Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli remains a solo warrior in his opposition to the government's Kurdish initiative, a road map in progress announced last month that aims to find a settlement to the country's long-standing Kurdish question.
The government's bid received a boost after last Thursday's National Security Council (MGK) meeting, when it became apparent that even the military supports a new approach to the Kurdish problem.
Bahçeli has claimed that the Kurdish initiative is an “American project” and that everyone supporting it is guilty of treason. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded harshly to this assertion, saying that Bahçeli and his like have “no dignity” if they fail to “prove their words.”
Pundits say that the MHP views the Kurdish initiative as a political life vest, exploiting it using populist discourse to appeal to voters' patriotic sentiments. In his staunch opposition to the initiative, Bahçeli also rejected an invitation from President Abdullah Gül to brief the MHP on the content of last week's MGK meeting. The Presidency later criticized Bahçeli, without naming him, in a brief but harsh statement, saying, “A statement directed at the MGK and its members and made without having the necessary information was found to be inappropriate.”
Erdoğan's response to Bahçeli was also stern. Erdoğan recalled that the MHP was a signatory to the law abolishing the death penalty in Turkey, passed shortly after terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan was captured in Kenya and brought to Turkey. Öcalan's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after the abolishment.
“Who was the government that dragged its feet in carrying out Öcalan's death sentence? Wasn't it the MHP?” Erdoğan said. But the prime minister was most irate about Bahçeli's claim that the Kurdish initiative was a project designed to serve the interests of the United States. “If they can prove this, I will go for anything they say. But if they fail to, they have no dignity, no honor. This is that clear -- this is how clearly I am stating this. This government will not take this much slander. This government is the government of the Republic of Turkey. It is not a representative of this or that country.”
Meanwhile, various segments of society appear unnerved by Bahçeli's staunch opposition to the Kurdish initiative that goes so far as to antagonize the government. Journalist Mehmet Altan expressed his unease with Bahçeli's stance by likening the MHP leader to a “truck with broken brakes.”
Altan said: “We have only just commenced settling the [Kurdish] question. Despite this, the MHP leader has shown staunch opposition. I am in shock and awe at his evaluations. The democratization initiative, which the MGK once again said it supports last Thursday, is to Bahçeli a ‘project of destruction supported by centers of treason who have been trying to get a result using PKK terrorism for years.' So according to him, the ongoing process is not ‘destructive,' but a desire to end this process and heal its deep influence over a long period is ‘destruction.' This is neither understandable, nor acceptable.”
Bahçeli's words are, however, “consistent,” according to pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) Şırnak deputy Hasip Kaplan. Kaplan says there will always be those who “benefit from terror and from an impasse.” Kaplan commented: “There will be such people both within the Kurdish community and in the Turkish community. Because a no-solution situation is the only raison d'etre of their existence. For this reason, what he is saying is consistent. We have seen many politicians who owe their political existence to terrorism and bloodshed, but none have been able to protect their seats. Those who oppose a solution today will also not be able to do so.”
According to others still, however, Bahçeli's state of mind is pathological. Bekir Bozdağ, deputy head of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) parliamentary group, highlights that it simply doesn't make sense to define a step taken to assure Turkey's unity and territorial integrity that is supported by the MGK and various segments of society as treason. “If those who want the bloodshed to stop are traitors, then what do we call those who want it to continue? Is he panicking because there will no longer be any martyr funerals?”
Bozdağ also dismissed Bahçeli's claims that the democratization package is a US-driven project, saying: “The US captured Öcalan. The US handed him over. The one who removed the slipknot around his neck was the MHP. His death sentence was handed down on Dec. 27, 1999. On Aug. 3, 2002, the death penalty was abolished. On that date, there was a single death penalty file waiting for approval at the Prime Ministry, and that was Öcalan's. If they were sincere, they would name their own solution to the problem.”
State Minister Egemen Bağış, Turkey's chief EU negotiator, said: “They are calling the struggle to stop the bloodshed ‘treason.' All I can say is that I hope God gives them some sense. With this initiative, the plague of terrorism will end. The camps and polarization between people will end.”