The jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş called on people to concentrate on election campaign work on Saturday in response to growing tensions inside Turkey’s left-wing Labour and Freedom Alliance.
The tensions between two major parties of the alliance, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) surfaced for the first time last month, when the TİP refused to field its candidates under a single list for the parliamentary elections.
Several political scientists as well as HDP officials objected the TİP’s decision, underlining that due to changes made in Turkey’s electoral law in 2022, parties in an alliance that compete with each other by fielding their candidates under separate lists would only benefit the ruling People’s Alliance of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The concerns over possible parliamentary seats that could be lost on 14 May sparked a heated debate among supporters of both parties, topping the topics discussed in Turkey’s social media. Some HDP voters accused the TİP of trying to undermine the pro-Kurdish party, while enjoying the Kurdish votes that will help them to pass the seven percent election threshold for parliamentary seats.
A sudden twist of events on Friday night turned the HDP voters’ uneasiness on the election alliance with the TİP into a perfect storm of outrage.
Late on Friday, government affiliated Ülke TV shared a video of Ahmet Şık, an MP of the TİP, who was elected in 2018 under the HDP list, gaining the support of Kurdish voters. Şık, a former investigative journalist, gained worldwide fame for the two times he spent in prison over his work as a journalist.
In the secretly recorded video, Şık talks to a man about the inner conflicts of the alliance, accusing Demirtaş of targeting his party although both parties are in the same alliance.
“Nothing is left in the HDP, if you take Selahattin out of the HDP,” Şık said in the video about the third largest party in the Turkish parliament.
“There are already Turkish fascists, I cannot also deal with Kurdish fascists,” Şık also said, speaking about some politicians in the HDP.
The video, which received 2,999 quote retweets so far, created an outrage among HDP voters. Many reminded Şık that he was elected by Kurdish votes, while others told him that he could not reduce the HDP to a single man, given the struggle of the Kurdish people in Turkey. Frustrated HDP voters also called on their party to end the alliance with the TİP.
“Without attempting to explain the incident, the people in the incident and the context, I sincerely apologise to my friends in the HDP and the Kurdish people, my comrades in the TİP whose hearts I broke with those words,” Şık wrote on Twitter late at night, among increasing calls for him to resign before 14 May elections.
“First of all, until 14 May and then during our future joint struggle, my only effort will be to not harm our desire for peace and brotherhood, to not shadow the hopes materialised in our alliance,” Şık added.
Yet, Şık’s apology failed in calming the angry HDP voters and a subsequent statement shared by his party was also not very successful in that regard.
“The words of our Istanbul MP Ahmet Şık which became public today does not represent the views of our party and includes unfortunate and over the line expressions for his identity of struggle he has been maintaining until this day,” the TİP said in its statement.
“Therefore, we apologise to all powers in the alliance, particularly our friends in the HDP, as well as the Kurdish people, the leftist public and all our citizens. We will never give up our struggle and solidarity we have been continuing for peace and brotherhood,” it added.
While Kurdish voters continued their frustration against the left-wing party, some members of the TİP announced they were leaving the party on Twitter, in protest of Şık.
The HDP has so far remained silent about the internal controversy, however, the party’s official Twitter account shared the statement made by Demirtaş, who has been kept in Edirne prison in northwest Turkey since 2016.
“There are 14 days left to the elections. No matter what anybody says, let’s concentrate on our work without ever diverting our attention,” Demirtaş said on Twitter. “We have promised our people a victory, let’s first realise that,” he added.
“And if you take Selahattin out of the HDP, there will not be much of him left,” Demirtaş stated, and shared a video many years ago in which he talks about his ties to the Kurdish political movement.
“I exist because I explain accurate solution proposals, the HDP. I would not be the same person, if I headed another party. This is not something personal, something related to a specific person. It is an issue of explaining the right principles in the right way. Moreover, we are not football players, we are not people who can transfer from one party to another. We are people who have a political cause, a cause for freedom, who believe in democracy. I entered into politics with this party and I will continue to exist inside this party till the end of my life,” Demirtaş said in the recording from 2015, when he was the rising star of Turkish politics as co-chair of the HDP.