Watching Elections in Turkey

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Edmond Azadian
Edmond Azadian

The parliamentary elections in Turkey on June 7 are closely watched events by all parties in the region who will be impacted, one way or another, by their outcome. Turkey is a regional superpower and an arrogant one at that, under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It has its influence and opinion on many conflicts in the region. It has its tentacles in the Balkans, it is directly involved in conflicts raging in Syria, Iraq and Libya and it even supports the Uighur Muslim unrest in China. But above all, it blockades Armenia and sets the tone of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s belligerence.

Therefore, should the elections cause any power shift domestically, that may affect Turkey’s foreign policy and its capacity to meddle in its neighbors’ internal affairs.

During the last election, President Erdogan garnered 52 percent of the popular votes. But Turkey’s weakening economy, endemic corruption scandals and the president’s dictatorial instincts have eroded the influence of Erdogan’s AKP party, which has been in power for the past 13 years.

A recent scandal may further deteriorate the situation for the ruling party. Turkey has been accused of supporting ISIS and supplying them with arms, while its main NATO partner has been bombing ISIS targets to get them to curb their barbaric wars waged in Syria and Iraq.

All along, the Erdogan government has been in denial mode. But, a whistleblower by the name of Can Dundar came forward in the daily Cumhuriyet to expose the operation of Turkey’s secret service agency, MIT. The police had caught trucks carrying arms to Syrian insurgents, under the cover of sending crates of medicine and food. Two thousand trucks have crossed from Turkey into Syria. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has claimed that it is nobody’s business what those trucks deliver. Mr. Erdogan has sued Dundar as a traitor and Mr. Dundar has complained that the judiciary is punishing the whistleblower rather than the culprit.

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At this stage, the polls predict a 46-47-percent success for AKP, which would keep Erdogan in power, but other parties may be able to clip his political wings. Mr. Erdogan’s plan is to reform the constitution and place all the executive powers under the office of the president and rule the country like an erstwhile sultan.

But the political scenario is more complicated than that and it depends on the president’s shrewdness how to navigate through that maze to achieve his goals.

The current constitution was drafted in 1980 after a coup by the military dictator Kenan Evren, evil incarnate, who passed away recently at the age of 97.

The question of a need to change the constitution is not debated by the parties but rather the most crucial question is what shape the new constitution will take.

There are three main parties vying for power.

CHP party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi), which dates back to the start of the modern Turkish republic, was founded by Ataturk himself and ruled Turkey for several decades under draconian rules. The party is secularist and nationalist. In recent years, its secularist policies have suffered when Erdogan undercut the party’s relations with the military, which had given itself the role of the protector of the constitution, and many of the reforms instituted by Ataturk were overturned by the AKP Islamist rule, such as when the president’s wife came out with a head scarf, banned by Ataturk. CHP plays the role of the main opposition party headed by Kemal Kilicdaroglu. It stands for the territorial integrity of the country but it has a cautious approach to Kurdish separatism.

Another opposition party is MHP — Milli Haraket Partisi — led by Devlet Bahçeli. This is a racist party, adamantly opposed to Kurdish minority aspirations.

During the 2014 presidential election, the latter two parties had joined forces to support the ill-fated candidacy of Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

The most controversial opposition party is the HDP — Halk Demokratik Partisi — headed by Salaheddin Demirtas, a cool-headed politician who claims that any citizen can join his party — Alevi, Laz, Jew, Greek, Armenian, Turk, but the party is mainly composed of Kurds. Demirtas is the main interlocutor with the state in the ongoing negotiations on Kurdish issues, although there is another minor Kurdish group called Kurdish Communities Union.

HDP denies any association with the PKK designated as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.

Although, on one had, the government negotiates with the jailed leader of PKK Abdullah Oçalan, but accuses HDP of colluding with PKK. Demirtas coldly retorted that if his party has any influence on the PKK, it should be considered a plus, not a political liability.

Now, the major issue is whether the pro-Kurdish HDP or the People’s Democratic Party will be elected into the parliament or not. The party has to overcome a 10-percent threshold. At this point, the polls indicate 9.5 to 11-percent chance of success.

