HDP Rally in Istanbul

31/05/2015 - 00:00
Turkey's Election and the Kurdish Question

1st June 2015

by Mark Campbell

On Sunday the 7th June 2015, Turkey goes to the polls in what is widely seen as arguably the most important general election since the establishment of the Turkish state.

The authoritarian figure of Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be attempting to centralise even more legislative powers for himself as President of Turkey and the future direction of the Kurdish people's struggle for basic constitutional rights in Turkey will also be determined.

However, if the People's Democratic Party, HDP, a relatively new party rooted in the Kurdish movement, succeed in gaining more than 10% of the national vote, exceeding the threshold that was designed at the time of the Turkish generals coup in 1980, to keep the Kurds out of parliament, President Erdogan will fail to achieve his stated ambitions of absolute presidential power.

But if they fail to reach the 10% threshold AKP stand to gain up to an extra 60 seats giving it the required majority to implement Erdogan's plan to rewrite the Turkish constitution giving himself increased presidential powers.

As Turkish journalist and long time analyst of the Kurdish issue, Cengiz Candar, wrote recently,

"The HDP, believed to be indirectly affiliated with the notorious PKK, has paradoxically become a hope for the future of democracy in Turkey. Hence, it has become the "wild card" of the upcoming elections. Whoever visits Turkey nowadays will be confronted with the major question everybody asks each other: "What do you think? Will the HDP get 10% or not?"

The HDP has made common cause with the Turkish socialist movement, LGBT community, women's and worker's movements as well as Alevis and Sunni Muslims.

HDP seems to also be ironically attracting many tactical voters from the CHP, the party of Kemal Ataturk, Turkey's founding father, as a way of reducing the powers of Erdogan and the AKP.

Turkey's most famous and successful female writer, Elif Safak, not known for her support of the Kurds wrote in the Financial Times, "Once seen by Turkish nationalists as a backward subculture, the Kurds are now Turkey's leading progressive force."

How far the Kurds have come!

In 1991, Leyla Zana, a Kurdish MP took the parliamentary oath after being elected to the Turkish assembly by her Kurdish constituency in Diyarbakir.

She strode defiantly up to the podium, with her hair band in the colours of the Kurdish freedom movement, red, yellow and green and recited the short parliamentary oath in Turkish. However, the last sentence of the oath she proudly read in Kurdish:

"I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people."

For this, she was stripped of her parliamentary immunity and sentenced with her other parliamentary colleagues to 15 years in prison for treason and membership of the PKK.

It was still a crime to express your Kurdishness in Turkey in the 90's despite years of struggle by the Kurds against the stated forced assimilation policies of the Turkish state.

In the intervening years from then to now many pro Kurdish parties were rotationally established and banned in a political war of attrition by the Kurds against the racist mind-set of the Turkish political establishment commonly known then as Kemalism.

The PKK, the liberation movement of the Kurdish people was established on the 25th November 1978 in a small Kurdish village called Fis in Diyarbakir province and on the 15th August 1984
began a low intensity defensive war against the repressive measures taken by the Turkish army against Kurdish civilians.

Although sacrificing so much and with a great deal of grief and pain along the way with tens of thousands of Kurds remaining political prisoners in Turkey's jails including their leader, Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurds are now poised to be the kingmakers in the upcoming Turkish elections.

Hopes are high for the HDP with many Turkish liberals and socialists joining the HDP and reports of tens of thousands of Kurds switching allegiances from the AKP to the HDP in the Kurdish heartlands and massive political rallies attracting tens of thousands in Istanbul, Izmir and other Turkish cities.

But the HDP warns of serious provocations between now and election day on the 7th June, as the AKP and Tayyip Erdogan plays an increasingly dirty electoral game.

The battle lines are set in what has already become a vicious political war with a reported 122 violent attacks on the offices of the HDP, culminating on May 18th in two coordinated bomb attacks on the HDP's offices of Mersin and Adana as the co chair of the party, Selahattin Demirtas travelled between the two cities, prompting speculation of a possible assassination attempt.

The 7th June elections are also set against the background of the much-vaunted 'Peace Process', a process that was born against the continued strength and victories of the Kurdish freedom movement.

Hakan Fidan, the then head of Turkish intelligence service, MIT, approached Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, PKK and asked him to write down a comprehensive statement of the demands of the Kurdish movement in 2009 and so began the so called 'Peace Process'.

So called because since 2009, it has faltered, stumbled and died a thousand deaths as the Turkish state procrastinated, while carrying out a proxy war against the Kurdish movement in Rojava (N. Syria) and building high tech military outposts in NW Kurdistan (SE Turkey) at best, in the hope of weakening Kurdish demands in any eventual settlement and worst, intending to annihilate the Kurdish movement completely.

Many do not believe that Tayyip Erdogan or the AKP have sincere intentions for a peaceful settlement of the Kurdish question but the outcome of the Turkish elections will be of critical importance to how the Kurdish movement proceeds on 8th June after the elections.

If the HDP pass the electoral threshold of 10% the likelihood of a peaceful political solution to the Kurdish question within the borders of Turkey looks more increasingly likely though not guaranteed.

But if the AKP are seen to engage in electoral fraud to keep HDP purposefully under the threshold to achieve more presidential powers for Tayyip Erdogan, the Kurds are likely to then concentrate on forging ahead with building a 'democratic autonomous Kurdistan' regardless of what the HDP do.

Bolstering the strong power base they already have with their sister party, the DBP (Democratic Regions Party) and local Kurdish councils in 'Kurdistan' (SE Turkey) while also forging greater links with the newly established Kurdish cantons in Rojava (N.Syria).

As ever, the Kurdish national movement, who are an increasingly powerful force in the Middle East are ready for every eventuality both politically and militarily and will be watching for signs from the Turkish state if they are ready to finally sit down with Abdullah Ocalan and the PKK and solve Turkey's longest standing political problem in a peaceful political way or continue a conflict that has claimed tens of thousands of lives displacing millions of Kurds all over the world.

The stakes could hardly ever have been higher for the future of Turkey.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of