Eylül Deniz Yaşar – Istanbul
Following the removal of Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu’s MP status in March, the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have been subjected to intensifying repression, which has been ongoing for years, especially after 2015 general elections when the HDP entered the Turkish parliament preventing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) from obtaining a majority for the first time in his history in power.
In March, a public prosecutor in Ankara demanded that the HDP be shut down over charges of attempting to ‘disrupt the integrity of the state’ and alleged links with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Also, in parallel to this attempt to dissolve the party, there is the ongoing ‘Kobani case’ in which more than 100 members of the HDP are facing life in prison without parole if convicted.
Such a rapid intensification of attempts to crush the country’s second-largest opposition party has sparked international criticism against the Turkish government as democratic forces around the world slammed the closure case and shared their support and solidarity with the HDP.
During this historical and difficult period while the HDP has been so intensely discussed by the international public, the co-spokespersons of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the HDP, Feleknas Uca and Hişyar Özsoy took time out to share their own evaluations with Medya News on the international solidarity, the diplomacy work they are engaged in, and their views on the importance of the HDP’s struggle at both the regional and global level.
‘HDP carries hope for the democratic forces around the world’
“From the United Nations to the European Parliament, European governments, foreign ministers, all political spheres have showed their political stance against the Turkish government and the issue is now being openly discussed. This is very important,” said Feleknas Uca and described all these developments as a show of “great appreciation” towards the HDP in the international arena.
“We can say that these diplomatic works, efforts and the results of these relations have been instrumental in gaining support for the HDP, for the recognition of the HDP.”
Uca, who was a member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2009 and was the first Yazidi MP to enter the Turkish parliament, compares the HDP to a tree. “It is like a tree of peace, like a tree of freedom, it contains many different colours and different people. In this respect, the HDP carries hope for the democratic forces around the world,” she said, emphasising that the multi-identity politics that the HDP represents and conducts as one of the most significant factors and reasons for international democratic parties and movements to embrace the HDP.
The international solidarity has also been achieved with the hard diplomatic work of their party according to her. “In recent months, we have further increased our dialogue with parliaments around the world, European embassies, parliamentarians from different political parties and many friends around the world. We can say that these diplomatic works, efforts and the results of these relations have been instrumental in gaining support for the HDP, for the recognition of the HDP,” she said.
‘Purple line’ of free women’s struggle
Addressing specifically women around the world as the spokesperson of the Foreign Relations Commission, Uca made a special appeal to all women that this story reaches.
“Today, if our co-chairs are on trial in our country, one of the reasons is the co-presidency system, The HDP sees itself as a women’s party and says that the co presidency system ‘is my purple line’.”
Since the HDP implemented the “co-presidency” system based on equal representation, male and female politicians have a voice in the decision making processes at every level of the party. Accordingly, the HDP is the party with the highest level of political participation and representation of women in Turkey.
“Today, if our co-chairs are on trial in our country, one of the reasons is the co-presidency system,” said Uca, noting that the political pressure against the HDP should be interpreted, in part, as an attack against the co-presidential system and equal representation.
Feleknas Uca, who interprets the attacks against the HDP as part of the attack against the women’s struggle, says the HDP’s co-presidential/co chair system is now an undeniable reality in Turkey and that it determines the direction of struggle for the ‘free women perspective’.
“The HDP sees itself as a women’s party and says that the co presidency system ‘is my purple line’. But this is not all. We can also say that fifty-sixty percent of those who struggle are women. Thousands of our female friends, from Gültan Kışanak to Sebahat Tuncel, from Aysel Tuğluk to Ayla Akat Ata, from Emine Ayna to Leyla Güven and Ayşe Gökkan, are all on trial for fighting for the idea of free women.”
‘Turkey has crossed all red lines of the Council of Europe’
Hişyar Özsoy, who is also a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and a substitute member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) shared further information regarding the ongoing debates in Council of Europe. “Obviously, Turkey’s expulsion from the Council of Europe is now a very serious discussion. Turkey has crossed all red lines of the Council of Europe. There is no one in the international public who sincerely supports Erdoğan,” he said.
“Statements come, saying ‘we are worried’, ‘we are concerned’. Apart from worrying for us, there are steps they can take if they want. One of them is to review the criteria for economic cooperation with Turkey.”
