A Turkey without Kurds: Reforms to deform democracy

Last week the parliamentary membership of HDP MP Gergerlioğlu was revoked. On the same day, a suit was filed in attempt to shut the People's Democratic Party (HDP) down entirely. This is the modern version of the antiquated dream of a “Turkey without Kurds.” The primary motivations of these political moves are to sustain the power of the ruling coalition, appease the coalition’s Islamist-racist electorate, and prevent the HDP’s predominantly Kurdish electorate from voting for the opposition.

A number of significant changes to Turkish politics were executed last week: First of all, the parliamentary membership of Kocaeli deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu was revoked in the general assembly of parliament. Gergerlioğlu is a deputy of the minority-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Subsequently, a suit was filed against the HDP in an attempt to shut the party down.

This is the modern version of the antiquated dream of a “Turkey without Kurds” and another attempt at securing that dream as many others have tried to do before. This pattern of reforms to deform democracy is continuing full speed ahead.

Where will the HDP electorate go?

This new illegal development is similar to the government’s pattern of imprisoning influential politicians, seizing municipal powers with elected mayors, trying to repress the HDP in every area of public space, and criminalizing the party’s activities. The gist of the issue is can be summed up in a question that has been appearing often in the government’s media outlets even before the latest developments: “Where will the HDP voters land?”

It was as if the pro-government political commentators knew the outcome of the court case before even the Chief Public Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals did. The third biggest party in Turkey, HDP, was to be shut down and its six million voters, which make up more than the 10 percent of the general electorate, do not know where they will reposition themselves. Nevertheless, these television psychics knew everything!

What’s an HDP voter to do?

This primary political motivation of this move to ban the HDP is to sustain the rule of the two parties which make up the ruling coalition in the government; The far-right parties founded on political Islam and racist nationalism. The aim is partly to appease the coalition’s Islamist-racist electorate and to prevent them from scattering. An additional aim is to prevent the HDP’s predominantly Kurdish electorate from voting for the opposition.

The HDP voters are expected to be less than supportive of the opposition parties which are not opposing this government attempt to shut down their party of choice. When their party leaders and executives are put in jail, when they cannot control their own municipalities, and when terrorism becomes the master key used to shut down their party, they are unlikely to look favorably upon anyone who did not oppose such action.

How can such a voter be eager to protect the ballot box when their own party is banned from existence? How can such a voter be motivated to support the main-opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which condoned such a violation of the constitution which led to the imprisonment of many influential HDP politicians like Demirtaş, Yüksekdağ, Kışanak, Tuncel, Baluken, and Kaya? How could this voter support the opposition İYİ Party (Good Party), whose stance on the Kurdish issue is not clearly known by anyone?

During the local elections, the CHP won in both Istanbul and Ankara by a landslide victory. Even the HDP politicians in jail supported the opposition’s candidates. Even the former co-chair of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtaş, was able to motivate his electorate from prison to vote for the opposition candidates.

In memory of the ECHR

To presume that shutting down a political party will result in the government’s desired outcome is not a new expectation. Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party (RP) was shut down under similar conditions. I deliberately mentioned the RP because its former members constitute the majority of the Islamist section of the current ruling-coalition. The closure of Kurdish parties is also not new. There is a long tradition, starting with the People’s Labor Party (HEP), followed by the Democracy Party (DEP), the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP), and the Democratic Society Party (DTP).

A new nail in parliament’s coffin

Another reason for the HDP closure is to be free of HDP MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu. These decisions were made on the same day for this reason. The judicial-political conspiracy against Gergerlioğlu constitutes a new nail on parliament’s coffin and the news of HDP closure just hours after indicates that revoking Gergerlioğlu’s deputyship is not sufficient to get rid of him. Gergerlioğlu’s protest in the parliament disturbed the government greatly.

This discomfort was evident when former footballer Alpay Özalan physically attacked Gergerlioğlu. Özalan’s colleagues restrained him because the chief prosecutor’s decision to withdraw Gergerlioğlu from parliament was set to arrive soon.

The illegal ousting of Gergerlioğlu and the process to shut down the HDP are two sides of the same coin. What makes Gergerlioğlu so important and a threat in the eyes of the government the same thing that makes the HDP important and threatening.

Gergerlioğlu is unbearable to the Islamist and ultra-nationalist coalitions in government, not only because he consistently fights for human rights, but because he keeps the government’s problematic approach to violence rights abuses on the agenda. Gergerlioğlu has become a whipping boy for the Islamist’s political struggles. He counters the autocratic mentality that seeks to make inequality and separatism the norm. That retired footballer embodied the rage within the nationalist-Islamist governing coalition.

