Politics on razor's edge: Escalation under way


Signs are, Turkey is once more entering an explosive period of fierce political confrontation on two central issues: resolution of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) process and a new constitution.

Recent steps are a harbinger of rapid escalation: The leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, the traditional nest of Turkish ultra-nationalism, resorts now to threatening rhetoric. In a series of speeches he has signaled “an eye for an eye,” riling up angry crowds against the peace talks.

In another development, a big group of nationalist academics and authors issued a public statement — signed by 300 of them — demanding that “Turkishness” not be omitted from the Constitution, or from the definition of citizenship. In some media outlets they were branded, mockingly, as the “300 Spartans.”

In an even more serious move some days ago, another group, calling themselves “Turkish Nationalist Lawyers,” visited the Ankara Courthouse and presented their denunciation of many key figures who are involved in the “peace process,” demanding they be tried and punished. The names filed include Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the ministers of justice and the interior, the head of the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), the chief of General Staff and some commanders, the director of the National Police Department and those Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) deputies who met with Öcalan on İmralı Island, where he is imprisoned.



The consecutive moves paint a picture of a new nationalist, pro status-quo mobilization, as the seemingly parallel processes for reform deepen. If we see the growing resistance take a more serious shape, the conclusion will be clear: The aim is, even more than fighting against a resolution of the Kurdish conflict and more than just fighting Erdoğan’s ambition to insert a new presidential system, but to block at any cost attempts to send the authoritarian, outdated 1980 Constitution into the dustbin of history.

In other words, a new entrenchment seems under way over a fundamental, historic system change.

It is not an exaggeration to say that for Erdoğan and his political team, the journey from now on resembles a collective swim in the Mississippi bayou where there are alligators on the loose. Every step forward in terms of ending the PKK’s armed struggle, enhanced formats for reform and drafting a constitution makes the journey an irreversible one; the only thing any sensible observer can do is hope for a happy ending.

On the plus side, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) now has the backing of 59 percent of society for a happy ending. The party’s support remains unchanged: 53 percent, according to Bülent Arınç, its vice chairman.

Yet, on the political side, there is worrisome disarray on some aspects. The so-called “commission of wise people” has unnecessarily occupied the public debate for the past two weeks, causing a waste of time, and the government’s delay in clarifying the commission’s job description only added to the confusion. The issue has become bigger than itself, because many columnists, full of zeal for taking an active part in its configuration, helped sensationalize it. No more time must be lost activating it, hopefully without the involvement of journalists.

The second aspect has to do with two points. One, whether or not Parliament should approve some form of legal guarantees for all the PKK rebels during their passage into Iraq, as well as immunity for others — like the BDP deputies and Kurdish local politicians — who will continue to be active in the negotiations, is still left unanswered.

Two, the government is rather evasive regarding the aspect of (general) amnesty at the (successful) end of the process. It may be understood to a certain extent, due to the sensitivity of public opinion; but it must also be seen as a necessity for Erdoğan to be frank about this. If the new constitution will be about a new social contract on peaceful coexistence, it will have to be completed with an amnesty.

The third item is the most confusing of all. In a recent interview on CNN Türk, Erdoğan seemed unclear about what would be next once, as he desired, PKK units left Turkish soil unarmed. He bluntly expressed a wish that “all should be complete, by the end of 2013.”

How? This needs to be clarified to have a supportive public.