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Giran Özcan
May 09 2019

Are the Kurds cutting a deal with Erdoğan?

Turkey’s March 31 local elections gave a narrow victory to the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) in Turkey's biggest city Istanbul ending 25 years of control by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its Islamist predecessors.

My party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), did not contest these elections. Instead, we urged our supporters to take a principled stance against the authoritarian quagmire the country has been moving towards under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his alliance with the darkest forces in Turkey’s political domain. 

When CHP mayoral candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu was handed his mazbata, a paper that formally granted him the mandate as city mayor, crowds cheered every time he mentioned the HDP in an emotive speech. Without discrediting İmamoğlu’s inclusive and reconciliatory campaign, everyone listening to him that day was still well aware of the HDP’s contribution to the AKP’s defeat. 

However, Erdoğan and Istanbul’s AKP establishment immediately pushed for the electoral authorities to annul the Istanbul voting, citing what they said were irregularities in the appointment of ballot box officials.

Perhaps inevitably, Erdoğan got his wish. On Monday, the High Election Council (YSK) ruled seven to four in favour of the AKP, calling for a new vote. The move was widely acknowledged as the latest example of Erdoğan’s authoritarian impulses. It was also decried as a blow to Turkey’s so-called “democratic foundation”— one that, to the Kurds and oppressed segments of Turkish society, has always stood on shaky ground.  

But in the few hours before the expected YSK statement, something else happened that temporarily occupied the headlines: the lawyers of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), read out a letter they had received after their visit to the island on May 2nd— something the government had arbitrarily and illegally blocked for eight years. 

In an April 22 report, Turkey’s Human Rights Association said that at least 3,000 prisoners in 92 jails across Turkey were on hunger strike to demand the end of Öcalan’s isolation. In his letter, Öcalan called on the hunger strikers not to take their actions to a point that threatens their health or results in death.

He also called for a "democratic negotiation" between Turkey and the Kurds, and expressed his continued commitment to the “Newroz 2013 statement” in which he had outlined his approach to the then-promising peace process. 

One would think that any development that could potentially lead to the solution of a conflict that has claimed almost 50,000 lives and spanned the best part of four decades would be met with nothing but joy. However, this celebration lasted only until the YSK announced its decision to annul the Istanbul mayoral contest and set a new election for June 23. Suddenly, electoral arithmetic in Istanbul was more important than a development that had thousands of people on hunger strike, including our member of parliament Leyla Güven — who has been starving herself for 183 days! 

Unashamedly, the questions of the day became: Will the HDP and AKP cut a deal in which Istanbul is gifted to the AKP and the Kurds get a peace process in return? Will the Kurds sell out the CHP and İmamoğlu? Are the Kurds going to gift Istanbul to the AKP?

The Kurdish people have been massacred, assimilated, suppressed and disenfranchised since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. This is what we all know as the Kurdish question. There is arguably no community in Turkey that is more existentially invested in the democratisation of the country and, conversely, none more existentially threatened by its authoritarian downturn. 

The Kurds owe no one anything. But they are owed respect, dignity and justice for their own struggle against a state that has oppressed them for almost a century, for their contribution to the democratisation of the Republic of Turkey, and for their wider resistance against authoritarianism across the region. 

If this reality were open to give-and-take negotiation, then close to 6,000 members of the HDP - including our former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yuksekdağ - would not be behind bars today. 

The Kurds want nothing more than a resolution to the Kurdish question, a dignified end to the conflict between the PKK and the state (public support for the peace process was at 81 percent), and the freedom of all political prisoners – what the opposition thinks about these questions is the more important for the future of Turkey. But the Kurds also know that all of this is only possible through the real democratisation of Turkey and a redefinition of the republic. 

Therefore, though the questions listed above are shameful and unfounded and answering them may inadvertently be legitimising them, here they are: no, no, and no. 

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