By now several articles have described the connection between the end of the PKK talks, the military intervention against both the Islamic State and the Kurdistan’s Worker’s Party (PKK), as well as the recent political pressure on the Kurdish party HDP. (In addition to my own post, see also here, here, and here). But beyond the recent resumption of violence, there is a broader link between the persecution of the Kurdish political movement and the PKK talks that remains relatively unexplored (with a few exceptions, see for example this article by Jake Hess from 2012, and this article by Alex Christie-Miller from 2010).
In retrospect, the cyclical crackdowns on the Kurdish political movement (in which I include both banned organizations like those of the PKK, as well political parties like the DTP, BDP, and now HDP, who share similar goals as the PKK but pursue them through politics rather than violence), have often coincided with disappointing election results for the AKP in the Kurdish region.
Seen in this light, recent pressure on HDP politicians like Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ are less a sign of an acceleration in Turkey’s authoritarian turn than a foreseeable outcome of AKP’s long-running political strategy for the Kurdish problem.
Undoubtedly, the AKP has in many ways pulled ahead of the curve on Kurdish cultural rights. Nevertheless, the AKP period has concurrently witnessed extensive repression of Kurds. Separate from military engagements, there’s also been recurring persecution against Kurdish political activists, brutal responses to demonstrations, controversial air strikes against civilians, systematic abuse of children by security forces, party closures, removing the right to stand for public office, and frequent ultranationalist rhetoric by the AKP leadership.
So then, what explains why the AKP has on one hand appeared willing to pursue some reform for Kurds, yet on the other has facilitated extensive repression against them? Or, in other words, how did the AKP lose its position as the party that “represents the Kurds”. To understand this, it’s important to first go through what’s at stake in the negotiations themselves.