Could an alternative Kurdish party succeed in Turkey? / Fehim Tastekin

Ankara’s political corridors are filled with rumors that Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is likely to split and that an alternative Kurdish party is being prepared, but many observers say a new party is unlikely.

Speculation was triggered by the recent remarks of party deputy Altan Tan, who said, “We are at a fork in the road in Kurdish politics.” He warned that if the country’s mindset of war doesn’t change and if divergent leftist, socialist and secular narratives continue, Kurds may face complicated developments.

Erdogan Toprak, deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), claimed that the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is trying to set up an Islamist Kurdish party, though others dismissed the idea.Toprak said, “The ruling party, as part of its Kurdish policy, seems determined to launch an alternative party they can control. On June 11 in Sanliurfa, it convened anti-PYD (Democratic Union Party) Kurdish political parties to reorganize regional Kurdish politics in cooperation with Massoud Barzani,” president of Iraqi Kurdistan and leader of Iraq’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). “Simultaneously, the AKP intensified its efforts to establish a Kurdish AKP that will bring together ‘believer Kurds’ in the southeast.”

It is true that there are moves in Kurdish politics seeking new partnerships between right-wingers, Islamists and socialists. One development that attracted attention was the step taken to merge the Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Turkey (T-KDP) led by Mehmet Emin Kardas. Another was the initiative to form an alliance of five Kurdish parties. But none of these moves are related to an HDP split or to an effort to set up an AKP-controlled Kurdish party.

Kurdish political spectrum

In addition to the parties already mentioned, the Kurdish political front includes:

  • KDP-North (KDP-Bakur or T-KDP): Set up in 1965, the Iraqi party operates illegally in Turkey. It is under the chairmanship of Sertac Bucak.
  • Huda-Par: This is part of the Hezbollah front that had fought against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in alliance with the state. The Huda-Par sees itself as a Kurdish party, but also as an Islamist party that promises a solution to Kurdish issue.
  • Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK): Set up under the chairmanship of Mustafa Ozcelik in 2014, the party is said to be close to Barzani.
  • Kurdistan Socialist Party (PSK): Established by Kemar Burkay in 1974, the PSK applied to the Ministry of Interior for party status in May 2016.
  • Rights and Freedoms Party (Hak-Par): This Kurdish party has the best relations with the AKP.
  • Freedom and Socialism Party (OSP): Sinan Ciftyurek leads this party, which was set up in 2011.
  • Azadi Movement: A movement by Kurdistan Islamists, this is not officially a party.
  • Kurdistani Party (PAKURD): The party, under Ibrahim Halil Baran, has no serious base. Because of its high profile in social media, it is called the “Twitter Party.”

A conference was held Feb. 6-7 in Diyarbakir with the participation of the Azadi Movement, PAK, PSK, OSP, KDP-Bakur and PAKURD. Conference attendees criticized both the PKK’s violence and the state’s “One state, one nation, one country and one flag” slogan.

Bucak of the KDP-Bakur told Al-Monitor that the goal of the conference was not to launch a single party but to form a unified front.

A serious development, described as an effort to create an alternative to the HDP, was a May 27 conference held in Diyarbakir to organize a merger between the KADEP and the T-KDP. They agreed to unite under the name of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Turkey.

Challenging the HDP

T-KDP Chairman Mehmed Emin Kardas openly declared the united parties to be the alternative to the HDP: “Our policy is nonviolent. The HDP has bypassed the Kurdish issue, and 6,000 people have died because of their mistaken policies.”

KADEP chairman Lutfi Kivanc says Kurds have given up hope on HDP policies. Until now, the AKP opted to use the influence of Barzani instead of working directly with these parties. They can be leftist or conservative, but Barzani has influence on all of these parties.

Bucak told Al-Monitor that efforts to form a unified front do not seek to weaken the HDP. “Although we may be against the HDP politically, this is not a movement against the HDP. We are not starting a new party. It would be great if Kurdish politics become pluralist. Then our HDP brothers would not be making so many mistakes.”

Saying that Kurdish politics cannot be the exclusive domain of the HDP, Bucak listed their differences, “We have an agenda for Kurdistan. We say Kurds are a nation and we should have our own status. We told the HDP that we reject the policies of trenches and combat. Kurdistan is a divided country with its largest segment in Turkey. We want to have a voice in this segment, with a federation being the minimum. “We have positive approaches to struggles in other segments of Kurdistan. In Syria, we support the ENKS-TEV-DEM partnership. Without any reservations, we are behind Barzani’s goal of independence. In Iran, we support the armed struggle of the Kurdish opposition. We believe in Turkey the question will be solved through political means.’’

Bucak spoke about relations with the AKP, saying, “We think that the question can be solved with whoever is in the government. We have no goal of toppling AKP rule.”Bucak also dismissed the reports that the AKP is about to set up an Islamist Kurdish party.

The Azadi Movement, which emerged with an Islamic outlook, works with the HDP and not the AKP.

Kurdish parties in numbers

No doubt, the nonviolent politics of Kurdish parties, other than the HDP, attract supporters. But even with the merger of two parallel parties, the KADEP and the T-KDP, it will not be easy to put together an engine that works and turn that into a party.

The vote totals received by parties help show how difficult it is to come up with an alternative. Among all the minor Kurdish parties, only the Huda-Par and the Hak-Par were able to run in the last general elections.

In the June 2015 election, the HDP got 13.1%, or 6,057,506 of the votes. In the Nov. 1 snap elections, the HDP’S tally fell to 10.7% with 5,145,688 votes. The Hak-Par got 0.23% with 109,722 votes. The Huda-Par did not participate in the November elections; in June, it had received 63,493 votes in the nine provinces in which it ran.

HDP deputy Imam Tascier told Al-Monitor it would not be surprising for the state or the AKP to try to weaken the HDP, but he has not noticed such efforts so far. Besides, he said, an alternative party isn’t feasible.

In sum, although the resentment of the HDP might have grown because of the spiral of violence, current political conditions are not conducive to establishing an alternative party. Journalist Fehim Isik has said he believes no other Kurdish political party could achieve what has been done by the HDP.

Al-Monitor – June 2016 / MESOP –