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Turbulent Times Await, as Turkey Heads Toward Re-Elections

HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksedag (Image: AFP Photo)
HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksedag (Image: AFP Photo)


On 7th June Turkey elected its 550 members of parliament, the 25th in the history of the Republic. The general elections, for the first time in Turkish history, triumphed and gave Kurdish and minority citizens a voice in parliament. HDP (The People’s Democratic Party), a conglomeration of Kurdish parties and independents now also constituted by many Turkish and minority members, managed to keep their headline campaign promise: bizler HDP, bizler Meclise (we are HDP, we are going to parliament). Admitting 80 MPs into the Grand National Assembly, with a 13% share of the national vote, HDP managed to break through the arbitrary 10% threshold, imposed by the government in the 1980s to prohibit minority-led parties from entering.

AKP, the ruling party, lost their parliamentary majority for the first time in 13 years, and unwillingly began coalition talks with Turkey’s 3 main parties; CHP, MHP and HDP. HDP was immediately eliminated, as AKP would never have formed a government with the same party that restricted them from majority rule. MHP (The Nationalist Movement Party) refused to show any warmth towards forming a coalition, having previously promised that they would never be in the same government as AKP, as it had negotiated with the outlawed PKK for a ceasefire. This left Turkey with only 2 options: a coalition with CHP (The Republican People’s Party) or early elections. Coalition talks failed and Erdogan called for early elections.

This summer saw extremely violent events, as the dynamics of Turkish politics have decidedly changed after the Suruc bombing that of the 20th of July, which resulted in the killing of 33 young socialist activists. The death of these activists, who had travelled to the border with Syria to help rebuild Kobane (the centre of the Kurds’ fight against ISIS), meant a violent response from Kurdish militants. The PKK soon killed two police officers, representative of the state they held responsible for the bombing. Many remain undecided on whether the police were directly related to the bombing; however it is clear that the government turned a blind eye in the follow up to the attack.

The decades-long conflict between the Turkish army and the Kurdish PKK has started again after 2 years of ceasefire, with Turkish armed forces launching a wave of airstrikes in Northern Iraq. PKK camps in Iraq were targeted in retaliation to events in the southeast, where the army clashed with the locals and Kurdish armed groups in Kurdish-majority cities.

In 2013, Turkey and the PKK reached a historic settlement, agreeing upon a ceasefire as well as the normalization of Kurdish rights. Called for in a letter of the leader the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, where he called for an end of armed insurgency and shift towards a democratic parliamentarian representation of Kurdish rights, the agreement finally brought an end to regional intensity. However, the reality of the Kurdish peace process is that it is premeditated and dictated by the hegemonic side, and if favour turns, it can be cancelled at any time by the state.

Violence escalated when an 8 day long curfew was imposed on the Kurdish town of Cizre, which had recently declared autonomy from the Turkish state, alongside towns such as Silvan, Silopi, and neighbourhoods of cities such as Diyarbakir and Istanbul. 100,000 residents were trapped inside their houses, unable to access electricity, water and food. Several citizens were killed: some of them by snipers for breaking the curfew rule, including toddlers and young children. The dead bodies were kept in makeshift freezers, as funerals were prohibited. Grim scenes were shown to the world after the curfew was lifted. With houses destroyed, Cizre resembled Gaza. Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of HDP, along with many MPs marched to Cizre saying, ‘We want the voice of Cizre to be heard’. Although the curfew flared more outrage from Kurds and human rights activists, many Turkish nationalists remained silent as they held Cizre responsible for the outcome of its self-declared autonomy.

As more killings of soldiers and police officers occurred, the hostility of Turkish nationalists and AKP adherents became greater. A series of attacks against HDP offices and Kurdish citizens were initiated, and the offices of Turkey’s most read, watchdog media outlet Hurriyet were also targeted. Influenced by the government’s smear campaign against the HDP and watchdog newspapers, many attackers called this act of violence ‘protest against terrorism and terrorist propaganda’, seeing attacks on Kurds, Kurdish-owned businesses or Kurdish-supportive businesses as legitimate attacks on so-called ‘PKK supporters’.

Many condemn HDP for not reprehending the PKK enough, although Demirtas and Yuksekdag, the co-chairs of HDP, have reiterated that both sides have to lay down their arms. Nationalists fail to understand that HDP gained 6 million votes on the 7th of June, making them tied with MHP on the 3rd most popular party in Turkey. HDP gained much of its popularity due to its non-violent plea for a democratic and just existence for the peoples of Turkey, and drew votes from not only the Kurds, but also Turks, Armenians, LGBTQI citizens and other minorities. The party created a medium for people to unify in the battle against Erdogan’s government, criticised as authoritarian. Supporters sought to bring reform to Turkey, including the rewriting of the constitution in order to make it more inclusive, egalitarian and democratic.

Amidst the political instability and tension, fair and accurate elections seem implausible. HDP are endlessly affiliated to the PKK by the media and the government, delegitimizing their campaign. The vulnerable situation in the southeast, where most of HDP’s votes are drawn from, also makes the prospect of fair elections difficult, as many towns are under siege or curfew. Although much of the anti-HDP smear campaigns are done by AKP due to their loss of parliamentary majority and also to recapture nationalist votes from MHP, many firmly believe that they will fail in this because of their war against the Kurds. Many have the understanding that the killing of ordinary citizens and security forces is done on the basis of Erdogan’s disappointment with the election results of June.

Thousands have taken the streets across Turkey to call for an end of war from both sides; the PKK and the Turkish state. No talks on a peace process have begun as of yet, and it is anticipated that none will happen for a long time. Elections will be held on the 1st of November amidst the ambiguity of the political dynamics and regional upheaval of Turkey.

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