Is Erdogan’s ambition sparking turmoil?

The Turkish public is now convinced that the latest political turmoil is directly linked to Erdogan’s presidential ambitions

Mahir Zeynalov
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Overwhelmed with grief and anger, relatives of Ahmet Camur, a Turkish officer killed by the PKK, listen to Turkey’s president delivering a eulogy, with his right hand on the coffin wrapped in a Turkish flag.

Critics vented anger against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for using the coffin as a pulpit to deliver a speech for political consumption. The photo quickly became viral in the Turkish media, inspiring dozens of cartoonists to draw similar satirical pictures to reflect the current political climate – a politician using the coffin of a Turkish officer as a pulpit to score political gains.


There is no indication that the violence could slow down in upcoming weeks while Turkey is heading to new polls on Nov. 1

Mahir Zeynalov

This way of thinking now prevails among some members of the Turkish public, even including among relatives of slain Turkish security forces. In almost every funeral ceremony, parents of the killed Turkish officers or soldiers raise their voices against the authorities, blame the government for ongoing violence and some even believe their sons were killed for personal ambitions of the president.

No end in sight for violence

The ongoing violence in Turkey only gets worse every week, with dozens of killed from both sides. Turkish state-run news agency reported on Monday that 814 PKK militants were killed since July 22, including nearly 500 in northern Iraq. More than 60 members of Turkish security services and 14 civilians were killed in the current conflict, one of the highest death tolls in such a short period of time since the AKP came to power in 2002.

The violence almost spread to many corners of southeastern Turkey, with PKK militants showering police posts and military units with bullets while digging trenches, setting up checkpoints and terrorizing state-funded work vehicles and buses. Most of these actions attract Turkish security forces, prompting fatal armed shootouts.

There is no indication that the violence could slow down in upcoming weeks while Turkey is heading to new polls on Nov. 1. Turkish president vowed to eradicate all “terrorists” while the PKK is hell-bent on continuing “fighting” against the Turkish state. Both warring sides are now locked in endless exercise in going the same route over and over with a hope of reaching to a different destination.

The scale of attacks appear to mark a new era after the peace process, fracturing what until now has been a largely preserved, if sometimes fragile, peace despite many daunting challenges.

Mother of all evils: Nationalism

People in Turkey may share separate views on economy or political orientation, but most of them are nationalists to varying degrees. Turkish politics has been shaped around different grievances of secular, conservative Turkish and Kurdish nationalists under various circumstances. The nationalist sentiment has always been too high in Turkey and most right-wing leaders exploited it to make it to power. Erdogan, a divisive populist, loved and loathed, preferred to consolidate the center right by reaching out to liberals, conservative Kurds and Turks when he came to power. But he also didn’t miss a chance to use increased PKK violence ahead of each elections in a bid to collect nationalist votes.

Peace process in the freezer

It seems that Erdogan betted that his presidential ambitions could be possible if he could strike a peace with Kurds. For the sake of peace talks, the government seemingly remained oblivious as the PKK increased its presence in southeastern Turkey. Now government officials increasingly, if grudgingly, acknowledge that they turned a blind eye as the PKK bolstered its positions in the past two years.

The chaotic collapse of the peace process marked the vindication of nationalists, who long claimed that the right way to fight against the PKK is only possible with the strong fist of the Turkish state – the army. While fighting against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Kurdish rebels have suddenly found themselves struggling against the most powerful army in the region, with Washington’s tacit blessing.

The peace process was introduced so that it could increase chances for Erdogan to gain a presidential post with more executive powers. But pro-Kurdish party HDP went to elections with a slogan that disturbed Erdogan: We Won’t Make You a President. Their unprecedented surge in June elections thwarted Erdogan’s ambition to bolster his clout.

Many government officials now frankly acknowledge that that slogan was the primary reason for the collapse of talks. One minister even said the current violence would not take place if Erdogan became a stronger president.

On Monday, Erdogan announced that there will be snap elections on Nov. 1, first time in the republic’s history. Four elections in just two years have been very costly to Turkey. Many have already been disillusioned with unceasing electoral campaign that takes a heavy toll on the society.The government will now seek to avoid making the same mistake of maintaining peace with Kurds. HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas is bashed daily by Turkish pro-government media as part of a concerted campaign to defame the charismatic leader, whose surge in last elections cost the ruling AKP its 13-year single-party rule. AKP wants to regain the trust of millions of conservative Kurds, who switched their side to vote for HDP in June. Portraying Demirtas as a “pawn of the PKK” is now the main electoral strategy.

The Turkish public is now convinced that the latest political turmoil is directly linked to Erdogan’s presidential ambitions. We will yet to see how they will punish him in November elections.


Mahir Zeynalov is a journalist with Turkish English-language daily Today's Zaman. He is also the managing editor of the Caucasus International magazine. You can follow him on Twitter @MahirZeynalov

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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