The opposition in Turkey must actively resist the government’s policy of neutralising dissent by labelling the Kurdish movement and its allies as terrorists, political sociologist Harun Ercan said in an interview with the Evrensel daily newspaper. He emphasised that failure to do so would only lead to an increase in repression.
Ercan expressed concern over the weak reactions from the opposition regarding the recent arrest of journalist Merdan Yanardağ, who had criticised the absolute isolation of Abdullah Öcalan, asserting that he is being held as a political hostage. Yanardağ’s arrest was based on charges of making terrorist propaganda.
Ercan emphasised the importance of recognising such incidents as symbolic rituals through which the government reasserts its control, leaving nationalist sympathisers as passive observers.
Turkish government’s shift to war economy aimed at dividing opposition
The academic explained that in the context of crisis in the Middle East, if a government fails to effectively divide the opposition into “reasonable opposition” and “radical opposition,” the likelihood of mass actions triggered by the crisis increases significantly.
Consequently, the Turkish government’s strategic shift towards a war economy following the deceleration of construction-driven growth is not a coincidence but a deliberate attempt to splinter the opposition on the Kurdish issue. Ercan stressed that this phenomenon cannot simply be attributed to the rise of nationalism, but rather requires an understanding of structural racism.
Ercan criticised the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) for its inability to mobilise against the government’s repressive policies. He noted the lack of concerted resistance efforts by mainstream opposition parties, which stand in stark contrast to the government’s relentless refinement of pressure tactics. Nonetheless, Ercan added that he doubted the CHP possessed a principled objection to turning İmralı Island Prison, where the Kurdistan Workers’ Party leader Abdullah Öcalan is held in absolute isolation, into a place where legal rules are disregarded, referring to the connection between Yanardağ’s detention and Öcalan’s isolation.
Government unlikely to change stance on Kurds
Considering these developments, Ercan argued that the government is unlikely to abandon its strategy of viewing the Kurds as enemies unless the economic crisis reveals itself to be much deeper than it appears. Ercan pointed out that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was able to win the May elections with the backing of the war bureaucracy amid one of the most severe crises in his tenure. Moreover, Ercan underscored the government’s expansionist policies in Syria and Iraq, using the armed wing of the Kurdish movement as a pretext, as well as in Armenia, Libya, and the Mediterranean region.
The academic drew attention to the fact that two protracted armed conflicts have plagued the Middle East for decades: the Israel-Palestine issue and the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, which has also now taken on an international dimension. According to Ercan, the greatest peril facing the Kurds in Turkey and North and East Syria, following the increase in nationalist rhetoric in the May elections, is the potential for the Kurdish question to mirror the protracted conflict in Palestine.
“The likelihood of an ethnic-racial conflict dynamic totally excluding all attempts at peaceful resolution, appearing interminable and transitioning into permanency is now more likely than ever,” Ercan said, stressing the urgent need for democratic movements led by parties such as the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Green Left Party (YSP) to swiftly rally against this trend.