Prof. Özgen took the podium first and started by quoting Lebanese novelist Amin Maalouf: “Will our world, trying to walk through the miserable shames of the past, be able to recognise it one day when it encounters a future that will illuminate and warm it? Here we are”.
Prof. Özgen continued: “We are the future, all together in this hall; We are here with all different cultures and identities of Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Alevis and Laz. We will build our future.”
Hayko Bagdat referred to the first conference, held in 2019, stressing the importance and pointing out the objectives of this meeting.
In the first session, moderated by Latife Akyüz, Prof. Baskın Oran, Prof. Cengiz Aktar, Honorary President of the Alevi Union of Europe (AABK) Turgut Öker, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Honorary President Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Free Lawyers Association co-Chair Bünyamin Şeker, Kübra Derin from the Istanbul Convention Campaign and Human Rights Defender Yiğit Aksakoğlu discussed the subject of “Damage Assessment”.
In his argument, Prof. Baskin Oran drew attention to the extent of the damage in Turkey and the resulting balance sheet. He evaluated the elimination of state apparatus and organs through the presentation of a historical perspective. Prof. Oran drew attention to new hope in Turkey’s future derived from the declaration published on 28 February on the return to the parliamentary system. He added: “As a result of the damage suffered by the state, institutions have been closed up, bureaucracy has collapsed, Foreign Affairs and the Civil Service have become a hollow vacuum, and Finance and Treasury have become a personal safe for the Palace [referring to the presidential complex].”
The Alevi Union president Turgut Öker said: The biggest problem Alevis face is risk to life. Cemevis (Alevi Meeting Houses) have not been granted recognised status, but are seen as commercial establishments. (…) And public institutions do not hire Alevis, even as doormen, all employees are graduates of the Sunni religious Imam Hatip schools. If you’re an Alevi you don’t have a chance in public service. There is double discrimination against Kurdish Alevis.
The HDP’s Ertuğrul Kürkçü started his argument saying, “We are creating the possibilities for a new life.” He noted that the most important thing to draw from the question, “What remains from the Damage Assessment?” is hope for the future. “The will to rebuild life is the most precious thing left to us from this damage. It is this on which we will build the future. The dictatorship that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) established in 2015 together with the Ergenekon [a clandestine untra-nationalist movement] conspiracy have caused us to suffer some serious defeats in this struggle.” Kürkçü concluded his speech saying, “The alliance between the Kurdish freedom movement and Turkey’s forces of democracy has persisted. And this is Turkey. It is the most important chance for transformation.”
Bünyamin Şeker, co-Chair of the Free Lawyers Association, said that law in Turkey has been destroyed to a great extent; that the laws themselves and the principle of equality before the law have been blown to bits. He stated that major legislative and legal processes need to be changed to improve the situation. He said: “When Ankara is involved in an international agreement, it thinks, but what benefit might the Kurds gain from the agreement? This is not law!”
The academic Yektan Türkyılmaz emphasised that the most important things for Turkey at the moment are the demand by a large sector of society for the promotion of democracy, and the dynamic that will enable the regression and defeat of this regime and the construction of a new Turkey unlike the old. He stated that he sees the conference as a preliminary study and initiative for this.
“I think the conference will achieve its purpose. I see it as an alternative to the ongoing six-party negotiations in Turkey, because it is not possible to reach a new place with the roads taken so far. Those roads are mined, those roads have collapsed.”
He also stated that he attaches great importance to establishing a dialogue between different parties. He said, “The different groups activate different areas in Turkey, and the important thing is that the response of this conference activates a dynamic in Turkey.”
A representative for the Organising Committee made the following assessment regarding the first part of the conference on day one: “All identity and belief groups who are victims of the system in Turkey, Kurdistan in general and North Kurdistan, and all sectors representing the conscience of society are here. If everyone comes together on their common points to fight this dictatorship while preserving their diversity, we will destroy this fascism. The important thing is to embody this partnership on a practical basis after the Conference,” he said.
After the first panel, the speakers took questions in matters that sparked curiosity.
The second session of the Democracy and Freedom Conference, with the theme “Exit Road”, will be attended by Republican People’s Party (CHP) MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu, the former chair of the Motherland Party Nesrın Nas, and HDP MP Mehmet Rüstü Ihsan.