He also said in an interview with Kurdpress that Ankara will surely protest against Kurdistan Region’s plan to hold referendum and finally declare its independence from Iraq but Turkey is aware of its limitations to stop it, noting that Turkey has drawn several other red-lines before but has failed to follow up with them.
Kurdpress interviewed with the professor via e-mail.
According to the website of University of Central Florida, his previous research focuses on Kurdish Nationalism in the Ottoman Empire. Kurdish Notables and the Ottoman State is one of his books. His research interests include the power struggle in modern Turkish Republic after WWI and US involvement of the Middle East through Turkey after the Great War. His book From Caliphate to Secular State is released by Praeger Press in 2011. Currently he is working on a book manuscript on "Admiral Mark Lambert Bristol's Tenure in Turkey."
What follows is his answers to Kurdpress questions?
Kurdpress: The referendum result showed a big Kurdish support to Erdogan and his yes campaign, will the votes make the president to turn towards the Kurds or he will continue his already nationalist approach? (Worth to say that 60 percent of MHP fans voted no).
The election results are contested as you know. It is not clear how much real support the “Yes” votes received from the Kurdish population. There are rumors that some Kurds tended towards “yes” hoping that they can achieve a level of autonomy with a single power authority such as the newly designed presidency. But these are only rumors. What is clear is that MHP-AKP coalition has failed miserably. A majority of MHP supporters did not hesitate to say “no”. I am sure that new political maneuverings are being discussed in the circles of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP leadership. The MHP base has a very visible discontent with the leadership. I believe that it was not the AKP but the MHP leadership will need to review its alliance with Erdogan and the AKP. The AKP could be happy with any votes it can get from the MHP. The calculations will come to the point that if the Kurdish votes appear higher than that of the MHP, the AKP can realign itself. After all, the AKP has proven time and again that it is the most pragmatic party in Turkish politics.
Kurdpress: Erdogan promised big changes before the referendum, including the return of death penalty, serious Syria intervention against its Kurds and the IS and …, but he could not make a big win in the ballot boxes. Will he continue with the promises or will change its course?
The death penalty and the Syria issues were entirely directed towards the MHP votes, in my opinion. With the result in hand, it is not clear, which direction will Erdogan move. I think he will be pragmatic again responding to the political environment of the time. It is too early for call as the smoke of the election has not been cleared yet. He can continue the rhetoric of following of those promises in public, but he will think twice now, in private, if following up on these issues are beneficial for his political future.
Kurdpress: Turkey- EU ties are at its worst, but Ankara enjoys a relatively better tie with new U.S. President Donald Trump. Will Erdogan and Trump boost ties between the two NATO members or the later will follow strict policies against Turkey?
Trump is an unknown figure in world politics. He is not predictable. I think the best way to answer this question is this: anything is possible when Trump is involved. He can make decisions on emotional bases. Erdogan, on the other hand, is more calculating. It seems to me, the well-being of the Turkish-US relations will be heavily depended upon Erdogan. There are many issues in Iraq and Syria that can bring Erdogan and Trump together or separate them further apart. Any prediction about the future of this relations is as sober as predicting the future of the entire Middle East. There are very unknowns and variables that can affect the cooperation between the Trump and Erdogan administrations. Trumps congratulatory phone call to Erdogan after the referendum should not be an indication of solid cooperation but a pragmatic policy dictated by today’s needs.
Kurdpress: Kirkuk Provincial Council decided to hold Kurdish flags on governmental buildings in Kirkuk, a decision Turkey harshly blamed. How the decision will influence Turkey, Kurdistan Region ties?
Turkey draws a red line on Kirkuk and the rhetoric does not favor good relations with KGR government and the Kirkuk Provincial Council so long as the flag issue is not settled. However, Turkey has drawn several other red-lines before but has failed to follow up with them. I think, international players, such as USA, Russia and even Iran will be a determining factor as well as the grassroots protests in Turkey. 2019 is another election year for Turkey.
Kurdpress: The Kurdistan Region is planning to hold a referendum to leave Baghdad, How will Turkey react to the possible decision and afterwards actions?
My response to question 4 also applies for this question. I believe that it is a matter of time for the KRG to declare independence after a referendum. Turkey will surely protest but she is aware of her limitations to stop it. The biggest question is the Baghdad government. I think they will react more violently to this decision especially if the Kirkuk region becomes part of the envisioned “Kurdistan” as an independent state.
Kurdpress: Officials in Ankara have repeatedly warned against any Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) presence in Shingal and have threatened to intervene in the city to prevent from the creation of “another Qandil,” how serious the threats are?
I believe that the threats are serious. Turkey sees the issue as a very sensitive security concern. However, again, there are many international players and secret negotiations are involved regarding the future of the region. We do not know how those unknown factors play out.
Kurdpress: Will Kurdish party leaders and deputies remain in prison or they will be released as the referendum has been held?
Some deputies are being released but I do not think in the short run all of them will be freed. I believe this decision will be postponed until the new Erdogan administration decides how to deal with the Kurdish votes. So far, imprisonment of the Kurdish leaders has served the purpose of blocking HDP propaganda for the referendum. Political rallies by jailed Kurdish deputies could have been critical for the close vote. But, I do not see their release in the short term.
Kurdpress: Can we expect another peace process to solve Kurdish question in Ankara? If yes will the PKK will be at the other side of the table or other groups and parties will sit at the table to settle differences?
The government cannot openly discuss peace with the PKK, but it could be done something like the Oslo process in 2009. Turkey is aware that sooner or later it has to make good with her Kurdish population. However, due to elections and referendum, anti-peace process rhetoric has reached its climax. In the short run, the government will act though on the Kurdish issue for not to look flip flopping. However, inevitably the issue will be very visible and fueling the anti-government block. It is possible that after the election dust settles the AKP government under the leadership of President Erdogan will take another look at the issue and will seek rapprochement.
Kurdpress: How possible is a federal system in Turkey. Though Turkish officials denied the possibility two days before the referendum?
I cannot say it is impossible but a very difficult system to achieve. However, it can take different forms as regional rather than ethnic lines Fortified local administrators with their own consultative bodies without the name federalism would be easier to achieve. It is possible in the long run that the central authority gives more power to regional administrations but reserve the right to revoke them. All these will depend on how the future of the Middle East will be shaped. In other words, there are many external factors that will determine how Turkey will deal with its own Kurdish population.
Interview: Parviz Lotfi
Reporter’s code: 50101