I am not optimistic because each party has its own political Achilles’ heel. The CHP has in the past played the “nationalist” on the Kurdish question, and has had extreme difficulty persuading even its own constituency of its new position. Turks in the Western regions of Turkey who vote for the CHP will be upset with their party’s changing stance on the issue. When the democratic initiative was announced by the government in the summer of 2009 the CHP was its most ardent opponent. Now a new and weak party leader cannot explain or justify this collaboration with the ruling party and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) to find an answer to the Kurdish question.
As for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), I do not see any reason why it should take up a comprehensive new initiative. For some time the ruling party has seemed to limit its search for a solution, resolving either to finish off the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) through security measures or wait for Mesud Barzani to persuade the PKK to lay down its arms. Otherwise the government is of the opinion that the AK Party is not responsible for the existence of the PKK, that terrorism has been a fact of life for decades preceding AK Party rule and that the people are accustomed to living with violence. In short, as the PKK violence is “bearable” for the government in political terms, it is unlikely to take an unbearable toll.
As the government regards the situation as “manageable” it naturally refrains from taking political risks. Any major policy initiative addressing the root causes of the Kurdish issue and responding to the demands of the Kurds is viewed as an unnecessary risk. The ruling party is not under any kind of pressure to hasten to find a solution. The existence and terrorist activities of the PKK does not push the government to seek a political solution; on the contrary, I believe it justifies the government’s security-centric perspective.
There is one thing likely to force the ruling party to take the Kurdish question seriously: the pressure of its own Kurds. It is a fact that more than half of the Kurds in this country vote for the AK Party. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan proudly boasts that he can travel all around the country and hold public meetings everywhere, including Kurdish areas. He has also used the Kurdish vote to enhance the popular “legitimacy” of the government. The Kurdish votes enable Erdoğan to claim that he and his party are champions of the integrity of Turkey. This strategy was employed particularly in the early years of the party, when its legitimacy was questioned by secularists and, more vehemently, by the military, as well as during the party closure case in 2008.
So the support of the Kurds has always meant more than mere numbers; it has accorded the AK Party democratic pluralism, social heterogeneity and political legitimacy. Without the Kurdish votes the AK Party would appear to be a party of nationalist Turks.
I think Kurdish voters, local party leaders and members of parliament (said to be between 70 and 100) are unaware of their importance to the AK Party. As Erdoğan leans toward a nationalist and statist position on the Kurdish question in order to appease the nationalists in the party and appeal to MHP voters, the Kurdish constituency of the AK Party remains silent, unable to articulate its demands. While Turkey debates various aspects of the Kurdish question, the Kurdish elite of the AK Party does not engage in the debate. They cannot even speak up against the minister of the interior, who continuously downplays the sorrows of the Uludere victims.
In short, the Kurdish elite of the AK Party has failed to become an actor within the party, to push for a solution to the Kurdish question. Knowing this, and assuming that the Kurdish supporters of the AK Party have been locked down, Erdoğan and his minister of the interior safely navigate the nationalist waters of Turkish voters.