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Edmund Ghareeb, the author of the “The Kurdish Nationalist Movement”, says forming a coalition government may not be feasible, therefore, another election could be in the works

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. After 13 years of being in power, on Sunday Turkey’s ruling party, AKP, led by President Erdoğan, suffered the biggest setback and lost their parliamentary majority. The new Kurdish-sympathetic party the HDP surpassed the 10 percent threshold, preventing Turkish president from changing the Constitution to a presidential system. With this HDP victory, many questions remain about the future of Turkey, as well as the Kurdish sovereignty. Joining us now from Bethesda to discuss all of this is Edmund Ghareeb, an internationally recognized expert on media issues and Middle East affairs. He has taught Middle Eastern history and politics at a number of universities and has authored several books, including The Kurdish Nationalist Movement. Edmund, thank you so much for joining us today. EDMUND GHAREEB, AUTHOR, THE KURDISH QUESTION IN IRAQ: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be with you. PERIES: So, Edmund, let’s start by sort of predicting what the coalition government that is about to be formed might look like. GHAREEB: Well, this is actually–there’s still a big question mark as to what’s going to happen. The three major parties, the Kurdish party the HDP, that Peoples’ Party, also, as well as the Nationalist Party before the elections said that they would not form a coalition government with the AKP, which is the party of President Erdoğan. Now, there are possibilities that perhaps either the HDP, which is a Kurdish party, or that the Nationalist Party might form a coalition government with the ruling party and the AK Party. But there are still a lot of questions about that, whether this is likely to happen. The head of the Nationalist Party said–his name is Devlet Bahçeli–said that basically he would prefer to go into the opposition if some of the other parties form a coalition government with Erdoğan and with the AKP political party. So we’ll have to see whether or not he means that. There are some ideological differences, there are some political differences between him and Erdoğan. Some of it has to do with the Kurds. The Nationalist Party is very hostile and has been very critical of even Erdoğan’s position on trying to reach out a settlement to get a solution to the Kurdish problem inside Turkey. Also they have been very critical of Erdoğan’s policies over Syria. So there is a question there. On the other hand, the HDP, which is the Kurdish party led by Demirtaş, who is a charismatic lawyer who has been very strong supporter of Kurdish nationalist rights within Turkey, has also has some ideological differences with Erdoğan. On the one hand, he has basically said, he campaigned that he wants to have equal rights for all minorities with the majority inside Turkey. That includes not only the Muslim minorities, such as Alawis and some of the other groups, but also some of the Christian minorities, as well as also lesbian and gay rights. He said that they should not be discriminated against. In addition to this, he has also come out and called for making sure that women’s rights are protected. So at least on a number of ideological positions, he would not agree with the policies of the AKP. Nevertheless, they might form a coalition. There is a chance that that might happen and that they might form a government and perhaps push forward on the Kurdish issue to try to reach a resolution of this very complicated problem. Nevertheless, if that happens, this government, how long would this coalition government survive? We might have a new election. And if there is a new election, would those secularists the Alawis, the liberals who helped put the HDP above the 10 percent, allowing them to become an important force in the parliament and in the politics of Turkey, would they continue to support this political party? There are some who have even gone as far as talking about maybe a coalition with the People’s Republican Party, which is a very secular party that supports Atatürk’s policies and has also been very critical of the policies of the president and his party over Syria, over the economy, and so on. PERIES: Edmund, let me interrupt you here. Can you give us a breakdown of what the major differences are among the three parties? GHAREEB: Sure. I mean, the main thing, first of all, the AKP party has–one of the main reasons where it has succeeded has been very much in support of private enterprise, pro-business in many ways, and has also opened up, but only up to a point, to the Kurds in trying to resolve the Kurdish issue. But they did not go to the point where they at least were able to satisfy the Kurds. In fact, the Kurds seem to have been going in the opposite directions. The AKP also has been very supportive on the regional level. They–initially, when they