DEM Party co-chair Tülay Hatimoğulları: 'Peace process not mere campaign promise'

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party co-chair Tülay Hatimoğulları criticized the ruling AKP for using the peace process as a campaign leverage. “We work to build an honorable peace through deliberations,” she stated in an interview with Gazete Duvar.

DEM Party co-chair Tülay Hatimoğulları (L) answers questions by Ceren Bayar (R) of Gazete Duvar.

Ceren Bayar / Gazete Duvar

Gazete Duvar on March 24 spoke with pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party co-chair Tülay Hatimoğulları. The co-chair answered our questions about a potential peace process after the upcoming local elections, the party’s votes in metropolitan municipalities, and plans to win back municipalities from government-appointed trustee mayors.

You have undertaken a reorganization process after the general elections of May 2023, while considering criticisms from your base. The upcoming local elections will be the first test of this process. You have been out on the field for weeks. Do you see people responding to your reorganization attempts?

We have received outstanding positive feedback and observed that people’s respect toward the party has increased. This is of course due to our public meetings after the general election, and our care in following through on our promises of reorganization.

As you know, we have determined a considerable number of our mayoral and municipal congress candidates through public voting. People reacted very well to it because they got to choose their representatives. It created a positive political synergy. Every fieldwork and every meeting took place with great enthusiasm and a participatory spirit. People claimed the party as their own. We believe this feeling will carry onto the ballots on March 31. 

Attendance at last week's Newroz celebrations in Van, Istanbul, and Diyarbakır provinces was very high. How should we interpret this large turnout in today’s political environment?

Alongside these big provinces, Newroz celebrations in smaller districts were also very crowded and lively. I can even say that they were the most crowded rallies of the last few years.  The feeling of ownership I just mentioned played a great part in the turnout.

I believe another reason for the great crowds was the “war alliance” and war talks the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has been conducting. The Foreign Minister and other government officials gave messages of increasing cross-border operations in Rojava, Iraq, and the Kurdistan Regional Government in their talks with the United States and Iraq. The Kurdish population reacted negatively to these messages. Because these people live with the hope of peace. Talks and threats of war have only made them cling to Newroz harder. 

Veteran politician Leyla Zana said the party would “open the road for peace” after the local elections. Her remarks were among the most significant moments of the Diyarbakır Newroz, and have been interpreted to signal the beginning of a new peace process from April 1 onwards. Is it possible for a new peace process to begin?

Leyla Zana voiced a wish shared by the entire Kurdish population. Can this wish be realized? Is it possible to create the conditions of peace amidst the war alliance? We cannot know just yet. 

What we know is that the AKP government is pushing dreams of peace to the Kurdish people for the post-election period. It keeps implying that “something” could happen after April 1st to initiate a fresh peace process and seeks to create such a perception. 

By germinating a hope for peace in the region, AKP seeks to consolidate the DEM Party base. However, the Kurdish issue is not new, it has been going on for over 40 years. The Kurdish people have suffered, and Turkey’s peoples have lost a lot. The AKP, however, rehashes the issue before each election period and tries to turn it into a campaign promise to their advantage.   

The Kurdish issue cannot only be brought up from election to election. As the DEM Party and our predecessor parties, we have time and again emphasized the importance of rebuilding a peace process, and said that such a process was only possible through dialogue. 

Whereas the AKP pushes dreams to the Kurdish people around each election cycle. We believe in and work for an honorable peace. In this spirit, we call upon the state which has been a party to the clashes, and the government as the executive authority. 

Therefore your call is also to the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan?

Yes, but only in the executive capacity, not in the sense that “Erdoğan can solve it,” or “Erdoğan is the only appropriate authority.” Right now, he holds the executive authority. If the problem is still unresolved when Erdoğan leaves, other actors will arise as the appropriate authorities.  

While the state and the government are the necessary actors, we believe that appropriate opposition and social dynamics should arise for a full solution. Therefore we also call upon all these actors. 

You have stressed that President Erdoğan is the appropriate authority for the peace process. Still, Erdoğan and his party are in a strong alliance with the staunchly anti-Kurdish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). It is suggested that as long as the alliance continues, no meaningful steps towards peace can be taken. 

