The current crisis in NATO, which as Erdoğan’s Turkey as its focal point, can be seen as a relentless export of a major issue for the country into the alliance at a very critical juncture.
Up until the summer of 2015, Erdoğan was seen by Turkey’s Kurds (about 18 percent of the population and 12 percent of the electoral segment) as the grand hope for bringing an end to the decades-long cycle of violence, and reconciliation to the domestic scene. He deliberately chose to disrupt it, when his ultra-nationalist and Eurasian allies in Ankara were utterly dismayed to see that 80 deputies of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) entered Parliament, signalling that voters in the June 7, 2015 elections mainly backed his peace efforts.
Being the eternally volatile and “pragmatic” leader, Erdoğan saw the discontinuity of the process as the only way to secure his political survival and leadership, at the service of the hard-line politics.
Following that U-turn, when Ankara returned to its well-known “factory settings”, based on the parameters of denial of rights, a new crackdown was launched against not only elected Kurdish politicians, but also against the civil society in support of a solution. This includes the long-term jailing of philanthropist Osman Kavala, which has its roots to his endorsement of a reconciliation between Turks and the Kurds.
The attempted coup nearly six years ago was another threshold in that direction. Backed by the state of emergency rule (OHAL), Erdoğan’s ruling cycle was quick to go further to break the backbone of Kurdish politics. At the end of 2016, many HDP deputies, including its co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş, found themselves in prison. A clampdown on local network of the HDP intensified. When the party gained ground again in 2019, Ankara’s response was to strip the elected Kurdish mayors of their titles. Today, more than 50 major and minor Kurdish municipalities are under the control of government trustees who act like de-facto governors in those, with massive corruption allegations as a result.
Up until the NATO summit, northern parts of Syria, Rojava in particular, have remained a headache for Erdoğan and his far-right ruling circle. At home, the PKK – which had stopped its acts of violence in and onto Turkish soil – was the eternal enemy to create pretext for hard-line politics, and across the border the SDF, led by PYD/YPG militia was labelled as the same despite the lack of systemic acts of aggression except for a few instances of sporadic shelling in the border area. But overall, the official rhetoric, backed by incursions and clampdown, has continued to serve Erdoğan’s self-interests for forging his power in Ankara.
Against this background, Ankara’s stand as the “spoiler of the game” in the NATO summit needs to be seen as an attempt to export its own problems and its sui generis “values” to be accepted by the alliance. That Erdoğan also figures as the leader of a NATO member, who insists on the purchase and usage of Russian S-400 missile systems complicates the picture even further.
So far, he seems to have the ground for “talks” prepared as successfully. It is crucial for him to stand as a the unbending leader before the allies, and one who the U.S. President Joe Biden “has to talk to”, in his ongoing plans to cement his power.
But, if NATO is at all about values at this critical juncture of history, where the Russian invasion of Ukraine is widely perceived as “democracies’ combat against autocracies”, Erdoğan, a clear-cut autocrat in the eyes of many NATO members, must perhaps be confronted with a series of candid questions in Madrid.
Here are some of them:
- Do you intend to close down the HDP, the third largest elected group in parliament? If so, how will it serve the purpose of stabilizing Turkey’s stance within NATO?
- Will the implementation of government trustees appointed in the place of elected Kurdish mayors continue?
- There are around 12,000 Kurdish political prisoners in jails. What does the government intend to deal with their cases? Will arrests cease to exist, or continue?
- It is reported that Turkish government officials have for some months been preparing for “negotiations” with Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK. These reports have not been denied so far. How do you explain that your demand for NATO candidate countries Sweden and Finland to cut off their dialogue with the PKK and its alleged derivatives are in collision with your efforts to continue talks with the PKK?
- Turkey’s Kurdish issue is a “security concern” for the stability of the entire region. What are your plans to solve it in near future?
- According to your government, the existence of the SDF militia in Rojava is a “security concern” for Turkey – a demand “recognized” by NATO General Secretary. But for NATO and Western coalition, the “real security concern” is the existence of ISIS elements in the region. Can you explain how the containment of ISIS prisoners and their families (more than 70,000 of them) will be handled, if the SDF, which are he guardians of the prisons and camps, is declared a “terrorist organisation”. What is your solution to this threat?