Credit: CHP / Alp Eren Kaya

Turkey’s Presidential Rival Defends Kurds Ahead of Elections

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey’s upcoming presidential election, has defended Kurds in a video message posted on Twitter.

Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and an Alevi Kurd, stated, “Millions of Kurds are currently being treated as terrorists.” Kilicdaroglu is the presidential candidate for the six-party opposition Nation Alliance, led by his CHP party, which aims to build a solid alliance to oust Erdogan.

The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), whose former co-leader Selahattin Demirtas remains jailed on politically motivated terror charges, has chosen not to field a presidential candidate this year. Instead, the HDP will support any major national opposition that seeks to remove Erdogan from power. Some HDP candidates have joined the Green Left Party, with the HDP expected to be disbanded by Turkish courts.

The tactical support for Kilicdaroglu and the Nation Alliance is an intriguing development, given that Turkey’s historical mistreatment of Kurds originated from the CHP, which once governed Turkey as a one-party state.

In his video, Kilicdaroglu expressed strong support for the Kurdish community, stating, “Whenever we talk about elections, whenever the [presidential] palace sees that it will lose the elections, a collective stigma and treatment of the Kurds as terrorists begins. It is shameful.”

Despite his ethnic background, Kilicdaroglu is part of the political elite and supports Ankara’s war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). His disagreement with Erdogan lies in their approaches towards Kurdish political representatives in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey and state institutions. Kilicdaroglu aims to resolve the country’s Kurdish question in Parliament and has vowed to release Demirtas, who has become the diplomatic face of the Kurdish movement in Turkey.

Another significant difference between Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan is their foreign policy stances. Kilicdaroglu seeks to normalize relations with Turkey’s neighbours, particularly Syria. Key reasons for this include the Kemalist base’s discontent with hosting many Arab refugees from Syria and the shared political stance between Alevis in Turkey and Alawites in Syria on secular governance and combating Islamist fundamentalism.

Erdogan, who has alienated the Kurdish base in Turkey due to his aggressive approach towards the ethnic group, will likely lose support in the Kurdish-majority southeast. Some polls suggest he may lose the entire presidential election, as the recent earthquake in February left the population dissatisfied with the state’s slow response.

Kilicdaroglu, the quiet academic from Tunceli, may just secure the victory.