In 1950, Turkish Prime Minister Ismet Inonu lost in Turkey’s first multi-party election to the Democrat Party. However, he described his defeat as his “greatest victory” because it symbolized the Turkish Republic’s transition into a democracy.
Current Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan finds himself in a similar position. His party, AKP, failed in its quest to win the majority of seats in parliament, with only 41%, in order to enable Mr. Erdogan to rewrite the constitution to strengthen his power. On the flip side, the HDP, a secular center-left Kurdish party, won nearly 13%, beyond the 10% minimum to join the parliament.
When I was in Istanbul a few weeks ago, a couple of Turks expressed their concern that AKP might rig the election if Erdogan doesn’t get his way. This is going to be Erdogan’s test. If he does respect the results and allows HDP a spot in the parliament, it will be a victory for Turkish democracy and for Erdogan ethically, but if he doesn’t, then it will be a loss for Turkey’s democratic character and taint Erdogan’s legacy.
Other implications to look forward to are how HDP’s role in parliament may affect Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies. In terms of its domestic policies, the HDP may play a role in Turkey’s peace process, Kurdish rights, and refugees.
Turkey’s negotiations with the PKK (a Kurdish organization Turkey has been in a bloody fight with since the 1980’s) has been at a deadlock for the past few months. Perhaps they will make a breakthrough now with a Kurdish organization in parliament. Though it will be tricky, because Erdogan, who still holds the most seats, has delegitimized the HDP for allegedly working with the PKK.
The HDP may also help push for more Kurdish rights in Turkey. For instance, we could see more initiatives to raise the status of Kurdish as a language and identity in Turkey and strengthen the Kurds’ cultural autonomy in the southeast.
Additionally, when I was in Turkey, I ran into many Kurdish refugees who said they fled from Khobani (a Syrian city) and were laying in the streets of Istanbul with no shelter, food, or water. Since Istanbul is in an urban setting, Turkey has no legal obligation to take care of the refugees; they depend solely on the goodwill of the host government. Well, now with a Kurdish party in parliament, we may see more of a goodwill from the government to help the Kurdish, and Syrian, refugees resettle.
As for it’s foreign policies, it will be interesting to see how HDP affects Turkey’s relations with Israel, Europe, and its neighboring countries like Syria.
Since the Flotilla incident in 2010, Israeli-Turkish relations have deteriorated. Many also believe it is because of AKP’s Islamist identity and sympathy for Hamas. Thus, perhaps a more secular center-left parliament will help them find an even ground.
On a more complex level, HDP’s Kurdish identity may or may not help improve Israeli-Turkish relations. Israel is known to historically have good relations with the Kurds. However, that is primarily from Israel’s relations with the Iraqi Kurds. Israel’s relations with Turkey’s Kurds has been more complex due to changes in geopolitical circumstances. Daniel Pipes offers a thorough piece on Israel’s relations with the Kurds here.
Similarly, many feel that Turkey’s relations with Europe have worsened due to AKP’s relatively conservative and Islamist identity. So perhaps HDP will help balance their relations for the same reasons.
Another interesting dynamic to note in Turkey’s relations with Europe after the elections is Europe’s rising Kurdish populations. For instance, back in October, Kurds in Germany, France, and Austria held rallies and protests in solidarity for their fellow Kurds in Khobani. They called for their European host countries to arm their Kurdish brothers and hold Turkey accountable for their lack of assistance, which relates to Turkey’s policy towards Syria.
Again, Turkey has been heavily criticized for their lack of support for the Kurds in Khobani against Daesh (ISIS). Now with a Kurdish party in parliament, we may see a more proactive initiative from Turkey to assist the Kurds in Khobani and fight off Daesh.
HDP’s win into parliament compliments the recent headlines of Kurds in the region the past year. The PYD (Syrian Kurdish forces) have proven themselves by fighting of Daesh in Khobani virtually by themselves. The Iranian Kurds are now uprising against the Islamic Republic of Iran in the northwest. And the Iraqi Kurds have made their mark the past year by fighting off Daesh and building a strong society to make their case for Kurdish independence for the first time in their peoplehood.
Of course, this is all speculation and assuming that AKP respect the results. In his Facebook page, Stephen Mansfield described the elections as a “long overdue victory” for the Kurds of Turkey. Let’s hope so.