Intense discussions have been going on in the mainstream media regarding the closure of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), especially after the historical defeat of the Turkish state in the Gare military operation against the PKK in Iraq.
In these discussions – which have turned into a lynching campaign – it is claimed that the HDP is connected to the PKK and does not condemn it. In the media platforms where these discussions are held, the HDP is never allowed a representative or to participate in the discussions in any way. This campaign is part of the extrajudicial execution of our party.
The HDP was established under the laws of the Republic of Turkey. It organises throughout the country and participates in elections. At the last general election, it received nearly 6 million votes, making it the second largest opposition party in the Grand National Assembly. However, the HDP approaches Turkey’s problems with a different perspective from other parties and argues for different solutions. They regard Turkey’s ultra-nationalist, and even racist, structure as a fundamental problem that only makes conditions worse.
Central to this is the ‘Kurdish Question’. The HDP believes that the denial of Kurdishness, and the policies of forced assimilation that have been practised since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, have been wholly wrong! HDP argues that the state should accept Kurds as a different ethnic group, a different people with a different identity; and, consequently, they receive wide support from the Kurds. This has exposed it to constant pressure from the state, and to today’s calls for a total ban. The argument given to justify these attacks is always the HDP’s relations with the PKK.
Just as the HDP takes a different approach to the Kurdish issue, it also has a different point of view regarding the PKK to that taken by other parties. Unlike Turkey, the European Union, and the United States, the HDP does not see the PKK as a terrorist organisation; and it welcomes the ruling by Belgium’s highest court that the organisation should be regarded as a party in a non-international armed conflict. It believes that the PKK emerged as a consequence of the wrong policies of the Turkish Republic and the international powers and thinks that so long as these policies do not change there will be a PKK or another similar organisation.
Every act of oppression against Kurdish parliamentary politics is a recruiting sergeant for the PKK. And so long as nothing is done to address the Kurdish Question, many of those persecuted for their Kurdishness will follow the maxim of the Nineteenth-Century British Chartists ‘Peaceably if we can, forcibly if we must’.
To understand this, it helps to go back into history. In 1923, when the Treaty of Lausanne was signed under the leadership of Britain and France, Kurdistan had already been divided into two between the Ottomans and the Iranian Safavid state by the Kasr-ı Şirin agreement of 1639. This time it was divided into four parts, and this division of the lands of the world’s largest stateless people constitutes the main source of the problems we face today. The states that occupied Kurdistan have denied the existence of Kurds, and have followed assimilationist and repressive policies, depriving them of identity, language and cultural rights. Kurds who objected to this and defended their rights and freedoms have been subjected to arrests, exile, execution and massacre.
In order to get the support of Kurdish people during Turkey’s war of liberation, Mustafa Kemal promised that the liberated state would be a state for both Turks and Kurds. But, after the establishment of the Republic he denied the existence of the Kurds and Kurdistan, and established a system based on Turkish ethnic nationalism.
There were uprisings in many parts of Kurdistan against that system, but all of them were suppressed by massacres, and their leaders executed. Kurdish language, culture, music – in short, every aspect of Kurdishness – was banned, and the Kurds were officially classified as Turks. The government hoped to eliminate the Kurds through policies of forced assimilation. The situation was similar in the other parts of Kurdistan – the parts occupied by the Iraqi and Syrian states that were established after the withdrawal of Britain and France, and the part occupied by Iran.
It was from this background that the PKK and many similar organisations emerged. By the 1970s, dozens of organisations, led by university students, were coming together to attempt to change this situation through different methods. Most of these organisations were purged by the 1980 military coup. Terrible state terror was waged in Kurdistan, especially in the prisons. The PKK managed to pull some of its cadres out of Turkey and into the neighbouring countries, where it reorganised itself and launched a guerrilla war against the Turkish state in 1984. Although there have been changes in its goals, form, and method, this war still continues.
When the PKK was first established in 1978, its aim was liberation and the establishment of a united, independent, socialist Kurdistan on the territories occupied by Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s, the PKK reassessed its goals.
In 1993, in response to a request from then President of Turkey, Turgut Özal, the PKK declared a unilateral ceasefire and announced it was ready to solve the Kurdish Question through dialogue. During that unilateral ceasefire, while Özal was preparing his new approach to the Kurds, he was poisoned by the Turkish deep state. His death opened the way for a violent war that caused huge destruction in North (Turkish) Kurdistan. However, the PKK’s efforts to find a solution based on dialogue with the Turkish state have always continued.
