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Iraqi Kurdistan’s Regional Elections Test a Brittle Status Quo
Iraqi Kurdistan’s Regional Elections Test a Brittle Status Quo
Assessing the Fatalities in Turkey’s PKK Conflict
Assessing the Fatalities in Turkey’s PKK Conflict
A member of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces casts his vote at a polling station in Sulaimaniyah, Iraqi Kurdistan, on 28 September 2018. Shwan Mohammed/AFP
Q&A / Middle East & North Africa

Iraqi Kurdistan’s Regional Elections Test a Brittle Status Quo

The fallout continues to settle after Iraqi Kurdistan’s fraught independence referendum one year ago. In this Q&A, our Iraq Senior Adviser Maria Fantappie surveys the political landscape ahead of the first regional legislative elections since the plebiscite.

What’s at stake in the 30 September elections?

Voters in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq will choose the 111 members of the Kurdistan National Assembly, in the fourth election since the body was founded in 1992 and the first since the Kurdish independence referendum on 25 September 2017. At stake, as usual, is the equilibrium between Iraqi Kurdistan’s dominant political parties – the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). This time, however, the fate of the PUK also hangs in the balance, as it faces a challenge from opposition rivals, the Gorran and New Generation movements.

At issue is also the relationship of the Kurdish region’s institutions – the Assembly, the judiciary and the executive, including the presidency – to the KDP and PUK. These institutions have long been dependent on the twin parties, and as long as that remains the case, elections not only shift the balance of power between the two but also transform these institutions’ role in the region’s political system.

The main parties’ duopoly is buffeted by the shock waves of the backlash to the 2017 referendum.

The main parties’ duopoly is also now buffeted by the shock waves of the backlash to the 2017 referendum, in which more than 90 per cent of participants voted for independence from Iraq. In response, the Iraqi government sent its troops into oil-rich Kirkuk and other disputed territories – lands claimed by both Baghdad and the Kurdistan regional government – which the Kurdish parties’ security forces had previously controlled. The territorial losses pitted the KDP and PUK against each other and divided each party internally.

Yet, all things considered, the KDP and PUK remain indispensable to one another, and the KDP in particular is still a favourite in the 30 September contest.

Who are the main parties competing, and how cohesive are they?

Old and new players are competing. Though it was mainly responsible for the referendum and the backlash it provoked, the KDP has weathered its internal disputes well. Masoud Barzani, who served as the region’s president from 2005 to 2017 and remains KDP leader, has used the proven method of managing divisions between senior party members within its family-based structure by assigning them to security and administrative posts. The KDP has no major competitors in its territorial strongholds, the Erbil and Dohuk provinces, and holds its own against the PUK in Suleimaniya province. In the elections, the KDP aspires to strengthen its grip on the regional government, reverse the political and territorial losses of 2017, and lead the Kurdish region out of the post-referendum crisis.

The PUK, on the other hand, has faced serious difficulties in containing its divisions. After its co-founder Jalal Talabani died in 2017, about a week after the referendum, the party has lacked a unifying figure. Instead, its leadership has fractured along lines of personal and family rivalries, creating multiple decision-making poles. The PUK’s splintering may aid the KDP in its aspiration to consolidate its hold on the region’s institutions. It may also benefit the PUK’s other rivals in Suleimaniya, the only province where the PUK still enjoys significant support. But Gorran, which split off from the PUK in 2009 in opposition to the KDP-PUK duopoly, faces an internal crisis of its own following the 2017 death of its founding leader, Nowshirwan Mustafa. This leaves New Generation, a movement founded by Shaswar Abdulwahid, which has taken in Gorran defectors.

How has the political landscape changed since the referendum?

The KDP-PUK strategic partnership, a power-sharing deal between Barzani and Talabani, has framed the Kurdish region’s political system for more than a decade. Since the KDP and PUK each maintain their own security forces in their respective areas of control, this partnership is paramount to sustaining governance. But the two parties’ arrangement was already in crisis after the 2013 Assembly elections, due to the PUK’s poor showing, and it totally unravelled after the referendum and Talabani’s death, with each blaming the other for the severity of the backlash from Baghdad. The PUK’s decline and the KDP’s ambitions are challenging this arrangement, which kept the region in balance internally as well as with its neighbours, Turkey and Iran.

