Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What Turkey’s referendum means for the Kurds

by Jonathan Power

September 7, 2010

On Sunday Turkey will go to the polls to vote in a referendum. A “yes” vote will clip the power of the military, give more legal rights to individuals and, most importantly, reform the high courts which have frequently blocked Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s liberal initiatives.

To win this closely fought referendum, Erdogan must gather the support of the Kurds in the southeast of the country. Some 20m Kurds live in the rugged mountains where Turkey, Iraq and Iran meet, while a further 1m live overseas. The Kurds are particularly keen for reforms of the military and a court system that often hit them below the belt during the “dirty war” of the 1990s. Last week Erdogan paid a visit to Diyarbakir, the largest city in the Kurdish region. He promised to tear down the city prison once notorious for torture. But over the last five years the government has appeared to break its promises to the Kurds, returning to the heavy-handed methods of its predecessors. Can the demolition of one prison help assuage the Kurds’ doubts about the Erdogan government? Will the Kurds come out in large enough numbers to vote in favour of Erdogan’s reforms?