Erdogan's AKP fights for Kurdish hearts and minds in Diyarbakir
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party hopes to win the majority that it failed to achieve in June’s general election in a rerun on Sunday. Since the last poll the government has launched an offensive against Kurdish PKK guerrillas and the Islamic State armed group (IS) has bombed peace rallies and fought with police. But AKP members in the Kurdish-majority south-east predict a good result for their party.
When Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addressed a rally in the main south-eastern city of Diyarbakir on Thursday the crowd was not particularly big but it responded enthusiastically when he invited them to shout “Turks and Kurds, brothers”
But then came the kicker, “The separatists are traitors!”
However, the public, which ranged from Diyarbakir residents to villagers in the city for the occasion, was not in bloodthirsty mood.
“I came for peace!” said Abdul Kader and most seemd to agree with him.
Young Kurdish fighters, soldiers, police and civilians have died in the fighting that has followed the breaking off of the peace process following June’s electoral stalemate.
Towns and villages have been sealed off by the army, some being devastated by the military operations.
The pro-Kurd People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which is strong in the region, says 1,000 of its supporters have been arrested.
The government’s opponents say Erdogan sparked off the renewed violence on purpose in the hope of boosting his party’s support.
But, speaking in the AKP’s Diyarbakir office on Friday, regional councillor Nejla Uysan said that the return to war is the PKK’s fault.
“It is they themselves that broke the peace process," she explained. "It is not yet finished for the government and I think that in the coming period this process will be redefined. And I hope, in the name of God, that with the new election and the new government the peace process will continue.”
Uysan, a Kurd who does not speak the Kurdish language, was confident that the AKP’s support would hold up in Diyarbakir.
Many Kurds are fed up with the PKK and the HDP she said, claiming that they are responsible for Kurd-on-Kurd violence, intimidating shopkeepers into staying closed in "liberated areas" and depriving families of food.
On Monday, police attacked two houses in Diyarbakir occupied by members of IS, which is held responsible for the bomb blasts on pro-peace rallies in Turkey that have killed more than 150 people.
Two police officers and seven IS members were killed. But, although Turkey has joined US-led air assaults on IS targets in Syria and Iraq, its opponents believe it secretly backed the group as a counter to Syrian Kurdish rebels, allied to the PKK.
That idea shocks Uysan.
“The government and the state doesn’t support Daesh. Definitely not!" she declared. "This is a barbaric organisation and, as Muslims, how do you think we could support such an organisation.”
Although Uysan insisted that the AKP was heading for an absolute majority this time, opinion polls don’t bear her out.
So who would the AKP like to form a coalition with?
Surprisingly, Uysan suggested that the HDP could be part of a coalition government, not a prospect that seems to have been floated by national party leaders.
“Why don’t you think (we) will not share?" she asks in response to my surprise. "We are living in the same city. We can share everything.”
The AKP has a political battle on its hands in the south-east and the rest of the country.
We’ll find out on Sunday if Uysan’s optimism is justified.
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