Who is the new ally of Erdogan and Bahceli?
Huda Par (Free Cause Party), a Kurdish Islamist Party in Turkey, announced on Saturday its decision to compete in the coming elections under a bloc earlier formed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and far right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The move marks an unusual alliance as Huda Par's political objectives are in direct conflict with those of MHP, who positions itself as the champion of unitary state and absolute centralism.
"Kurdish should be accepted, alongside Turkish, as the second official language," Huda Par's program says, while it also calls for "free discussions on an administrative structure of states, autonomy and federation."
Huda Par received 157,000 votes, or 0.3% of the popular vote in the 2018 parliamentary elections.
A day after Huda Par's announcement to join the bloc, there has been no reaction from any MHP official, and none is expected, apparently for reasons that make it a needed ally for both president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, not only for its limited voter base but also for the part it may play in the "protection of ballot boxes" as Erdogan put it.
Huda Par has its roots in the Kurdish Islamist Hezbollah group (not related to the Lebanese Shia organization Hezbollah), who clashed - in alliance with state forces - with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) during the 1990s and who is held responsible for the deaths of over 500 people, including many Kurdish political activists, human rights defenders and journalists.
Hezbollah ("Faction of God" in English) is also accused of assassinating Diyarbakir's police chief Gaffar Okan on 24 January 2001.
The assassination had followed a relative calm between Hezbollah and PKK after 2016, the year when the Susurluk Scandal erupted leading to multiple investigations into clandestine organizations within the ranks of the state and their illegal activities including extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances, drug trade, extortion and bribery.
"Okkan spearheaded a crackdown against Hezbollah last year in which hundreds of the group's members were arrested. Scores of bodies of presumed victims of the group were found in dungeons throughout Turkey," Associated Press had said after the assassination, citing Turkish media who said "Okkan had received death threats from Hezbollah."
Among Hezbollah's victims was Konca Kuris, a former member of the group who later denounced it and wrote in criticism of dogmatic interpretations of the Koran. Kuris was abducted, tortured for several weeks, murdered, and buried in a shallow grave. Her killers made a video of the torture.
"Konca Kuris, an advocate of secularism and an enemy of Islam, is kidnapped and interrogated by Hezbollah fighters. She has led to confusion and poisoned the Muslims with her ideas. This is why she deserved death," the group reportedly claimed in a press release.
In a report on the case, Justin Hugler of The Independent said in September 2000:
"It leads to a terror group calling itself the 'Army of God,' which committed hundreds of 'executions' in which the killers were never caught, even when the police were witnesses. It leads to a looming political crisis, which has pitted the head of the military against elected MPs (...) Kuris was among several Islamists who abruptly disappeared. Police could find no trace of them, until, acting on a tip-off, they raided a house in Istanbul. It was a safe house used by the Kurdish group Hezbollah, the Army of God (...) In the police raid, the leader of the group, Huseyin Velioglu, was shot dead. He was buried in his home town of Batman, in the Kurdish south-east. Militants captured in the raid revealed that the organisation killed Kuris and the other Islamists."
Hezbollah faction evolves into Huda Par
Two years after Okan's murder, one of the two main factions in the group founded an association called "Solidarity with the Oppressed," which was banned in May 2012 by a Turkish court on grounds that it was "conducting activities on behalf of terrorist organization Hezbollah." HudaPar was founded the same year in December by the circles of the association.
In March 2022, Huda Par's leader Zekeriya Yapicioglu said during a live broadcast that Hezbollah was not a terrorist organization.
Cumhur İttifakı saflarına katılacağı söylenen HÜDA-PAR'ın genel başkanı Zekeriya Yapıcıoğlu'nun 1 yıl önce söyledikleri:— 23 DERECE (@yirmiucderece) March 10, 2023
"Türkiye Cumhuriyeti'ne göre Hizbullah terör örgütü olabilir ama bana göre bir terör örgütü değil." pic.twitter.com/TIomGq3DyU
"They only responded in defense when there was an attack," he said.
Huda Par's top local official in the Kurdish-majority province of Diyarbakir said, similarly, that the party's members only defended themselves in the deadly incidents during Kobani protests in October 2014.
