One of the main topics of discussion on the Turkish political scene recently has been whether the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), an umbrella organisation that brings a majority-Kurdish base and a range of left-wing political parties together, should be shut down.
The Fatherland Party (VP), an ultra-nationalist fringe group that supports the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) but does not have members in parliament, has launched a campaign to have the party closed down.
This demand came in the wake of Turkey’s parliament revoking the seats of three opposition deputies, one from the centre-left main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and two from the HDP, and the subsequent arrest of the deputies on espionage and terror charges. The HDP’s Leyla Güven and the CHP’s Enis Berberoğlu have since been released pending trial, but HDP deputy Musa Farisoğulları remains in prison over terror charges.
The HDP, which has the third largest group in parliament, launched a March for Democracy Against Coups on Monday, June 15, protesting not just the continued arrest of its deputy, but the years-long imprisonment of its former co-chairs Figen Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, several former deputies, thousands of members and 21 mayors as well. A total of 45 HDP municipalities have had their mayors dismissed on terrorism charges.
The marches set off the northwestern province of Edirne, where Yüksekdağ and Demirtaş are imprisoned, and the southeastern province of Hakkari, an HDP stronghold, and aim to converge on Ankara by June 20.
“What concerns us is not these discussions to shut our party down, but rather the deep silence among Turkey’s opposition,” the HDP’s former co-chair Sezai Temelli told Ahval.
The CHP has also said HDP’s march is untimely, and would likely be provoked by the government. But, Temelli said, the reasoning behind the march is to “reach everywhere we can reach in Turkey, and to come together with all democratic groups and organisations to extend our search for a solution. To raise awareness, and to point to the third option that can lead everybody out of the crisis we live in.”
The rest of the opposition mistakenly believes that by not supporting the HDP, or even speaking out against them, it could open up new opportunities for them, Temelli said.
Opposition parties should play a role in the defence of democracy, he said. But the opposition, including the CHP, which the HDP supported in some western Turkish provinces in the March elections, cannot step outside the perception and discourse set by the government. “What is funny is that the opposition falls for this trap.”
Yet, Turkey’s current government also appears to be in a serious crisis, Temelli said. The AKP government has not been able to resolve the Kurdish issue, “maybe the one point where all of Turkey’s issues converge,” Temelli said. “The new understanding entails an oppressive, authoritarian government shaped over institutionalising fascism,” he said, which has exacerbated the use of violence in the country’s attitude towards Kurds.
The government is working to dismantle all democratic structures, to replace them with an oppressive authoritarian regime, the former co-chair said. “That is the reason for the total attack on the HDP and all organisations fighting in this area, to completely eradicate the idea for a democratic solution to the Kurdish issue.”
The AKP believes that Turkey would be easier to govern if HDP did not exist and wants to get rid of it, Temelli continued.
“Discrimination has reached incredible levels,” he said. “The revocation of our deputies’ seats is the latest example. Prevention of the HDP’s exercise of democratic, constitutional rights, replacement of elected mayors with government appointees, trials that just keep taking more and more time, the usurpation of the right to release from prison…”
Temelli cited the case of Selahattin Demirtaş, who should have been released from an almost four-year imprisonment after repeated rulings by the European Court of Human Rights. “There are thousands of cases like this. People are kept in prisons for unjust reasons.”
The AKP government is only able to hold on to power through policies of violence and a battle for power, Temelli said. “And it is the HDP that makes possible another option against that. The HDP is striving for peace and a democratic republic.”
The municipal elections of March 31, 2019, where the HDP won 65 mayoral seats, “were not just a local election. It goes beyond that, to society’s longing and hope for democracy, and an understanding of democratic alliance that clears a path for all groups that this government ignores, all workers, women and the poor,” he said.
“This spooked (Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan), because he now positions himself as the absolute authority. To not lose his power, he has implemented a bureaucratic and authoritarian mentality to disband any and all who oppose him politically, whose political rights he ignores,” Temelli told Ahval.
AKP’s alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) is designed to pit society against each other through discriminatory policies. “They want to cut off the wings from other political parties, and to put them in lockstep with the state as it is today.” He said.
“So, truthfully, we are faced with a government that feeds off of coup mechanics and that advances itself via coups.”
The risk is greater for Turkey if the HDP is shut down because a huge number of voters would be disenfranchised from democratic, peaceful politics, Temelli said. “(HDP deputy) Ali Kenanoğlu said something in parliament that was very apt, that more people voted for him alone than for the VP as a whole.”
But Temelli said it is impossible eradicate the political movement behind the HDP. “HDP has come to be via an understanding of an alliance of struggles, as a solution to Turkey’s Kurdish issue, as well as women’s issues, the issues of democracy, ecology and labour,” he said.
Although it is a young party, the HDP comes from a 120-year-old political tradition, Temelli said. The government is on its last legs, and Turkey’s future lies in a parliamentarian democracy with stronger local governments, he said. “So let us come together under an alliance for democracy. Let us come together under a constitution that will allow a free, just, righteous life for Turkey in solidarity.”