Kurds seek ‘courageous’ candidate in Turkey’s election

DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY: Bullet wounds show the location where a human rights lawyer was shot in the head during clashes in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir between Kurdish fighters and security forces in 2015.
Much of the city, inhabited by more than a million Kurds, had to be rebuilt after street battles in which Tahir Elci, president of the local bar association, died near a famous mosque.
But the wound still lingers as Turkey enters elections scheduled for June in which the main pro-Kurdish party could be ruled out.
Last year, prosecutors called for a ban on the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the third-largest party in parliament, from being accused of having “terrorist” ties.
And just last week, a top prosecutor asked judges to deprive the HDP of government funding, leaving the party’s election campaign in limbo.
“We have six million voters (in a country of 85 million people) and want a courageous candidate who supports the Kurds,” Orhan said. ayazwho was elected mayor of Diyarbakir in 2019 but was never allowed to assume his post despite winning 72% of the vote.
More than 60 other elected HDP officials also suffered the same fate, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Turkeyaccused them of being “terrorists” and appointed ruling party members to run towns and cities on their behalf.
Thousands of HDP officials and supporters are behind bars, including former party co-leader Selahattin Demirtas, an engaging speaker who was released from prison against Erdogan in the 2016 election.
Since the 1990s, nearly a dozen Kurdish parties have been banned or disbanded before prosecution.
The HDP won 12 percent of the vote in the 2018 election – part of which could be disenfranchised if the party is banned in June.
The government accuses the party of having an “organic” relationship with PKKa militia whose decades-long insurgency has been labeled a “terrorist” organization by Washington and the European Union.
The Turkish military has launched air strikes against the PKK and its Kurdish allies in northern Iraq and Syria in response to a November bombing that killed six people in central Istanbul.
“These terrorism charges serve to criminalize the HDP,” Ayaz said.
“The PKK is a popular movement born of the pressure the Kurds are under. It doesn’t fall from the sky,” he added.
“We want a political solution. The military path is not a solution, but you need a democratic system to silence the gun.”
The vote of the Kurds, often described as the world’s largest nation without a state, was decisive in Turkey’s previous close elections.
But Ayaz warned that the Kurds “will not support a side that does not support us”.
Erdogan’s Muslim-derived AKP, in power since 2002, won 30% of the vote in Diyarbakir in 2018.
“The Kurds will not vote for their enemies,” warned an unnamed local businessman.
“But they can stay neutral, and that’s enough for Erdogan to prevail.”
Analyst Mesut Azizoglu said both the government and opposition parties fear being too closely aligned with the Kurds ahead of the vote.
“Governments – all governments, from the beginning of the republic to this day – are afraid of the Kurds and all their policies are based on this fear,” said the research group president of the Center for American Studies. Research Society Tigris (Ditam) said.
“Our message is: Don’t be afraid, we don’t want to separate from Turkey,” said Azizoglu, a Kurd.
“But opposition leaders also don’t want to be seen with the Kurds, and their silence helps Erdogan,” he said.
Abdullah ZeytunA 34-year-old lawyer with the Human Rights Association in Diyarbakir, fears rising tensions during the election campaign.
“This government does not tolerate the slightest criticism,” said Zeytun, who has found himself embroiled in more than a dozen political lawsuits.
Huseyin Beyoglu, the government-appointed acting mayor of Diyarbakir, aka kayyum, disagrees.
“There has never been a Kurdish problem in Turkey, and certainly not in Diyarbakir,” he said, welcoming “competition between the parties”.
But Naci Sapan, a veteran journalist for the daily Tigris, is pessimistic.
“If we compare today with the 1980s, it is worse in every way: economic, social, political,” he said.
“Today, journalists or citizens, we have no chance to defend our rights,” he said, placing his hopes on young Kurds, who will vote for the first time next year. .
“They are the ones most affected by government policy, that policy should motivate them. They are the engine of change,” he said.


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