Gorran, which has been around for ten years, has yet to find its place in the new KDP-dominated landscape. It has been unable to replace the PUK as the KDP’s strategic partner in Suleimaniya. In 2014, it agreed to participate in government, but then quit in protest two years later, costing itself credibility as both an opposition force and a potential ruling party. This background explains the emergence of New Generation as an anti-establishment movement giving voice to popular disillusionment with the political leadership and the governing system as a whole; effectively, it has been able to pick up open support in Suleimaniya only.

Kurdistan’s institutions also have suffered amid the turmoil. The KDP’s dispute with Gorran over the extralegal extension of Barzani’s presidency paralysed the Assembly, which has been unable to convene since 2015. The regional government has been compelled to operate with six acting ministers since Gorran and the Kurdistan Islamic Group withdrew their ministers from the cabinet, including those holding the Peshmerga (defence) and finance portfolios. And the region has been without a president since Barzani stepped down following the referendum debacle, although he remains the ultimate arbiter behind the scenes as KDP leader.

Voters are equally dissatisfied with both parties.

How strong is the opposition to the KDP and PUK?

Voters are equally dissatisfied with both parties. Yet the KDP faces less opposition in Erbil and Dohuk than the PUK does in Suleimaniya. The KDP’s cohesion has helped it maintain support through a mix of co-optation and control, which has shrunk the space for genuine political competition. Its control over resource flows, public finances and employment has made many voters dependent on it for their livelihood. Opposition to its rule manifests itself through non-participation rather than voting for another party.

The PUK has been unable to use a similar strategy in Suleimaniya because of its fragmentation: rival politicians share and compete for key economic and security portfolios. This fragmentation leaves margins within which opposition groups can thrive.

Yet it is unclear if opposition parties in Suleimaniya can do more than just voice discontent. Groups such as New Generation, like Gorran and the Coalition for Justice and Democracy before it, may actually turn out to be useful for the ruling establishment. With its inflammatory rhetoric and undefined ideas for reform, New Generation is channelling anger on the streets and creating the appearance of open democratic debate without posing a real challenge to the twin parties and the political system they have built. Independent journalists and intellectuals have reproached opposition parties for playing what they call a farcical game, one these parties are fated to lose because – the critics claim – elections are not free and fair and the KDP-PUK duopoly has an iron grip on the region’s institutions. Kurdish youth widely share this sentiment. Alienation from politics and distrust of elections encourages people to acquiesce in the status quo and merely seek their share of the top-down wealth distribution through party patronage.

Do people still have confidence in elections in the wake of fraud allegations during Iraq’s parliamentary polls in May?

Trust in elections is at its lowest point in Iraqi Kurdistan’s modern history. The region’s parliamentary system helped ensure a degree of respect for democratic institutions, mechanisms and practices. Since the fall of the Baathist regime, the region has held three parliamentary elections (in 2005, 2009 and 2013), two rounds of provincial and local elections (in 2005 and 2013), and a presidential election (in 2009). (It also held elections during the period 1991-2003, when it was independent all but in name, but virtually cut off from the outside world, including Baghdad. Iraq in those years was under comprehensive UN sanctions, and the Baathist regime imposed a second, internal embargo upon the three majority-Kurdish provinces.) Despite its shortcomings in passing legislation, the Assembly was an effective platform for multi-party debate and oversight over the executive. The region had a vibrant civil society that mobilised in 2011 – in tune with protesters throughout the Middle East and North Africa – to protest KDP-PUK control over public institutions, denounce top-level corruption and demand better governance.

The war against the Islamic State in 2014-2017 weakened Iraqi Kurdistan’s young democratic institutions. The failure of popular uprisings in the Middle East, the subsequent geopolitical turmoil and the outcome of the referendum led political leaders to distrust parliamentary democracy as an effective governing system and put security and stability above democratic processes. Popular trust in democratic mechanisms eroded in tandem.

But another factor was that democracy proved incapable of removing a discredited leadership, a perception compounded by allegations of widespread fraud in the Kurdish region and disputed territories during the Iraqi parliamentary elections in May 2018. The KDP and PUK unexpectedly won almost the same number of seats in the Council of Representatives in Baghdad as they had in 2014, despite their decreasing popularity and post-referendum political and military setbacks. In many Iraqi Kurds’ view, elections have become a formality, a way for the established elites to legitimise their rule rather than an avenue for political change.

