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Kidnapped Turkish deputy: Why CHP, why Tunceli, why now?

I have recently concluded an e-mail interview with the Southeast European Times on the kidnapped Turkish deputy; Mr. Hüseyin Aygün of the Republican People’s Party – CHP. Here is the full version of the interview:

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Kidnapped Turkish deputy: Why CHP, why Tunceli, why now?

Photo Credit: Cumhuriyet Newspaper

August 14, 2012

What happens to the ones that are being kidnapped by PKK? 

PKK doesn’t have a monolithic hostage policy. In the 1990s, PKK kidnapped civilians and soldiers alike, using the kidnapping operation as a statement of its control over a particular territory, or to challenge Turkish military control over the same area. The fact that somebody gets kidnapped hurts Turkish military prestige. Then, they would either get killed in a highly publicized propaganda move, or would be used to push Turkey to release certain prisoners – like Hamas does to Israel. PKK briefly stopped killing hostages through its interregnum period of 1999-2006. However, this is the first time in PKK’s history that a member of the parliament is being kidnapped.

 

Why CHP? Why Mr. Aygun?  Is there any connection with the Kilicdaroglu-Erdogan common initiative you think?

Mr. Aygün’s kidnap is a serious incident; even from the standpoint of the PKK. Even as a militant group that made it into the ‘terrorist organizations list’ of quite a number of countries and organizations, it still has a certain code of law and a particular understanding of chivalry. Kidnapping a deputy, from a historically ‘loaded’ city like Tunceli is certainly a breach of PKK’s own operational codes; especially when you consider that Aygün is a pro-Kurdish deputy. This kidnap operation is certainly not a disjunctive incident; the order is given by the ‘high command’. PKK wants to catch the wind of the Arab Spring and create somewhat of a Kurdish Spring of sorts. Since Turkey’s support for the Syrian army annoyed Iran and Syria, who in turn, re-started supporting the PKK against Turkey like they did in the 1990s, the group reverted back to its 1990s strategy of what a high-ranking PKK leader had dubbed as ‘revolutionary operations’. They expect escalating violence and re-militarization of the Kurdish issue and therefore new recruits, their training, supply increase and base expansion operations are in order. In tandem, the PKK seeks to perform more of these ‘revolutionary operations’ to appeal to younger Kurdish citizens of Turkey and Iraq. Mr. Aygün’s capture is therefore one of these highly publicized revolutionary operations and marks a new ‘high’ as to how far the PKK is willing to go to manipulate the political agenda.

As to why PKK chose CHP and Tunceli, the main determinant has been the election of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu; himself from Tunceli. Since Kilicdaroglu’s election as the CHP chairman, Tunceli’s electorate turned in favor towards the CHP, withdrawing support from the BDP – the Kurdish party with both organic and inorganic ties to the PKK. Futhermore, the PKK had issued a boycot to the 2010 Constitutional amendment referendum, which Tunceli electorate had defied. The PKK long wanted to punish Tunceli for its electoral choice. Furthermore, while Mr. Aygün was a pro-Kurdish politician who denounced Turkish state policy towards the Kurds, he also publicly condemned the PKK for using violence to derail political processes. By kidnapping Aygün, PKK punished both Tunceli voters and their elected deputy for his discourse on the PKK. Another independent deputy from Tunceli – Kamer Genç – also announced today that the security officials had warned him about the possibility of a similar kidnap operation.

 

What’s the government’s policy? How do the different sides of the conflict view this?

The government of course condemned it out of procedure and the President publicly condemned this as well. Yet the government doesn’t feel politically close to Tunceli, since they haven’t been getting much vote from there and they see the Alevi majority in the province as a political nuisance. Rather than a sincere effort, we see the kidnap operation becoming a pivot point over which the opposition criticizes the government and vice versa. CHP blames the AKP for its lack of seriousness related to plans to rescue the deputy, whereas some AKP deputies’ Twitter accounts mentioned the incident in a ridiculing way. Although the PKK publicly declared that they might kill Mr. Aygün, nobody expects them to do so, therefore Turkish political scene is perhaps a bit too comfortable with the incident.

What is important is that the PKK is escalating violence as a direct result of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ backing, support and supply. Iran is retaliating against Turkey, which harbors and arms the Free Syrian Army. FSA and PKK are becoming the main players of a Turkish-Iranian proxy war; its main battlefield was northern Syria, but now the conflict is spilling over to Turkey’s south-east. U.S. policy is a firm condemnation of the PKK and support for Turkey’s struggle with the group. Yet, Syria showed the limits of Turkish ‘soft power’; now the conflict is getting increasingly militarized and we should expect further escalation in the short- to medium-term, also potentially destabilizing the Kurdish rule in northern Iraq. In the meantime, the Syria front Turkey has opened is swelling into Turkey’s Iraq border and beyond.

 

 

Author

Akin Unver

Dr. Ünver is an assistant professor of international relations at Kadir Has University, Istanbul.

Previously he was the Ertegün Lecturer of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, Near Eastern Studies department - the only academic to retain this prestigious fellowship for two consecutive years. He conducted his joint post-doctoral studies at the University of Michigan’s Center for European Studies and the Center for the Middle East and North African Studies, where he authored several articles on Turkish politics, most notable of which is ”Turkey’s deep-state and the Ergenekon conundrum”, published by the Middle East Institute.

Born and raised in Ankara, Turkey, he graduated from T.E.D. Ankara College in 1999 and earned his B.A. in International Relations from Bilkent University (2003) and MSc in European Studies from the Middle East Technical University (2005). He received his PhD from the Department of Government, University of Essex, where his dissertation, ‘A comparative analysis of the discourses on the Kurdish question in the European Parliament, US Congress and Turkish National Assembly‘ has won the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) 2010 Malcolm H. Kerr Dissertation Award in Social Sciences.

Akın also assumed entry-level policy positions at the European Union Secretariat-General, Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Eurasian Center for Strategic Studies (ASAM) and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (D.C.), as well as teaching positions at the University of Essex (Theories of International Relations) and Sabancı University (Turkey and the Middle East).



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