New Pro-Kurdish Party in Turkey Hopes to Unite Opposition

By Selin Caglayan  – 7-11-2013 – RUDAW – ISTANBUL, Turkey – Turkey’s newly-emerged People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which was reportedly formed at the suggestion of the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, is out to change the Turkish political scene.

As an umbrella party for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and with hopes of collecting all leftist groups under its wing, the HDP aims to win over voters from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in upcoming local and parliamentary elections.

“The HDP can take the votes of the CHP, which has been pretty unsuccessful as an opposition party and has no policy at all to come to power,” said Bircan Yorulmaz, a member of the new party’s assembly. “Many people voted for the CHP out of necessity because of lack of an alternative,” said Yorulmaz, whose party wants to fill what it sees as a vacuum in Turkey’s political left. She believes that a peace process currently under way between the PKK and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), together with the weeks-long Gezi Park Protests that began in Istanbul last May before spreading nationwide and unnerving the AKP, have transformed Turkey’s political landscape.

“The people will vote for the HDP and its approach, which is to govern with people for people,” she told Rudaw, speaking on behalf of the party. She did not, however, rule out an election alliance with the CHP on condition it is transparent, open and direct.

The BDP will enter the local elections in March 2014 in 21 provinces in eastern and southeastern Turkey, while the HDP will appeal for votes in the western parts of Turkey. The BDP and HDP plan to merge before the 2015 parliamentary elections.

The CHP reportedly is getting about 60 percent of its votes from Alevis, and HDP is out to change that. The presence of many Alevis in the HDP, including Yorulmaz and party chairwoman Sabahattin Tuncel, has led to allegations in the Turkish media that the party was founded by Ocalan especially to get the Alevi votes. Yorulmaz emphasized that among Alevis there are Kurds, Turks, Armenians, Lazuris, Sunnis, social democrats, Islamists, socialists and people with various sexual orientations. At pains to show itself as the “pluralist” party that is missing in Turkish politics, the HDP has set aside a 10 percent quota for LGBT individuals, and 50 percent for women.

“The HDP is the party of all the people and their beliefs, all the suppressed and discriminated that are living in this country,” Yorulmaz claimed.

“For so many years it (CHP) has been taking the votes especially of the Alevis, social democrats, the left and the socialists with the argument that the vote should not be divided.  Yet, the CHP is still continuing to deny the rights to those people by not fulfilling its responsibility as the main opposition party,” Yorulmaz said.

The HDP has already become the fifth political party inside the Turkish parliament, after former BDP deputies Ertugrul Kurkcu, Sırrı Sureyya Onder and Sebahat Tuncel, together with independent Levent Tuzel, joined the party. An intense competition between the CHP and the HDP is expected during the local elections in Istanbul. The HDP will likely nominate Onder for the critical metropolitan mayorship race. Onder became extremely popular during the massive anti-AKP Gezi Park protests by being in the frontlines.  The HDP, which closely connected itself with the Gezi protests, expects to get the votes of the Gezi masses and their supporters.

Muhsin Kızılkaya, a prominent Kurdish author and journalist and one of the “Wise Men” assigned by the AKP government to explain the peace process with the PKK to the public, believes that what the HDP is proposing is already on offer by the BDP. Prominent Kurd and Islamist BDP deputy Altan Tan has also criticized the HDP.  “The HDP project, which was supposed to embrace all liberal democrats — Muslim democrats and the majority of the Kurdish people — has shrunk into a project limited to the marginal Turkish left,” he charged.

Leftist circles in Turkish politics still remain wary of the HDP, mainly for what they see as Ocalan’s influence over it. Many are unwilling to see it as an umbrella for the opposition to gather under. “We have to wait to see how the HDP will affect the politics in Turkey, yet at the moment I can’t see that it is creating a synergy” among the opposition, said Dogan Tılıc, a columnist and  co-founder of the leftist and socialist daily Bırgun.

“It can be seen as a step forward for the Kurdish movement, but will it be able to become a Turkish party, or like the HDP remain a Kurdish party?” Tilic questioned.

He stressed that the opponents of the AKP have to cooperate during the elections in order to roll back the ruling party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “There should be a broad leftist coalition from social democrats to socialists, including the Kurdish movement. I think this is the real message of Gezi,” Tilic said. “The right thing to do — instead of arrogant discussion over who is dividing whose vote – is to get united against the AKP.”

– See more at: