Turkey is on the brink of civil war and economic collapse, and the country’s future is being held hostage to the overweening ambition of its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Egged on by a delusion of neo-Ottoman grandeur, created by his former foreign minister and now prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, Erdogan has been intent on creating what many see as his own caliphate, but was blocked in the June election by the Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party).
For the first time, a Kurdish-based party exceeded the electoral threshold of 10 percent and with 13 percent of the votes took 80 out of the Turkish parliament’s
550 seats, depriving Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) of the overall majority it needed to change the constitution and secure Erdogan full executive power. With a reduced majority, 258 seats, the AKP has been forced to negotiate with the secular CHP (Republican People’s Party) with a view to forming a coalition, but the deck is stacked – the head of the AKP delegation was appointed by Erdogan, and talks have ended inconclusively. Now the way is open for a new election in November, where the AKP hopes to regain its overall majority.
When it comes to the Kurdish question, Erdogan has performed a remarkable u-turn. In 2005, in a historic speech in Diyarbakir, the capital of Turkey’s southeast, Erdogan was the first Turkish leader openly to acknowledge there was a Kurdish problem, and secret talks were later held in Oslo between Turkey’s MIT (National Intelligence Organization) and the outlawed PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). Two years ago the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, also called for a ceasefire.
A major step in the peace process came with the Dolmabahce Agreement, a 10-point plan to resolve the Kurdish issue, which was announced at the end of February by the AKP government’s deputy prime minister and an HDP deputy. Therefore it came as a shock when Erdogan in mid-March declared that Turkey had never had a Kurdish problem and later in July after the election turned his back on the agreement.
Erdogan had originally counted on Kurdish support for a constitutional change but the peace process came to an effective end when the HDP’s co-chair, Selahattin Demirtas, in mid-March told Erdogan three times: “We will not make you the president.” In return, Erdogan stated: “There cannot be an agreement with a political party that is being supported by a terrorist organization."
Steps are now being taken to strip Selahattin Demirtas and his co-chair, Figen Yüksekdag, of their parliamentary immunity to make it possible to prosecute them for alleged terror links. Turkey’s deal with the US to allow American aircraft to use Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey for sorties against ISIL has been interpreted by the interim AKP government as carte blanche for air strikes against PKK bases in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey in retaliation for PKK attacks on the Turkish army and police.
This has alarmed US president Barack Obama, who has called on Turkey “to stay focused”, reminding the Turkish government that “the agreement we are working on is carefully bound around: how do we close off that border to foreign fighters entering into Syria? And everything we do will be based on that issue.”
This appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears with the escalation of violence in Turkey. In the meantime, President Erdogan is safely ensconced in his opulent new palace like the Roman emperor Nero who fiddled while Rome burned.
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