Fear of the pro-Kurdish opposition is taking Turkey down a dangerous path

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will go down in history as the party whose 18 years in power were marked by religious-conservative polarisation that led to an intra-government conflict and ultimately a failed coup. 

The story of the AKP’s ascent is a remarkable one, but its decline over the past decade has witnessed developments that threaten everyone across the political board.

One of the most pressing examples is the government crackdown against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan maintains that the country’s festering wound known as the ‘Kurdish problem’ has been solved and is determined to do away with the HDP.

Since 1984, Turkey has been locked in a struggle against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group that has been fighting for Kurdish self-rule in Turkey.

Over 40,000 people have died in the conflict, which has spilled across Turkey’s borders, drawing in its neighbours and their own minority Kurdish populations. 

The Turkish president sees no problem in using the incredible power he wields in the media and judiciary to eradicate the HDP, which he accuses of links to the PKK.

Just last week, Turkish police detained over 700 HDP members and supporters over connections to the PKK, after a failed rescue mission in northern Iraq resulted in the deaths of 13 Turkish citizens abducted by the group.

It would take volumes of work to dissect how the AKP - which came to power as the party of the oppressed religious-conservatives - arrived at the point it is at today.

But the pressure applied on religious-conservatives by their secular-nationalist counterparts played a role in pushing the AKP into power in 2002 with 33 percent of the vote. 

The Gülen movement, the religious group accused by Ankara of orchestrating the July 2016 coup attempt, quickly filled the cadres of the new government. 

This movement, led by U.S. -based cleric Fethullah Gülen, was one of many religious groups that comprised the AKP, which until 2009 did a decent job of ruling the country.

After coming to power, the party spearheaded certain reforms. But it was the fallout of the 2008 global economic crisis that saw the AKP begin to lose momentum.

The 2008 crisis was so severe that nobody knew what policies to implement in a world that had become so globalised. The AKP moved to centralise its fiscal policies, tying them to itself. And as we well know, Turkey’s economy experienced a tumultuous journey.

During this time, Erdoğan boldly moved to start the Kurdish peace process. And the initiative gave Turkey a much-needed sigh of relief. There was festival-like atmosphere across Turkey’s Kurdish-majority provinces. But all that would be short-lived, with the process falling apart in 2015 over reasons we are never likely to fully know. 

Soon, an effective civil war broke out in the country.

Life proved PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan right when he had said unless the Kurdish problem is solved, there would be a coup dynamic in Turkey.

And not soon thereafter, the failed coup attempt took place and the country was ruled under a state of emergency for two years.

Starting with everyone they claimed was linked to the Gülen movement, the AKP administration went after all those who are pro-freedom and pro-democracy with reckless abandon. Turkey became an inferno of injustice and arbitrary governance.

Let us come back to the HDP, whose deputies face being stripped of their diplomatic immunity and arrest amid a chorus of government voices urging that the party be shut down.

Shutting down the HDP would mean punishing not only those who voted for the party, but the whole of Turkish society.

First, the HDP, like all other political parties, exists due to the demands of the voters who back it. Shutting it down would mean negating the existence of that community and their demands.

Second, resorting to anti-democratic means to close the HDP would equate to stifling the democratic demands of the whole country.

There is only one solution as far as the HDP is concerned, and that is taking seriously the requests for freedom and democracy the party represents.

This is the only way the country can redefine itself on common ground with a sense of togetherness.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.