Under what conditions could violence occur?

The formula for an explosion would be the total absence of avenues for meaningful political participation plus blatant electoral fraud and continued poor governance. Yet geopolitical threats posed by the growing U.S.-Iran competition in the aftermath of the war against the Islamic State, the ongoing budget crisis and the persistent political-military standoff with Baghdad after the referendum are deterring the Kurdish public from again taking to the streets, unhappy as many people are. The new normal, in the short to medium term, is to settle, however reluctantly, for the status quo.

Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar greets soldiers of 'Operation Claw' within Eid al-Fitr in Hakkari, Turkey on 4 June 2019. ANADOLU AGENCY/Arif Akdogan

Assessing the Fatalities in Turkey’s PKK Conflict

Turkey’s ruling party sees recent battlefield and electoral gains as vindicating its hardline policies toward the PKK. But these same policies fuel the Kurdish grievances that keep the fighting going. Ankara would thus be wise to consider exploring ways of winding down the destructive conflict.

Since July 2015, the conflict between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) – which Ankara, Brussels and Washington designate a terrorist organisation – has taken more than 4,600 lives in Turkey and northern Iraq. But if the conflict is long-running, open-source data on fatalities collected by Crisis Group and presented in a unique visual conflict explainer show that battlefield dynamics are changing.

For one thing, fighting has moved out of the cities. Over the last two years, neither the PKK nor its affiliate the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks has carried out attacks in metropolitan areas. Fatalities – Crisis Group could confirm an average of 40 per month in 2019 – have been concentrated in the rural areas of Turkey’s Kurdish-majority south east. Over the past year, the death rate among PKK militants, and particularly in northern Iraq, has risen. Ankara’s stepped-up operations, involving curfews, drone strikes and more state security forces, have killed higher numbers of seasoned PKK figures in 2019 than in any of the previous three years of escalation. Killing more PKK militants, however, is not translating into victory for Ankara as the PKK draws on fighters from outside Turkey and capitalises on pent up anti-state resentment among some Kurds.

Ankara’s stepped-up operations, [...] have killed higher numbers of seasoned PKK figures in 2019 than in any of the previous three years of escalation.

Quantitative analysis of fatality and election data since 2014 shows that in the last four years, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and its alliance partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), mostly consolidated electoral support in conflict-ridden south-eastern districts, while the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) largely maintained support in the Kurdish movement’s traditional urban strongholds despite an immense state crackdown. While to Ankara it might seem like hardline policies are paying off, on the battlefield and at the ballot box, those same policies continue to fuel the grievances and anger of a segment of Turkey’s Kurds that sustain the conflict with the PKK.

Reliable polls show that support for the AK Party and MHP has fallen below the critical 50 per cent mark, mostly because the ruling party has lost nearly half of its conservative Kurdish backers. It is unclear whether the political leadership in Ankara will be able to make up for lost conservative Kurdish support by garnering more votes from Turkish nationalists moving forward.

At a time when Turkey faces a serious economic downturn and sanctions from its Western allies, the leadership in Ankara [...] might consider exploring avenues of accommodation.

At a time when Turkey faces a serious economic downturn and sanctions from its Western allies, the leadership in Ankara – as the centenary of the foundation of the Republic of Turkey nears – might consider exploring avenues of accommodation with a now considerably weakened PKK and seek to pave the way to resolving a conflict that, for over 35 years, has taken a great toll on civilians, drained Turkey’s resources and continues to curb its strategic potential.

PKK cemetery in Qandil, northern Iraq CRISISGROUP/Hugh Pope

Conflict Fatalities

From July 2018 to July 2019, 3.36 PKK militants were killed for each state security force member.

Crisis Group’s data shows that 4,686 individuals have been killed since July 2015. Of those individuals, more than half are PKK militants (2,758), 22.4 per cent of whom are female. Around a quarter (1,215) consist of State Security Force members (including soldiers, police and village guards). There have been 490 civilians confirmed dead (the remaining 223 are “individuals of unknown affiliation”, a category Crisis Group uses for those killed in urban centres – almost all between December 2015 and June 2016 – about whom it is not known if they are civilians or PKK militants).

Ankara’s tactics in the last three years – imposing curfews in rural areas to clear out PKK members, calling in drone strikes, deploying soldiers in high numbers, killing experienced militants and stifling recruitment – appear to have significantly narrowed the PKK’s space for manoeuvre in the rural south east.