Highlighting that “the people resisting in Turkey and Kurdistan” will be the main, but not the only determinant in the HDP’s struggle he said, “The attitude of the international public is also important. We received support from almost all political families in Europe. We have received many messages of solidarity from the USA to Europe, from the Middle East to the Philippines and to the Australia. Right now, no one in the world, except perhaps Azerbaijan, interprets Erdoğan’s attacks on HDP positively.”
Addressing the Western public in particular, Özsoy shared his suggestions on what can be done for proactive interference to Turkey’s plan to ban the HDP, apart from messages of condemnation: “Obviously, there is no clear stance within the European Union. Statements come, saying ‘we are worried’, ‘we are concerned’. Apart from worrying for us, there are steps they can take if they want. One of them is to review the criteria for economic cooperation with Turkey.”
According to Özsoy, although the EU had previously expected the Turkish government to make reforms in the field of democracy and human rights for the updating of the Customs Union, it now seems that the criterion of “democracy” has been shelved. “In fact, democracy as a prerequisite was a strong factor in all relations between Europe and Turkey. However, according to the information we have received, the important leaders of the European Union think that the criterion of democracy is no longer so important in updating the Customs Union,” he said as he shared his criticism of the European leaders, who, he said, “slam all what Erdoğan does, but on the other hand continue to work closely with Erdoğan government on migration, security and trade.”
‘The more they attack, the more the international arena hears about the HDP’
Özsoy shared his observation that an even more challenging period awaits the HDP in the coming months. Combining a revolutionary spirit with a political artistry that many acclaimed Kurdish politicians in Turkey acquired out of years of experience of political repression, Özsoy has this witty perspective of turning such a crisis into an opportunity. “We are more than ready to face all the challenges. The more they attack the HDP, the more the international arena hears about the HDP,” he said. “This gives us, the Foreign Affairs Commission a lot to do. We work most intensively during such periods, we work at our full capacity.”
“The HDP has the potential to be a source of inspiration for progressive forces around the world. If the HDP’s political line wins in Turkey, meaning that the Erdoğan’s line is overcome, this would make a tremendous change in Turkey-Europe relations.”
“A little while ago, we had a meeting with more than ten embassy representatives and discussed the current situation. We have met with representatives from many countries such as Germany, America, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, France and the UK. In the coming period, one of the first items on our agenda is to expand our foreign affairs network.”
A possible ban on the HDP is a concern not just for democracy in Turkey, but also in Europe, Özsoy argued, because he believes that Turkey’s domestic politics is never just about a “national” agenda.
“The idea that HDP is the key to politics in Turkey has emerged in the European public opinion. And this idea has made the international role of the HDP even more clear, because the fall of Erdoğan and his allies from power and the emergence of a new political climate in Turkey will seriously affect both the Middle East and Europe. Therefore, the effects of the HDP’s policy are not limited to Turkey; It may reveal consequences that will affect Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Europe in general,” he said.
Pointing out that there is a strong bond between all right-wing-authoritarian figures such as Trump in the USA, Erdoğan in Turkey, Orbán in Hungary and Duda in Poland, Özsoy concluded his words as follows: “Evil is organised on a global scale. Therefore, progressive forces need to be organised at the global level and work very closely. The politics of the HDP is based on an international perspective, which sees this reality as a political-ideological one. The HDP has the potential to be a source of inspiration for progressive forces around the world. If the HDP’s political line wins in Turkey, meaning that the Erdoğan’s line is overcome, this would make a tremendous change in Turkey-Europe relations. Of course, it will also strengthen the relations between the progressive forces of both. The HDP is a very important link in the chain.”
Last word is the woman’s word
The last word of this interview is especially reserved for Feleknas Uca, as she is potentially to be banned from politics in Turkey for years if the HDP is closed. She has a few words for all the women out there reading this story: “We will defend the philosophy of free women. We will protect every single woman who has been subjected to violence. We will continue our diplomatic works with such a perspective in our struggle. Maybe we will be expelled from the Parliament, maybe they will arrest us and take us hostage within walls. However, we, the women, the struggling women, will not take a step back. Even if we are banned, thousands of women will intensify this struggle.”