What now for the Kurdish peace process?

If the HDP is serious about delivering on Kurdish demands, it has to consider forming a coalition with AK party.

Selahattin Demirtas arrives for a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey [AP]
HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtas arrives for a news conference in Istanbul, Turkey [AP]

The election results placed the Kurds at the centre of Turkish politics, as the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) made it through the electoral threshold. With 13 percent of the nationwide vote, HDP secured 79 seats. What these results really mean for the future of the peace process remains unclear, as the new balance of power in Turkish politics leaves open different possibilities for a new government.

The composition of the new government will determine whether the make-up of the Turkish parliament will bring about more pluralism and a mature political culture in which the peace process with the Kurds can continue on more solid foundations, or set in motion a more confrontational political environment, where the peace process may be relegated to the back burner.

Last day of campaigning ahead of Turkey vote

The results in predominantly Kurdish-speaking provinces show that for the Kurdish electorate, identity politics matters. Similarly, Kurds living in other metropolitan areas probably consolidated around HDP as well.

Ethnic voting

Although HDP has successfully blended itself with the Turkish mainstream through the elections programme and campaign, its landslide victory in southeastern Turkey represents a preference for ethnic voting. Other than a symbolic attachment to HDP, the shift of the Kurdish electorate from the Justice and Development Party (AK party) to HDP needs to be understood within that broader context.

AK party’s message of change and reforms towards the resolution of the Kurdish issue appealed to Kurds in previous elections. In recent years, AK party relied on a services policy, and chose to emphasise the infrastructure projects undertaken to improve socioeconomic conditions in the southeastern provinces. This fell short of convincing the Kurdish electorate’s expectations for further political reforms.

As the character of Kurdish politics was undergoing a structural transformation in the region, AK party fell out of sync with the new Kurdish psyche, as was demonstrated in Uludere and Kobane.

As a new generation of radicalised youth is rising to shape the course of Kurdish nationalism, HDP’s Turkey-wide platform may become a critical force to manage it.


While AK party took a courageous step by initiating the resolution process in 2013, it apparently failed to maintain the momentum when it came to delivering on further cultural and language rights.

The faltering of the peace process due to other domestic crises which the AK party had been struggling with, the mixed messages during the election campaign, and the placement of locally unfavourable candidates obviously undermined AK party’s credibility in the eyes of the Kurdish electorate. Many Kurds who viewed AK party as the agent of change came to question its commitment to the resolution of the Kurdish issue.

Radicalised youth

As the Middle East goes through a major transformation and restructuring, the identity-related demands of Turkey’s Kurds must be addressed. The underlying premises of the peace process are more relevant than ever.

When the AK party initiated the Kurdish peace process, despite high political risks domestically, it was prompted by a belief that it would contribute towards a solution for the country’s structural political deficiencies and the normalisation of Turkey’s ties with the region, especially neighbouring Syria and Iraq, which also have sizeable Kurdish populations.

As a new generation of radicalised youth is rising to shape the course of Kurdish nationalism, HDP’s Turkey-wide platform may become a critical force to manage it.

However, the heightened expectations of identity politics, ironically, may emerge as the main challenge before the HDP. Although the party reframed Kurds’ demands within a new Turkey-wide platform, its core constituency is ethnically mobilised. Throughout the election campaign, the HDP put aside the positive role played by AK party in the peace process, and positioned itself on a staunch anti-AK party platform.

The HDP already delivered on the expectations of the additional votes it “borrowed” from the Turkish left, by altering the broader political game in Ankara. The HDP, however, has yet to move beyond capitalising on the anti-AK party feelings, and emerge as a positive force for change. The HDP has to become part of the political processes, so that it can be an active agent in the solution for the Kurdish issue, for which it needs to build partners and counterparts.

AK party supporters wave flags [Getty]
AK party supporters wave flags [Getty]

Bargaining chip

Interestingly, the peace process may emerge as the key bargaining chip for a coalition government. One likely coalition partner for AK party, Nationalist Action Party, will perhaps condition its participation on the AK party dropping the peace process altogether. If the HDP is serious about delivering on Kurdish demands now, it has to consider the possibility of a coalition with AK party.

AK party remains the only party represented countrywide, and it is the only party to have a significant presence in the predominantly Kurdish-speaking provinces. Although the peace process and further democratisation may provide a new political normal in Turkey, HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas has ruled out a coalition, in line with his campaign rhetoric.

Nonetheless, it is premature at this stage to exclude a possible AK party-HDP coalition, considering the strategic calculations of other actors in the Kurdish question. So far, the hype has focused on HDP and its charismatic co-leader Demirtas, but soon Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of PKK, and other actors of Kurdish nationalism will step in to capitalise on the gains in the parliamentary elections.

When it comes to dealing with AK party, they may be more willing and pragmatic and settle for a deal with AK party than HDP’s current rhetoric suggests.

Saban Kardas is the president of Middle East Strategic Research Center and a faculty member at the Department of International Relations at TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.