Today 12th September, poignantly on the anniversary of the 1980 military coup in Turkey, we are speaking to Hişyar Özsoy MP from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Foreign Relations Commission about the struggles for democracy of the People’s Democratic Party and the critical upcoming Turkish elections. Presidential and parliamentary elections are expected to be held in Turkey on 18 June 2023, just 9 months away, or if a snap election were to be held, even sooner.
After earning his B.A. in Sociology from Boğaziçi University, Hişyar Özsoy carried out graduate studies in cultural anthropology at the University of Texas in Austin. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in 2004 and 2010, respectively. Between 2011 and 2015, Mr Özsoy worked as an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Michigan-Flint, teaching courses in political sociology, political anthropology, social theory, as well as courses on Middle Eastern cultures, histories and politics.
Mr. Özsoy was elected to the Turkish parliament on 7 June, 2015 first representing his home town of Bingol. As an MP of Diyarbakir since June 2018, Mr Özsoy is also a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Since February 2016, he has been serving as deputy chair of HDP responsible for foreign affairs.
The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) embodies and holds the collective memory and collective struggle for democracy in Turkey and of course a strong advocate for a peaceful and political resolution of the Kurdish question in Turkey.
Haluk Gerger, a Turkish political sociologist often used the phrase many years ago in the 1990’s, that ‘The Kurdish Promise is Peace and Democracy in Turkey’, even before the first openly Kurdish politicians entered the Turkish parliament.
If I may, I would just like to briefly try to place the HDP in it’s historical context in this long line of democratic political struggle.
HDP is the latest in a long line of parties committed to struggle peacefully for that promise for peace and democracy and a solution to the Kurdish question. They have consequently faced substantial political repression going back to the People’s Labour Party or HEP, one of the first of what we tend to call ‘pro Kurdish’ parties who openly began to talk about the need for democracy and a political peaceful solution to the Kurdish question in Turkey, that had claimed hundreds of thousands of lives since the establishment of the modern Turkish state, and seen the displacement of millions of Kurdish people from their lands driven to western cities in Turkey and further afield into exile. A time when it was even more difficult to speak openly about the Kurdish issue and Turkey’s forced assimilation polices or what is known euphemistically as the ‘Kurdish reality’ in Turkey.
So it was People’s Labour Party (HEP), established in 1990, that was the first. HEP politicians tactically joined the Social Democrat Party (SHP) for Turkey’s 1991 general elections, and gained 22 seats in the Turkish Grand Assembly which included the famous Kurdish politician, Leyla Zana and her colleagues. HEP was banned in 1993.
The next party, the Freedom and Democracy Party (OZDEP) was short-lived and banned in 1993.
The Democracy Party (DEP) from 1993/94, also included Leyla Zana. She famously finished her parliamentary oath in Kurdish during this time. She said, “I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people”, and for that innocent line, she and her colleagues including Hatip Dicle, Sirri Sakik and Orhan Dogan were sentenced to 15 years in jail. DEP was banned.
People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) was the first party to openly participate in elections under their name in 1995 and 1999 but didn’t manage to reach the 10% threshold that was designed after the 1980 military coup to keep Kurdish parties out of the Turkish parliament, but HADEP did win many local councils in the Kurdish south east and was subsequently banned in 2003.
Next, in 2002, it was the Democratic People’s Party (DEHAP), that despite receiving over 3 million votes wasn’t able to enter the parliament because of the 10% threshold.
DEHAP then merged with Democratic Society Party (DTP and in 2007 candidates ran as independents and secured 22 seats in the assembly. In the 2009 local elections, the DTP won local councils and the offices of mayor in 100 cities and towns in the Kurdish region. The party was then banned by Turkey’s Constitutional Court on December 11, 2009.
The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) was created in 2008, before the DTP was closed, and many Kurdish MPs joined. BDP candidates ran independently as well, and the party secured 36 seats in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. Of course it was then banned in 2014.
And so, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) was founded in 2012 and is now the third-largest party in the Turkish parliament, receiving almost six million votes, which if translated to include family members who are not eligible to vote, accounts for up to around 15-20 million people. The HDP received some 13 percent of the votes in the June 7, 2015 elections and gained 80 seats in parliament, breaking a record and causing a hung parliament, denying Erdoğan the majority he needed.
The days, weeks and months that followed saw attempts by the government to criminalise the HDP but the party still managed to get over the 10 percent threshold in the Nov. 1, 2015 elections that followed, and around 60 MPs for HDP entered the Turkish parliament. In 2018 HDP again received around 12% of the vote, gaining 67 MPs.
Out of the 65 HDP mayors elected to local councils in 2019, I think there are just two or three still left in their post after their councils were stolen by government appointed ‘trustees’. Over 15 thousand HDP members/activists have been detained and many thousands imprisoned, facing fabricated charges in what amounts to mass internment without trial and political persecution on an industrial scale.
2023 will see the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the modern Turkish state. Erdoğan is threatening the Kurds in Northeastern Syria known as Rojava with a full scale invasion, invading in Southern Kurdistan or Northern Iraq, threatening an invasion of Greece, and also threatening to close HDP in the ongoing so called ‘Kobane trials’ as his popularity falls in the polls. Again, Erdoğan stokes racism and hatred to gain the extreme right wing nationalist vote.
The next election in Turkey is expected in June 2023 in this hostile and repressive environment, and is obviously going to be a critical election and represent some serious challenges for HDP.
Hişyar Özsoy shared his thoughts on HDP’s political strategy and vision for the people of Turkey in this election and explained the various alliances for the parliamentary and presidential elections, including the HDP’s alliance called the Labour and Freedom Alliance.
Mr Özsoy spoke about the conditions of the many thousands of HDP’s political prisoners in Turkey, including the many hundreds of sick and seriously ill prisoners giving the example of the Kurdish politician, Aysel Tuğluk, and the continuing isolation suffered by the imprisoned Kurdish leader, Abdullah Öcalan.
Lastly Mr Özsoy explained how the Kurdish and Turkish people living in exile in Europe and beyond can contribute to the HDP and Labour and Freedom Alliance electoral campaign in the 2023 election, or snap election if that happens before.
Please listen to the podcast for the whole interview.