By Nuray Mert
Those who are very hopeful over the Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) election success in the name of democratic prospects in Turkey had less than a week to celebrate before a delegation went to İmralı prison and came back with a message from Abdullah Öcalan.
The imprisoned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Öcalan’s message delivered after the presidential election not only celebrated the HDP’s election success, but also marked “a historical turn in Turkey on the path of becoming a democratic state.” After everything, it seems that Öcalan and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agree on the definition of “democratic state,” despite the fact that theirs is a rather peculiar understanding of democracy. There is no doubt that Erdoğan has been elected president in a democratic election, and indeed this was the only thing that has recently worked correctly in the name of democracy in Turkey. Otherwise, the country is permanently and firmly sliding into authoritarian politics in all respects; namely, lack of freedom of expression, political transparency and accountability, independence of the judiciary, and the increasing centralization of power in the hands of Erdoğan.
Moreover, these are not only current facts, but also promises for the future under the presidency of Erdoğan. He has declared his understanding of the presidency as an all-powerful position, and he has defined his politics as “a struggle for a cause” larger than an ordinary race for the presidency. He and his supporters defined Erdoğan as the leader of the cause for a “New Turkey” and also for the whole Muslim world, describing their political struggle as a “revolutionary change.” Erdoğan is believed to be a historical leader who will determine the fate of Turkey, and his fate is identified with the “national interest.” As such, it is no surprise that Öcalan and Erdoğan share a very similar understanding of politics in general and of democracy in particular. Öcalan is a revolutionary too; he is also considered to be the sole leader of the Kurdish nation, or even the embodiment of the Kurdish cause; he too believes in his genius to redefine not only the fate of the Kurds but also the whole Middle East. Öcalan also describes democracy in a national-historical context; as Erdogan advocates and craves for a “Turkish-style presidential system,” Öcalan argues for the superiority of his model of “democratic modernity” over “capitalist modernity.” Finally, both are very skeptical about Western powers and consider complexities and complications to be plots against their respective nations in particular, and against the people of the Middle East (or Muslims in the case of Erdoğan) in general.
It is perfectly understandable for the PKK and its leader to avoid confrontation with President Erdoğan or “the leader of New Turkey” - especially under the circumstances of turmoil in the Middle East - and to express more care about recent developments in the greater Kurdish world (in Iraq and Syria). Nevertheless, Öcalan sounds more genuine than tactical and it seems that he is investing his hopes in the establishment of the New Turkey. In fact, it could be a big chance for peace and democracy if “the leaders of Turks and Kurds” agreed to commit themselves to building a more democratic Turkey.
However, it seems that they simply agree more on the idea of the “New Turkey,” but it is not clear whether they attribute the same meaning to it. Besides, each has his peculiar political models - neither of which may be easily defined as democracy - and it may be that both consider themselves to be “the master of the game,” able to manipulate the other. That is why I am very concerned about the prospects of the peace process, let alone democracy.