By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Correspondent for In Homeland Security
At first glance, it appears that the Turkish people (86 percent) have spoken in a recent national elections to preserve Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s larger dream of democracy and modernization.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogen failed to establish a majority through his AKP (Justice and Development Party) that would have solidified his power and that of his Islamic populism. The split will likely force him to at least slow down Turkey’s Islamic populism and compel him to share power with the strong Republican opposition.
Turkey has been at odds with the West in general, from departing from Europe to distancing itself from NATO and Washington’s counterterrorism policies against ISIS. Like other states in the region, the focus has been toward the East; chiefly, China but also closer to Russia and regional partners. But with the Kurdish plight, the inflow of refugees, the targeting of Kurdish militants and the growing threats of ISIS, and only a recent economy uptick, the government’s performance has been lacking.
While the government seems to be running on the best interest of the party and promoting more Islamic conservativism into the system, the policies have only helped the people in power and not the larger whole. In fact, political rights that are at odds with conservative Islam have been repeatedly jeopardized by the Erdogan Regime so that ultimately the Republican system of government has largely eroded from view until this election.
The ISIS siege of the Syrian border town of Kobani was a rally cry for Kurdish political gains as well. This parliamentary election, for the first time, witnessed Kurdish representation of the HDP (Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party). They were able to successfully mix a progressive platform beyond Kurds that took advantage of Erdogan’s authoritarianism and Islamism. They promoted leftism and secularism as well as a restart for the peace talks.
Meanwhile, the government peace dialogue with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is in hiatus. The PKK is an ethno-national independence movement for Turkish Kurds and not a political party in parliament. At the same time, the government continues to target radicals and prevent terrorist acts of the PKK. The offensive can and has historically been abused as a form of political persecution. The PKK is designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and many others, but they have come a long way from Marxism to communalism, libertarian independence or democratic confederalism—however one tries to classify them.
Most importantly, their fighters have been willing to fully commit attacks on and engage the Islamic State in battle. This is something that Ankara refuses to do, aside from limited assaults and an official position that says they will. They tried to coop the U.S. into a commitment of regime change in Syria before they would assist in the Islamic States demise. Their priorities are only out of whack if one considers that they are under threat by the Islamic State. Arresting PKK fighters going to Syria to fight the Islamic State or bombing Kurdish militant positions while refusing to fight the Islamic State is hardly a sound counterterrorism policy. Apparently, they do not or they would engage them and join NATO beyond their desires of Assad’s overthrow or the air exclusive zone. Refugee provisions, NATO use of airfields and training “moderate” rebels is permitted on Turkish soil but little offensive movements from Ankara against ISIS in particular.
If Erdogan and his AKP fellows form a coalition with the rightist Nationalist Movement Party, there could be another mass trigger for instability and a total breakdown in Turkish-Kurdish relations greater than there is right now. The previous armed conflict with the PKK lasted decades and cost the lives of over 40,000. However, embattled politics might twist personal perspective and Erdogan’s power could be further safe-guarded by using nefarious tactics such as targeting the Kurdish militants in excess and exclusion and calling up executive powers during crises. At least that is some opponents think. On the other hand, both sides might trigger this negative scenario and things appeared to be going this direction before the somewhat hopeful elections.
Aside from the obvious Turkish-Kurdish meltdown and the reinstitution of violent separatism, any weakness in Turkey will likely be exploited by the Islamic State. This has already occurred through the migration patterns of European jihadists passing through the Turkish-Syrian border. But Turkey is unfortunately ripe with a momentous political swing. If one is a pure optimist, it is possible that the incoming electoral landscape might lead to a more responsible government if Erdogan fails to form a coalition and the opposition forms a majority coalition instead. But if you are a pessimist, you might see Turkey’s road ahead not too far off from Jordan’s and already under the strain of three political forces: conservative Islam, Kurdish independence and secular republicanism.
Three forces have a chance to set aside differences but the momentum is hard in the direction of pulling the state further into instability; and which might be further spiraled into oblivion with greater economic strains or a sudden catastrophic event or string of terrorism by one or more groups. Erdogan’s strategy has attempted to compensate these larger problems for a long time using increased security measures, Islamic populism and foreign opportunism. The days of his 13 year reign may be numbered with or without a coalition. And by staying in power, Erdogan might be tearing his country apart.