on Baghdad and parts of Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia:

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Sentiment is so heady these days that the Kurdish regional president, Massoud Barzani (pictured above), despite the hand-wringing of US and Turkish officials, has called for a referendum on Kurdish independence — in months, not years:

We will guard and defend all areas of the Kurdish region – Kurd, Arab, Turkmen, Assyrian, Chaldean, all will be protected. We will endeavor to redevelop and systematize all regions of Kurdistan. We will use our oil revenue to create better and more comfortable living conditions for our citizens. And until the achievement of an Independent Kurdish State, we will cooperate with all to try to find solutions to the current crisis in Iraq. With all our might, we will help our Shia and Sunni brothers in the fight against terrorism and for the betterment of conditions in Iraq – although this is not an easy task.

Amid that backdrop, the various political parties formed a new Kurdish regional government last week, two months after Iraqi national parliamentary elections in Iraq and fully nine months after Kurdish regional elections.

As the United States leans on the Iraqi parliament to form a new government quickly, in order to combat more effectively the ISIS threat in Sunni-dominated Iraq, the Kurdish example is instructive. If it took nine months to reconstitute the Kurdish regional government, is it plausible to expect Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds to form a national government, under crisis conditions, in just two months?

Even under calmer conditions in 2010, it took Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki nine months of coalition talks to build Iraq’s previous government. Though Maliki’s Shiite-dominated State of Law Coalition (إئتلاف دولة القانون) won the greatest number of seats after the April parliamentary elections, many Iraqis fault his heavy-handed style for the sectarian crisis in which Iraq now finds itself.

In the first meeting of Iraq’s 325-member Council of Representatives (مجلس النواب العراقي‎) last week, Sunnis and Kurds alike walked out on Maliki, and there’s not much hope that a second session on Tuesday will result in additional progress.

Continue reading Amid Iraqi turmoil, Kurdistan settles new regional government

Who is Bülent Arınç? And why is he the man of the hour in Turkey?

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It’s Wednesday, and Turkey’s pulled back from the brink of political chaos that engulfed it over the weekend.
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That’s in large part to the efforts of Bülent Arınç (pictured above), Turkey’s deputy prime minister, whose attempts to bring the level of confrontation between Turkey’s government and protesters in Gezi Park near Istanbul’s Taksim Square and beyond have been successful where the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has failed.

Erdoğan, who is out of the country this week, flew to Morocco on Monday and will be in Algeria and Tunisia until Thursday, may have been lucky in his timing, as Arınç has been acting prime minister this week.  His absence from the country has been fortuitous, given the fact that his statements in response to the weekend’s crescendo of protests has been defiant in virtually every respect after turning police onto protesters in Taksim Square with brute force and tear gas before ultimately pulling police back.  Whether it’s a concerted ‘good cop / bad cop’ venture or not, it’s a welcome breather in what had until Monday had been some of the most difficult moments of Erdoğan’s government since his first election in 2002.

Arınç, in contrast, has made all the right moves to protesters that Erdoğan could not last week and through the tumultuous weekend that saw two deaths and around 1,000 injuries in protests that expanded from Taksim Square to all of Turkey.  He’s apologized on behalf of his government for excessive police force, he’s admitted that the initial protests were ‘rightful and legitimate.’  Though DİSK (Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey) and KESK (Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions), two of the four major labor unions in Turkey, will officially join the protests today with strikes, Arınç has for the time being successfully defused the political crisis.  The protests will continue, but by acknowledging the fundamental rights of Turkish protesters to gather, Arınç has averted Turkey from a wider confrontation — for now.

Arınç helped found the current governing party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party), an Islamist and socially conservative, albeit economically neoliberal, party.  He was the speaker of Turkey’s Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (Grand National Parliament of Turkey) from 2002 to 2007, and since 2009, he’s been a member of Erdoğan’s cabinet as one of three deputy prime ministers and the minister in charge of Turkey’s state radio and television company.

The conciliatory steps came largely in concert with the statements of Turkey’s president, Abdullah Gül, himself a former foreign minister and top official in Erdoğan’s past governments.  In recent days, Gül has also taken a more conciliatory view of the protests, in contrast to Erdoğan, who hopes to succeed Gül next year in Turkey’s presidential election.  Though Gül cannot run for reelection, Erdoğan hopes to transition from leading the Turkish government to assuming a presidency with enhanced powers.  Though Gül, Erdoğan and Arınç are allies, Gül and Arınç have obviously chosen to respond to the protests in a manner quite differently than Erdoğan, and they are set to meet some of the protesters later this week while Erdoğan remains in North Africa.

Gül on Monday essentially praised the protesters for asserting their rights, and he noted that democracy means more than just the act of voting a government into power, adding that Turkey’s leaders had received the message.

