"> ANALYSIS - Kurdish nationalism on the rise, ballot suggests



March 31, 2009 ANALYSIS - Kurdish nationalism on the rise, ballot suggests

Hurriyet - By Mustafa Akyol

D?YARBAKIR - Local election results manifested, once again, evidence that Kurdish nationalism is strong and the tactics of the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, do not appease its adherents or win any hearts and minds in the country’s southeastern region. The victory was most clear in Diyarbak?r, the biggest city in Southeast Turkey 

Sunday’s local elections opened a whole new chapter in one of Turkey’s most acute problem: The Kurdish question. The Democratic Society Party, or DTP, which openly champions Kurdish nationalism and has at times sympathized with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, won a clear victory in the southeastern region of the country.  

This manifested, once again, evidence that Kurdish nationalism is strong and the tactics of the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, do not appease its adherents or win any hearts and minds. 

The victory was most clear in Diyarbak?r, the leading city in Southeast Turkey. The DTP mayor of the city, Osman Baydemir, who recently called the city "our castle," was re-elected with a sweeping 65.4 percent of the votes. The candidate supported by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an, who vowed to "take that castle," Kutbettin Arzu of the AKP, could only take 31.6 percent. Besides Baydemir’s metropolitan area, the DTP also won 14 of the 17 districts of Diyarbak?r. Other parties showed almost no signs of presence there or in the rest of the southeastern cities.

AKP’s decline

The rivalry between the AKP and the DTP on Kurdish votes peaked in the general elections of July 2007. Then, it was the AKP that won most of the southeastern cities. In Diyarbak?r, its votes skyrocketed and almost equaled the DTP. This was a shock to the latter, which sees itself as the only true representative of the Kurdish people, and blames the AKP for deluding Kurds with welfare programs and a religiously inspired propaganda of "brotherhood" (of all Muslims, whether they be Turkish or Kurdish.) 

But the AKP’s ascendance also lays in the liberal stance it took on the Kurdish issue. Before the 2007 elections, Erdo?an made several remarks that made the Kurds and others hopeful, and he rejected the calls for military operations against the PKK separatists in northern Iraq. But after the elections, Erdo?an, who was cornered by a court case that considered closing his party and banning him from politics, stepped back from some of his more reformist rhetoric. He agreed with the demands of the Turkish military to launch operations, and the European Union process, which most Kurds like, waned. For the people here, this retreat was synonymous with treason. "Some of us were fooled by Erdo?an in 2007," said Mehmet Uzun, 47, who proudly said he voted for the DTP in Sunday’s polls. "But we will not be fooled again." The paradox is that Erdo?an was commended in the rest of the country for "tuning himself with the military" and, at least apparently, minimizing the conflict between him and the generals. In the Kurdish areas, though, this seems to have been a kiss of death for him. 

The perception gap between Southeast Turkey and the rest is indeed jaw dropping. The PKK carries a bad image in the eyes of many Turks but in Diyarbak?r, the party is not seen that way at all. The thousands of people who gathered in front the DTP headquarters Sunday night to celebrate the election victory made this obvious. The ecstatic crowd, which included men and women from all ages and walks of life, were cheerful for not just the DTP, but also the PKK. Its leader, Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in a Turkish prison since 1999, was praised. When his posters were unfurled, people started to chant his nickname, "Apo, Apo, Apo." At one point a slogan filled the air: "PKK is the people! And the people are here!" It was followed by another: "Hey Turko, go home, Amed is not yours." Amed is the ancient name given to Diyarbak?r in the Kurdish language. 

"The Kurds who vote for the AKP are traitors," said one young man in the crowd. "They think more about money than freedom." Zeynep, a young university student, put this in better perspective: "The AKP gets votes from the older generation who are more conservative and religious," she said. "But for us young adults there is only the DTP, because we yearn for freedom." 

A glass half-full

In fact, the AKP was hoping for better results in the Southeast because it recently took some revolutionary steps: TRT 6, an official 24-hour Kurdish language channel was launched and an investigation unearthed some of the crimes committed in the Southeast by security forces. The problem is that these are, at best, a glass half-full for the Kurds. And the more nationalist among them are not willing to be satisfied with anything less than a full glass. But what is that full glass? "We want our own country, a federation," said Recep, 23, who was among the excited crowd at the DTP headquarters. "And we also want Öcalan to be free, he is our leader." But for the rest of the country, these are unthinkable options. Most people, especially Turkish nationalists, even think that the AKP has gone too far in its effort to win over the Kurds, and that it started to erode the country’s only legitimate identity: Turkishness. For them, the AKP’s half-full glass is a dangerous deviation, if not treason. All this makes Turkey’s Kurdish question even harder to answer. An impending milestone is the verdict of the Constitutional Court on the closure case opened against the DTP. The future of Öcalan is also crucial for the people here. "If something happens to Öcalan, our people will burn this country, it will be like hell," said Zeynep. 

Perhaps this will force the authorities to come to a point that almost nobody wants to speak about: To make a deal with Öcalan, and start to negotiate with the DTP for a "political solution." Because all other options ? the "military solution" and the AKP’s half-glass strategy ? do not seem to have worked.

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