Human rights, self-criticism, and power

Other than “human rights,” Gergerlioğlu’s second most used term is self-criticism. He demands self-criticism from all political and social actors, individuals, and groups. He asks people to question history. We often see a contrast between the rhetoric and action of many public figures in Turkey. However, Gergerlioğlu is one of the few names without such moral contradictions. He simultaneously demands that other self-criticize and criticizes himself. He is a Muslim. Yet, he does not embody the ideological stereotypes of Muslim politicians. For example, when saying that human rights apply to everyone, he excludes no one; Even the oft-subjugated LGBTI+ community. Gergerlioğlu’s third most commonly used term is “power,” which he positions in opposition to “rights.” According to him, being powerful is not the foundation of justice or rights. Gergerlioğlu has become a kind of storybook hero.

HDP as a gathering place

As a Muslim human rights defender, Gergerlioğlu became the target of the government. This was because of his performance in the HDP. The HDP is a party through which a significant number of Kurdish and leftist-socialist human rights defenders have met. This is the result of the enthusiasm he radiates during such meetings of human rights struggles. Such as in the issue of strip searches as well as kidnappings, he forces such acts onto Turkey’s agenda.

Shutting down the HDP also aims to shut down the convergence of Kurdish politicians, Muslim politicians, and leftist-socialist politicians like Gergerlioğlu. Such coordinated groups have managed to work together effectively even under the current conditions of repression.
There are two things that the government relies on: The power of the state and controlling the opposition. This is proof that there are no other real opposition parties in parliament.

What does the ECHR say?

There is a sentence from a statement of the office of the chief prosecutor: “As a matter of fact, the European Court of Human Rights has accepted the failure to condemn terrorism as sufficient justification for the closure of political parties.”

It appears there are members of the Turkish judiciary who read and appreciate ECHR decisions! That’s good. This particular sentence is about on the Batasuna decision; however, it is not true. What concerns Turkey, especially the judiciary and politicians in Turkey with regard to the Batasuna decision is that in its justification there is extensive coverage of the decision to close Turkey’s Welfare Party (RP) in 1998.

Thus, we understand that this statement of the office of the chief prosecutor, referring to the Batasuna decision, is really saying that it considers the closure of the RP appropriate, correct, justified, and legal. President Erdoğan, the head of executive powers, “including the judiciary,” is now on the same page as his partner in the ruling alliance Devlet Bahçeli, regarding the closure of the Welfare Party.

Oh, and then there is the issue of the “Student Oath.” This is what the main opposition bloc spends most of its energy on while these other incidents are happening. No one would be surprised if this oath issue was solved by Erdoğan and Bahçeli simply writing a new oath. The government is doing its best to maintain its position of power and it seems the opposition is too busy trying to maintain its opposition.

Notes for the reader:

1. The Batasuna decision is one of the ECHR’s most important decisions on the issue of the closure of a political party. However, contrary to what the chief prosecutor said, the international court did not consider it “sufficient reason that terrorism was not condemned.” In fact, in that decision, the refusal to condemn the concrete actions of the ETA was part of the justification; however, it did not state that it is sufficient on its own. This judgment was based on concrete information and documents according to the law regarding violence-terror-political links. In fact, if the Batasuna decision is examined, it will be better understood why Turkey was sentenced for shutting down all the Kurdish parties before the HDP. They could better understand why Turkey has lost all its cases in the ECHR. The Batasuna decision is not a trouble-free decision legally, but it is most helpful in understanding why the ECHR does not accept what individual states define as terrorism.

2- Several other Kurdish political parties have been shut down before the HDP. However, closing a political party is not a solution; the ideology the party represents actually grows after its closure.

3- The statement from the Directorate of Communications of the Presidency included the following: “It is undeniable that the HDP has organic ties to the terrorist group PKK. The HDP’s senior leaders and spokespeople have proven, repeatedly and steadily, to be the political wing of the PKK in their statements and activities.” The last sentence of this statement appears to be saying, “Let us wait for the court’s decision,” but it is stating a verdict. If such organic ties are “real,” if the HDP is really the “political wing of the PKK,” then, there is no possibility other than closure. If those ties are not real, or if they are not the political wing, it is the same court that will be investigating and prosecuting the case. Or maybe the Directorate of Communications has replaced the court. The statement also asked everyone to respect the independent Turkish judiciary. It said they believed that “our judicial system will bring justice.”