In several articles I have read after Turkey’s constitutional court accepted the indictment of the prosecutor to ban the HDP, it was stated that this ‘disenfranchises’ the almost 6 million people who voted for the HDP. The disenfranchisement’ is evident, but the ban does more than that. It denies the existence of Kurds.
The HDP must be banned, the prosecutor stated in his indictment, because of ‘ties with the PKK’ but also for ‘destroying the unity of the state’. It is that phrasing exactly that indicates that demanding rights as Kurds is itself criminalized. And as contradictary as it may sound, it is also fully in line with the judicial packages that Erdoğan launched over the years to allegedly advance Kurdish rights to solve the Kurdish issue.
Let me give an example to explain. One of the measures the AKP-government took at the start of the ‘peace process’ in 2013, was the right to use Kurdish as a language of instruction in private schools. That was useless because in general Kurds can’t afford private schools, but worse than that: the only way to make that legally possible, was to define Kurdish as a ‘foreign language’.
Like that, the law that enables, for example, private German and French schools, also allowed Kurdish schools. In other words: to enable Kurdish schools, the supremacy of Turkish as the one and only language in Turkey was actually emphasized and strengthened.
It is fully in line with what emerged recently at a state hospital in Elazığ, where three Kurdish dialects were listed on a form on which patients could indicate which foreign language they spoke. Everything in Turkey, from culture and language to history and ethnicity, is Turkish, which excludes anything else from even tiptoeing into the formal structures the state is built of.
This is directly connected to the prosecutor’s accusation against the HDP that it is ‘destroying the unity of the state’. The state doesn’t know the concept of ‘unity in diversity’, as the HDP proposes. Everybody who demands rights based on another identity than the obligatory ‘Turkish Sunni Muslim’ identity, is breaking the unity. The state may no longer refer to Kurds as ‘mountain Turks’, as it did during much of the Republic times, but you still can’t claim rights as a Kurd.
This is rooted in the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, which marked the foundation of the Republic of Turkey. According to that treaty, people can only be minorities based on religion: Armenians, Greeks and Jews could claim minority rights, but never Muslims. All Muslims were considered to be Turks, and all Turks were considered to be Sunni Muslims. This is the (in)famous ‘brotherhood’ between the Muslims of Anatolia, and these ‘brothers’ not only share a religion but a history, a language and a culture too.
Obligatory, not voluntarily
During my first years in Turkey, this puzzled me. I didn’t understand how ultra-nationalists could refer to Kurds as their brothers: if you consider Kurds your brothers, how can you deny them rights? But the brotherhood is obligatory, not voluntarily. Any deviation from it, be it claiming your language, your ethnicity, your culture or your history is (partly) different than that of the majority, is considered to be breaking the unity of the brotherhood, and therefore of the state.
This is ‘separatism’. There you have it: by demanding the right for everybody to live according to their own identity, the HDP is ‘destroying the unity of the state’.
So, this is what the proposed ban of the HDP is actually saying to Kurds: you may not demand rights based on your identity. You may not exist. You have never existed in this country and this has not changed, even in 2021. Especially not in 2021, as 2023, the centennial anniversary of the Republic, is approaching. Erdoğan has not really changed Turkey.
Its fundamentalists are continuing to firmly suppress dissent and suffocate everybody who wants to ‘break the unity’ to finally be able to breath.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.