The following is a summary translation of an article that first appeared in Gazete Karinca on 23 October.
There have been posters of Turkish President Erdoğan up in the streets of the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakır for some time. Recently they have been accompanied by banners screaming out loud about his (23 October) visit to the city.
What stimulated the president to visit the city and speak to the citizens? Did this visit awaken excitement in the city?
Well, no. There is no appetite in Diyarbakır for hosting the president. The majority are looking forward to life in the city returning to normal. The citizens have been squeezed out by security personnel and precautions. They are waiting for him to get his business done and leave.
So, you say, won’t the conversion of the notorious Diyarbakır prison known as the “dungeon”, that symbol of the savagery of the 1980 coup, into a centre of culture create excitement?
Again, the answer is no. Because the people of Diyarbakır would prefer the Diyarbakır dungeon to be a place for confronting the facts, a resource in the establishment of a mechanism to solve the Kurdish Question.
If there were a different political climate, if the person coming were not seen as the architect of persecution, fear and apprehension, if there were progress in the Kurdish question, serious steps being taken towards solving the economic crisis and deepening unemployment, and a credible promise of justice, peace and freedom, the people of Diyarbakır might be interested. But this is not the case with the AKP and the president. So why did he go there?
Diyarbakır is the most significant city from the point of view of Kurdish history and demands. Every word a politician speaks here is a message to the Kurds, and the stance of the city indicates the Kurdish response.
Polls have indicated for some years that the AKP has been losing the Kurdish vote in particular. Many Kurdish voters have been put off since the change of policy towards the Kurdish question in 2015, the surge in nationalism following the AKP’s alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), their bringing back talk of terrorism, and their overthrow of municipal elections by the appointment of trustees to councils.
As a result, Kurdish AKP voters no longer have any political party in which to place their hopes for domestic peace and socio-economic status, and they have not found anywhere to turn to place these hopes, because of the stance of the opposition.
The AKP hopes with this visit to address these directionless Kurds. If they cannot make themselves the party to turn to, they want to stop the main opposition from becoming the party to turn to, because the Kurdish vote has become crucial to the outcome of next elections.
On the skewed playing field of the election, the president, with his visit to Diyarbakır and his words to the Kurdish electorate, is not aiming to gain their votes, but to stop the balance turning in favour of the opposition. At the same time, he avoids any appearance of taking the main opposition seriously.
So, he targets the city’s favourite, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and works to establish a populist agenda, initiating discussion of the nature of Kurdishness by asserting, in contravention of the facts, that three leading lights of the HDP are not in fact Kurdish.
In summary, rather than presenting commitments and promises of things that need to be done to gain votes, this visit is aimed at preventing votes going to the other side.
Yüksel Genç is a columnist and researcher who was imprisoned, though not convicted, between 2011-2014 in connection with her writing.