Here is my take on what may be going on in Erdoğan’s mind:
For all those who did not (want to) pay attention to the “process skeptics” like myself, the latest sharp “curve,” symbolized by the bloody skirmishes between the units of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels in Diyadin-Ağrı, should come as a wake-up call.
This does not look like a single, isolated incident. Nor does it signal a well-calculated provocative act by the PKK, focusing all sorts of suspicion once more on a deliberate escalation related to the upcoming election and poll figures.
The latter has shown a steady — although not very sharp — decline of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) vote, arguably in the wake of the military pullout operation of the Süleyman Shah tomb, in Syria.
A look at the average of the polls shows the AKP losing four to five points in general; within the copout votes flowing into either the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). This is not strange because, having grassroots based on a conservative social coalition, any move of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from his current “fixed” position on the process would rattle the AKP electoral base.
This has happened. These days, observers like myself gaze into three things: a) Erdoğan’s overtures with the top brass; b) whatever reliable poll we can have access to and c) perhaps more importantly, the “color” and content of Erdoğan’s rhetoric.
The last is more important, because it is an open secret that the populist success of Erdoğan stems mainly from his obsession with the polls, many of them simultaneously, which he and his party have been commissioning. Looking at what Erdoğan chooses to target is always helpful to determine which party – the MHP or HDP — is on the rise. (The Republican People’s Party [CHP] does not count at all.)
The narrative of what really happened in Diyadin is, to say the least, contradictory. Obviously, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s being caught off-guard, and being preceded by other party figures, such as Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan, damaged his credibility further.
But there is more to it: Davutoğlu’s delayed claim that it was a PKK provocation was countered by HDP Co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş and footage the PKK rebels and locals had served the media, showing wounded conscripts being helped by them. The duel of words continued, but another blow came this time from the chief of staff, who thanked the “citizens in the area helping our soldiers.”
This only helps explain how unbearable Davutoğlu’s task now becomes to take the party to the election. But, in the bigger picture, the question remains: Who caused the skirmishes, and why?
If the polls that I and others share with you agree that the HDP is on the razor’s edge to pass the 10-percent election barrier, and we also know that both the PKK and its armed wing, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), have committed to the elections and cease-fire, there is logically no reason that the HDP, which shows surprisingly high political wisdom, would be endorsing a disruption of the fragile peace. Such an act would only help the MHP and AKP to (re)gain votes.
There are now signs of panic in the AKP camp. If the HDP passes the threshold, not only Erdoğan’s dream of personalizing power, but also a single majority rule is in jeopardy. The MHP is rising as a reaction to the non-transparent peace process.
But this per se doesn’t help us find the answer to the question: The explanation lies in to what extent Erdoğan and the chief of staff have come closer on how to deal with the Kurdish issue and the PKK.
Could Ağrı be a signal that Erdoğan has, after careful calculation, given up on the “process”? I am getting ready to invest in that.
For a leader in deep legal trouble — daily breaching of the Constitution, his party losing votes — a path to give tutelage a new shape, by an AKP-military alliance, while eyeing an option for an eventual AKP-MHP coalition after the elections would be a much more secure bet.
Let’s see the Ağrı events in that context.