The protests began on 6 October 2014 after HDP called for demonstrations in solidarity with the people of Syria's Kurdish town of Kobani, besieged by the Islamic State (ISIS), and in protest of the Turkish government's policy of isolating the town situated on the Turkish-Syrian border adjacent to Turkey's Suruc. Following a public remark on 7 October by Turkish president Erdogan that "Kobani is about to fall," violent incidents erupted, leaving at least 37 (over 50 according to some estimates) dead.
Replying to Cagil Kasapoglu of BBC Turkish, who noted that the incidents were not "a one-sided attack" but "a clash between sides," Zekeriya Yapicioglu said on 12 October 2014, in the immediate aftermath of the incidents:
"If you are implicating Huda Par, it has never been involved in any clash. Huda Par is the side that was targeted. An attack, not a clash, is concerned here."
Asked if Huda Par made a call to their members "not to use firearms," Yapicioglu said:
"We didn't urge arming, but asked all our members to put up a legitimate defense in the face of attacks (...) We know the advocates of this violence, those who called the people to the streets. We know the perpetrators. Selahattin Demirtas should publicly apologize for the brutality. And they are the ones who should withdraw these gangs from the streets."
A report by Turkey's Human Rights Association (IHD) shows however that most of the victims in the incidents were supporters of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), while there were also Huda Par supporters and police officers among fatalities.
According to the report:
Two people, one 17-year-old, were killed and one fatally injured in the Kurtalan district of Siirt province on 7 October 2014 by village guards close to the district's mayor who is a member of the AKP.
The same day in the Varto district of Mus, a man was killed and three were injured by the police.
The same day in Diyarbakir, eight people were killed and 10 injured, including a reporter, by "the police and Hezbocontras [a term used to indicate Hezbollah militants who operate under the police]."
The same day in Diyarbakir's Baglar, a man affiliated with Huda Par was fatally shot.
The same day, a man was fatally shot by the police and far right militants in the western city of Izmir during protests.
On 8 October, two people were killed during protests in Mardin's Dargecit district, and there are allegations that the two were killed by the local chair of Huda Par. A group that attended the funeral procession for the two victims were targeted by Turkish troops and a man was killed.
The same day, a teenager was fatally shot by the police in Siirt.
On 9 October, a man was killed by Turkish troops in Mardin's Nusaybin district.
The same day, two police chiefs were killed in the province of Bingol by unidentified assailants. In retaliation, four people, including a teenager, were killed by the police.
The same day, two people affiliated with Huda Par, 16-year-old Yasin Boru among them, were killed by lynching in Diyarbakir.
On 10 October, a member of socialist Labor Party was fatally shot in Istanbul during protests.
While Huda Par officials make no attempt to deny Hezbollah's legacy, there are indications that they are in fact embracing it.
After the announcement of Huda Par's participation in the elections alliance, Kisa Dalga's Ersan Atar noted that Huda Par's women's wing had organized a visit to the family of an Ibrahim Sariagac in February 2018, after which they said on Twitter:
"We visited the family of Ibrahim Sariagac, who was martyred because he started going to the mosque when he was very young."
Ibrahim Sariagac, a Hezbollah member, was killed in Diyarbakir in 1994 in a clash with state forces, and he was the brother of Huseyin Sariagac who took part in the planning of the assassination of police chief Okkan. Huseyin Sariagac was killed in a clash with the police in Elazig in July 2002, more than a year after his brother Hasan Sariagac, one of the gunmen who ambushed and assassinated Okkan, was killed in a clash on 29 March 2001 in Diyarbakir.
The election alliance between the AKP-MHP bloc and Huda Par has also made the latter a natural ally of the Patriotic Party, led by Dogu Perincek, whose weekly news magazine 2000'e Dogru was among Hezbollah's targets during the 1990s. The magazine's Diyarbakir representative Halit Gungen was killed in February 1992 by gunmen after he reported that Hezbollah militants were trained in the police headquarters in Diyarbakir. Perincek renamed his Labor Party in 2015 as Patriotic Party and buried old traces of Maoism under a fervent national socialism, while he offered president Erdogan unconditional support.
Former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, who has been incarcerated since November 2016, warned on 28 January:
"AKP + MHP + BBP [a small ultranationalist party] + Vatan Partisi [the Patriotic Party] + HUDAPAR... What brings them together? Is it a grave criminal complicity? Or are they preparing for a new war? One thing is certain though, it is not love for the country."