The suspension of Turkey’s ceasefire with Kurdish fighters in July, followed by airstrikes against Kurdish militant targets in Turkey and Iraq, have brought the greatest rupture in Turkish-Kurdish relations in decades. Politically, however, Turkey’s Kurds achieved a milestone this week, as the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) became the first predominantly Kurdish party to join the Turkish cabinet in the country’s history.
Following inconclusive parliamentary elections in June and the collapse of coalition talks last month, Turkey is now preparing for snap elections on November 1. The interim government, established on Monday, is constitutionally required to represent all parties elected to parliament in proportion to their respective vote distribution until the next cabinet is formed. Based on that arithmetic, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu last week offered three ministerial positions to the HDP. Two candidates accepted the positions and are now serving as Turkey’s ministers of development and EU relations.
Turkey’s Kurds have reached three political milestones over the last 25 years. The first was the election of Kurdish-nationalist deputies to parliament in 1991 (when they ran on another party’s list). The second milestone was reached in June, when the HDP became the first pro-Kurdish party to pass the 10 percent threshold to gain representation in parliament. Two months later, as a result of the electoral miscalculations of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Kurds have reached their third milestone of joining the cabinet.
Cynically, Davutoğlu selected these two Kurdish cabinet members to ensure that neither pose a direct threat to the long term goals of his AKP. Both ministers represent western provinces, as opposed to the restive southeast where Kurdish disaffection with the AKP is growing. Moreover, neither has a Kurdish-nationalist background. Finally, both ministerial positions are relatively marginal, with moderate budgets and limited influence, and preclude them from getting a seat at the National Security Council.
The HDP, however, could spoil the AKP’s efforts if it can capitalize on its own recent political gains. The two ministers have already single-handedly lifted the AKP’s strict and controversial press-accreditation policy. They now have two months make their mark on such issues as domestic affairs, national security, and a range of foreign policy issues.
If the ministers continue to push back against AKP’s most unpopular policies, they could further legitimize the HDP in the eyes of the electorate. And if, as polls suggest, the HDP is set to increase its vote haul in the November elections, it could reach yet another milestone: becoming a coalition partner in an official – not just interim – capacity and potentially moving Turkey, even under a reluctant AKP, towards a more inclusive democracy.
Aykan Erdemir is a former member of the Turkish parliament and a nonresident fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where Merve Tahiroglu is a research analyst. Follow them on Twitter: @aykan_erdemir and @MerveTahiroglu