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Kurds Mourn Dead—and Their Hopes for a Better Turkey

Walter Russell Mead

One hundred thousand Kurds gathered in the city of Cizre yesterday to mourn their compatriots killed during a recent Turkish army crackdown. The Daily Hurriyet reports:

The mourners carried the coffins of 16 people to a funeral ceremony before their burial.

The Turkish government said up to 32 outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants were killed during the curfew imposed in Cizre in an “anti-terror” operation.

But the Kurdish-problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said 21 civilians were killed during the operation, which deprived residents of access to essential amenities and triggered food shortages.

Erdogan’s strategy seems to be clear. For a critical slice of the electorate, a traditionally Kurdish party became a rally point for opponents of Erdogan’s plan to amend the constitution and gift himself with powers to match his new palace. The success of this party deprived the AKP of its hoped-for majority. Rather than abandoning his grandiose ambitions, Erdogan has embarked on a strategy of polarizing Turks on the Kurdish question, ratcheting up tensions in Kurdish areas, and exacerbating Turkish-Kurdish relations. This is especially sad because in the past one of Erdogan’s genuine accomplishments was to move toward a more open and reasonable Kurdish policy that might have helped overcome years of suspicion and violence.

What Erdogan appears to want now is a synthesis of the worst of Kemalism (intolerant authoritarianism and rigid nationalism) with Islamism. By playing the Kurdish card, he now hopes to attract support from hardline nationalists and continue to rebuild links with the military. There are few sadder spectacles in world politics today than the ruin of the hopes Erdogan once raised for a brighter, more democratic future for the Turkish people.

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