came to power, they said they want to have zero conflict, zero problems with the neighbors and try to make, want to make friends with all of their neighbors. Instead, many of the critics, including almost all the other parties, have criticized Erdoğan’s policy vis-à-vis the neighbors and said that instead of making friends with the neighbors, now he has zero friends. Many of them have been very critical, including the Republican People’s Party and the Turkish Nationalist Party, as well as HDP, which is mainly a Kurdish party, they have been very critical of intervention in Syria. The Kurds have been very supportive of the idea of gaining greater rights, political rights, cultural rights within Turkey, and they want also the release of Öcalan, Abdullah Öcalan, who is the leader of the PKK. So far there has been no movement on the part of the main party, which is the AKP, in this area, although they have–at one time they loosened the pressures and the isolation of Öcalan, but they have recently put it back. And this came about as a result of the concern by Erdoğan and some of the top leaders within his party that in fact he’s making too many concessions, which is a position that angered some of the Kurdish nationalists–sorry, some of the Turkish nationalists, who were not very sympathetic to the Kurdish issue. And he may have even lost some of the support of that group. So there is at least a difference there. The nationalists take a very strong pan-Turkish, pan-Turanist position, and they favor support for the Kurdish, the Turkish nationalists in other countries, and they also have their leader, Bahçeli, has said that he would go to Damascus if he becomes part of a government or if they–to try to resolve and end the conflict with Syria. So there are a number of issues, some of them economic, some of them have to do with corruption. Actually, that became an issue recently in the elections, the building of a palace by President Erdoğan of over 1,000 rooms, which created a lot of anger among the population. There were also charges of corruption against some of the close aides and some ministers in the government of the AKP. And that also was raised by almost all of the opposition parties. And that had a negative reaction inside Turkey. And also many were critical of his support for the Muslim Brotherhood and what some called the Ottomanist dream, that he wanted to restore the Ottoman Empire. Perhaps this was an exaggeration by some of his critics. Nevertheless, he has, one, tried to establish a close relationship with some of the moderate Islamist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and that, after the collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood regime, created a great deal of tension between Egypt and Turkey. And also, to a lesser extent the same thing happened in Tunisia after the fall of the Ennahda or the Renaissance Party, the Islamic party in Tunisia, when a more nationalist, secularist party came to power during the last election. So there are a number of issues that separate these different political parties. PERIES: Now, Erdoğan has lost his majority in parliament, and he has also lost support for the presidential system he was proposing. GHAREEB: Yes. PERIES: And obviously people are feeling that he has too much power and that that has to be diffused. So if there is a new formation of whatever the coalition might be, what is the likelihood that the presidential system will stay on the agenda? GHAREEB: I think the presidential system for now, or for the perceivable future, is over. I don’t think that–one of the main things, as you correctly pointed out, that there was a great deal of suspicion, actually, about Erdoğan’s intentions among the opposition, who campaigned very hard because they were worried about Turkey becoming a presidential system. Some compared it to Putin’s Russia. Others said that he wanted to become a new Sultan. And so there were concerns that too much power is going to become concentrated in the hands of the president. And therefore there was a great deal of worry and concern among different segments of the population, whether it was young people, whether it was secularists, liberals, some of the nationalists, and certainly the Kurds, etc. So that was one of the factors. So I don’t see that happening, at least returning, anytime soon. However, Erdoğan, during this period where it may not be yet clear what’s going to happen–there may be a minority government with a small–one of the parties, and that then he may call for elections; probably within 45 days there may be a new call for elections, and perhaps hoping that there might be a shift, as the opposition, some of the opposition, might think that shift may go in their favor. So that might be a problem. But if we end up–. PERIES: Edmund, explained that, what you mean by that, there might be another election. What would be the conditions that would create that kind of a situation? GHAREEB: I think it’s automatic. If you don’t have a majority