MHP’s place within the People’s Alliance has certain implications, that is for sure. However, it is not right to pin the entire blame onto the MHP. The current authoritarian and fascist regime was built under AKP leadership. So, the party is just as responsible for the current state of the Kurdish issue. 

Have you met with the ruling AKP about the peace process?

We haven’t had any political talks with the AKP regarding the peace process.

You have offered your voters strong candidates in all provinces, especially in Istanbul. Some polls suggest the DEM Party’s votes could shift to the CHP’s candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu. Do you see such a possibility?

Istanbul faces unbelievable impoverishment and a cost-of-life crisis. On the other hand, the Canal Istanbul project faces extreme backlash. Erdoğan would not easily back down from such an immense source of income. The imminent threat of a possible Istanbul earthquake is yet another reality. You nominate a businessman for mayor amidst these impending crises. He only understands construction and revenue generation. In this dire picture, I believe in the Istanbul people to make the right call. 

One of your goals is to win back municipalities with government-appointed trustee mayors. What additional municipalities are you aiming to win?

We expect to easily take back our municipalities with appointed mayors. Of course, AKP’s fraudulent voters are a great danger for us. There are two ways to combat this risk. One is to pull sections of the public who have never voted for the DEM Party before. The second is to focus on the workers and students. 

I want to expand on this further. The government has left Kurdish provinces without investment, factories, or employment. They exterminated agriculture and husbandry industries with various policies. This has had a direct effect on the region and created deep poverty there. 

Many of our voters had to emigrate outside of their voting precincts due to unemployment and poverty. I would like to take this opportunity to remind our voters in similar conditions that we will do everything in our power to help them vote if they apply through their DEM Party province branches. 

Which constituencies that you could not win back in 2019 are you aiming to win this time around?

We are close to winning the southeastern Urfa, the eastern Dersim, and Bingöl provinces. Also, the eastern Kars, Ağrı, and Muş provinces, although we have detected many fraudulent voters in these provinces. In addition to these provincial posts, we expect multiple district municipalities to switch to our administration. 

What is your response to the criticisms placed upon the DEM Party for employing a more Kurdish-centric stance and steering away from the leftist rhetoric of its predecessor Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)? 

We have never abandoned the HDP mentality. We live in a region with a variety of peoples and beliefs. We are adamant about contacting them all and becoming all of their party. One side of the coin is defending the Kurdish people’s rights and their honorable struggle. The other side is fighting for the emancipation of all oppressed and exploited peoples of Turkey.

Your observation, however, rings true for the period in question. The government's Kurdish denial has been entrenched since 2015. Naturally, it rose among our priorities. The majority of the public we connect with are Kurds. After the 2023 general election, we naturally focused on the regions we were most strongly organized in, and prioritized provinces where we had better chances of winning. Such commentary could have arisen from this observation. 

On the other hand, I believe that a portion of such criticisms seek to isolate the Kurds. Discussions about our alliance strategies similarly serve this isolation. Today, the Kurdish people are surrounded. Not just the Kurds of Turkey, but those in Iraq, Iran, and Syria face hostile politics. The current government seeks to sever the opposition’s alliance with the Kurds. The antidote to isolation tactics is a strong allied struggle. 

Democratizing Turkey and building a democratic Republic is only possible through the weakening of this authoritarian, fascist regime. So it is imperative to build and nurture the struggle alliance with all its political and social dynamics. 

What will the DEM Party focus on after the local elections?

Our immediate attention will be mending the injuries and destruction left behind by the trustee mayors. It will be difficult. Most trustees have racked up great debts in municipalities that were once debt-free. They have sold or transferred many of the municipalities’ assets. These are all crimes. Just as a thief empties the register before fleeing, they intend to hand over the municipalities to the DEM Party fully empty. 

We will rebuild the cities that have been damaged in terms of their social, cultural, and linguistic capitals. These cities are also in ruins, neglected streets are covered in dirt and mud. Thus we are going to have to quite literally rebuild these cities, their roads, and infrastructures. In other words, we will focus on our local administrations after the elections. 

Alongside these efforts, we will work to strengthen the fight for democracy and build a wide alliance of struggle against authoritarianization.

(English version by Ayşenaz Toptaş)