Experienced politician analyzes Turkey's "Operation Crackdown" for Kurds
Ertugrul Kurkcu, the Honorary President of the HDP (People's Democratic Party), states that the government has exhausted its options against the Kurdish movement by relying solely on military means. He believes that Fidan's visits to Baghdad and Erbil prove that Turkey is trying to forge a new alliance with regional states.
On August 27, the HDP held its 4th Extraordinary Congress at a venue adjacent to its headquarters in Ankara. Attendance was limited, and the mood was somber. Facing potential dissolution by the Constitutional Court, the HDP is now focusing on the Green Left Party, which plans to rename itself after its upcoming congress.
What is the historical significance of the HDP, which has become a pivotal actor in Turkish politics since its inception? Has the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government succeeded in its "Operation Crackdown" against the HDP and the Kurdish movement?
In the initial part of our interview with HDP Honorary President Ertugrul Kurkcu, we explored the status of the "Operation Crackdown" that the AKP is rumored to have pursued during the peace process. We also discussed Hakan Fidan's recent visits to Baghdad and Erbil.
In our next part with Kurkçu, readers will gain insights into the challenges faced by the HDP, the evolving relationship between Turkey's left-socialist movements and the Kurdish movement, and their mistakes, deficiencies, and self-reflection.
- Regarding the article you penned about Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan's journey to Iraq titled "The Quest for an 'Anti-Kurdish Pact' in Baghdad," the term "anti-Kurdish pact" reminds many of the 1937 Sadabat Pact signed among Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Although the Sadabat Pact became obsolete after World War II, the anti-Kurdish consensus spearheaded by Turkey persisted, evolving into the 1955 Baghdad Pact, which later became the CENTO (Central Treaty Organization). Do you view Fidan's trips to Baghdad and Erbil in this light?
The inclination towards an anti-Kurdish alliance is inherent in the states sharing Kurdistan. This sentiment has persisted since the division of Kurdistan among Turkey, Britain, and France after World War I. France influenced Syria, while Britain influenced Iraq. The successive Syrian and Iraqi states inherited this legacy. Though occasionally shaken, the allegiances formed against the Kurds' aspirations for self-determination in the 1930s consistently found a way to adapt. In this context, Fidan's outreach is apt.
- So, why is Turkey now spearheading this consensus?
With its bolstered military capabilities and experience gained from conflicts with the Kurds, Turkey is attempting to establish new terms with regional states. Turkey believes it has the authority to set the terms of this new agreement.
- Given the evolving dynamics in the region, can Turkey re-establish an anti-Kurdish consensus?
Given Bashar al-Assad's refusal to acknowledge the strides Kurds made against ISIS and the Syrian regime's goal to reverse Rojava's gains, a renewed engagement between Turkey and Syria seems probable. Recent statements from Assad suggest a willingness to revert to former relations if Turkish forces exit Syria.
- Would it be unexpected if Turkey consented to withdraw from Syrian territory in exchange for Rojava being attacked by Damascus?
Eventually, Turkey will leave under international law. The US and Russia supported its military operations. Turkey wants to strengthen its control over these areas by exploiting divisions among Kurdish groups.
There's no significant obstacle in Ankara's path; it operates under the NATO security umbrella. Turkey aims to depict itself as the West's chief enforcer against the aspirations represented by the Kurdish movement.
- So, how far has Turkey progressed in this endeavor?
Ankara has pushed its agenda to its limits and can't proceed further without forging local and global alliances. These alliances' success hinges on shared economic and political interests. As evidenced by Hakan Fidan's discussions in Baghdad, the focus wasn't solely on security but also encompassed water, oil, foreign trade, and access to international markets.
- If Turkey had continued the 2013-15 peace process, wouldn't its regional influence have grown?
When Ankara realized the rising Kurdish aspiration for autonomy was shifting the balance of power in Turkey, it felt threatened. The government believed that influence over all parts of Kurdistan was essential to suppress the North. Thus, they initiated a strategy from 2015 to 2023, which internally was dubbed "Operation Crackdown". The domestic plan has now reached its zenith, and Fidan is extending an olive branch to the Iraqi and Syrian states.
- How successful was Fidan's "exploratory" trip to Iraq?
Initial reports suggest Fidan received a non-committal response from Baghdad. However, these meetings were significant for Fidan to showcase his government's "anti-terror" stance on a global stage. These photographs will likely be used for political leverage in the upcoming local elections in the North.
