As a teenager, Elif Bulut’s neighbors advised his family to remain silent about his father’s Kurdish roots because “they dislike Kurds” in the conservative Black Sea town where they moved.
This warning was Bulut’s first realization that his background set him apart in Turkey. “I was not born into politics, but if you have an ethnic identity, if you are a dissident woman, you are motivated by politics,” said Bulut, 44, who currently chairs the Istanbul branch. People’s Democratic Party (HDP).
In the 2018 general election, the 5.9 million people who voted for the left-wing HDP, Turkey’s second-largest opposition party, were mostly Kurdish. The EU and the United States have been campaigning for the settlement of the 36-year-old conflict between the state and the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been designated a terrorist group.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the HDP of being a political arm of the PKK and said earlier this year that there was no place in Turkish politics for a party that did not “sincerely condemn” the militants. The HDP has refused to connect with the PKK, which wants greater political autonomy for Turkey’s Kurds.
The government’s campaign against HDP has intensified in recent weeks, with the country’s top prosecutor and several of its veteran politicians facing possible life sentences if convicted in separate trials. The investigation is examining the commitment of the party’s grassroots leaders.
HDP has thousands of volunteers in Istanbul, a city of about 2 million Kurdish residents.
“Our party has spread this great black cloud by criminalizing our party for trying to weaken our ties with the electorate,” Bulut said. But he added: “Our voters know the pressure well and don’t leave us.”
The legal blitz is the culmination of many years of campaigning by the Turkish government, almost all of which HDP mayors have been fired Mainly from offices in the Kurdish southeastern provinces, several members of parliament were stripped of their seats in parliament and thousands of party leaders were jailed. Pro-Kurdish newspapers have been banned and Kurdish-language schools and theaters are closed.
Both the EU and the US have criticized Ankara’s move to shut down the party and the Constitutional Court has asked the state to address the deficiencies of the accused, which has delayed the start of the trial.
Another court last month began the trial of 113 veteran HDP politicians, including former leader Selahatin Demitara, in prison for inciting deadly riots in Turkey in 2014 against the siege of the Kurdish-run city of Kobani in northern Syria. HDP officials believe the case is intended to create a legal basis for the ban.
“People took to the streets screaming for help when the Kurds in Kobani faced destruction,” said Jubaid Ines, a 55-year-old retired teacher who volunteered for HDP’s voter campaign. The opening of the court case more than six years later was evidence that “Turkey is hostile to the Kurds.”
Ince, who has supported the Kurdish political movement for three decades, said voter support for the HDP was strong. “The Kurdish people and our motives will not disappear if they ban HDP. Our party is not a sign that they can come down. We are the team. ”
The HDP is the latest incarnation of the movement, which began in 1990 to advance the greater cultural and political rights of the 14-meter Kurds in Turkey. Five predecessors were banned, the last in 2009, and the HDP has promised to reconstitute under the banner of a sister party or another coalition, even if it is banned.
After a peace process with the PKK broke down in 2013, Erdogan, whose stance on the HDP became tougher, “escalated the crisis and hostility by denying the HDP,” Bulut said.
Polls show support for the HDP has declined since the 2011 election, but at a slower pace than Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has historically attracted the second highest number of Kurdish votes.
Tightening the screws on the HDP helps brand nationalist credentials one by one and stimulate its foundations, says political scientist Sejin Oz. “SkipGooting creates polarization that stays away from other problems during the coronavirus epidemic,” he said. “The rest of the opposition showing HDP also helps Neutral.”
Prosecutors in the HDP closure case are seeking restraint from the political lives of another 70,000 HDP members, including Yagmur Yurtsever, a 24-year-old head of the sociology department who was attracted to the party when he started university because of his promising promotions.
Since then, Yartsver has been detained four times by police on charges ranging from violating protest bans to membership in a terrorist organization. “Since I belong to the HDP, the state has accused me of being a PKK, and since I have been accused of being a PKK, they say that is the reason for stopping the HDP. It’s a vicious cycle, “he said.
“The state closes the door to politics and pushes people to war. It scares me, but what comforts me is that HDP is a committed force of peaceful struggle, ”he added. “The war has failed to set a new precedent, but I truly believe there will be democratic politics.”