The Kurdish movement’s gains did not come easily and must not be sacrificed

When the Turkish government dismissed 24 mayors from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) this year, debates began within the party on whether to withdraw from parliament.

While much of this discussion was well-intentioned, we know that some pushing to withdraw held an alternate agenda and bad will. The majority of those calling for a full withdrawal from parliament were unable to give any satisfying idea about what path the HDP could follow next.

It is easy to say the HDP should withdraw from parliament and local administrations, but what comes next?

What the party would do, which political line it would follow and how it could organise are the questions that need answering, and so far no answers that would persuade the HDP and its base have been provided.

It would be wrong to present a withdrawal as the only option during a critical period that has the potential to define a whole people’s standing in the legal political field. Without a good answer to what will come next, and without a model befitting this period, such a move would be inappropriate and misguided.

Most importantly, Kurdish legal politics has only come to its current position thanks to great sacrifices. Kurdish deputies have been murdered in the street, elected officials have been detained and activists and sympathisers have suffered torture.

We cannot simply ignore all of this. The municipalities we won this year were not gains made in a single election. The politicians who were elected also had long histories of struggle. This should not be forgotten when decisions are taken.

The question of what purpose a withdrawal from parliament and local administrations would serve, and who would benefit from it, should also be addressed.

A withdrawal would make the government’s job all the easier, as the HDP is the greatest obstacle in the way of a full-blown one-man dictatorship.

The other opposition parties have failed to create policies to counter this one-man rule, and in fact we must acknowledge they support the current government and lend it credence by associating it with the state’s survival. 

At the moment, the opposition parties are more preoccupied with their own internal conflicts than the country’s real political agenda. None of them have any initiatives on the country’s most significant issue that is the Kurdish question. Nor have they produced any solutions to the economic problems, violence against women, polarisation, racism or other major problems facing Turkey.

The HDP is the sole party working to create solutions, making it the country’s only opposition party. So it is obvious who would benefit most from the party’s withdrawal from parliament and local administrations.

Some could say the HDP has given the impression that democracy still exists in the country by not withdrawing. Though this idea may appear to have merit, the reality is quite the opposite.

We have been stating in every area of the legal political field that the country does not have a democracy. The moment we withdraw, we lose the ability to do so.

This is the real issue: Where are we able to talk about what is happening? Free and objective media is under severe pressure, and the mainstream press is loyal to the government. While democratic rights are being neglected and public demonstrations are barred, the HDP is striving against the odd to be the voice of the people. If we overlook this, we risk losing the spirit of struggle.

Taking all of this into account, the HDP called a press briefing last week to declare that it would not withdraw, and would instead remain on the political scene, redoubling its efforts. We must now come together to find answers for how we can follow up on our statement; how we can become stronger, press the government more effectively, and create an organisational network that extends past parliament and local councils into the broader society.

Any debates that go beyond this risk forcing Kurdish politics into a vicious circle. In any case, the foresight and experience we have gained through our principled position and years of effort and struggle is enough to transcend all obstacles.

The most obvious examples of this are the setbacks the HDP’s strategy caused for the ruling coalition. This was strikingly the case in Istanbul, which the opposition wrested from the ruling party’s grasp in this year’s local elections for the first time since 1994 thanks to the HDP’s successful policies. This example alone shows clearly the HDP’s success on the political stage in spite of all adversity.

We are obliged, though, to answer how we can carry this success on to the next stage. The HDP is the leading party in its own region, but it must strive to extend its success to Turkey’s west, too. That it has been unable to, so far, is down to the tough conditions and great pressure facing the party that has prevented it from organising in the country’s western regions.

The HDP can make even greater gains by following a broader democratising strategy across Turkey: a Democratic Republic strategy. This project is among the party’s priorities. During a period such as this, the party must place the greatest emphasis on this project and restructure its organisation accordingly.

We must create an organising network that can address the problems of workers, villagers, unemployed, young people and all parts of the opposition individually; and we must again strive to go from street to street, shop to shop and house to house to reach every segment of society, if only to listen to their problems.

We must also strive to achieve a national unity of Kurds throughout the region – there is no alternative. It is the only way to resist the assimilationist and genocidal policies directed at the Kurdish people across the Middle East. Having come so close to this unity in the recent period, we must not squander this opportunity.

We already have a history of projects aimed at fostering this unity. Now every political force and every component of civil society – women, religious scholars, opinion leaders and every other party that desires Kurdish national unity – must come together and ensure that organising in this direction takes place. We, at the HDP, must not lose a single day in carrying out this historic duty that has fallen to us.

In the March 31 local elections this year, the HDP regained the municipalities the government had taken over in 2016, replacing HDP mayors with its own appointees. The party took back municipalities that the government appointees had plundered and loaded with debt.

In just four months, while we were still working to set right that destruction, the government once again began replacing our mayors. The elected local governments were criminalised with the help of the government’s compliant media. They arrested co-mayors and councillors, enacting a fresh coup against the will of the local people.

This coup sent the message that Kurds are not accepted in the field of legal politics. Since the ruling power is intent on depriving the Kurds of all their human rights, it is natural that their right to elect and be elected is under attack.

Having dealt this coup against Kurds, the government is attempting to dissemble and lend its actions the air of legal legitimacy by calling the new administrations it has imposed on Kurdish municipalities “temporary appointments”.

We may have seen government appointees take over many of our municipalities, but we must not view those municipalities as a simple office. We have no right to restrict our gains to four walls, nor to withdraw once we lose them.

What we have achieved has never been handed to us on a silver platter. Our successes have come at great cost through unified struggle as a people. This is why we have never given up.

And we will never give up.

*Dr. Selçuk Mızraklı is the elected mayor of Diyarbakır.

© Ahval English

The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.