by Ahmet Aslan (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 7, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1436)
The AKP-led Turkish government’s fragile peace with the Kurdish rebel group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has come to an end and revived horrific memories of the past. Since 2009, Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) had pressed hard to end the ongoing violence in southeastern Turkey. The government’s determined peace negotiations with the PKK initially yielded results and an agreement to end the bloody conflict seemed imminent.
The long war between the separatist PKK and the Turkish government had resulted in the killing of around 40,000 people on both sides. It had caused great pain in the country. Thus the vast majority of Turkish people supported the negotiations and hoped that permanent peace would be achieved. However, “unexpected” developments on both the domestic and international scenes have prompted the AKP to revise its policy of negotiations for one of relentless aggression.
The Syrian debacle has been deeply worrying for the AKP government. Its brazen support for the terrorist groups — arms, logistics, intelligence and sanctuaries — has destabilized Syria and strengthened groups like Da‘ish (aka ISIS). Initially Turkey was not troubled by ISIS’ massive expansion campaign. It is common knowledge that Turkey has directly or indirectly supported ISIS against the Syrian government and the Kurds, represented by the YPG (People’s Defence Units). But the YPG has played its cards very carefully and sided with the international coalition to counter the Da‘ish/ISIS takfiri terrorists. As a result they have cemented their control over Northern Syria.
This was a nightmare scenario for Ankara since the YPG is the sister organization of the PKK that operates in Turkey. The YPG’s success in achieving autonomous rule in Western Syria would perhaps strengthen PKK’s separatist endeavors in the long run. In the short term, it has embarrassed the AKP as it seems Turkey’s senseless Syrian policy has led to autonomous Kurdish rule in Syria.
Domestically, the AKP was bruised in the last elections (June 7) and lost its majority in parliament. Based on opinion polls prior to elections, the AKP policy makers assumed that the concessions they had granted to the PKK were the main factor behind the decline in their public support. Further, and perhaps more importantly, after the elections they believed that the peace process had helped the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), known to be the political wing of the PKK, to increase its share of the vote. The HDP gained 13% of the vote in the June elections and got 80 seats in parliament, the first ever in its history. It played an important role in preventing the AKP from retaining its majority in parliament that it had enjoyed since 2002.
The AKP realized that although it may be beneficial for the country it is not beneficial for the party to continue the peace process with the Kurds. The AKP considers the HDP a direct threat to its political future. In this regard Yalcin Akdogan, Erdogan’s closest adviser, who is the minister in charge of the so-called peace process, stated that “Selehattin Demirtas’ [leader of the HDP] words [against Erdogan] saying, ‘…we won’t let you be the president’ has ignited tensions in the peace process.”
In another statement, soon after the end of the peace process, Erdogan said, “When the peace process started I was leading my party as prime minister. In March  when we had the local elections we saw something. Unfortunately, it [the peace process] did not result in votes [for us].”
The statements reveal yet again the opportunistic nature of the AKP. The intention of the AKP to pursue the peace process was motivated not by arriving at an equitable solution to the long-festering problem but merely for political gains. And when it realized that the peace process did not serve the party interests, it aborted the process without hesitation. The change in policy occurred regardless of the great many human costs that would be incurred as a result of renewed violence between the PKK and Turkish forces.
According to figures released by the government, since the end of the peace process on July 7, 55 members of the Turkish security forces, 390 PKK members and 14 civilians have been killed. Southeastern Turkey has once again been engulfed in widespread violence and more killings are taking place on a daily basis.
The AKP does not talk about peace anymore. Instead, its rhetoric is laced with talk of war. Erdogan insists that the fighting will continue until the PKK is eliminated. It is not a coincidence that such rhetoric is taking place ahead of the snap election decision. Acting Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has failed to form a coalition government with other political parties and Erdogan is hoping to win a majority in the election scheduled for November 1. During the campaign, his most important card will be the ongoing violence. His aim will be to present the AKP as the only party capable of bringing stability and scare the voters by suggesting that if the AKP does not win a clear majority, the country will face endless chaos.
There is, however, little evidence that Erdogan’s policy will succeed. The most recent polls show that the AKP is far from certain in achieving the majority it so desperately covets. Only the HDP has increased its share of the vote since the June 7 elections. Thanks to Erdogan’s selfish and reckless policies, it seems Turkey will face more uncertain days ahead.