Recently, Turkish PM Ahmet Davutoglu applied to the Turkish parliament to lift immunity on five elected politicians from the pro-Kurdish party, which includes the co-chairs who prosecute them on charges of being the proxy of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called for the deputies of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to face prosecution, accusing them of being an extension of the PKK. Whether or not the mentioned MPs will be jailed pending trial, it still seems that such a step would have tremendous impacts on both Turkey’s tense domestic situation and on its turbulent foreign policy preferences.
Impact on Domestic Politics
There is almost no doubt that imprisoning elected Kurdish politicians would further intensify tensions in the mainly Kurdish southeast, which has been hit by the worst violence in two decades since a two-year peace process with the PKK collapsed in July last year. In such a political landscape, it is very likely that the tension between Turkish security forces and the PKK might push for a social uprising similar to what we had observed during the Kobane unrest that ended with a call made by the PKK’s imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan.
It might be very risky this time for the Turkish government to rely on Ocalan to stop such a huge potential civilian disobedience, which fearfully might end with terrorist attacks in western cities of Turkey, as was the case with the recent blast in Ankara last week. In fact, such a scenario can not be completed without arguing that the number of internally-displaced people might increase dramatically, and as a result these people will have to move to western parts of Turkey where many intra-societal tensions between the Kurds and the Turks might occur.
Secondly, imprisoning Kurdish politicians will give a very negative message to millions of Kurdish constituents who have been so far supporting the process to disarm the PKK. Such a move will certainly make Kurds all around the country lose faith in the idea that their struggle for fundamental rights and freedoms cannot succeed without the PKK. If this is the trend to win through, it will not be surprising to observe that the pro-Kurdish HDP will get closer to the narratives used by the PKK, and the designing capacity of the PKK over legal Kurdish political entities will gain enormous strength.
Having said that, we might also expect more support from Kurdish constituents for some of the city militia groups -- such as the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) -- that emerged after the recent collapse of the peace talks, as well as expecting calls for regional autonomy in southeastern Turkey.
On the other hand the imprisonment of the HDP's MPs through lifting immunity might help the governing AK Party to consolidate the nationalist electorate. Given that the pro-Kurdish HDP seems to be below 10% threshold and that the Turkish nationalists (MHP) are undergoing a tremendous loss of popularity, one can claim that the AK Party might hold snap elections in 2016 once both opposition parties are below the threshold.
Under such a circumstance, the AK Party might aim to get 400 seats in Turkish parliament which is the sufficient number for a constitutional change where President Erdogan can fulfill his plan to turn Turkey into a country that is run by executive presidency.
Impact on Foreign Policy
Given the recent statements made by Cemil Bayik -- PKK’s acting leader in Qandil -- that Turkish security forces need to be prepared for a civil war at the beginning of the spring 2016, one can expect that the Turkish government might feel forced to suspend its strict position against the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria due to dealing intensively with the PKK in Turkey. This can facilitate the conditions in favor of the PYD to ensure and enlarge its control over large portions northern Syria where it proclaimed the self-governing Rojava administration in November 2013.
Furthermore, if this is to prevail, one can underline that the PYD-Iran-Russia alliance will provide what the regime in Damascus needs for both its survival and expansion of its control within Syria. Not surprisingly, this is not what Turkey would wish for. Under such a regional landscape where Turkey has interestingly achieved to be at odds with global super powers such as Russia and the US -- as well as with regional powers like the Kurds in Syria, Iraq, and Iran -- we might expect Turkey to try to normalize its relations with Israel as an archaic ally.
In addition, the potential escalation of violence during the summer of 2016 between security forces and PKK might create an additional rush for 500,000 already internally-displaced people to join the refugee flow from Turkey to Europe. Since the EU is horse-trading with Turkey over its own values to stem refugee flow to the continent, a large number of Kurdish refugees seeking ways to get into Europe might create sreious tensions for Turkey–EU relations.
* Ebubekir ISIK is a PhD researcher at the Free University of Brussels (Vub). His field of expertise covers Stateless Nationalists and Regionalists Parties (SNRP). Follow him on Twitter here.
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