Despite their statements, Erdoğan remains the prime minister, and others remains unconvinced, with good reason, of Arınç’s mea culpa, during which he noted that the Turkish government could have shut down Twitter (but judiciously chose not to), demonstrating that Arınç may not have quite fully taken on board the message of Turkey’s protesters.  Arınç is certainly no liberal, and he may well be taking his stance solely due to internal AKP politics — the events of the past week in Taksim Square and Erdoğan’s response have put a damper on his presidential plans.  The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the next key moment is Friday, when Erdoğan returns to the country.  Even though the demonstrations and strikes will continue today and tomorrow at a relatively reduced tension, and Erdoğan’s opponents have truly substantive critiques about the level of freedom (especially with respect to political expression and a free press), it will be intriguing to see if Erdoğan responds with the same tone that Gül and Arınç have now adopted.

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Continue reading Who is Bülent Arınç? And why is he the man of the hour in Turkey?

Hand-wringing over Erdoğan is alarmist, but Turkey’s still trapped in a perilous standoff

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The images from Taksim Square over the past week, culminating in conflict between protesters and Turkish police authorities, have stunned a global community that’s used to thinking of Turkey — and, in particular, Istanbul — as a relatively tranquil secular meeting point of East and West.Turkey

Although I’ve not written much about Turkey through Suffragio, it’s a fascinating country that I was delighted to visit in 2010, at the height of the glory days of the government of its current (and now embattled) prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Ultimately, there are two questions at issue here: how to evaluate Erdoğan’s performance prior to the recent protests, on the one hand, and how to evaluate Erdoğan’s performance during and in response to the protests, on the other hand.

Although Western commentators have increasingly argued of Erdoğan’s move toward increasing Islamization and authoritarianism, I worry that those calls misunderstand the depth of Erdoğan’s support and the nature of what modern Turkey (it is, after all, a country that’s over 98% Muslim) has become today.  But it is impossible to watch Erdoğan’s repression of basic political freedoms, such as his government’s recent moves to disrupt a planned May Day protest, and the ongoing brutal police response to the Taksim Square and increasingly, nationwide, protests without admitting that whatever legitimacy Erdoğan once enjoyed is rapidly dissipating, and Erdoğan, his government, Turkey’s president, Turkey’s military, and Turkey’s awakened — and rightfully angry — protest movement, are all trapped in a suddenly perilous standoff.

It’s all the more fragile given the ongoing civil war in Syria.  Not only has the Erdoğan government been unsuccessful in persuading one-time ally Bashar al-Assad to pursue a more moderate course, the growing number of refugees from Syria within Turkey’s borders means that Turkey risks being drawn into a wider regional conflict (though, in one of the few humorous asides to the ongoing protests, Syria has now issued a travel warning for Turkey).

Erdoğan’s initial position was legitimate and democratic

When Steven Cook wrote in The Atlantic earlier this month, that ‘while Turkey is perhaps more democratic than it was 20 years ago, it is less open than it was eight years ago,’ I had two initial reactions.  First and foremost, shouldn’t we care more, from a pure governance standard, that Turkey’s government is representative and responsive to its electorate than it hews to some Westernized standard of ‘openness’? What does ‘less open’ even mean? Secondly, when Cook laments Turkey’s ‘less open’ nature, he doesn’t equally lament that the European Union virtually slammed the door in the face of Turkey’s application to join the European Union in 2005, when despite the opening of negotiations for Turkish accession, it became clear any road for Turkey’s EU membership would be long and arduous.  It may be difficult to remember today, but it’s a push that Erdoğan’s government made even more passionately than the governments that preceded it.

Turkey, let’s be clear, didn’t leave Europe.  Europe left Turkey, which has focused on becoming a more important regional player in the Middle East in recent years.

More importantly, from a day-to-day perspective for most Turks, Erdoğan ushered Turkey into a new era of economic reform and modernity, partly due to his enthusiasm to enter the European Union in his first term.  But despite the futility of Erdoğan’s initial rationale, Turkey’s economic gains are real, the country certainly remains under much better economic stewardship than Greece or much of Europe:

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But Cook, and similar analysts, I fear, are not placing enough weight on the fact that Erdoğan has delivered Turkey’s most responsive and democratically accountable government since the foundation of the modern Republic of Turkey in 1923.  And when I read critiques of Erdoğan that cast him as a modern-day ‘sultan,’ I have to cringe because it’s intellectually lazy for opponents to slap Orientalist labels on Erdoğan simply because they disagree with his policy choices.

The Economist on Sunday trumpeted a foreign diplomat who argues that ‘this is not about secularists versus Islamists—it’s about pluralism versus authoritarianism,’ though the question remains — pluralism compared to what? The governments that came before Erdoğan?  Some Western fantasy of what Turkey’s government should be?

Erdoğan is neither a sultan nor a dictator, but the duly elected leader of Turkey’s government for over a decade, enjoying the repeated success of consecutive democratic victories in election after election.

Continue reading Hand-wringing over Erdoğan is alarmist, but Turkey’s still trapped in a perilous standoff