Kani Xulam, a political activist based in Washington D.C. who runs the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) penned an article in which he calls for Kurds living in Istanbul to vote for AKP opponent Meimaroglu and save Turkey from sliding into authoritarianism.
First a little bit of digression: When a Roman general conquered a new land; he was authorized to have a parade through the streets of Rome to celebrate his victory.
The daylong procession featured booming music and a display of carts filled with confiscated treasures and weapons collected from the battlefields, along with chained prisoners and wild animals from that territory.
The highpoint, of course, was the conquering general in his splendid chariot as he gloriously accepted the crowd’s thunderous cheers.
But lest he feel too high-and-mighty, a slave in the general’s chariot, who held a golden crown over his head, also whispered into his ear a Roman maxim from time to time:
“All fame is fleeting.”
In short, fortune may smile — but it can also frown upon you.
We humans still engage in wars and hold victory parades, but the ancient Roman ritual is no longer practiced.
It should be—and one person who could learn a thing or two from it is the president of Turkey, Recep Erdogan.
On April 1, his party’s candidate Binali Yildirim lost the municipal election of Istanbul to his rival, Ekrem Imamoglu. Instead of celebrating the people’s will and democracy, the president failed to call me to congratulate me, a puzzled mayor-elect noted a few days later.
Taking their cue from Erdogan, his followers cried foul. They lodged a complaint with the Supreme Electoral Council for a recount. It didn’t help; the recounts didn’t change the results.
Then Erdogan spoke at a meeting of Independent Industrialists and Businessmen Association (MÜSİAD) on May 4. He said, “My compatriots tell me, ‘This election must be redone’.” In Turkey, that was like God had spoken on Earth.
It was enough to get the ever compliant Supreme Electoral Council to issue a new statement and invalidate the election results, sack the mayor-elect from his job and declare June 23, as the new date for the new election.
This time the world cried foul. The Washington Post editorialized hope that the people of Istanbul would reject Erdogan’s choice. But if the opposite happens, Turkey would hardly be “distinguished from neighboring Central Asian despotisms,” it said.
Although not credited enough, our Kurds played the key role in making sure that Istanbul remained in the camp of those who still cherished democracy in Turkey. Numbering 1 million voters, they voted primarily for Imamoglu notwithstanding his party’s aloofness towards the Kurds.
The Kurds should continue to vote as a bloc as much as possible to make up for their minority status in Turkey, a country that equates democracy with the majority rule and lacks institutions that can say no to Erdogan.
The new elections are six weeks away and the eyes of the world will be on Istanbul. Again. Erdogan knows that. He also knows his Turks and Kurds, the country’s primary ethnic groups, and survived a similar setback after the June 7 parliamentary elections of 2015.
Although not on the ballot—since he was the president at that time, he was able to turn his loss into a win by a combination of factors and may wish to repeat them now to pull off another “miracle,” this time for Istanbul.
Devlet Bahceli, the leader of Nationalist Movement Party, a hardcore Turkish supremacist, was the first to come to his rescue. He didn’t want to form a coalition government with the liberal and socialist parties of the Turkish parliament and enabled Erdogan to call for a new election on November 1, 2015.
Our Kurds helped Erdogan inadvertently as well. They did so when fighters affiliated with Kurdistan Workers’ Party raised barricades in the Kurdish cities in the summer of 2015 and gave the Turkish leader an excuse to portray himself as a protector of Turks.
But what really helped him was a bloody campaign of intimidation by the suicide bombers of the Islamic State (ISIS) that targeted primarily center-left Turks and Kurds prompting Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk to “blame” Erdogan “for the growing climate of insecurity in the country” to regain his majority in the parliament.
It worked. Erdogan’s party won the parliamentary election of November 1, 2015.
What is Erdogan’s new game plan for Turkey’s most important city, Istanbul? One Turkey watcher has noted that he may initiate a war [https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/why-erdogan-will-win-in-istanbul-and-what-this-means-for-turkish-democracy] in Syria and call it national emergency and cancel the election—if polls tell him that he is losing again, for the foreseeable future.
The Kurds of Istanbul pose a threat as well as opportunity to him. A Kurdish leader has already noted his wish to see Erdogan approach the Kurdish issue with sense and be rewarded accordingly.
Can Erdogan address the “Kurdish question” in Turkey? Asking him for help is like asking a blind man for directions. It is simply beyond his capacity. But the demographics of Istanbul are playing a trick on him enabling analysts to pose, what is more important for Erdogan: Kurds or Istanbul?
Istanbul is the answer.
Will the Kurds help him regain it? Will Erdogan nudge Ocalan to deliver him Istanbul? If he does, Kurds would be helping the forces of authoritarianism to prevail in the country.
We are better off to place our faith in a democratic Turkey led by the likes of Imamoglu. That is why I am urging my relatives and friends in Istanbul to vote for him. Again.