Turkey goes to the polls on November 1st. This will be the second General Election this year but it is no ordinary contest. Turkey is effectively at war. The Green and the Left Party of the Future/Yesiller ve Sol Gelecek Partisi (YSGP), which is a member of the European Green Party, has joined with others on the left to support the HalklarınDemokratikPartisi/People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Yet there are increasing fears that a free and fair election will be impossible. A peace rally in Ankara was bombed on 10th October and many suspect at best state incompetence and, at worst, actual collusion with the bombers.
The world was shocked by the bomb attack on a peace rally in Ankara on 10th October, the worst terrorist outrage in the country’s history. The rally called for an end to the recent resumption of hostilities between the Turkish state and the Kurdish PKK. The HDP, founded by both Kurdish and Turkish activists, has campaigned strongly for peace. 128 individuals were killed in the horrific attack; these included member of the Green and Left Party and a number of HDP candidates. Green Parties across Europe have sent motions of condolence to the HDP and Green and Left Party.
The exact moment when two bombs went off was, tragically, the occasion of a traditional dance for peace, the halay.
“The halay. A simple dance. It is equality. It is equality because anyone can participate — young and old, Turkish and American, Kurdish and Armenian. It’s equality because it is a circle: no one dominates. It is equality because it can be danced to any music. It is free. You can come and go as you please, and no one is excluded. It’s equality because everyone links their pinky fingers together joining for a moment in harmony.”
The attack was one of many bombings of Kurdish and peace events in recent months. During the previous Turkish General Election, the Green Party of England and Wales sent one of our members, the photographer Sean Hawkey, as part of a team of election observers. He witnessed first-hand a bomb attack in Diyarbakir in the South East of the country. The bombing of a socialist youth delegation in Suruc, a few weeks later, led to the resumption of hostility by the PKK who had been on truce for many years.
Nationalist mobs have in recent weeks been committing arson against HDP offices and attacking members of the Party. The Turkish state has been fighting an increasingly bitter war on the PKK and besieging Kurdish towns in Turkey. Little of this seems to attract the attention of the mainstream media in most European countries. In recent years the Turkish government has made numerous attempts to limit human rights that have affected all communities in the country. The protests in Taksim Gezi Park, against the destruction of a green space in Ankara in 2013, mobilised millions of people with demonstrations across Turkey and an Occupy style camp. The protests were brutally put down with 5,000 people being injured and 11 killed. The Turkish leader Erdogan’s rule, first as Prime Minister and then President, during the last 13 years, has seen an increasing turn to authoritarianism.
The background to both the Ankara bombing and the 1st November General Election is complex. There has been a long conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurdish community. Erdogan’s ambitions complicate matters and into the mix comes the spectre of ISIS, who are being fought against by Kurds in Syria and Iraq.
The conflict between the Turkish state and the Kurds, resembles, at least in its bitterness, the conflict between Israel and Palestine, or Britain and Ireland in the past. Kurds have often been dismissed, their language repressed and Kurdish political leaders arrested. The PKK, founded in 1974, embraced a Marxist-Leninist doctrine and in 1984 started a liberation struggle for national self-determination and an independent Kurdistan. Recent years have seen strong attempts to make peace, with Erdogan initially being seen as a source of change in Turkish state attitudes. The PKK, led by the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan, has come to reject nationalism and sought increasing inspiration from notions of confederalism.
The Turkish electoral system has a threshold of 10%, which many believe is aimed to exclude Kurds from electing members of parliament. Kurdish electoral organisations have often been suppressed in the past. While supported by Kurds, the HDP has attracted diverse communities including Alevi, Armenians, Roma and Turks. It is also been an advocate of feminism, LGBT rights and, of course, Green politics. Most significant groups on the left support it, and in the June election it broke through the 10% barrier, gaining 13% of the vote and electing a bloc of parliamentarians.
One might have thought that the move from traditional nationalism and the creation of a successful political party including Kurds and other communities would have accelerated peace in Turkey. This, sadly, was not the case because, as most commentators argued, it upset the plans of Erdogan for constitutional change. Erdogan had hoped to gain a new absolute majority at the June General Election for his Justice and Development Party (AKP), which would have massively increased their power. For the first time in 13 years, the AKP lost its absolute majority, partly as a result of the entry of the HDP into the Turkish parliament. A bruised Erdogan has become increasingly frustrated and it seems that he had hoped to use conflict with the PKK as a way of boosting the electoral popularity of the AKP, so as to win a new majority in a second election.
The Suruc bombing and other acts of violence against the Kurdish community led the PKK to resume attacks, and Erdogan in turn has launched hundreds of Turkish air force bombing raids on PKK camps in Iraq. The irony of these bombings is only obscured by the horror of thousands of lost lives. Ironic because as part of peace moves the PKK moved their camps into Iraq from Turkey, tragically ironic because the PKK and other Kurdish fighters have been the most successful opponents of the so-called Islamic State or Daesh in the Middle East.
Erdogan’s attempt to transform Turkey from Kemalist secularism to a form of political Islam mixed with neo-liberalism is a different vision from that of Daesh, but there is an increasing suspicion that the Turkish state tolerates the so-called Islamic State as they target the Kurds. In Turkey the Kurdish population are mainly found in the South East of the country, to the south is the autonomous Syrian region of Rojava. During the Syrian civil war, the largely but not exclusively Kurdish population of three cantons bordering Turkey declared autonomy and embarked on a democratic experiment creating a self-governing, feminist and ecological political structure. Rojava was attacked by Daesh and in the winter of 2014 the city of Kobane was under siege. The Turkish state opposed support for Rojava but eventually, with US military support, the siege was lifted and the Kurds in Rojava have proved to be successful in combating ISIS. Erdogan eventually agreed to fight ISIS, but Turkey’s air force have almost exclusively attacked the PKK and threaten Rojava too.
The HDP, and indeed the experiment in Rojava, are inspired by green politics. Their practices, from women-led community armed forces in Rojava, to the inclusion of 50% women and 10% LGBT general election candidates for the HDP, are inspiring. The HDP’s manifesto that reflects a politics based on inclusion is innovative, reflecting the best of Green Parties and the new politics of those like Syriza and Podemos. The HDP, Syriza and Podemos all look to link parties with social movements and to cooperate rather than compete with other political parties with similar aims. Opinion polls indicate little movement in the figures from the June General Election with the AKP on 41%, main opposition CHP on 27%, the far right MHP on 15% and HDP on 12.6%.
While electoral success for the HDP looks likely, the context is extremely grim. Turkey needs to move away from polarisation and conflict, this sadly doesn’t seem as yet to be happening. The PKK restored their truce in the wake of the Ankara bombing but Erdogan’s forces have continued to bomb PKK camps and Kurdish citizens remain under siege in many cities. Monica Frassoni, Co-Chair of the European Green Party, has recently noted that a series of measures including the closing of polling stations and the arrest of political activists, including Greens, is a threat to a fair election on 1st November. Greens across Europe must show solidarity to our friends in Turkey whatever happens on 1st November.