by Ambra Visentin 

With almost five months to go before the next parliamentary and presidential elections, the Turkish government is moving to eliminate the competition. In the crosshairs is the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which the government aims to disband.  The left-wing pro-Kurdish party, supported by six million voters, remains an influential party and therefore poses a real threat. There are in fact 12 to 15 million Kurds in the country, which threatens to make the current ruling formation, the Islamo-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), lose the game.

Many Kurds voted for Erdogan at the beginning of his ‘reign’ and the peace process he initiated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in 2013 also brought him great support. But since the end of the peace process in 2015, Erdogan has taken a hard line against the HDP, which has made him ineligible for many Kurds. A reversal is hardly possible for Erdogan because he is allied with the ultra-nationalist MHP (Nationalist Action Party), which has since indirectly set the tone for Kurdish politics. A growing injustice has been felt by the Kurdish population in recent years during which more than 60 pro-Kurdish HDP mayors have been deposed and replaced by pro-government administrators, the so-called ‘kayyum’, while former president Selahattin Demirtas and many other Kurdish politicians have been in jail for years. The HDP is currently banned. In June 2021, the Turkish Prosecutor General initiated legal action against the party, accusing it of being ‘organically linked to terrorism’, meaning the PKK, a charge rejected by the party leaders.

Last Friday, a court order temporarily froze the party’s account for aid payments. Moreover, anticipating a probable suspension or closure, the Constitutional Court decided on Thursday to deprive the formation of state aid. This year, the state was supposed to grant the HDP 539 million Turkish liras (27 million euro), a third of which was due by 10 January. In Diyarbakir, south-eastern Turkey, the notorious Prison No.5 closed its doors two months ago by decision of the Ministry of Justice. An act seen as eminently political in view of the elections.

Part of the opposition united to form the Table of Six, and together they could gain a majority in the elections. However, the pro-Kurdish HDP was not invited to the table. On the one hand, the six party leaders fear being branded as supporters of terrorism by Erdogan. On the other hand, because of the nationalist agenda of some parties at the table. For its part, the HDP formed its own ‘Alliance for Work and Freedom’ together with five left-wing parties in the summer. At the weekend, HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan also announced that his party would probably present its own candidate in the presidential elections. At the same time, he left an opening for negotiations on a common candidate with the rest of the opposition.

The Table of Six has not yet presented a candidate. Bulvan’s statement can therefore also be read as an appeal to the opposition table to present an electable candidate for the Kurds. These are two politicians in particular: opposition and CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on the one hand and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu on the other. Imamoglu came to power in 2019 thanks to the many votes of the Kurdish electorate.

Many Kurds complain that the opposition wants their votes but does little for their interests. “The unlimited credit we granted at the table of six is gradually running out,” warned HDP deputy leader Tayip Temel on Sunday. To have a chance of winning, the alliance will have to find the courage to also stand up for the interests of the Kurds.


Cover image: Pervin Buldan, © HDP on Flickr