Turkey-PKK violence brings little hope of a fair election
Deadly clashes between security forces and Kurdish militants could significantly impact voter turnout
During the 4-12 September curfew in Cizre, located in Turkey’s restive south-eastern province of Sirnak, a series of military operations against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) reportedly left at least 30 people dead.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) – which attempted to stage a march to the town but was prevented from doing so by security forces – claims at least 21 of those killed were civilians, including at least two children.
Turkish officials however claimed the death toll included at least 30 PKK cadres and one civilian; the conflicting accounts are difficult to verify given that the city was sealed off to outsiders.
The particularly deadly week in Turkey underscores the likelihood that there will be no immediate return to the March 2013 ceasefire brokered between Ankara and the PKK. Turkish media sources indicate at least 1,116 PKK fighters and 110 Turkish security personnel have been killed since 22 July in both airstrikes targeting positions in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan and in domestic operations.
While Turkey continues widening its offensive against the PKK, staging at least one limited ground incursion into northern Iraq, the PKK has also escalated attacks. As the situation continues to spiral, a protracted PKK-Turkey conflict will further plunge Turkey into political uncertainty while presenting another quagmire for U.S. policy on Syria.
And as the November 1st general election looms, the very integrity of the democratic process risks being jeopardized amid the continued violence.
The deadly clashes between security forces and Kurdish militants could significantly affect voter turnout.Brooklyn Middleton
Following the deadly week in Cizre, Ankara moved to suspend the city’s Kurdish mayor Leyla Imret, citing allegations of her spreading “terror propaganda”. Imret, aged 27, won 83 percent of the vote in mayoral elections in March, making her the youngest mayor in Turkey, according to Rudaw.
It is this type of decision by Ankara that underscores concerns over the potential political ramifications of elections occurring amid a backdrop of the worst PKK-Turkey violence in years.
With President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) pursuing a full-fledged offensive against the PKK while campaigning, Turkey analyst Louis Fishman recently wrote that “the days of hope have been buried with the widespread belief that Erdogan instigated the renewed violence in order to delegitimize the HDP and ensure the AKP’s stability and electoral support.”
The flaws of this political strategy are likely to become increasingly apparent as the death toll from PKK attacks continue to mount, and Turkey continues to come under fire over allegations of disproportionate use of force by security forces in Cizre.
Even if there is fair and full participation by relevant parties in the election, it cannot be ruled out the deadly clashes between security forces and Kurdish militants could significantly affect voter turnout. For a truly free election, the periodic and intense curfews must be totally lifted across all increasingly restive areas. Such a security decision would require a sustained period of calm and it remains unclear if such a situation will develop by the time citizens are expected to vote.
In addition to an escalation in the intensity of attacks and military operations, unrest once again rocked both Ankara and Istanbul this week. On 7 September, reports indicated that Turkish nationalists set fire to the pro-Kurdish HDP’s headquarters in Ankara, while pro-AKP rioters reportedly smashed the Hurriyet newspaper office’s windows in Istanbul, marking the second such attack on the paper in two days.
Unless the PKK halts attacks and Ankara indicates it is seriously invested in returning to talks with Kurds, it is likely the weeks leading up to the election will, grimly, look a lot like last week.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.