Sancar: “Destroying HDP is destroying any hope for peace”

Mithat Sancar, a Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) member of parliament for the southeastern province of Mardin, evaluated Turkey's Kurdish policy and the 2019 elections for Ahval.

First of all, I want to start with the situation of detained parliamentarians from your party. How is their health, especially that of party co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş? Do you ever hear from them?

No one from our party has been given the chance to visit our detained representatives. The Justice Ministry does not allow us to communicate with them directly. (HDP member of parliament) Pervin Buldan was the last person to get permission to visit (detained representatives at) Sincan prison. She visited (parliamentary party group leader) Idris Baluken and (parliamentarian) Burcu Çelik there. They were in good health and spirit. We mostly communicate with Selahattin Demirtaş and our other detained deputies through their lawyers.

I saw one of (Demirtaş's) lawyers on Thursday. I was told that he is also in good health and has strong morale. He is following developments closely. Of course, he is also aware that we are going through difficult times, but his lawyers say that he really is alright. So, he is both resolute and resilient.

There is an extensive transformation in the region that started right after the general elections. So, what is happening in the eastern provinces of Turkey?

The government has been undertaking an unprecedented operation in the region over the last two years. Right now, about 90 municipalities have been placed under trusteeship. If you visit the area, there are military and police checkpoints everywhere. Quite honestly, this points to a very troubling situation. This, of course, has caused both destruction and fraction. Repairing this damage may well take a long time.

The trustees operate like provincial administrators. In many places, corruption and favouritism abound. In other words, in both governance and justice, there is almost an apparent dichotomy between the Eastern part of the country and the Western regions.

It is a remarkable picture in for a government that keeps talking about “unity”.

But we keep working under these circumstances despite all the obstacles. HDP is under tremendous pressure. We are talking about a party where both co-chairs are in prison.

You said that conditions were dire in the region. It seems like after the collapse of the Dolmabahçe peace conference of early 2015, once again we are at a dead end. Well, what is the reason for this deadlock?

It is crucial to determine when exactly the “peace process” ended. The Dolmabahçe Meeting was a significant turning point, it was an historic opportunity.

If we had been able to reach an agreement there, we would be living in an entirely different country right now. About a month after the Dolmabahçe talks, Erdoğan said that he would not recognise the negotiations. He probably thought that it was not politically worthwhile.

But it was the Kurdish side that made significant sacrifices for the peace process. It was the Kurdish side who were more determined and persistent in bringing peace.

When Erdoğan realised that his party was not going to be able to win a majority, let alone winning a big enough majority to change the constitution, he reversed the process.

All the while, the government's Syria policy was collapsing. Mostly due to Syrian Kurds fighting against ISIS (Islamic State) alongside coalition forces. That is when the government decided to take the country hostage through security politics and safety concerns.

The HDP was criticised by various circles during the peace process. Looking at it today, do you think that the Kurdish side made mistakes?

When we look back, we see that there are areas where the peace process could have been managed better. Despite being an academic at the time, I was involved in the process. The HDP worked hard and achieved many good things. But they failed at creating a sense of ownership of the process in society. In other words, the sense of ownership was more tentative. The process had a lot of support from the public but not to the point of taking risks and withstanding threats.

You said societal ownership, can you explain what you mean by that?

I mean much more than societal ownership; something complex and multidimensional. In other words, rather than preceding the peace talks with declarations of intentions, turning the whole process into a social movement that the public could take ownership of.

Now we are in a situation where the peace process has failed, both due to the actions of the government and our failure to organise the process into a social movement, and there is serious polarisation in the country nurtured by the ruling party's rhetoric.

Mithat Sancar

So, what’s next for Kurdish politics? Do you have a plan or a strategy to organise the process into a social movement?

Peace, democracy, and freedom require patience in a democratic movement. Therefore, we will have to keep fighting patiently; we don't have the luxury to surrender to the facts on the ground, even when conditions are as dire as they are now. Hence, HDP must assume this responsibility, and we acknowledge that.

If we are going to have another peace process, we must take the experience of these three years into consideration. 'Peace' is a multi-faceted, comprehensive issue, so it is necessary to evaluate all the possibilities within democratic politics, not just negotiating with the government.

Our responsibilities are substantial, and our burden is essential. I can say this without hesitation; the HDP is the most important safeguard of peace in Turkey right now. Trying to destroy the HDP means destroying all prospects of peace.

The government has so far been very successful in suppressing the HDP. Moreover, the anti-Kurdish policies inside Turkey and in the Middle East seem almost to be the only common denominator holding the present AKP–MHP (ruling Justice and Development Party–Nationalist Movement Party) coalition together. The CHP (Republican People’s Party) also supported the government at all critical points, not just over the removal of representatives' immunities.

You talked about anti-Kurdish politics. How do you evaluate the president's polarising speeches, especially since some speculate that there might be snap elections?

Their electoral math is simple, a significant part of Turkey's electorate is conservative, and AKP uses ethnic polarisation to keep their Sunni-conservative-nationalist axis intact.

In all previous elections, except for the June 7 elections (where the AKP did not achieve a parliamentary majority), this strategy worked. But recently this has begun reflecting an ideological preference rather than an electoral choice.

The most significant danger here is the building up of dangerous energy along the tension and conflict fault lines.

Along those fault lines, what do you think about the election threshold? It has been said that HDP lost its influence and power after the June 7th elections.

We have been against the election threshold from the beginning. Anyway, everyone knows that the purpose of the (10 percent) threshold was to block the Kurdish political movement.

But we received 11 percent of the vote under quite asymmetrical circumstances. We do not have a threshold problem.  But it seems the MHP does.

The existence of the election threshold creates an anti-democratic environment. For this reason, we are against it.

You said that the CHP assisted the government in some of its anti-democratic decisions. Despite this, do you think an alliance with the CHP or the Good Party would be possible?

The party commissions are evaluating all these possibilities. But I personally think that it is too early to worry about possible alliances.

We know that during the referendum there were some voting problems and voter suppression in the Eastern provinces. Again, there were reports of some suspicious 'yes' votes from the same part of the country. Do you have any preparations for the 2019 elections, given this?

We are aware of the possibility of a snap election and are organising accordingly. It is no secret that we had to compete on very uneven terms in the presidential referendum.

Thousands of our provincial and district officials in the region were arrested before the elections. A significant proportion of our poll observers were detained.

But the region is not experiencing these problems and difficulties for the first time. We have managed to work under even harsher conditions. I'm talking about a tradition and accumulation that survived the political climate of the 90s. We feel confident but we will not rely on confidence alone.