Is the Turkish President using the fear of terrorism to his advantage?
Two senior Pro-Kurdish MPs were arrested on Friday 4th November on suspicion of committing crimes that were linked to “terrorist propaganda”. This action was taken by the government in order to help to crack down on their opponents from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) after the failed coup that took place on July 15th.
A further 11 MPs from the same party are also being detained as they have been accused of sympathising and acting in the interests of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK); a party considered to be a terrorist group by Turkey, the US and the EU. Typically Turkish politicians are immune from prosecution, however this privilege was removed from HDP members last year. It was explained by Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım that any elected member of the Grand National Assembly that is seen to be encouraging terrorism must face legal proceedings. It was the MPs’ refusal to give a testimony that ultimately put them in the hands of the police.
Such a strong reaction from senior officials within the government has come as no surprise. It is clear to see from their policies regarding counter terrorism that this is an issue high up on their agenda. This is also reflected in the success the government has had in Syria. Turkish troops have managed to secure a buffer zone stretching from Jarablus to Azaz, some 55 miles west. This has forced IS militants to retreat, whilst simultaneously lowering the risk of any potential rocket attacks against Turkish towns. In addition to this, the presence of Turkish troops is currently preventing the People’s Protection Units (YGP), a Kurdish militia regarded as a terrorist group by the Turkish government, from linking its eastern and western cantons.
The claims regarding the HDP’s links to the PKK suggest that the parties which hold seats within the Grand National Assembly take different stances on terrorism and how to deal with the problem. Yet it can be argued that these conflicting views allude to more serious issues within the structure of the current Turkish political system. The government has been under heavy criticism after the arrests of the HDP MPs were made as they can be viewed as further attempts to consolidate President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's power. This is a particularly poignant issue within Turkish politics as there will be a parliamentary referendum and vote next spring, which has the potential to constitutionally change Turkey into a presidential system as opposed to a parliamentary democracy.
President Erdogan's desire to hold more power is also illustrated by his refusal to invite members of the HDP to participate in democratic rallies. It has also been reported that they have not participated in the meetings regarding the re-drafting of the Turkish constitution. Given the fact that the HDP is the third largest party within the Assembly (holding 59 seats), it is concerning to many that they have been excluded from such crucial meetings. It raises a question about the state and health of democracy in Turkey.
Although it can be argued that ultimately the leading party’s (AKP) policies towards terrorism are much stronger and effective (as Mr Ergon plans to extend his mission beyond Jarablus) the HDP’s links to the PKK only remain to be claims. The HDP continue to deny such allegations with the Co-Chair of the party, Selahattin Demirtas stating that the PKK “should focus on enhancing possibilities for peace”. He also acknowledges that if Erdogan wanted to engage in a “principled and moral” reconciliation, the party’s door would be open.
The unwillingness of the AKP to cooperate with the HDP is a cause for concern given the context regarding the future change in political power. Using something as serious as terrorism to gain authoritative control can detract from serious nature of problem. Whilst Erogan’s policies towards terrorism can be seen as just and effective, the way in which he is using the terrorism as a weapon to play on people’s fears to ultimately gain control is immoral and wrong.