In the July 22 ballot, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured the largest share of votes in a Turkish election since 1965, in a contest which saw heated controversy about the country’s future as a secular republic. His Justice and Development (AK) party—its pro-capitalist brand of political Islam sometimes dubbed “Islamic Calvinism“—captured constituencies across Turkey, leaving only isolated pockets to the secular nationalist parties. “The divide between the AK Party and its secularist-nationalist opponents has emerged as one of the most important fault lines in Turkish politics,” writes Turkey’s Zaman.
Yet most US media (e.g. Bloomberg) have downplayed this fundamental dispute, instead emphasizing Erdogan’s supposed “mandate to bring the nation closer to the European Union and weaken the political influence of the military.” A 2002 BBC profile reminds us that when the AK first swept to power that year, Erdogan was barred from becoming prime minister due to his 1998 conviction for inciting religious hatred. A fast change in the law cleared the way for him to run for parliament, and within days of his victory he was named prime minister. The 1998 case concerned his public reading of an Islamic poem including the line: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…” (He was sentenced to 10 months, but was freed after four.) Moreover, as the once-hegemonic power of Turkish nationalism wanes, the once-forbidden force of Kurdish nationalism grows. In another critical angle largely overlooked in the US media, the London Times notes that the election also saw Kurdish nationalist parties winning seats in the Turkish parliament, “complicating Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s landslide election victory.”
An AP account notes the return of the Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) to Turkey’s parliament in general elections for the first time in more than a decade, winning 23 seats in the 550-seat body. Several Kurdish lawmakers were ousted from parliament in 1994 for having ties to PKK guerillas—and one of them, Leyla Zana, urged Turkey last week to accept a federal structure and declare the Kurdish-dominated southeast as “Kurdistan.” After her speech, Kurds stoned the office of a hardline nationalist party whose chairman has called for imprisoned PKK leader Ocalan to be hanged. Zana, who served more than a decade in prison for having ties to PKK, campaigned for the DTP but was not allowed to run for parliament again herself because of her criminal record. The day before the election, Prosecutor Mustafa Kucuk filed charges of separatism against Zana for her remarks.
AK Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul ruled out cooperation with Kurdish lawmakers in parliament, unless they denounce the PKK as a terrorist organization. Kurdish politicians have refrained from doing so.
Meanwhile, a PKK commander announced on the day of the elections from neighboring Iraq that he expects the Turkish military to launch an offensive across the border in the coming days. Murat Karayilan said his fighters were prepared to resist the incursion.
See our last post on Turkey and the struggle for Kurdistan.