Kai Pfaffenbach / Reuters A Turkish Kurdish woman sports a wrist band with the Kurdish colors as she gestures at a funeral for Kurdish fighters killed during clashes against Islamic State in Kobani, October 21, 2014. Kai Pfaffenbach

Turkey's Other Kurds

Between the Islamists and a Hard Place

For months now, Turkey’s main Kurdish Islamist party has been criticizing the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for excluding it from ongoing peace talks between the government and Kurds. In January, leaders of this party, the Free Cause Party (Huda-Par), demanded to be recognized as a third group at the negotiating table, alongside the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a secular separatist group that the AKP considers a terrorist organization.

With its emphasis on Islam, Huda-Par will be a direct threat to the AKP in elections this June, where it will compete with the Islamist AKP against the secular socialist Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) for religiously conservative Kurds. Indeed, since lasting peace in the country can be guaranteed only by an inclusive process, the government’s decision to leave out Huda-Par can be read as an attempt to strong-arm the process.

The heart of the issue is the fact that oppositional Islam has a long history in Turkey’s southeast—and one that has evolved in conjunction with Kurdish nationalist ideology, not distinct from it. AKP’s own greater emphasis of Islam and Islamic tradition since it came to power in 2002 opened political space in Kurdish areas for alternative groups to challenge the PKK’s secularism. The HDP has increasingly embraced a softer policy on religion, seeking out prominent religious figures to join the party’s ranks, supporting Islamist civil society groups in Diyarbakir, and organizing workshops on Islam and the injustice of Kurdish suffering to cut into the AKP’s vote share with religious Kurds. But standing in its way could be Huda-Par, which will try to play up its greater religious credentials while showcasing its pro-Kurdish stance.

Demonstrators wave flags with the image of imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan during a rally celebrating Newroz, March 22, 2015.

Demonstrators wave flags with the image of imprisoned Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan during a rally celebrating Newroz, March 22, 2015.

A THIRD WAY?

Huda-Par was established in late 2012 by a group of Islamists that included former members of the outlawed Turkish Hizbullah group, which advocated the establishment of a

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