The militant-to-state security force member fatality ratio provides some indication of the Turkish campaign’s impact. Since fighting shifted back into rural areas in July 2016 (after a deadly urban phase between December 2015 and June 2016), the Turkish military has been on the offensive. In the first year, 1.65 PKK militants were killed for each soldier, police officer or village guard; this figure rose to 2.22 in the second year and then to 3.22 in the third. In the last year, from July 2018 to July 2019, 3.36 PKK militants were killed for each state security force member.

While the impact in Turkey itself of Ankara’s military incursion into north east Syria [...] remains unclear, it could fuel the PKK’s insurgency against Turkey.

Three reasons likely explain the PKK’s higher fatality rate over the last year. First, the PKK is having a harder time sheltering among and securing supplies from core supporters in south-eastern villages, who are usually intimidated by Turkish forces’ curfews and security cordons. Secondly, drones and other new military technology have helped Ankara clear militants from mountain strongholds. Thirdly, U.S. pressure on the PKK to rein in attacks in Turkey has meant that it remains largely in a defensive posture. On the U.S.’s part this pressure was mostly an effort to avert further Turkish backlash against Washington’s partnership in Syria with the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)/People’s Protection Units (YPG), closely affiliated with the PKK. While the impact in Turkey itself of Ankara’s military incursion into north east Syria against the SDF/YPG that began on 9 October remains unclear, it could fuel the PKK’s insurgency against Turkey.

Turkey’s Offensive in Northern Iraq

The last year of escalation saw the highest number of fatalities from Turkish air and land operations against the PKK in northern Iraq since July 2015. Crisis Group could confirm 101 fatalities linked to such operations in that area in 2019, of whom 90 were PKK militants and 11 were Turkish soldiers. According to open-source data collected between May and September 2019, the Turkish army has conducted at least 76 cross-border air operations, most of them targeting PKK hideouts and ammunition depots in and around the Qandil mountains where the PKK’s “headquarters” are located as well as in Hakurk, in the north west of Qandil toward the Turkey border (see map below).


With the stated goal of “ending the PKK”, the Turkish military launched air and ground offensives against the militants in northern Iraq (dubbed Operation Claw) on 27 May 2019. In a first since 2008, Turkish ground forces penetrated around 20km deep into Iraqi territory to clear out militants, cut off logistical routes and destroy ammunition depots. The Turkish military also created new security outposts. As of 4 October, Crisis Group could confirm the deaths of 57 PKK militants and nine Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq since Operation Claw began.

Security analysts cite three main objectives for Turkey’s scaled-up cross-border operation in northern Iraq: to disrupt PKK mobilisation in the Hakurk region, which is tactically important as a logistical channel for the PKK insurgency in Turkey and also hosts PKK training camps; to create a buffer zone along the Turkey-Iraq border that could eventually afford the Turkish army access to PKK headquarters in Qandil; and to reduce PKK dominance in Sinjar, the north-eastern Iraqi region that the insurgency uses as a transit route between Iraq and Syria. Warmer relations among Ankara, Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Erbil have facilitated intelligence sharing that aids the cross-border offensive.

Changing Profile of PKK Fatalities

An important component of Ankara’s campaign in the last year has been the targeting of seasoned PKK operatives. The exact number killed is disputed. The Turkish interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, said on 7 August that the army had “neutralised” (which could mean killed or captured) 87 “high-ranking” PKK militants in the first seven months of 2019. Turkish media outlets reported the deaths of twenty in the same period. The PKK has so far only confirmed ten of these militants dead, nine in Turkey and one in northern Iraq.

The pool of recruits the PKK can draw on in its insurgency against Turkey goes beyond Turkey’s borders.

The showdown in northern Iraq and more Turkish military pressure targeting the PKK’s upper echelons were likely the triggers for an attack on 17 July that killed a Turkish diplomat. That day, an unidentified gunman opened fire in a restaurant in the Deream area in Erbil, killing Osman Köse, who worked at the consulate, and an Iraqi national. The PKK denied direct involvement, but in an interview on 24 July, senior PKK figure Bahoz Erdal praised the attack saying “well done to whoever carried out this activity”. He also claimed that Köse was no regular diplomat but an intelligence officer in charge of Turkey’s anti-PKK campaign in northern Iraq. Turkish media reported on 20 July that Kurdistan Regional Government security officials had caught the suspected assassin, Mazlum Dağ. The targeting of upper echelons of the PKK and retaliatory assassinations like the one that appears to have taken place in Erbil could further escalate violence.

