Erdogan wonders if a region called Kurdistan exists in Turkey

In 2013, the Turkish leader said Kurdistan existed and cited early 20th-century parliamentary minutes.
author_image Rawa Barwari

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – With the nationwide local elections nearing in Turkey, the country’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is increasingly targeting the opposition with accusations of courting Kurdish votes and even collaborating with Kurdish militant forces he calls “terrorists.”

In a bid to consolidate his grip on his religious Muslim and Turkish nationalist voter base, Erdogan has now designated any expression of Kurdish identity or demands for self-rule by the Kurds as fair targets in the run-up to the March 31 elections.

In a rally held in the Central Anatolian city of Kayseri over the weekend, he charged the main secular opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) and the ultra-nationalist IYI (Good) Party of pursuing the same path with “separatists,” a term often employed pejoratively in the Turkish political parlance.

“Is there a region called Kurdistan in Turkey?” Erdogan asked rhetorically. “Then how come Mr. Kemal is with those who talk like this? How come the IYI Party is walking with those who want to divide this country?”

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, whose first name Erdogan used, is the leader of the CHP, a self-described social democratic party established by the founder of the modern Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Erdogan’s remarks were a reference to an earlier statement by the Co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Sezai Temelli who two weeks ago said his party would “win in Kurdistan.”

HDP has consistently gotten the most votes from some 20 Kurdish-majority provinces in the east and southeast of Turkey collectively known as Kurdistan, a name banned and criminalized since 1925 when Ataturk’s young state faced an eventually suppressed Kurdish uprising then.

A map shows the result of votes in June 2015 elections for the pro-Kurdish HDP by province, roughly corresponding to boundaries of the part of Kurdistan that falls in Turkey. Shades of purple show voting ratios. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Nub Cake)
A map shows the result of votes in June 2015 elections for the pro-Kurdish HDP by province, roughly corresponding to boundaries of the part of Kurdistan that falls in Turkey. Shades of purple show voting ratios. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons/Nub Cake)

To challenge an official right-wing alliance by Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its junior far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), HDP appears to have joined an uneasy, unofficial, and teetering opposition front along with CHP and IYI.

They hope to make sure mayoral candidate supported AKP-MHP alliance do not get enough votes by backing each other’s candidates in respective population centers where their votes collectively make up the majority.

“We have to work harder and bury them in the ballot boxes,” a fiery Erdogan declared in front of thousands of his supporters.

In response, CHP’s Istanbul lawmaker Gursel Tekin, himself a Kurd, posted headlines from 2013 when Erdogan, then prime minister, was criticizing the main opposition for not helping his then peace negotiations with the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group locked in an on and off low-intensity conflict with the Turkish state.

“If they look at early parliamentary minutes, they will see the word Kurdistan there. They will see that during the Ottoman times a Kurdistan Eyalet existed,” the Turkish leader had said on TV and at the parliament.

He was defending his use of the word during a peace rally with the then President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir.

Since then, until the collapse of the Ankara-PKK peace talks in 2015, Erdogan said “Kurdistan” multiple times, breaking a deeply-held political and societal taboo.

However, in the past three years, his administration promptly revived the denialism against Kurds and Kurdistan in Turkey, moving on to re-criminalize the terms, a process that now has resulted in outlawing the terms at the parliament, banning books, dissolving civic organizations and now a potential closure of four political parties awaiting a trial at the Supreme Court.

As for the elections, the Turkish leader on Monday once again vowed to appoint state bureaucrats to run municipal affairs in Kurdish cities should an HDP candidate come out victorious.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany