In the last few days, Turkish security forces have lost at least 30 personnel in Kurdistan Workers' Party's (PKK) two major attacks. On September 6, the group detonated landmines in the village of Daglica in the eastern province of Hakkari when a military convoy was passing by. The Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) said 16 soldiers were killed in that attack. Two days later on September 8, 14 policemen lost their lives in the province of Igdir in another major attack by the PKK.
The PKK is recognised as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. It launched an armed campaign in 1984, calling for an independent Kurdish state within Turkey. More than 40,000 people have died since then.
The recent clashes between the Turkish security forces and the PKK started when Turkey decided to bomb PKK bases in northern Iraq after a deadly suicide bomb attack that killed 34 activists in the town of Suruç on July 20. The attack was carried out by the Islamic State (IS) but surprisingly in the military campaign that followed, the Turkish government commanded its air force to assault the Islamic State as well as the PKK. Sooner, the fight against the Islamic State lost momentum as both Turkey and PKK accused each other of breaking the conditions of a ceasefire that was agreed in 2013 and intensified attacks on each other.
Since then, the Kurdish-dominated eastern and south-eastern parts of the country are seeing an emergency like situation, pretty much reminiscent of the conditions in the 1990s when clashes between the PKK and the Turkish military were at their highest levels and the region endured a terrible human rights practice by the Turkish state.
Politics behind war with PKK
Initially, it was perplexing to see Turkey attacking a group with which it was observing a ceasefire (PKK) in the aftermath of a terrorist attack (Suruç suicide bombing) which was not even carried out by that group. But domestic political calculations in the country raised reasonable suspicion over government's intention on going to war with the PKK.
In June 7 general elections, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost governing majority in the parliament for the first time in 13 years. It took only 41 per cent of the votes. Despite AKP remaining the single largest party in the parliament, the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) was hailed as the real victor in the elections. For the first time, a pro-Kurdish party secured seats in the parliament as it won 13 per cent of the votes and thus crossed the electoral benchmark of 10 per cent to enter the parliament.
Ever since the ceasefire with the PKK was announced in 2013 and the "solution process" (Çözüm Süreci) to end the decades-long Kurdish conflict was launched, the HDP acted as the intermediary between the Turkish government and the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan. The "solution process" (Çözüm Süreci) ended in fiasco but it certainly helped the HDP bolster its political image as a legitimate and democratic political party. That's a sharp contrast to its earlier image as the political wing of a terrorist group - PKK.
This makeover of HDP helped it win the votes of conservative Kurds in east and southeast of the country and also of those liberal Turks in other parts of the country who were looking for an alternative to the increasingly intolerant AKP. It is worth noting that in the previous three elections, the conservative Kurds largely preferred voting for the Islamist rooted AKP over the secular and Marxist HDP or its predecessor Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
Following the election which saw HDP win unprecedented number of seats and thus deprive the AKP of a parliamentary majority, President Erdogan is trying to link the HDP with the PKK again. Recently, he said, "The parliament must strip the legal immunity of HDP's lawmakers and make them pay the price for links to terrorist groups."
HDP denies all such charges and its co-chair Selahattin Demirta? says the AKP government is demonising his party simply for its electoral success.
Erdogan's dream of executive presidency
This loss of vote for the AKP came at a critical time personally for the embattled president of the country Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The government he led as prime minister until becoming president of the country in 2014 faced serious allegations of high level corruption and money laundering. Four of his cabinet ministers' sons and many other prominent figures close to him were arrested in a police raid on December 17, 2013. Just a week later on December 25, a second police operation was planned in which, as reported in the local media, Erdogan's son Bilal Erdogan was also to be arrested on similar charges. But Erdogan, then in his capacity as the prime minister of the country, effectively blocked any such move by the police. Over the time, the charges on all the accused have been dropped. All the opposition parties, however, have been vowing to open those files again when they assume power. Erdogan has gone too far to cover the charges made against him, his ministers and his son. He would never want a government in power which is not subordinated to him as the AKP government has been.
The election result was a huge blow to President Erdogan's dream of assuming executive powers by amending the constitution too. During the election campaign, Erdogan himself attended hundreds of public meetings (attending numerous public rallies for a president during a parliamentary election was unprecedented in Turkey and the opposition parties argued that President Erdogan is violating the constitution by doing so) and urged the voters to give "a party" 400 seats in a parliament of 550 members so that it could easily change the constitution to give executive powers to the presidency. He never directly named the AKP but it was the only party which promised to do so in its election manifesto. All other parties rejected that demand of the president.
Many in the country believe that following the election, the AKP failed to form a coalition government with other political parties only because Erdogan did not want it. The leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP) chairman Kemal Kiliçdaroglu said, "I am saying with all my sincerity: Mr Ahmet Davutoglu (prime minister) really wants to form a government and solve the problems of the country. I sincerely sense it. But the person occupying the presidential seat is not allowing this. He is stirring up trouble." Given that the AKP ended up winning only 258 seats, the critics of Erdogan allege that he was determined to take the country to snap polls by blocking formation of any possible coalition government. The coalition talks failed. Now those critics are arguing that he is drumming up nationalist sentiments in the country by attacking the PKK and harshly criticising the pro-Kurdish HDP to win back nationalist votes in the upcoming election in November.
It is highly unlikely that in early election, the AKP will gain even simple parliamentary majority, let alone the overwhelming majority it needs to change the constitution, but Erdogan apparently wants to give a retry anyway. The cost of this adventure, however, is too harsh and brutal for the country.