Besides the higher-ranking PKK militant fatalities, Crisis Group data on PKK militants killed in Turkey and northern Iraq between July 2018 and July 2019 (a total of 361) shows that around 8.5 per cent (31) were from western Iran, around twice the number in the same period of the previous year. The majority were born in Mariwan, Serdesht, Urmia or Khoy (see map above). This data suggests that the PKK is compensating for the manpower shortage in its insurgency against Turkey by bringing in more cadres from Iran. It also means that the pool of recruits the PKK can draw on in its insurgency against Turkey goes beyond Turkey’s borders. In fact, as of 4 October 2019, 9 per cent of all PKK militants killed since July 2015 were from either western Iran (4.7 per cent), northern Syria (3 per cent) or northern Iraq (1.3 per cent).

Hometowns Map: Click on fatality locations (red dots) to view hometowns (province-to-province) of state security force members and PKK militants. This tool is included in our unique tracker of the death toll in the PKK conflict.

Fatalities type:



Fatalities per Province

Fatalities per Location


The Conflict and Votes in Turkey’s South East

Kurdish support for the ruling AK Party is dropping, especially among city dwellers in western Turkey.

The fatalities data, together with data from recent Turkish elections, also reveals a link between voting patterns and levels of violence.

As demonstrated by the 31 March local elections and the 23 June rerun in Istanbul, Kurdish support for the ruling AK Party is dropping, especially among city dwellers in western Turkey. In fact, according to a nationwide poll conducted in June by the Center for American Progress and Metropoll Strategic and Social Research Center, only around 24 per cent of self-identified Kurds said they supported the AK Party, while this figure stood at over 45 per cent before 2015.

The trend in conflict-ridden Kurdish-majority south-eastern districts paints a nuanced picture. Data from three general elections and two local elections since 2014 suggests that the more intense the conflict was in a given district, the more support the AK Party and MHP (or their combined alliance) received in that district. In both general and local polls, the MHP gained most in south-eastern districts with fatalities. In districts with fatalities, the AK Party itself maintained its percentage of votes in general polls and was able to increase its share of votes in local polls. In contrast, its vote share diminished in places where no clashes had occurred in both general and local elections.

The AK Party lost a small percentage of vote share in conflict-affected districts but a larger one in comparable districts without conflict.

The experience of the pro-Kurdish HDP, thousands of whose members are in prison for alleged links to the PKK, was for the most part the opposite. In general elections, high fatality rates coincided with weakened electoral support, while in areas outside the southeast that did not experience violence, the party largely maintained its share of votes. In local elections in the conflict-affected southeast it maintained support in urban centres but significantly lost out in rural areas.

Analysis of general election results found that the MHP increased its vote share (2.66 percentage points per district on average) in conflict-ridden districts but lost votes in socially, demographically and economically comparable districts with no conflict. The AK Party lost a small percentage of vote share in conflict-affected districts but a larger one in comparable districts without conflict. In contrast, the pro-Kurdish HDP lost support to the tune of 2.78 percentage points per conflict-affected district but tended to retain it in other comparable districts. The graphs below depict the change in vote shares for the AK Party, MHP and the HDP across three general elections.

Graph 1: AK Party Vote Share across Three General Elections (%)

Data sources: Supreme Election Council of Turkey (YSK) & International Crisis Group, PKK Conflict Fatality Database

 Graph 2: MHP Vote Share across Three General Elections (%)

Data sources: Supreme Election Council of Turkey (YSK) & International Crisis Group, PKK Conflict Fatality Database

Graph 3: HDP Vote Share across Three General Elections (%)

Data sources: Supreme Election Council of Turkey (YSK) & International Crisis Group, PKK Conflict Fatality Database

Analysis of local election results shows that across Turkey’s districts with no fatalities, the combined AK Party-MHP vote share dropped by 9.44 percentage points in the 2019 local elections as compared to 2014. But in the same period the alliance increased its vote share by 0.63 percentage points in predominantly Kurdish-speaking districts where deaths occurred (see Graph 4). No firm conclusion could be made regarding changes in the HDP vote in the 2019 local elections because, particularly in western metropoles where it has a large support base, the party chose not to run, so as to boost the votes of other opposition candidates. But a comparison of net vote share changes in south-eastern districts between 2014 and 2019 local polls shows that the HDP lost more votes in rural south-eastern districts (mostly to the benefit of the AK Party) while largely retaining its vote share in urban areas.

