Lines of Fire

If the parties newly elected to Turkey’s parliament are unable to agree on a coalition government, an interim caretaker government will be set up until the election, which will likely be held in November. Time is running out for a coalition agreement. A coalition looks unlikely, in part because the AKP would prefer an election that it thinks might give it the majority they lost in the last election, and in part because the major parties (MHP and CHP) have demands that AKP would not agree to, like reining in the power of President Erdogan and investigating corruption allegations against the AKP regime. Apparently the AKP has only offered potential coalition partners a minority government in which the other party would play second fiddle to AKP, rather than full-fledged coalition power sharing. It was set up to fail.

A caretaker government, however, is not in AKP’s interest because it means that ministries will be equitably divided among all four parties, i.e. it will have to share power, at least until the election. AKP would like to have all the reins in its own hands until the election so it can make sure that they get the votes they need for a majority. It seems likely that one scheme afoot is stoking anti-Kurdish and pro-nationalist feeling so that the Kurdish-rooted HDP, with its charismatic co-leader Demirtas, loses  the votes that gravitated from the AKP to HDP in the last election and made all the difference. AKP wants those votes back, even if it means overturning a peace deal with the PKK that was on the cusp of implementation and instead stoking civil war. (Recent polls show, however, that HDP votes have not decreased and a new election would again put them over the threshold into parliament. Those Kurds who used to vote for AKP will move their votes to HDP.)

AKP has attempted to discredit the HDP with increasingly heavy-handed doses of polarizing rhetoric and, it is rumored, under-the-table tit-for-tat violence that can conveniently be blamed on ISIS or the PKK. The peace deal with PKK that Erdogan spent several years setting up, is, as he put it, now “in the refrigerator.” MHP, the nationalist party, may also gain votes as a result of a rise in anti-Kurdish and anti-Alevi feeling and the violent death of the peace process. President Erdogan and AKP officials have targeted Kurds and Alevis in recent rhetoric, pressing a button deeply set into Turkish society through the education and political rhetoric of a century that inclines toward violent factionalism. Many Turks, both secular and pious, thought that period was over and, in the last election, voted for peace, putting the Kurdish HDP into parliament for the first time. They are faced, however, with a party and, in particular, a president, whose primary concern is staying in power and that appear willing to endanger Turkey’s stability and economy to attain that.

Whatever the outcome of the November election, if that is what occurs, it is a particularly dangerous time to be hacking away at the roots of Turkish political and economic stability. ISIS cells are known to be nested within Turkey and in recent days ISIS has upped its threats against Turkey. In its first video in Turkish (an excerpt with English subtitles here), it calls on Muslim Turks to rise up against their apostate leader Erdogan and take over Istanbul. Yet the Turkish government until recently seemed eerily unaware of that danger, mistakenly seeing in ISIS a fellow Sunni group that is fighting their common enemy, Assad of Syria. There has been talk of collusion, not only sympathy with ISIS. The AKP sees in the PKK, with which it had only just brokered a peace deal, a greater threat than ISIS. Whether this is deluded, only time will tell.

Whatever the outcome of the election in November, it will take years to correct the economic damage and the social and political enmity that has been aroused, many believe, as part of a cynical ploy to stay in power. ISIS, as threatened, may try to take its nihilistic brutality to Istanbul and Ankara, regardless of who wins the election. The real question is not who will win, but whether a civil war can be averted between the lines of fire now being laid down, between Kurds and Turks, Alevis and Sunnis, and ISIS-inspired Turks and the rest of Turkish society.

3 Responses to “Lines of Fire”

  1. Dr White, this is a very good article but I would like to make a minor correction/suggestion. You basically stated that ISIS calls on Muslim Turks to rise up against their apostate leader Erdogan. I believe what you meant to say is “Islamist Turks” not “Muslim Turks” There is a major difference between the two.

    Muslim Turks really did not support Erdogan unless they financially thought to benefit. But the Islamist Turks always do, regardless. Muslims don’t use religion as a tool for election or governance. There is even a photo of Erdogan giving a campaign speech holding a Quran in his hand.

  2. You are right, but in the video the speaker calls on Turks to rise up as Muslims (not Islamists).

  3. Alumni, that makes sense. Such mentalities won’t admit to being an Islamist. In 1990’s Erdogan is known to have said “Thank God Almighty, I am a servant of the Sharia” and Morsi had said “Quran is our constitution, jihad and death in the name of Allah is our goal” So even these Islamist leaders will claim to be Muslims.

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