This week, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is visiting Diyarbakır. Huge posters have been hung in the streets of the city, coining the slogan “We are coming to the ancient city for an ancient togetherness”. But if Kılıçdaroğlu and the CHP want to ‘helalleşmek’ with the Kurds, they have a lot of work to do in cities outside Kurdistan. So Diyarbakır’s own leaders can return to their cities.
Helalleşmek, for those who don’t know or forgot, was the word Kılıçdaroğlu used last year in a statement in which he announced he was more interested in correcting mistakes and wrongdoings in Turkey’s past than in just coming to power. Helalleşmek in this case means, roughly translated, to come clean, with a religious connotation. He was explicitly referring to CHP’s mistakes as well, and to the injustice done to Kurds, including the torture in Diyarbakır prison especially after the 1980 coup and including the Roboskî massacre of December 2011. Check also this column I wrote about it last year.
It also needs to be mentioned that Kılıçdaroğlu, who has been leading the CHP since 2010, visited Diyarbakır for the first time as CHP leader in 2018. At the time, he vowed to visit the city more often, and he is delivering on that promise for the first time now. He will meet with different groups in the city, among whom women, youth, small business people in the historical heart of the city, and of course with local CHP members.
The visit must also be placed in the context of the alliance that the CHP and five other opposition parties forged to challenge Erdoğan’s AKP in next year’s elections. They want to bring back the parliamentary system, restore democratic checks and balances, and improve the system that existed before Erdoğan abolished it in 2018. Great, but of course, it can never be enough to truly make Turkey a country where everybody can live in freedom. Erdoğan has only further centralized a system that was broke from the beginning and was designed to suppress Kurds and others who don’t fit the officially constructed identity.
This alliance, called the Nation Alliance, is already at odds with each other about the Kurdish issue. Kılıçdaroğlu said the road to democracy goes via Diyarbakır, to which a senior leader of the IYI Parti (a break-away from the Grey Wolves party MHP) said that the only address where democracy and law can be established is (the parliament in) Ankara. (In itself a remarkable statement from the IYI Parti official, because when Kurds try to get their rights in parliament, they are robbed from their immunity and thrown in jail with the approval of all parties.)
It remains to be seen of course if the odds are just a linguistic quarrel or that it really shows a first crack in the alliance. Far-reaching decentralization is crucial to solving the Kurdish issue and touches on the core foundations of the Turkish republic. If Kılıçdaroğlu’s is not just paying lip service to Kurds but would really be willing to divert power from Ankara to Diyarbakır, it would be a major break-through and a definite end to the alliance.
How can we know if Kılıçdaroğlu is just paying lip service, or not? The road to democracy definitely goes via Diyarbakır, but the political capital of the Kurds is not where the problem lies. The problem lies in all the cities and towns (and political parties!) where the Kurdish movement and the Kurdish demands are seen as terrorist and separatist. That’s where the work towards democracy has to be carried out. That’s where Kılıçdaroğlu, if he is serious and wants to show it, should travel after his trip to Diyarbakır is finished. That’s where he has to take what he heard and learned from Kurdish women, youth, business people and others, and convince the citizens of Turkey that their demands are ligitimate and need to be implemented to create a society that works for everybody.
Those are the places – Sivas, Tokat, Antalya, Bursa, Muğla, Artvin, Tekirdağ, Izmir, Nevşehir, you name them – where Kılıçdaroğlu has a job to do. So that not him going to Diyarbakır is big news or even considered ‘historic’, but that the leaders of the Kurds can return home to their people. That the people of Diyarbakır don’t have to explain yet again that they want to be free, but can welcome jailed giants like Gültan Kışanak, Selahattin Demirtaş and eventually Abdullah Öcalan back into their communities.