1 – Mixed messages on the Kurdish situation pre-election – The AK-Party’s shifting stance on the Kurdish situation became even more confusing this weekend after a clash between the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) in the eastern province of Ağrı. Details on the reasons for the clash are unclear, as both sides have blamed the other, and the number of casualties involved is also in dispute, but at least two people (at least one of them a PKK soldier) have died and a number of Turkish soldiers were injured. President Erdoğan and PM Davutoğlu blamed the PKK and attempted to implicate the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) after the incident, but HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş said the operation was staged, and pointed out that it was HDP members who went to rescue the injured soldiers, sharing links to photo and video on social media to back this claim up. The TSK released a statement thanking the civilians who helped the soldiers today, to some degree supporting Demirtaş’s claim.
This situation puts a fragile peace process in question. For the past three years, the AK-Party had been making moves towards peace, negotiating with the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan and conceding to some aspects on language rights and regional autonomy desired by many Kurds in Turkey’s southeast region, often called Kurdistan. More recently, however, President Erdoğan, who is nominally unaffiliated with a party but still overtly acts as the head of the AK-Party, reversed his stance on the so-called “Kurdish opening” simultaneous with the celebration of Newroz, the spring holiday most closely identified with Kurds. This was interpreted by many as Erdoğan’s move to coax nationalist voters, known for their anti-Kurdish stance, in the run-up to the 2015 parliamentary elections. Numerous polls show the AK-Party losing ground and the HDP moving towards the 10% threshold necessary to enter parliament as a party, and this likely has Erdoğan very worried. Up until now, HDP members have been running as independent candidates since they were not likely to pass the 10% threshold, but this situation greatly decreases their representation in parliament while simultaneously increasing that of the AK-Party. So the political calculation in Turkey currently hinges on the fate of the HDP, and the AK-Party has every incentive to prevent their passing the threshold.
Given these circumstances, the timing of the Ağrı conflict is interesting, because it is likely to damage the HDP’s political image and improve that of the AK-Party. The TSK’s statement, however, might change this calculus.
Potentially linked to these events is the Istanbul Film Festival’s choice, under direct pressure from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s Cinema Directorate, to cancel the screening of a documentary filmed in the PKK camps. Bakur (North) was scheduled to be shown on 12 April but, hours before the screening, the IFF announced its cancellation. Numerous Turkish filmmakers involved in the festival held an impromptu meeting after this and decided to withdraw their films from the festival, calling into question whether key competitions will continue. Specifically, 7 out of 9 films in the national feature and 9 our of 13 films in the national documentary competitions signed a statement withdrawing their films.
2 – Media wars – Pre-election tensions are also playing out in mainstream media as pro-government media sources have made a number of moves to attack non-aligned media. Perhaps most notably, state run (and theoretically impartial) broadcaster TRT has refused to run commercials for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), giving as rationale the fact that the commercials criticize the ruling government. At the same time, pro-AK-Party media outlets Yeni Şafak and ATV have both published claims against the Doğan Media Group, charging it with support of terrorism in line with similar statements by Erdoğan. Doğan has filed slander charges against Yeni Şafak in response. Yeni Şafak also filed a story claiming that Turkey’s second President, Ismet İnönü, was responsible for having Mustafal Kemal Atatürk killed with poison. These claims and their alleged documentation have been the source of ridicule in other media, and columnist Mustafa Akyol commented on why such claims would come out now.
3 – Social media bans and reactions – Reactions to last week’s government ban of YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have begun to mount. Early in the week there was a threat to block Google as well, but this has not yet been executed, and the social media sites are now back online. These bans have not gone unanswered, as Today’s Zaman reports:
Two Turkish academics on Tuesday appealed a court order that allowed authorities to block access to Twitter and YouTube for several hours this week, a crackdown they say reflects Ankara’s growing authoritarianism.
Meanwhile, Hürriyet Daily News reports on international critique of the ban:
Bans on social media networks are “not appropriate” according to basic democratic standards, said European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who held meetings with a number of senior officials in Turkey, adding that he expected “meaningful answers” from Ankara on the issue.
Despite such reactions, threats against social media may actually be on the rise, as Today’s Zaman reports:
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has a tendency to put everything he sees as a threat against his authority in the country’s “National Security Strategy Concept Paper” (MGSB) — often referred to as the “Red Book” — may soon be adding social media platforms, according to a story in the Cumhuriyet daily on Thursday.
4 – Censorship, trials, and lawsuits – The weekly round-up of lawsuits and trials for those deemed to have insulted the AK-Party continues, as Hürriyet Daily News reports,
A local court in Ankara has ordered main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to pay 10,000 Turkish Liras in compensation to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for “insulting” him.
Erdoğan was not alone in his actions this week, as Today’s Zaman reports,
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has filed a new legal complaint against Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş over a blog post, saying the piece, an English version of which was published as a Today’s Zaman column, insulted him.
Some of the charges are more serious than insults against individuals, as Today’s Zaman reports,
Turkish prosecutors seek up to four and a half years in prison for two columnists, Ceyda Karan and Hikmet Çetinkaya, who write for the Turkish Cumhuriyet daily, over featuring a front cover of Charlie Hebdo magazine which depicted Prophet Muhammad in their pieces.
5 – AK-Party’s Neo-Ottoman overtures – Finally, the AK-Party continues to employ Ottoman pageantry in political appearances. As Hürriyet Daily News notes, this week’s ceremonies involved both PM Davutoğlu,
Continuing the new trend of cosplay started at Turkey’s new presidential palace where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan resides, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan were welcomed by policemen dressed in Ottoman-era costumes on April 10 in Ankara.
and President Erdoğan,
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was welcomed during a ceremony on April 10 with the “New Turkey Anthem” performed by an Ottoman military band, which praised him as “Our Leader.”
Though quite visible, such overtures are not necessarily a way to success with the public, as the same paper noted in covering the fate of a number of “candidates for candidacy” who had vied for position on the AK-Party candidate list, which was decided this week:
Several candidates had launched Ottoman-themed campaigns to be nominated for the AKP. However, none of the “Ottomans” were able to break the glass ceiling of modern politics when the ruling party announced its candidates for the June 7 general elections on April 7.