In the early hours of Nov. 4, Turkish police arrested 12 members of the predominantly Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, including co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. The arrests will almost certainly escalate the country’s ongoing war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), not only further undermining Turkey’s democracy and stability but increasing the likelihood that Turkish-Kurdish tensions will compromise the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State in northern Syria.
Since the 1980s, Turkey has faced a prolonged, often brutal insurgency sustained by the refusal to allow the democratic expression of Kurdish grievances. Recognizing that the country’s “Kurdish conflict” could never be solved through arrests and military operations, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) initially tried to change this dynamic after coming to power in 2003. Now, the government is doubling down on a tactic that has already brought Turkey several decades of violence.
The Turkish govt always insists ISIS, YPG & PKK are all equally bad. Last night it succeeded in strengthening all 3 https://t.co/cjIPV7sFE9
— Nicholas Danforth (@NicholasDanfort) November 4, 2016
Turkey’s powerful president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan — bolstered by popular support in the wake of a failed coup attempt in July — is working to consolidate nationalist support for a plan to increase his executive authority, perhaps via referendum in the coming year. Tough measures like this recent round of arrests will almost certainly prove popular among a constituency that is both angered by PKK terror attacks and unsympathetic toward Kurdish political aspirations. But they also make it harder to imagine how the current conflict will end.