Whether the party enters the parliament or not, it will cause a serious challenge to Mr. Erdogan. The Kurdish issue is a double-edged sword; if the Kurds are elected, they will muddy the political waters for Mr. Erdogan, who will be handicapped in his drive to draft the new constitution. Although Turkey may gain a dividend by demonstrating to Europe that it is on a democratic path as an inclusive society.

However, if the Kurds fail to enter the parliament, they will be justified to take up arms and fight for their rights. Thus far, the negotiations with the government have led nowhere. In this electoral campaign, all the rhetoric and the political tricks are directed against the Kurdish party to assure its failure. The government has been accusing the Kurds of not laying down their arms, making negotiations impossible.

They even have provoked some incidents with the Kurds to justify their accusations.

The Kurds realize that if they surrender their arms completely, they will lose all leverage and will be left to the mercy of the government to dictate its terms in the negotiations.

The hands of the Kurds have been strengthened by the success of their brethren in Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria and even in Iran.

Therefore, if the Kurds are disappointed in their bid to succeed through the democratic process, Turkey may face not only an internal insurrection, but also a regional war, which it can ill afford.

As Armenia’s problems and depopulation benefit Turkey, conversely Turkey’s problems benefit Armenia, speaking in terms of realpolitik.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, out of the blue, has injected the Armenian issue in his electoral campaign, although for cosmetic purposes and for luring Christian voters some parties, including the ruling AKP, have enlisted Armenian candidates on their slates.

Thus, Markar Essayan, a prominent columnist in the Turkish press, has joined the AKP slate. Garo Paylan is a candidate for Peace and Democracy Party and Selina Dogan is on the list of the main opposition party, People’s Republican Party. These candidates will certainly adhere to the platforms of their respective parties, but Dogan has also enunciated her own personal platform, stating, “We are not equal. Legally, on paper, yes. But in fact, no. … For example, you don’t have Armenian officers in the government, you don’t have Armenian police, you don’t have Armenian judges in this country. I am going to fight this discrimination.”

In an effort to discredit the pro-Kurdish party in the eyes of the electorate, Mr. Davutoglu interjects the Armenian issue in his campaign. This may sound absurd to an outside observer, but it has its resonance in Turkey because the government has vilified Armenians generation after generation, to associate in the public mind the word Armenian with an insult.

It was not enough that the Turks murdered the Armenian nations, uprooted the survivors from their 3,000-year-old homeland, they confiscated their properties, which they enjoy to this day, and to justify their crime, they blame the victim and to insult someone they use the word “Armenian.”

You cannot legislate bias, but the Turks have been using that bias as a political asset. Mr. Erdogan himself used it during his presidential campaign by stating that he has been attacked by the “worst” epithets, including being called “Armenian.”

Now, it is Mr. Davutoglu’s turn to use the Armenian card.

While on February 11, 2015, the prime minster was embracing the diasporan Armenians hypocritically (“The Diaspora is our Diaspora and our Diaspora initiative will progress.”) he has used that same term: “Diaspora” to attack Mr. Demirtas.

Yetvart Danzikyan has published a scathing article in the May 28, 2015 issue of Agos, where he writes, “The place where these words that display the crudest, most undiluted and most primitive logic of nationalism were said was at an AKP rally in Batman. This logic, which sets Kurds, Turks and Arabs to one side and Armenians to the other side, is very clearly the most distinguished product of racist and discriminatory mindset. … On May 24 Davutoglu took part on Show TV where he said, ‘At a time when the whole world is campaigning against Turkey on the Armenian Genocide claims, Davutoglu stated that Demirtas has taken position in opposition to Turkey and has made statements accusing Turkey and reminded the audience that Demirtas has said, regarding the Armenian Genocide, “Kurds also have responsibility and apologize on their behalf.”

Addressing Kurdish citizens, Davutoglu said, “Can someone who accuses you grandfathers in this way be your representative? If he says “Kurds and Turks did this, can he represent Turkey?”

Then Davutoglu has accused Demirtas of having made “secret deals with the diaspora.”

As we can see, the Armenians are involved in Turkish parliamentary elections on two different levels, as participants and as pariahs.

Time will tell which way the elections will swing.

Edmond Azadian
Edmond Azadian