- Can you elaborate?
The images of Fidan with Kurdish leaders will be showcased to indicate Turkey's amicable stance towards certain Kurdish factions. The government is strategically positioning these narratives both for short-term and long-term gains.
- Is Turkey's long-term goal to subdue the Kurds in Iraq and Syria?
Ankara's aspiration for regional dominance is evident. However, the immediate concern is to quell the Kurdish resistance. Given the scale of the military operations, how sustainable is this strategy?
- It can't last, can it?
Hakan Fidan's outreach indicates the quest for a new equilibrium because the current approach isn't tenable in the long run. The constraints are becoming evident. Thus, the government is diversifying its strategies.
- Do you see a democratic resolution to the Kurdish issue as one of these strategies?
No. Despite the challenges, Turkey's leaders have deviated from the 2013 -15 peace process terms. The HDP's potential dissolution reflects this deviation. The government perceives the Kurdish issue through a military lens, sidelining any political solution.
- Given this perspective, what can we expect from Turkey in the foreseeable future?
Expect a continuation of the military offensive and an ongoing quest to build alliances against the Kurds. It will be a dual strategy: militaristic suppression coupled with diplomatic maneuvering. In contrast, the peace process of 2013-15 is a testament to the potential for peaceful resolutions. Returning to dialogue, respecting cultural rights, and acknowledging Kurdish aspirations can pave the way for sustainable solutions in Turkey and the broader region.
- You mentioned that, similar to Sri Lanka's campaign against the Tamils, the government launched a "Operation Crackdown" against the Kurdish movement. This was created throughout the problem-solving process and led to later fighting methods. The HDP ousted the AKP from office on June 7, 2015. Given the HDP's inevitable fall and electoral failures, did the Operation Crackdown work?
No, the battle continues. The "Operation Crackdown" didn't proceed as planned. Instead of leading to collapse, it encountered staunch resistance. The HDP wasn't involved in the warfare. They remained political, advocating for democratic resolutions. Yet, the government repositioned the HDP among the "military solution" targets. Despite the HDP being bound by legislation and democratic principles, they faced a government wielding every weapon and resource.
- Do you link the HDP's 2023 electoral setback and vote decline to this?
To assert that the HDP and the ruling bloc enjoyed an equal playing field for eight years would be a historical error. The Council of Europe and OSCE, two external observer missions, concur that the electoral circumstances were biased. The HDP's votes have not significantly decreased. They have continuously endured the anticipated effects of the Operation Crackdown, including high death rates, displaced populations, and wounded, since 2015.
- What caused this shift?
After the end of the peace process, the public began to question the "revolutionary people's war" strategy. Voting became an obligation rather than a genuine choice.
- Do you believe the HDP has become isolated?
Dedicated patriots support the HDP, but many have been deterred since 2015. Despite all challenges, the HDP's decline isn't dramatic but is more of a standstill.
- Do you mean to say that the election was a success?
It would be oversimplified to call the HDP's performance a "failure" given the state-sanctioned repression they experienced. Voting isn't only a civic obligation for many and a symbolic act of defiance.
- Are HDP members considering mechanisms to adjust?
The HDP is under immense pressure and is regularly targeted by police operations. Their efforts to adapt are constantly hampered.
- Could the HDP have made a major political maneuver?
The HDP is not the primary driver of the broader Kurdish struggle. It's paradoxical for them to bear the repercussions without having a significant influence over the causes.
- So, you deem criticisms of the HDP unjust?
Criticism should be balanced. The HDP cannot be solely blamed for outcomes resulting from numerous, often uncoordinated efforts. Evaluating the HDP's performance based solely on vote counts is an oversimplification.
- What fueled the HDP's rapid ascent in its early years?
The HDP's 2015 surge was during a time of escalating Kurdish resistance and a relatively open political climate in Turkey. This shifted drastically in the subsequent years.
- If outcomes were primarily due to external actors, why did the HDP initiate self-criticism?
While we're still deflecting criticisms, we recognize the need for genuine self-evaluation. We must provide an accountable answer if we claim electoral struggles as our benchmark and fail.
Tomorrow: Exploring the future paths for Turkey's socialists and the Kurdish movement, assessing the self-critique process within the HDP-Green Left Party.
*On August 28, 2023, the interview was posted in Turkish on the Artı Gerçek website. It has been condensed in accordance with the original and translated into English for Gerceknews.