Internal differentiation in Kurdish politics

Published 15.07.2015 22:35
Updated 16.07.2015 00:08

How would Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş, the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan and the Kurdish Communities Union's (KCK) leader Cemil Bayık in northern Iraq's Qandil Mountains have answered if they had been asked the questions of how many and from whom they wanted the HDP to receive votes before the parliamentary elections took place? There is a simple answer expected from Demirtaş, who preferred to oppose to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) instead of embracing the reconciliation process as his election strategy. He would certainly have wanted to garner as many votes as possible and to prove that the HDP was a "party of Turkey" by receiving these votes from secular and leftist circles. The election results satisfied Demirtaş, but not as much as he wanted. Certainly, the 13 percent vote share was something desired, however, the fact that 90 percent of it was received from Kurds caused disappointment.

The situation was more complicated for Öcalan. As a figure that produced the politics of "Türkiyelileşme" (Turkeyification), Öcalan must have naturally wanted to reach out to the secular and leftist electorate as well. However, he is still imprisoned and when the uncertainty of external conjuncture is taken into consideration, this imprisonment might last a long time. In other words, the elbowroom for the natural leader of Kurdish politics might continue to remain limited, which implies that his political influence remains "off-system" to a degree. Therefore, it would not be surprising if Öcalan wants the "intra-system" actors, the HDP and Qandil, to not gain much strength. From this point of view, the HDP passing the 10 percent election threshold was certainly positive for Öcalan as well. This is because the increase in the legitimacy of civil politics relatively increases the significance of a leader. Perhaps, however, 13 percent of the vote was "a bit much" since it might result in Demirtaş becoming unnecessarily important while the Western world attempts to take advantage of this situation. Moreover, the fact that this vote came predominantly from Kurds might indicate that the Türkiyelileşme project does not have much credibility, which must have disappointed Öcalan.

As for Bayık, on the one hand he might have wanted the HDP to pass the election threshold and enter Parliament on behalf of the PKK, however, on the other hand, he might have thought that a result that would make Demirtaş more prominent would create "disturbance." For the PKK leadership in the Qandil, civil politics is meaningful and functional as long as it is an extension of a military body. If not, it might imply the loss of control and the deterioration of balance and unity between various elements of the Kurdish movement. In other respects, it was likely that Türkiyelileşme could have vitiated the struggle and exposed it to external effects. For this reason, the HDP's continuation as the party of the Kurds might have been a better result for Bayık. After all, it was good for Qandil that the HDP passed the threshold with the Kurdish vote, however, the 13 percent vote share must have troubled Qandil to some extent.

To sum up briefly, leaving aside passing the election threshold, there are two criteria for Kurdish politics in these elections: With what percent of the vote was the threshold passed and from what circles was the vote received? For Demirtaş and Bayık one of them was good while the other was bad. However, both were bad for Öcalan. We have seen three different strategies since the elections. In an attempt to be more "Türkiyeli," Demirtaş said they did not nurture special enmity toward President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and they would embrace the "entrusted" votes of the secular segments. Qandil immediately intervened and emphasized that there would not be cooperation with the AK Party and there was nothing like "entrusted" votes as the votes they received were Kurdish votes. Öcalan maintained his silence, however, like-minded Murat Karayılan suggested that it was right to strive to take part in a possible coalition and that the HDP was not indebted to secular segments.

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