The situation in Turkey cannot possibly get worse than now. Erdogan and his AKP/MHP government have brought chaos and suffering to the people of Turkey and especially to the Kurds within its borders, but also in Iraq and Syria. Economic crisis, a total lack of democracy, lawlessness, war on foreign soil, ethnic cleansing, chemical weapons, imprisonments, cooperation with the worst imaginable jihadist groups, forced displacement of Kurds from their original areas. All this with tacit acceptance from NATO, OPCW, the UN, and European states. But we must believe that a change can happen. The election on 14 May is the big decisive opportunity to push AKP/MHP and Erdogan away. This must be the absolute priority. Erdogan had his chance when he came to power in 2003, and on many subsequent occasions. However, he has shown himself to be inept when it comes to creating peace, economic stability, and democracy – instead he has chosen power and war. Now the Kurds must show that they have the political strength to say no to going the way forward with Erdogan. The Kurds have the best card ever in their hands – they are millions, they represent a strong power factor, they can change the political landscape by choosing a better future through the opposition.
The coming election will probably not be fair
Experiences from previous elections during Erdogan’s time on the “throne” have shown major irregularities, tricks and cheating before and during the elections. Voters have been prevented from reaching the ballot boxes, votes have disappeared and the like. Erdogan is afraid that the Kurds – if enough of them show up, could tip the election in the opposition’s favour. Recently AKP/MHP carried out an operation of mass arrests in the run-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections. It targeted Kurdish opposition and civil society, and, “(…) 144 of 216 wanted persons nationwide were detained, and so far, 48 arrest warrants have been issued for lawyers, journalists, politicians, activists and artists,” according to ANF. This is just another attempt to crush the opposition. There will certainly be more attempts, such as lately when the opposition candidate was being pictured together with Ocalan. We can only imagine what may come of it, but it is certain that Erdogan will come up with something. Why should he suddenly during the upcoming election follow democratic rules of the game when he has not done so this far? Therefore, it is even more important that the Kurds, who are the only safe democratic card in this election, stand up as one and vote for the opposition – the Green Left Party alliance with the HDP. It will be decisive for the future that the Green Left alliance/ HDP succeeds in May. It is the only possibility to finally get rid of the sitting government.
Women can make the big difference during the election
Kurdish women and their organisations can make the difference in the election. They have everything to gain from Erdogan and the AKP/MHP coalition disappearing, while they have everything to lose from its continuation.
Kurdish women suffer the most under the current situation, both from male- and state domination and violence. Women are subjected to systematic femicide, they are the current government’s primary target; persecuted, imprisoned, oppressed, and killed in the worst imaginable ways. For Erdogan’s increasingly Islamist and fascist regime, the Kurdish women’s liberation movement poses a big threat as it represents an alternative – something quite different. Kurdish women struggle to overcome domination and femicide, for having their voices heard in politics and at all levels of society, they struggle for a dignified life and for freedom for all women in the Middle East. The Kurdish women’s revolution has transformative power which poses a threat to Erdogan’s visions for a future Turkey, where women must submit to men in all areas of life. If he wins the elections, this is the future Kurdish women and women in Turkey in general can expect.
Kurdish women have contributed greatly to the development in Kurdistan’s various parts, and not least in the diaspora. It is extremely important that the Kurdish women’s liberation movement’s organisations inside and outside of Turkey encourage all Kurdish women and sympathisers to use their voice for change, which will not only benefit Kurdish women but women in the entire Middle East. If women make a united front and turn up at the polls, this election can go in their favour.
Opening the gate to Imrali – an absolute requirement
By supporting the opposition, the Kurds will hopefully get a clearer voice in Turkish politics and be able to negotiate Kurdish demands. This must include that Mr. Abdullah Ocalan be set free or receive other terms of sentencing, and with him the release of several or all political prisoners. Finally, the Kurdish question and peace talks must again be put on the political agenda.
The international society, the various EU bodies and the UN should make a call to a hopefully new government to release Mr. Ocalan and help ensure that he gets his rightful place at the negotiating table, so that the Kurdish question in Turkey can finally reach its peaceful solution.
A window of hope
We don’t know exactly what are being negotiated between HDP and the opposition parties but what we do know from history is that the Kurds have never been particularly rewarded in terms of political rights and benefits even if they were given great promises prior to the election. Now, the Kurds put all hope in the hands of the opposition, let’s hope that if it wins also have enough political and moral integrity to fulfill its promises and pay back as thanks for the support – primarily in the form of political rights and preferably autonomy on Kurdish territory.
A window of hope has been opened. The Kurds wherever they are, and a united opposition in Turkey must ensure that the window remains open to a more democratic future.
Kariane Westrheim is Professor of Educational Science at the University of Bergen, Norway. Since 2004, Westrheim has chaired the EU Turkey Civic Commission (EUTCC) which among others organise the Annual International Conference on EU Turkey and the Kurds in the European Parliament, Brussels.