It is no secret that the Kurdish question is one of the thorniest issues to be dealt with in the new Turkish constitution. Unfortunately, the recent PKK attacks and the Turkish assault on the terrorist group are making dealing with Kurdish identity and Kurdish rights even more difficult than it would otherwise be. I have been harping for awhile now on the importance of finding a political solution in order to fully integrate Turkey’s Kurds into the Turkish polity, but since abandoning his short-lived Kurdish opening, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has seemed bent on little more than trying to eradicate the PKK militarily. This policy has been distilled to its very essence with the ongoing army operation in Şemdinli, in which the military has closed the district off entirely and is closing parts of the Şemdinli, Çukurca, Hakkari, and Yüksekova districts until October 6, all the while deploying tanks and jets against the PKK fighters holed up there. Erdoğan has displayed a zero tolerance policy toward the PKK, and relations have soured with Massoud Barzani and the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq over Barzani’s support for PKK-linked groups such as the PYD; indeed, fighting the PKK is not only looking like the sole facet of Erdoğan’s Kurdish policy, but is rapidly taking over any other foreign policy priority that Turkey has voiced over the past decade.
Erdoğan is certainly justified in adopting a zero tolerance policy when it comes to the PKK, but the underlying question that needs to be asked is how the narrow focus on the PKK is going to affect the larger Kurdish problem, and particularly how it will color Erdoğan and the AKP’s view of Kurdish rights under the new constitution. While there have been reports that the AKP is going to actually propose recognition of a separate Kurdish identity, rumors have also persisted that the AKP is making a back room deal with the nationalist MHP to circumvent the need for consensus on the constitution, and any deal with the MHP is going to keep Kurdish rights and identity suppressed. While this has all been conjecture up until this point, Tuesday revealed a preview of what might be coming down the road in the guise of a dispute over whether to convene a special parliamentary session dealing with the PKK and Şemdinli. The opposition CHP has complained about a delegation of its deputies being barred from visiting villages that have been cordoned off and of a general lack of transparency from the government about what is going on, and are now bringing things to a head by calling for an extraordinary parliamentary session to discuss what the government is up to and what its longterm plan might be. Erdoğan blew off the CHP request, but also brought up the MHP unprompted and predicted that the MHP deputies would not cooperate with the CHP on this issue either.
That the MHP would not want to spend any time debating a response other than a military one to the PKK is not at all surprising, but the explicit linking of the AKP and MHP together in the manner that Erdoğan did it is revealing. The CHP and its leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu have been more vocal lately in stridently challenging Erdoğan over a host of issues from military operations against the PKK to the government’s Syria policy, and Erdoğan has been characteristically bombastic in his responses. The increased tension between the AKP and what appears to be a newly emboldened CHP is not going to make a collaborative constitutional process particularly easy, and it’s not surprising that Erdoğan would look to the MHP to give him cover to do what he really wants to do, which is turn Turkey into a strong presidential system. In return, Erdoğan is going to continue taking the fight to the PKK, but it also means acceding to MHP demands not to recognize any type of Kurdish rights in the new constitution. The spat over whether or not to call a special session of parliament is not in itself a big deal, but Erdoğan’s invoking of the MHP and his increasing nationalistic approach to dealing with the PKK, the PYD, and even Barzani seem to foreshadow what is going to transpire once the constitutional process moves out into the open. A closer relationship with Devlet Bahçeli and the MHP means consigning Turkey’s Kurds to remain a permanent non-recognized underclass, and this is exactly what appears to be happening.