government and you have a small minority, then either the government, the party, the dominant party in the government–and this is what we have been hearing now from the AK Party, Erdoğan’s party, that they may call for new elections. And they can’t call new elections before as far–for something like 45 days. So that might be an issue that might emerge down the road. There are others also. Some of the opposition parties have in turn also called for new elections, basically perhaps to get and see if they can strengthen their position, gain more seats in the government. So basically there is still some fluidity. Would the government be able to form a solid majority government with one of the parties? And I think they can do it with both, fvor example, if they establish an alliance or a coalition government with the HDP, or for that matter with any of the other parties, with the Nationalist Party. Some people believe the Nationalist Party may end up reaching a coalition, although Erdoğan may prefer to have a coalition partner in the HDP. But we’ll have to wait and see how that works and what’s likely to happen down the road. PERIES: And, Edmund, finally, could you give us a sense of Turkey’s strategic interests right now in terms–in the region and who the U.S. is likely to partner with in that effort in the region? GHAREEB: One interesting thing is that the U.S., which has had good relationship with Erdoğan up until a couple of years ago–actually President Erdoğan (and before that, Prime Minister Erdoğan) was one of the few leaders that President Obama spoke to almost on a regular basis, or often, perhaps more than most other leaders. So there was a close relationship. However, there has been a fallout for a variety–on a number of issues. Some of it have to do with the position on Israel, U.S. support for Israel. Some of it has to do with his efforts to try to establish a no-fly zone and also a safe haven on the border with Syria, which the Western, some of the Western countries–not all of them–some are sympathetic, but some of the Western countries were not in favor of. And therefore that is going to become an issue. One of the main things that I think is of concern is that Erdoğan might continue with his current policies during this window of opportunity. However, I think he is going to be–that we’re going to see more restrictions on his actions, as one commentator who knows Turkey very well said, that he’s going to be like a lion, a caged lion, a lion in a cage. So I think there’s likely to be more restrictions, more pressure. There are more Turks–also one of the other issues we didn’t talk about his Turkish economy. Turkish economy has fallen back. One of the main reasons why Erdoğan won so many elections–four times, in fact–was because he had improved the economy and improved the living standards of the average Turks, the lower middle-class, some of the middle class, improved the health care system. But that has declined because of the conflict with Syria has closed the gates, in the tensions with Iraq, to many, many businesses and trucks, for example. There used to be, across the Syrian borders, tens of thousands of trucks going across Syria carrying goods to the rest of the Arab world. Now it’s much more expensive. It has to go by sea, and then it has to be re-shipped again. And so this became an issue as well. So Turkey, however, will remain a powerful country. It’s a strategic country in the region, and it’s a member of NATO. I think that any of the major parties would like, prefer to have a close relationship with NATO–and here I’m talking about the opposition. And some of them, in fact, would like to continue to see, perhaps under a different government with different policies, to try to get back into the European Union, although I think that is still somewhere down the road. PERIES: Edmund Ghareeb, I thank you so much for joining us today and hope to have you back very soon, and we can take up the issue of the economy of Turkey. Thank you so much. GHAREEB: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Edmund Ghareeb is an internationally recognized expert on Iraq, Kurds, the Middle East, US media coverage of the Middle East; the new media in the Arab world; Arab Americans; ethnic and religious minorities in the Middle East. He has taught Middle Eastern history and politics at a number of universities, including the University of Virginia, George Washington University, American University, and McGill University. He has authored, co-authored or edited a number of books, including Split Vision: The Portrayal of Arabs in the U.S. Media, The Kurdish Question in Iraq, The Kurdish Nationalist Movement, and Historical Dictionary of Iraq, Iraqi Refugees. He has also lectured and written extensively on US policy towards the Middle East and US-Gulf relations. Dr. Ghareeb is a former journalist and has been widely interviewed by Arab, American, and European television, radio, and newspapers on the Middle East, the media, and US related issues.