Turkey Government May Lose Kurd Votes on Kobani, Cagaptay Says

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s handling of protests over the fate of a Kurdish stronghold in Syria risks undermining support for Turkey’s ruling party among Kurds, a Turkey analyst at the Washington Institute said.

The possible fall of Kobani, a Kurdish town across border with Syria, will alienate many Kurds who had supported the governing AK Party and now blame Erdogan for not doing enough to repel Islamic State militants trying to capture the town, said Soner Cagaptay, a research director at the Washington Institute.

“Turkey has a community of 15 or so million Kurds and the majority of them do not vote for pro-Kurdish parties but vote for Erdogan,” Cagaptay, author of “The Rise of Turkey: The 21st Century’s First Muslim Power,” said from Washington on Oct. 10. “Kobani will remain a watershed event that will change for ever the nationalist Kurds’ opinion of Erdogan.”

Dozens of people were killed in violent clashes in southeast Turkey last week, as Kurds protested the government’s stance on Kobani. Turkey won’t allow armed fighters or weapons to cross the border to aid the town’s defenders.

The main Kurdish group fighting against Islamic State in Syria is linked to the PKK, which is classified as a terrorist group by Turkey and the U.S., and has fought for autonomy in largely Kurdish southeast Turkey for three decades. Erdogan has pursued a settlement with the PKK, which has threatened to resume fighting if Kobani falls.

Erdogan was Turkey’s premier and AK Party leader until his election to the presidency in August. While the president isn’t allowed to be a member of any political party, the AK Party’s electoral success is crucial for Erdogan as he seeks to bolster the power of the presidency, Cagaptay said. Turkey’s next parliamentary elections are due next year.

Losing a parliamentary majority “would leave Erdogan in an awkward position of having to cohabit with a weaker AK Party government or even a coalition of parties,” Cagaptay said.

The Ak Party holds 312 seats in Turkey’s 550-member parliament. More than 25 of the seats it won in the 2011 election were in eastern or southeastern regions where Kurds make up a significant share of the electorate.

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