The Turks must be feeling that Forrest Gump’s mum had it right. In recounting the ups and downs of life in the eponymous film, Forrest said his mother used to tell him, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Of the many allegorically relevant events in recent weeks, two best illustrate Mrs Gump’s maxim: uproar over the banning by the Constitutional Court of the main pro-Kurdish political group, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), and an unlikely political gaffe in Spain by the national flag carrier Turkish Airlines.
The DTP was banned because of its alleged connections to the outlawed Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which has been in violent confrontation with the Turkish army for more than two decades. Over the past year Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has poured a lot of energy and money into trying to undercut support for the DTP in its constituency heartland, Turkey’s southeast, by offering to relax restrictions on use of the Kurdish language and other cultural assets.
His main aim of trying to win over voters in the municipal elections last March was thwarted when the locals decided to beware Turks bearing gifts and mostly rejected Erdogan’s candidates.
Conspiracy theorists, of whom there are many in Turkey, claim that somehow Erdogan influenced the court’s decision in the first place. This is unlikely. The court is a stronghold of hardline secularists who are opposed to Erdogan’s Islamic-leaning Justice and Development Party. If there were political as well as judicial aspects to the ruling, say the more sophisticated lovers of conspiracies, they were aimed at giving the impression Erdogan was to blame.
The embarrassment to Erdogan of the court’s decision was made more acute after a decision by the party’s members of Parliament to resign en masse, as well as by sporadic clashes between Kurds and police in both Istanbul and the southeast, in which several people died. So the prime minister is left in the strange position of publicly bemoaning the loss of a party he can’t stand because “it’s not good for democracy.”
The MPs’ resignations may further complicate life. They could continue under the banner of a friendly [and legal] group, the Peace and Democracy Party. However, elections to replace or re-elect them would provide an opportunity to embarrass Erdogan further, by showing how much his support has fallen since the AKP’s historic polling of nearly 47 percent of the electorate in 2007.
While the Kurds, the constitutional court and the prime minister were playing political games in one arena, Turkish Airlines (THY) scored an own goal at the opening of its new relationship with the Barcelona football club. The airline struck a three-year, $12.9 million deal with the Spanish league champions to become their official carrier.
Barcelona wants THY to fly the team for Champions League away matches next season as well as on commercial tours to Asia. A 777-300ER aircraft sports the team’s logo and has had its name changed to “Barcelona.”
However, the deal started off with a bumpy ride. The plane carrying the squad to Abu Dhabi for last month’s World Club Championship was refused permission by Spain’s aviation authority to make a direct flight. It was cleared to leave only for Istanbul after Spanish airline companies objected to a foreign airline flying between two countries, neither of which was its own. Despite a journey longer by two hours, Barcelona still beat the Mexican and Argentinean sides to carry off the cup.
Turkish Airlines’ cause was probably not helped by a sloppy attempt to ingratiate itself with the Catalan football club and its president, Joan Laporta. The director of THY’s office in Barcelona, Serdar Kulçur, flew with the team to Abu Dhabi and made a midair speech that ended with the Catalan phrase “Visca el Barca y visca Catalunya Lliure” (Long live Barcelona and long live free Catalonia). Laporta is a Catalan nationalist and backs independence from Spain. The Madrid government doesn’t share the view. Kulçur’s straying into local political sensitivities is not likely to help in solving THY’s mini-war over permissible flight plans and Barcelona could soon tire of having to make every journey via Istanbul.
It will also be interesting to see the reaction of Turkey’s passionate soccer fans if Barcelona play and beat one of the country’s teams after flying in from Spain on a THY plane. To paraphrase Mrs Gump, you never know what’s coming next.
PETER GRIMSDITCH is Executive’s
correspondent in Istanbul