by Figen Gunes and Steve Sweeney
With democracy on a knife-edge in Turkey, a democratically elected politician revealed that he has been blocked from voting in this week's constitutional referendum.
The news was announced by exiled Sirnak MP Faysal Sarıyıldız during his visit to Britain this past week as he told us he was being denied his democratic right to participate in the election.
He is among thousands believed to be excluded from voting in the most crucial poll in the history of Turkey; either due to being arrested in the post-coup purges or being among those forced to flee the country.
Mass oppression and atrocities committed against the largely Kurdish population by the Turkish state mean the referendum is being held in unfair and undemocratic conditions, he tells us.
His own constituency of Sirnak was flattened during an offensive by government forces under the pretext of flushing out "PKK terrorists". Over 2000 buildings were destroyed following a nine month military curfew imposed in March 2016.
A series of military checkpoints subject the residents to daily humiliation and harassment by government officials.
And many citizens simply do not have the means or ability to return to Sirnak to vote.
Mr Sarıyıldız accused the United Nations (UN) of "hypocrisy" for failing to acknowledge the treatment of the citizens of south-eastern Turkey as "war crimes".
The People's Democratic Party (HDP) MP has demanded international delegations come to Turkey and see for themselves the conditions people are living under as he described a move toward the "legal basis for fascism."
A week away from the result of the constitutional referendum vote and polls show neither side with a decisive lead.
The most recent polling data from NET released on April 4 shows "Hayir" with a slight edge over "Evet" at 50.8%.
It is a gap that has narrowed with Gezici Research showing No ahead by 58% to 42% as recently as January. A staggering 45% of 18-27 year olds won't be voting.
But polling from other organisations points to a slight lead for Yes and with as many as 25% of voters undecided, there is still everything to play for.
The controversial constitutional changes have been the subject of bitter debate in the Turkish Grand Assembly with physical attacks launched against opposition MPs.
If passed president Erdogan would wield unprecedented powers, with the ability to appoint key posts in government the judiciary and set the budget while abolishing the post of prime minister.
And in a move that critics say would set the legal basis for the introduction of "fascism by the ballot box", the president would have the power to dissolve Parliament altogether.
Many in the south-east of the country - most likely to support a No vote - cannot vote as the destruction of their homes leaves them no registered address and no access to a polling station.
With a recent UN report showing half a million displaced people, fears are ripe that disenfranchising so many people could swing the vote in President Tayyip Erdogan's favour.
But the news that elected politicians are among those denied their democratic right to vote in the forthcoming referendum is a surprise for so many.
He described how he has been blocked from voting in the referendum as he is banned from entering government buildings and cannot return to Turkey as there is a warrant out for his arrest.
Mr Sarıyıldız was in Britain this past week as a guest of the Labour Party, ahead of the referendum.
He has lived in Germany since he left his home country in July 2016 along with fellow HDP MP Tuba Hezer.
Although he doesn't define it as living in exile, he was one of the HDP politicians issued with arrest warrants in November 2016.
He explains that the party asked him to leave Turkey to carry out important work of informing United Nations and European Union on crimes against civiians in Cizre basements.
"I'm trying to fulfil a duty my party gave me", Mr Sarıyıldız tells us.
He was accused of supplying arms to the PKK in July 2015.
The charges levelled against him were familiar, but serious.
He told us: "I have been in prison previously. Every political Kurd has been in prison. Outside is like a prison itself too in Turkey now."
But he says: "Im not going back [to Sirnak]. Not because I would be arrested, but because our work here would be affected negatively if I did".
But it is his exclusion from voting in the referendum that indicates the lengths to which Erdogan and the AKP are prepared to go to secure a victory for the Yes campaign.
Yet he says: "Kurds won’t say yes to this system. Kurds will resist which means Kurds will be attacked more and this may turn Turkey into another Syria."
"In the area I live, serious state crimes were committed."
He and his colleagues have held many meetings with officials from the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and told them of the events in Cizre.
He explains: "We met with UN officials on so many occasions. Although it doesn’t reflect the full picture, the UN published a report detailing the crimes in Cizre.
"But they said they will update the report. In the report they identified that 500,000 people were displaced [in south-east Turkey] and 1200 were killed. People were burned in basements.
"They defined the situation as hell and said Turkey didn’t allow them access to affected areas."
But he has little faith in these institutions after their failure to recognise that the treatment inflicted on the people of south-east Turkey at the hands of the Turkish state amount to war crimes.
"For example the UN defines what has happened but they abstain from using the words war crime and crimes against humanity especially. "
He says the reason for avoiding defining the atrocities in these terms is that according to UN law they should impose sanctions on Turkey, something they are unwilling to consider.
But he says: "These bodies collect all of this information and think they will use it against Erdogan at a time that they think he is more dangerous for them."
During his visit to Britain, Mr Sarıyıldız met with Labour MPs including shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry.
They discussed the British government support for Erdogan - Turkey remains a "priority market" for UK arms sales and most recently prime minister Theresa May signed a £100 millon "gateway deal" which will be worth billions for the British economy.
He said: "We asked Emily Thornberry how these weapons are being used. She said she doesn't know and will ask the government."
But with the UN report and a recent British Foreign Affairs Committee report raising concerns over human rights abuses in the country, Mr Sarıyıldız said the explanation was not good enough.
"They should take it more seriously as a crucial period is starting in our country and crimes are committed against humanity.
"Turkey is becoming like Syria. But because of their trade interests they don’t criticise the actions of the government.
"However we told them this will have a wide impact on Europe. Millions of Turkish citizens could be on our their way to Europe soon as they flee persecution."
Mr Sarıyıldız welcomed the recent debate in the British parliament - the first for four and a half years - however said "increasing the arms trade is a contradiction, with chaos in the Middle East increasing as a result of these weapons."
He explained how Theresa May is using the arms deal in an attempt to bring Turkey back into the influence of NATO and prise Erdogan away from his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
But he says: "Turkey is nurtured by several companies in the weapons trade. Turkey is buying weapons from Russia too."
And he warns against trying to draw the country closer to NATO through selling arms.
"Turkey tries to govern its own citizens through violence which in turn will cause a ripple effect with increased migration from the country."
His nomadic lifestyle has seen him travelling across Europe for the past 7-8 months, bringing him into contact with much of the Turkish and Kurdish diaspora.
It is here that he sees hope and European countries slowly waking up to the reality of Erdogan's Turkey.
He concludes: "They are starting to understand Erdogan is a threat to them."
This article was first published in the Morning Star
- Figen Gunes
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