Portrait: The new co-leaders of HDP -Pervin Buldan and Sezai Temelli
Turkey's "Kurdish-issue focused" the Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) holds its party congress on 11 February 2018 inside a "pressure cooker" atmosphere. The HDP did not have it easy since their electoral debut in the 7 June 2015 elections; upon passing the 10% electoral threshold for the first as a party and their co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş declaring that "they will not let Recep TayyipErdoğan become the president".
While the party was not closed down like its predecessors, it faced even worse conditions with their co-leaders Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ and seven other MPs, as well as hundreds of members including many of its elected mayors jailed.
Today, at the party congress, two new co-leaders will be elected. There are no surprises; a special commission is set up to select candidates to replace Demirtaş and the party’s other co-leader Serpil Kemalbay has already named names: Pervin Buldan was selected as the female co-leader candidate and Sezai Temelli as her co-leader partner.
Meanwhile, prior to the HDP congress, a detention decision has been issued for Kemalbay, alongside 17 other HDP members for declaring that their opposition the "Olive Branch Operation" conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces directed towards the Syrian border town of Afrin. Kemalbay was chosen as the female co-leader after her predecessor Yüksekdağ was jailed, her parliamentary representative and party membership status was revoked.
The new HDP co-leader Pervin Buldan is currently the Deputy Parliament speaker, HDP Group Deputy Chair, and the representative of HDP elected from the easternmost border town of Iğdır.
Her future partner in party leadership, Temelli was previously a parliamentarian from Istanbul in June-November 2015. He has been serving as the deputy chairman responsible for devising the HDP's economic policy.
Of the two, Buldan represents the "pro-Kurdish" leaning of the party and Temelli, represents the "Turkish leftist" inclination.
Buldan is a "Saturday Mother" herself; a member of the group gathering every week to commemorate victims of extra-judicial killings during the military coup-era of 1980s and the state of emergency times of 1990s.
Buldan's businessperson spouse Savaş Buldan was kidnapped and killed by unknown assailants. Prior to his "disappearance", then-Prime Minister Tansu Çiller had made the following declaration on November 4, 1993:
"We have a list of Kurdish businesspeople assisting the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). The list consists of around sixty names. The state will use all means to fight those who provide financial support for the PKK, just as it fights the PKK itself."
Savaş Buldan was kidnapped by a group of security officials on June 2, 1994 in Istanbul: two days later his tortured body was found in the western Marmara town of Bolu.
Pervin Buldan herself entered politics five years later, becoming a parliamentary candidate from Istanbul in 1999 general elections; nominated by one of HDP's precursors, HADEP (People's Democracy Party). As HADEP could not pass the 10% threshold at the time, she was unsuccessful in her bid. In the 2002 general elections, she again became a parliamentary candidate from Istanbul; this time from DEHAP (Democratic People Party) as HADEP was closed down by the time. And once again, HADEP could not reach above the electoral threshold.
Finally, in the 2007 general elections, Buldan became an independent candidate as a part of the "Labor, Democracy and Freedom Bloc" supported by another precursor of HDP; Democratic Society Party (DTP). Since then, she was elected as the parliamentary representative of Iğdır in 2011 and two subsequent 2015 elections. She was the first ever female parliamentarian of the highly deprived Iğdır.
Born and raised in the southeastern town of Hakkari, bordering Iran and Iraq, Pervin Buldan was a housewife and mother in very traditional family prior to her entry into politics. Upon completing her studies at the high school, she married her cousin Savaş and relocated to Istanbul. She was barely 19 when she got married. In 1991, she gave birth to her first child; her son Neçirvan. Her second child, daughter Zelal was born on the day her husband was murdered. She mentioned once publicly that they never celebrated Zelal's birthday.
Buldan is also active in the civil society sphere; she is the founder and president of the Association of Solidarity and Assistance for the Families of Missing Persons (YAKAY-DER). In 2005, she was nominated by a Switzerland women's initiative for the Nobel Peace Prize alongside a collective of 1,000 women campaigning for political rights, the promotion of peace, health, education, the environment, children's rights and non-violence.
She aspired to be a "peace-maker" indeed. Buldan was among the key figures of the Peace Process; negotiations between the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and the Turkish state for laying down arms.
As part of the process, a team composed of another predecessor of HDP; the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) parliamentary team met almost on a weekly basis with Öcalan throughout 2013. The team, which Buldan was a member of, traveled to the prison island of İmrali, where the PKK leader is serving a life sentence.
Since then, conditions have been drastically altered as far as the Kurdish Question is concerned. Buldan herself faced several court cases, but was never detained nor arrested-yet.
Instead, she was among the few HDP parliamentarians who was "treated positively and respectfully" by the Justice and Development Party members, while serving as the deputy parliament speaker. In May 2016, the head of the parliament İsmail Kahraman alleged in a doting manner that Pervin Buldan asked for his assistance for embarking on the Hajj pilgrimage; this was a rare sympathy expressed for a HDP member by the government circles after the crackdown against the party has begun.
Contrary to Buldan's high profile, Sezai Temelli is more of an academic and had much lesser public appearances as a politician.
Temelli is born in the same year as Buldan, 1963 in Istanbul.He is a graduate of the Department of Finance of Istanbul University's Faculty of Economics and received his PhD degree at the same university.
Temelli was discharged from his position as instructor at Istanbul University's Political Science and Public Administration Department of Finance by the Statutory Decree Number 675, issued within the framework of the State of Emergency imposed in the aftermath of the 15 July 2016 failed coup attempt.
Allegedly, several other candidates considered for the co-leadership position rejected the possibility in order to avoid being perceived as "dethroning" highly popular Demirtaş; jailed since November 2016. Temelli's candidacy created a "quiet" controversy within the HDP also because his past is anchored more in left-wing politics than any tangible connection to the Kurdish Question.