Why are Kurdish voters disillusioned with the Workers’ Party of Turkey?

There is no longer a need to convince the electorate in the west to vote for the HDP. There is a new left now — one that can challenge the state without making mention of the genocides and while maintaining a safe distance from the events at Rojava.

Arguments continue to rage on regarding the decision of the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP), a constituent of the Labor and Freedom Alliance, to run with its own logo in at least 41 provinces. There are multiple dimensions to these debates. Naturally, the most prominent is the mathematical consequences to the decision. There are those concerned regarding the possibility of losing 20 seats in parliament to Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). On the other hand, some believe that an unbelievable opportunity has dawned for the leftists of the new Turkey.

Another factor that we have not yet found the time to discuss is the group of people who harbor anxieties that the “Kurds will be isolated yet again,” and are thus hurt and angry.

Let us review the series of events that animated this process, beginning with the messages leaving the prisons.

Former Diyarbakir Co-Mayor Gultan Kisanak, who has been imprisoned in the Kocaeli F Type Prison since 2016, penned an open letter, the last part of which reads:

“It appears that the Labor and Freedom Alliance is not at the caliber of an electoral alliance. If there will not be a joint list either, this alliance is no longer an electoral alliance. [TIP Chair] Erkan Bas says that since the electoral threshold is no longer a concern, they will receive many votes. Certainly, being a member of the alliance removes the 7% threshold required for the TIP. However, it was the Kurds who transformed the threshold into something meaningless through their great efforts and sacrifices spanning many years. On June 7, the HDP wrecked that threshold.”

Former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtas, who has been imprisoned in Edirne since 2016, made the following statement on social media following Kisanak’s letter:

“As socialists who have been resisting in parliament, on the streets, and in prisons for years, we want to see all our comrades in parliament in the strongest possible way. Each of our comrades is valuable, and their being exhausted is never right. In this election, which will determine our future, we call on all socialists and democrats in Turkey to support the Green Left Party lists, to lend power, and to draw strength from them. Let us not leave our Minister Gulten’s call unanswered.”

TIP Chair Erkan Bas responded to these criticisms in an essay that opened with the sentences, “The struggle against the palace regime is a holistic struggle for freedom. One aspect of this is the liberation of all politically imprisoned people. It contradicts our culture and understanding of politics to give way to any arguments with our unlawfully imprisoned comrades while the burden of not being able to achieve their liberation still rests squarely on our shoulders.”

One would not be maligning Erkan Bas if they were to assume that the sum of his essay amounted to, “Thanks for the input, but we know what we’re doing.”

The new electoral system is not yet fully in place. The “conflict of interest” that arises between the parties in every alliance is an innate aspect of this system. The resultant stress of this situation causes serious problems in alliances. The time remaining until the lists are released may foment even more troublesome conflicts.

The calculation of gains and losses — on which no consensus has been reached by even the mathematicians and regarding which no clear data exists even in the survey results — is not within the scope of this article. We will take measure of that come election day. At this point in time, anything we might say is nebulous.

But the problem is not just in the numbers…

Why is it that Selahattin Demirtas and Gultan Kisanak feel hurt by the TIP?

What is the cause of the rapidly growing resentment towards the TIP among the HDP electorate?

As a political party, the TIP is in the midst of expansion efforts and is in a position capable of defending itself and its actions.

Why are these explanations not accepted as sufficient by either the Kurds, first and foremost, or the HDP world?

The Kurdish political movement emerged from the exclusionist tradition of the left in Turkey. Turkey’s leftist movement has historically failed to pass the test when dangerous topics, such as the Armenian genocide and the Kurdish question, were at hand. The state has always drawn its red lines differently for the Turk, the Kurd, and the Armenian. The waiting period of issues heaped in the “to be solved after the revolution” file [of the leftist movement] also took longer than expected.

Turning this norm on its head in the final stretch, the Kurds constructed a “Noah’s Ark” consisting of all the othered segments of Turkey’s society. The Peoples’ Democratic Party achieved the goals it had set for an existence beyond merely being a political party. Noah’s Ark reached the 15% electoral threshold and found the power to have a say in the future of this homeland. It became the guarantor of democratic values.

"We will get the votes of those who will not vote for HDP," which is the TIP’s discourse of choice these days, was the strongest political slogan wielded by Selahattin Demirtas and the HDP not too long ago. In western Turkey, the HDP became a movement that prioritized the Kurdish question, and was right to do so, and forced the state to draw back its red lines. Thanks to the HDP, the democratic opposition found a lifeline. Those who would not vote for the HDP learned about and began to understand the Kurdish issue; acknowledged and recognized the Armenian genocide. Thanks to the HDP, the concerns of the East and the West merged. The HDP became a center of attraction.

The country is no longer able to move forward without consulting the HDP regarding the presidency, the new government, and the new constitution.

Yet the HDP is still paying the price for this…

Enemy fleets united in firing their cannons to ensure that Noah’s Ark would be unable to dock at its port, so much so that this movement buried its most beautiful members under the ground or lost them to the prison cell; thousands of good people suffered under torture, became captives, or were forced into exile. The ship still sails, but the cost for the Kurdish people has been monumental.

To greet the Kurd or to share his pain once again was considered the greatest crime. To obstruct the growing awareness in the west, severe arrests were made to function as an example. Once again, the Kurds were pushed into isolation. An entire people were declared “marginal.”

Throughout this time, there were many who disembarked from the ark. Current TIP deputy Ahmet Sik’s resignation from the HDP, Ayhan Bilgen’s strange transformation, and Altan Tan’s harsh admonishments are all examples of those who jumped ship.

There is no longer a need to convince the electorate in the west to vote for the HDP. A safer ship has been constructed for them. There is a new left now — one that can challenge the state without making mention of the genocides, without acknowledging the solitary confinement of Ocalan, and while maintaining a safe distance from the events at Rojava. It is impossible to know how “new” a leftist movement that celebrates official holidays and preserves the spirit of Kemalism can be, since this was always the nature of the classic left before the HDP.

As is their custom, the Kurds and their friends wish to close ranks and to join forces against the heavy bombardment which targets them. They seek to grow both in the west and in the east through campaigns and effective figures. All the while, the tide of time flows against them, towards a past before the HDP. The Kurds are trying to be persuaded into the equation of “TIP in the west, HDP in the east.”

The Kurds are being isolated.

The TIP is lowering its lifeboats and making its way towards safer waters.

What a shame…

*Hayko Bagdat was born in Istanbul in 1976, as the fourth child of an ethnic Greek mother and an Armenian father. After attending the Armenian schools Esayan and Mkhitaryan, he began studying history at Istanbul University in 1994. Due to the unexpected death of his father, he was unable to complete his studies. He began his journalism career in 2002 with a program on a radio station covering minority issues for the first time in Turkey, and worked as a journalist, columnist and commentator for Turkey's mainstream media. In 2007, Bagdat was among the founders of the "Friends of Hrant" group, which was formed after the murder of journalist Hrant Dink and that continues its search for justice. Bagdat's first book on being an Armenian and 'the other' in Turkey, Salyangoz (Snail) was published in 2014, his second book, Gollik, in 2015, and his third book, Kurtulus Cok Bozuldu, in 2016. His one-man stage performance "Salyangoz," based on his book, thrilled audiences in many cities in Turkey in 2016 and was subsequently acclaimed with tours all over the world. In 2017, Bagdat moved to Germany and continues to work as a journalist and producer in Berlin.

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