So far, however, the CHP still appears to be a long way from this and has not made any public statements regarding co-operation with the HDP. This is mainly due to ideological reasons. The CHP is the original party of founder of the Turkish Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and sees itself to this day as the guardian of Kemalism as a state ideological maxim.

This maxim is determined above all by the primacy of a rigid Turkish nationalism which, since the foundation of the modern republic, has striven towards an authoritarian, omnipotent and centrally organised Turkish nationalist secular unitarian state. This ideological element regards the Kurdish question per se as a threat to Turkish national and territorial unity and prefers an anti-Kurdish attitude.

Even though the social basis of the party contains social democratic and Kurdish elements, Kemalist nationalist elements within the party continue to dominate. Because of this dominance, the party has not yet overcome the basic ideological orientation at its core. Although the CHP has been in government several times over the past few decades, it has never dared to take decisive steps in addressing the Kurdish question.

Ekrem Imamoglu, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) mayoral candidate, and Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of CHP, greet their supporters during an election rally in Istanbul, Turkey, 23 June  2019 (photo: Reuters/H. Aldemir)
Ataturkʹs legacy: founded as a resistance organisation by Kemal Ataturk on 7 September 1919, the CHP – Republican Peopleʹs Party – remains wedded to the primacy of a rigid Turkish nationalism. This ideological element regards the Kurdish question per se as a threat to Turkish national and territorial unity. Abandoning Kemalism in favour of genuine social democratic liberalisation and integration of the Kurdish demands would give the CHP more scope

In its so-called reports on the situation in the southeast, the party focussed one-sidedly on socio-economic neglect as a conflict-promoting factor, ignoring the political dimension of the Turkish-Kurdish conflict.

As the main opposition party, it consistently criticised the AKP government's peace process with the PKK, which was a taboo break in the history of the modern republic. Furthermore, the CHP remained silent on the repression and marginalisation of the HDP and even voted for the lifting of the immunities of mandate holders in May 2016.

At the same time, it vehemently supported the AKP government's military invasions of the Kurdish territories in northern Syria and northern Iraq to combat the PKK and Kurdish gains. Even the silent alliance with the HDP in the mayoral election was not publicly articulated, except to thank those Kurdish voters who elected Imamoglu.

Thus, the CHP still vacillates between authoritarian Kemalism and the desire to advance democratisation and the ongoing effort to reconcile these opposites. The difficult relationship with Kurds and the HDP is embedded in this context.

As long as the CHP does not resolve this dilemma and does not replace its ideological-authoritarian canon of values with a liberal understanding of the state, nation and protection of minorities, a substantial contribution to the democratisation of the country and to the solution of the Kurdish conflict cannot be expected.

Gulistan Gurbey

© Open Democracy 2019

Gulistan Gurbey is Adjunct Professor at the Otto Suhr Institute for Political Science, Freie Universitat Berlin.

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