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Kurdish Peace Process Affects Creation of New Ruling Coalition

  • Dorian Jones

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in Ankara, June 11, 2015.

FILE - Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in Ankara, June 11, 2015.

In Turkey, the stalled Kurdish peace process is becoming a central issue in efforts to put together a coalition government, following the country's general election earlier this month. The recent military gains by Kurds against the Islamic State in neighboring Syria also is adding pressure to the coalition-building efforts.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to ask Justice and Development Party leader Ahmet Davutoglu to try to form a coalition government. The far-right National Action Party and the center-left Republican People’s Party are the two most likely partners.

Kadir Has University international relations expert Soli Ozel said the fate of Turkey's three-year peace process with the PKK Kurdish rebel group is a key factor in coalition-building efforts.

"[The National Action Party] precondition - perhaps only condition, or certainly one of the preconditions - is that there be no [peace] process. For [the Republican People’s Party], which committed itself to continuing it (the peace process) under the auspices of the National Assembly, the modalities of how to continue it maybe become part of the coalition protocol," said Ozel.

While it was Turkey's ruling party, the Justice and Development Party [AKP], initiated the peace process with the PKK, which had spent three decades fighting for greater rights. It resulted in a cease-fire, but the peace efforts have stalled.

Experts say that resulted in a collapse in support among conservative Kurdish voters for the AKP, which lost its parliamentary majority in a June 7 election.

Marmara University political scientist Yuksel Taskin said AKP leader Davutoglu is aware his party’s fortunes are linked to the peace process.

"I do not think that peace process can be actually reversed or stopped. For AKP, significant vote losses among the Kurds is not something that ... can continue," said Taskin. "So they will try to get [the] support of conservative Kurdish people. But there is also the Erdogan factor. He wants [the] Turkish armed forces to [put] some sort of pressure, so Syrian Kurdish actors cannot act freely in the region."

Erdogan has strongly condemned sweeping military gains made by Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party forces against the Islamic State along Turkey’s southern border.

Erdogan accuses the Syrian Kurds of being affiliated with the PKK, warning Friday (June 26) that Turkey will never allow a Syrian Kurdish state to be created.

The Turkish government has not ruled out military action, even though local media reports the country's generals oppose such a move. Tehran has also warned Ankara not to intervene.

Cumhuriyet newspaper and the Al-Monitor website diplomatic columnist Semih Idiz said Erdogan is misjudging public sentiments about Syrian Kurdish gains.

"They are concerned to an extent, yes, because the Syrian groups are seen as affiliates of the PKK. But, on the other hand, there is this situation in Turkey whereby the government is actually negotiating with the PKK, either directly or by means of proxies," said Idiz. "So to vilify and to demonize these groups that are associated with the PKK at a time when it is negotiating with the PKK will, I think, not wash with many Turks."

Imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and Kurdish leaders in neighboring Iraq have warned military intervention against Syria Kurdish forces would end the peace process. But Ozel said that with the People's Democratic Party becoming the first pro-Kurdish party to be elected to parliament, the peace process will not end, despite its troubles.

"Well, I do not think there was much of a process left, so I think that this will be probably on hold for some time to come," he said. "I doubt that the PKK will go back to arms, but the [People's Democratic Party] will fight ... politically in the national assembly. That is why I do not think you can actually kill it [the peace process]."

According to recent opinion polls, a majority in Turks still support peace efforts with the Kurds. Economists warn that a resumption of fighting or a military intervention in Syria, however, would pose risks to Turkey’s economy.

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