“For 10 years, a young political tree has been rising on those lands as the harbinger of democracy, peace, fellowship,” wrote Yeni Yaşam columnist Beyza Üstün, referring to the 10th anniversary of the foundation of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
“The HDP is 10 years old; all colours of its strength can be seen when one looks at the depth of its roots, rather than its height, stature, age,” Üstün said. “It is continuing to be the hope by overturning the Turkish politics since its birthday,” she added, referring to the party which was established on October 2012 and is now the third largest in the Turkish parliament.
The HDP, which faces the risk of being shut down, has outlived all parties of the Kurdish political movement that have been established since 1990. From 1990 to 2009, seven pro-Kurdish parties were closed by the Constitutional Court, while two others abolished themselves.
Yet, the establishment of the HDP differentiated it from its predecessors as it started its activities during a peace process between the Kurdish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and had ambitions to become a party that represents all oppressed groups in the country.
The party was founded one year after the establishment of the Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK), an umbrella organisation that brought together various left-leaning political and social movements, organisations and individuals around a broad-based peace with social justice agenda.
The HDP surprised many, particularly Turkey’s political establishment, when it received more than six million (13.12%) votes and won 80 seats in June 2015 elections, in which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority. Selahattin Demirtaş, the then co-chair of the HDP, gained vast popularity, receiving support from not only from Kurds but Turks as well and started being presented as a charismatic leader that can be a threat for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
But 2015 also marked the end of the short-lived peace process, as soon after the election the Turkish government launched full-scale operations in southeast Turkey in July after two police officers were killed, and later Erdoğan called for snap elections.
Turkey found itself beset into terror between two elections with 33 people losing their lives by a suicide bomber of the Islamic State (ISIS) in July in Suruç, a town close to the Turkish-Syrian border, and another 103 were killed again by ISIS during a peace protest in the Turkish capital of Ankara in October. The HDP votes fell to 10.8 per cent in elections held on 1 November.
The Turkish government kept on imposing successive curfews in towns in the southeast to back military operations, and in May 2016 the Turkish Grand National Assembly lifted the immunity of almost all MPs of the HDP.
A failed coup attempt in July 2016 resulted in the establishment of a new alliance between the AKP and far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The government declared a state of emergency, followed by a large-scale crackdown on government opponents including Kurdish politicians. Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, the other HDP co-chair, were arrested in November 2016.
Today, the HDP lawmakers in parliament face the risk of losing their legislative immunity, while some 4,000 HDP members including MPs have been imprisoned, and HDP mayors have been replaced by government-appointed officials.
Yet, the pro-Kurdish party holds the key to the deadlock in Turkish politics for upcoming elections, currently scheduled for 2023.
Recent polls show that although opposition parties are increasing their share of the vote, they are still unable to attract a large portion of the ruling AKP votes. According to the same polls, the HDP vote stands at 8-12 per cent, which implies that the party’s voters will be kingmakers in the next elections, just as in the latest local elections in 2019, when opposition candidates won the mayoral seats in the Turkish capital of Ankara and in Istanbul.
In the light of this political environment, HDP supporters like columnist Üstün continuously underline their determination to struggle for peace and democracy in Turkey.
“We, who continue to come together in the HDP and around the HDP’s perspectives, political identities and aims, are determined to change this aggressive ruling system no matter what its price is,” she wrote. “The existence of the HDP, its policies, persistence, strategies that goes beyond the ordinary politics, makes us feel that we are getting closer to freedom every passing day.”