Suppressing the Kurds to Install Turkish Authoritarianism

Erdogan and Davutoglu are implementing a broad policy of suppressing democratic activism by all Turkish citizens under the cover of a sectarian war against the 20% of the Turkish population of Kurdish origin. While nothing unusual for the region, it is a shocking reversal of behavior for the country that was leading the region toward modernization…and the ability of Turkey to recover any time soon remains unclear.


Erdogan is implementing a three-pronged domestic political policy:

  • a military campaign against Kurdish rebels;

  • a sectarian campaign to punish and humiliate the Kurdish population;

  • a thinly disguised terror campaign to destroy the democratic Kurdish/progressive opposition.

The first may be shortsighted and counter-productive, but it is typical of politicians, who tend to prefer short-term solutions. The second is the core of what makes the military campaign counter-productive, for it will instill hatred for the AKP and ethnic Turks throughout the Kurdish 20% of the population; this second sectarian campaign seems designed to permanently disenfranchise and repress the Kurds, much as Shi’i militias have done to Iraqi Sunnis, and is being implemented under the cover of the well publicized military onslaught of the Turkish armed forces. The third is, judging from the evidence, the purpose: to destroy democratic opposition to the AKP. Were this not Erdogan’s purpose, it would be in his best interest to encourage Kurdish democratic action in order to weaken public support for Kurdish radicals; instead, Erdogan insists on lumping all the Kurds together, making very clear both by rhetoric and military action that no peaceful political participation will be permitted either for Kurdish citizens of Turkey or for any Turkish citizens who wish to engage in free speech or political action that opposes Erdogan’s policies. Indeed, he even lumps Syrian Kurds together with Turkish Kurds, effectively getting out in front of Kurdish public positions by promoting a common Kurdish front against Turkey!

The abrupt about-face by Ankara away from integration of Turkish Kurds represents a major step back toward secular conflict and authoritarianism for the region that merits comparison with the Egyptian military coup that overthrew the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood regime; the Pakistani military campaign in Waziristan; Israel’s military, economic, and political repression of Palestinians (whether civilians, activist Hamas officials in Gaza, or submissive West Bank authorities); the suppression of Shi’i democracy activists in Bahrain by the regime with the Saudi military; suppression of peaceful democratic participation by Iranian reformers in 2009; and the Maliki policy of discrimination against Iraqi Sunnis that sparked the rise of the Islamic State. The first essentially knocked a weakened Egypt out of regional affairs, while third destroyed Iraq as a functioning, unified state. The rest at least temporarily reinforced authoritarianism and deepened sectarian hostility. The consequences for Turkey will greatly depend on the willingness of Erdogan and Davutoglu to shift course once again and start respecting the civil rights of peaceful Kurdish citizens and the rights of all Kurds, including honest journalists and dissident professors, to participate in political affairs.

At the moment, Turkey’s future looks remarkably dim, in comparison to only a few years ago: this fall the Turkish people responded to Erdogan’s demand that they choose between order and chaos. Turks chose chaos, and now they have it.




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