Since the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s arrest in an international conspiracy in 1999, he has put forward detailed projects and road maps for a political solution from his prison cell. Today, the PKK seeks a solution to the Kurdish Question that is based on a democratic system that allows for local autonomy and respect for cultural differences within existing borders. However, the states that hold Kurdistan under occupation do not accept any status being given to Kurds and are determined to continue their current approach. (The situation is now different in Iraq since the establishment of the autonomous Kurdish Region, but Turkey’s determination to crush the Kurds is hardening.)
Since 1990, many political parties have been established in Turkey with the aim of finding a parliamentary non-violent solution to the Kurdish Question. The first of these, the People’s Labour Party (HEP), bypassed Turkey’s 10% election threshold by nominating its candidates for the 1991 general election under the list of the Social Democratic People’s Party (SHP), and so entered parliament with 22 MPs. But these parliamentarians were faced with unbelievable attacks. On the first day, when they were required to read the nationalist oath, Leyla Zana said in Kurdish “I read this oath for the brotherhood of the Kurdish and Turkish peoples” and Hatip Dicle added “I read this oath under the pressure of the constitution”. The parliamentary chamber descended into uproar.
A closure case was filed against the party, and investigations were initiated against most of the deputies. As a precaution, the Democracy Party (DEP) was established, and all the deputies moved into the new party. After a short time, the HEP was banned, but, at the same time, a closure case was filed against the DEP. In September 1993, an attack organised by paramilitary forces killed Mehmet Sicar, the deputy for Mardin, and injured Nizamettin Toğuç, the deputy for Batman. In March,1994, legal immunity was lifted for all the DEP members of parliament. Some escaped to Europe a few days before this happened to avoid going to prison, but some remained in the parliament building for two to three days in the belief that the police would refrain from entering parliament to detain them.
However, the police did enter the parliament, and they arrested all the DEP MPs and sent them to prison. Hatip Dicle, Orhan Doğan, Leyla Zana, and Selim Sadak remained in prison for ten years. Those who came to Europe are still here as refugees, and, like thousands of HDP politicians, Dicle and Sadak, now also have to live as refugees in Europe.
Later, other parties that were established along the same lines were closed by the Constitutional Court, and their executives and many members put in prison. And now, everyone can see the pressures that the HDP is currently facing. People elect a deputy to represent them in parliament, and, normally, parliamentarians have legal immunity while they speak, write, and organise events to address the problems of their constituents. However, if the deputy is a member of the HDP, their immunity will be lifted through a discriminatory judgment, and they will be put on trial and imprisoned for all they have said or done, including speeches made from the parliamentary rostrum.
Currently, some HDP MPs, including the former co-chairs of the party, are in prison, and most of the rest are on trial for their parliamentary activities. At the local elections people elect their mayors, but if these mayors are members of the HDP, they will be dismissed by the interior minister – without any court decision – and imprisoned, and a trustee will be appointed by the government in their place. In the previous electoral period, 98 out of 103 mayors were dismissed and replaced by trustees, and many of these are still in prison or have become refugees in exile. Since the last local elections, all except five HDP mayors have been dismissed, with many again in prison or exile.
When parties established in line with Turkish law are treated in this way after they advocate for Turkey’s democratisation and for recognition of the fundamental rights of Kurdish people, does it make sense to complain about the existence of the PKK? Kurdish people who witness this treatment will inevitably defend themselves with different methods, and sometimes with the methods that the PKK is following now. Turkey can accuse the PKK of being terrorists and can get support for this from international powers and organisations, but this will not begin to solve the underlying problem.
The HDP argues that, rather than continuing to condemn the PKK and to treat it as a terrorist organisation, the Turkish state and international powers should change the paradigm through which they approach the Kurdish Question and democracy. HDP has a clear message for the Turkish government: You can use all the advanced weapons of the world against the PKK and continue this war for many more years; you can ban the HDP just as you banned earlier parties; but this will not solve Turkey’s problems, only aggravate them.
This is how the HDP’s approach differs from that of the Turkish state and from other political parties and from international powers.
Fayik Yağızay is the HDP’s Representative at the Council of Europe.