Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is no fan-o’-Kurds, so to speak. Well, unless the Kurds you’re talking about are assisting in a lucrative business that involves the trafficking of illicit crude from Iraq to the port of Ceyhan.
Back in June, AKP lost its absolute majority in parliament after the pro-Kurdish HDP put on a surprisingly strong showing at the ballot box. We won’t recount the entire series of events that unfolded thereafter here as we’ve covered the story extensively, but suffice to say the democratic election outcome wasn’t allowed to stand because it imperiled Erdogan’s bid to transition the country to an executive presidency. In short, Erdogan blamed HDP and took it out on the PKK with whom he reignited a long simmering conflict on the way to scoring a better outcome at redo elections in November.
The opposition in Turkey is acutely aware of the fact that Erdogan is essentially running a thinly disguised autocracy and dissident voices are getting louder even as Ankara tries to suppress them with brutality and threats of imprisonment.
Over the weekend, HDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas said that Turkey's largest ethnic minority had to decide whether to live in autonomy or "under one man's tyranny". Needless to say, the “one man” in question wasn’t pleased and on Tuesday the President called the remarks treasonous. On Monday, prosecutors in Diyarbakir and Ankara opened an investigation into six people including Demirtas.
“Where do you get the right to talk about establishing a state in east and southeast regions within Turkey’s unitary structure? Such a thing won’t be allowed by the national will or the security forces,” Erdogan fumed, speaking in Istanbul before flying to Riyadh to discuss Syria and other matters of mutual interest with the Saudis. “These operations will continue until terrorism is completely eradicated in our country,” he continued.
Of course by "the national will," Erdogan means his "will" and by "until terrorism is completely eradicated" he means "until the PKK is completely eradicated."
The Ministry of Justice will likely seek to have Demirtas’ parliamentary immunity lifted so he can be prosecuted. “Kurdish rebels have tried to create de facto autonomous areas in southeast cities, leading to urban warfare with government troops,” Bloomberg notes, adding that “Kurdish political and civil groups met over the weekend in Diyarbakir, where Demirtas called for an end to the fighting and urged a government declaration of Kurdish self-rule, including the establishment of autonomous security and police forces.”
As AFP writes, "the charismatic Demirtas has emerged as Erdogan's key rival over the last year, with many commentators saying he is the only politician to rival the Turkish strongman's rhetorical skills." Erdogan does indeed possess "rhetorical skills" and they were on full display on Tuesday. Here's more from the President's rant against the HDP politician:
"I believe that the treachery network dealing a blow to our country's unity will learn a lesson it deserves from our people and from the law. The will of the people is stronger than arms. They have no faith in the parliament."
Here's a bit more from AFP on the "lesson" being taught in Kurdish towns:
Tensions are running high in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast, which has been rocked by curfews imposed on several towns where the security forces have been battling PKK militants.
A five-year-old boy, named as Huseyin Selcuk, was shot dead this week while playing in the garden at his home in the flashpoint town of Cizre, local media reported.
Last week, a three-month-old baby and her grandfather were killed when they became caught in the crossfire between security forces and Kurdish rebels, again in Cizre. The baby was hit in the head when the family's house was shelled during clashes.
Residents of the towns under curfew are facing food shortages and problems with water and electricity supplies. Many homes have been damaged by shelling.
The HDP claims a total of 129 civilians had been killed in towns under curfew since August 16, and dozens injured.
Recall that we profiled Cizre back in August in "We Have A Civil War": Inside Turkey's Descent Into Political, Social, And Economic Chaos." Here's a bit more color from WSJ:
Turkey’s stepped-up military campaign to crush Kurdish insurgents has reduced some urban neighborhoods in the southeast of the country to battle zones, raising fears the conflict could escalate and spread elsewhere in the country unless peace talks resume.
Since the government declared what it called a “decisive” campaign to end five months of limited violence between Kurds and government security forces, young Kurdish militants in the cities of Diyarbakir, Cizre, Silopi and Nusaybin have been targeted by Turkish tanks, helicopters, artillery and snipers, according to local residents and news reports from the region.
Militants in the mainly Kurdish cities have erected barricades to seal off neighborhoods they’ve declared outside the authority of the Turkish state, and are using AK-47s, rocket launchers and homemade bombs to defend the enclaves, these residents say.
“Things are reaching a critical point, and it’s not clear where things are heading,” said a Western official in Turkey.
The PKK is seeking self-rule areas in Turkish territory for the country’s minority ethnic Kurds and has threatened to escalate violence—even launch an all-out civil war—unless the government ends its efforts to eradicate it.
“If they push the military too far and it carries out a massacre, this will fan the flames,” senior PKK commander Murat Karayilan said in an interview this week with Kurdish media. “In that case, we will take new decisions.”
Of course calling for autonomy might not have been Demirtas' only "crime." "Leaders of Turkey’s legal and avowedly nonviolent Kurdish political parties are seeking support from Russia, which is embroiled in a feud with Ankara over the shootdown of a Russian jet last month along the Turkey-Syria border," WSJ continues. "Selahattin Demirtas, head of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, held talks in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov."
Speaking of Russia, Erdogan also took the opportunity to lash out at Moscow on Tuesday for supporting who Ankara says is a mass murderer. "You cannot go anywhere by supporting a regime that has mercilessly killed 400,000 innocent people with conventional and chemical weapons," Erdogan said, in comments clearly directed at The Kremlin. The President also lambasted "countries" for supporting the Kurdish YPG which, not coincidentally, has proven to be the most effective force fighting Islamic State in Syria with the possible exception of Hezbollah. Erdogan equates the YPG with the PKK. In other words, they're "terrorists," even though they've been fighting "the terrorists" for years.
"This is the time when the masks have been taken off and the real faces exposed," Erdogan concluded.