Graph 4: Average AK Party + MHP Vote Share in Two Local Elections

Data sources: Supreme Election Council of Turkey (YSK) & International Crisis Group, PKK Conflict Fatality Database

Note: The figures are based on AK Party and MHP votes in municipal and provincial council elections in metropolitan and non-metropolitan provinces, respectively.

Further analysis of 2014 and 2019 local elections suggests a picture similar to national polls: the presence of conflict in a district correlates with an increase in the AK Party and MHP’s combined vote share by an average of 5.35 percentage points. The AK Party’s stand-alone vote share between those two local elections increased along with the conflict’s intensity in a given district. The presence of conflict correlated strongly with an increase in the MHP’s stand-alone vote share (an average increase of 4.73 percentage points), and a decrease in the HDP’s vote share (-1.52 percentage points). While outmigration of HDP-supporting Kurds might partly explain the latter drop, our analysis found that controlling for that factor demonstrated that it alone could not account for the decrease.

The MHP’s vote share in high-fatality districts could have been boosted by the high numbers of state appointees and security personnel deployed to those areas (usually together with their families), as these people are traditionally aligned with nationalist parties. Controlling for this factor, however, revealed that the positive effect of conflict on the MHP vote is so strong that the deployment of state appointees alone cannot account for the increase. Based on our analysis, it was not possible to draw firm conclusions about which voters switched to the MHP or to the AK Party as the conflict raged.

Lower turnout in conflict-affected districts in national polls could hint at less willingness on the part of Kurdish movement sympathisers to participate in formal politics.

Political parties are aware of these dynamics, and each interprets the results in its own fashion. In public statements, AK Party and MHP representatives say their improved performance in these districts proves the success of their policies. The HDP attributes its loss to these same state policies, which involve large-scale intimidation of HDP supporters.

To understand how fatalities may influence voting behaviour, one must also look at those who do not vote. Crisis Group’s analysis suggests that across three general elections turnout was 1.4 percentage points lower in districts with fatalities than in districts with no fatalities. Lower turnout in conflict-affected districts in national polls could hint at less willingness on the part of Kurdish movement sympathisers to participate in formal politics. Indeed, Crisis Group’s field research in 2017 and 2018 suggested that, among some segments of the population, an uptick in conflict-related grievances, along with their sense they lacked representation, led to alienation from formal political channels. The appointment of state trustees replacing elected mayors in three Kurdish-majority metropolitan municipalities (Diyarbakır, Van, and Mardin) on 19 August 2019 may have added to such tendencies.

Graph 5: Turnout across Three General Elections (%)

Data sources: Supreme Election Council of Turkey (YSK) & International Crisis Group, PKK Conflict Fatality Database

Together, these findings suggest that even though the AK Party is losing support among mostly conservative Kurds living in metropolitan areas nationwide, in the past four years there has been virtually no electoral slippage for the ruling party and its alliance partner in violence-ridden Kurdish-majority south-eastern districts: indeed, their vote shares may even have risen. On the other hand, the pro-Kurdish HDP’s support has dropped off in rural south-eastern localities that are suffering conflict.

The nationalist rallying effect of the conflict that benefited the ruling party will likely not hold indefinitely.

None of this means that Ankara’s hardline tactics are working. The government has read its battlefield advantage against the PKK and the south-eastern electoral shifts as vindication of its hardline policies. But while numbers of those killed in fighting can show basic conflict dynamics, they are far from the whole story, particularly when the PKK can draw on militants from further afield. Importantly, the figures reveal nothing about the depth of the grievances among many of Turkey’s Kurds that keep the conflict alive.

The nationalist rallying effect of the conflict that benefited the ruling party will likely not hold indefinitely. At a time when Turkey is grappling with a myriad of security and economic challenges and its relations with the West are in decline, it would be wise for the political leadership in Ankara not to box itself in to the nationalist corner but to keep policy options open, including a potential shift away from its hardline course on the Kurdish front.