Alwaght- For decades, Turkey has been grappling with a challenge dubbed the “Kurdish cause.” When in 1983 the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was founded, it started an armed conflict with the central Turkish government. The decades-long conflict claimed lives of thousands of the PKK militants and the Turkish forces.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) that has been ruling the country since 2002 decided to uproot the PKK’s branches in the Turkish cities. As part of the policy, Turkey’s government jailed tens of mayors and provincial officials in the Kurdish-majority cities affiliated with the Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
Most important arrests were made in October 2016. On October 25 of that year, the co-mayors of Diyarbakir Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli, as well as the co-leaders of the HDP Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag along with 9 other lawmakers, were arrested and jailed under charges of colluding with the PKK against the Turkish government.
The wave of arrests continued beyond 2016, though less intensive, until recently that the government once again stepped up the crackdown. Turkish authorities, supervised by the interior ministry Friday detained four more pro-Kurdish mayors in southeastern and eastern regions of the country, local media reported.
The mayors from the People's Democratic Party (HDP), which the government accuses of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), were detained at their homes. They were removed from office and replaced with government appointees.
The four mayors – Yaşar Akkuş of Idgir, Berivan Helen Işık of Siirt, Ramazan Sarsılmaz of Baykan and Bara Akgül of Kurtalan – won their respective local elections held in March 2019.
The interior ministry said that it appointed provincial council officials as acting mayors.
The arrests promote some questions: What influences do the arrests leave on the future of the Turkey's developments and the political position of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
Erdogan and the mystery of winning the nationalists’ support
Erdogan’s goal is now facing defections inside the AKP. The president on the one hand lost the support of his old friends along with whom he founded the party and pushed it towards progression. On the other hand, Ahmet Davutoglu, the former PM and Erdogan’s strategy czar between 2004 and 2016, has unveiled Future Party and Erdogan’s former aide and chief economist Ali Babacan took the same step in March. Erdogan knows very well that the defectors in the next election will take from the ruling party considerable votes and this will strip the AKP of the majority it held for nearly two decades.
To reverse this damage, the Turkish leader now seeks to take to his side the nationalists. To this end, he has so far conducted three military operations in northern Syria against the Kurds there. Now he is again accusing the Kurdish parties of developing split plans all to provoke support from the nationalist Turks.
The arrest of the Kurdish mayors under the excuse of collusion with the PKK against the state is a strategy in the past proved fruitful to the president. But now the conditions seem to be different than then. As much as the arrest of the Kurdish mayors can draw popularity for the AKP from the Turkish nationalists, it will destroy the Kurdish public trust and vote for the AKP. So, it is predicted that Erdogan’s program will not work as perfectly as in the past. Odds are the AKP will see unprecedented slump of support in the predominantly-Kurdish regions of Turkey.
Opposition unite ranks against Erdogan
Yet another impact of the recent arrests in Turkey is the unification of the ranks of the opposition forces. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the HDP showed in the past year’s election that with unity they can take from the ruling party Istanbul as Turkey’s biggest city. Erdogan’s policy towards monopolization of the power in his hands more than any other time motivate the opposition groups to seek comprehensive unity against him.
Now the CHP, HDP, iYi Party, and the Peace and Democracy Party more than any other time have united their ranks against the AKP. Babacan, the head of the DEVA, in a Twitter message said: “As we emphasized before and even pointed to it in our party plans, without a definite judicial warrant and just with a personal decision arresting and firing officials who are elected by the direct people’s vote is the hijacking of the people’s will. This will undermine the belief in the election that is the basis of the democracies.”
Pervin Buldan, the co-leader of the HDP in comments on the recent arrests said: “If we stay silent to the appointments of acting mayors, the turn of Istanbul and Ankara will come.” This indicates that the Turkish opposition parties have serious ground to unite against the ruling AKP despite their diversity of views.
The AKP may lose votes in the next election
Undermined vote ground of the AKP can be another certain influence of the recent arrest and dismissal of the Kurdish mayors by the government which says they are holding links with the PKK to help split the Kurdish minority from the country. Turkey’s movement to further political closure discourages not only the parties but also the public from giving their votes in the next election to Erdogan and his party. A large number of pro-democracy citizens now figure out that the government’s repressive approach is not just targeting the Kurds. Rather, it poses a new threat to all of Turkey’s citizens because the AKP can authorize itself to make arrests whenever it wants under security excuses. It seems that in the next parliamentary election, scheduled for 2023, for the first time since 2002 the ruling party will fail to win an outright majority to independently form a new government.