Turkey's main opposition party has visited Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region and met with officials there, leading many to suggest that it is seeking to win more votes from the country's own Kurdish community.
A delegation from the Republican People's Party (CHP) made the visit to the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Erbil, over the weekend, where the delegates met Prime Minister Masrour Barzani. During the visit, CHP deputy chairman Oguz Kaan Salici said that, "This is our first visit but be assured that it won't be the last."
The visit was a surprising move, as the CHP is a traditionally nationalist and Kemalist party. It has historically opposed negotiations and a peace process with Kurdish groups, namely the radical Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) which has conducted a terrorist campaign in Turkey for decades in pursuit of a separate state.
It was the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that was initially open to peace talks over the past two decades. This is a divisive issue between the AKP and nationalist parties such as the CHP.
Such moves, as well as Erdogan's close relationship with the Barzani family's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in northern Iraq and his toning down of ethnic division, has won many Kurdish votes within Turkey.
Now, though, the CHP's move to improve diplomatic relations with the KDP – which is publicly against designated terrorist groups such as the PKK – signifies to many the nationalist party's efforts to show that it can cooperate with the Kurds and that it is not limited to its Turkish nationalist base.
According to the Istanbul representative of the KDP-owned Kurdistan TV channel, Mehmet Sanri, the CHP's move comes at a time when the AK Party's popularity in Kurdish-majority areas and cities has fallen. "The CHP visit to Erbil is a serious step, considering the local elections where the government lost the important cities largely because of its Kurdish policies," Sanri told the London-based Middle East Eye.
The outlet also cited Roj Girasun, the general manager of Rawest Research, who confirmed that the latest polls show that the Kurdish population's votes for the CHP had tripled in recent years. "The CHP is trying to assure its Kurdish voters and others that it is serious about its intentions by making this trip. It also works well for its foreign policy. It is establishing ties for the future."