Last week the third largest party in the Turkish parliament, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), announced that it would run in the elections on 14 May under the umbrella of a new party, the Green Left Party (YSP).
The HDP is the largest party in an alliance of left-wing political parties called the Labour and Freedom Alliance. The HDP is facing a legal case demanding its closure, so it will use the Green Left Party’s ticket. The parties in the Alliance will be working together in the upcoming elections. And they’re are not putting forward a presidential candidate.
Who are they up against?
They are up against the fascistic People’s Alliance – led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which is allied with the extreme right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), amongst others. Erdoğan – in office since 2002, and president since 2014 – is the People’s Alliance’s presidential candidate. He called a referendum in 2017, in a successful move to massively increase his presidential powers, and has been widely criticised as a dictatorial, authoritarian ruler.
Erdoğan’s biggest rival is the Nation Alliance. This is a six-party bloc which includes the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The CHP is Turkey’s second-largest electoral party. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the CHP will be the Nation Alliance’s presidential candidate.
There is every likelihood that Erdoğan could lose substantially in the elections. Turkey is in the midst of a massive recession. Additionally, many people in Turkey blame Erdoğan for not taking more steps to help those affected by this year’s earthquake. In fact, the media has linked Erdoğan and his cronies to corruption in the construction industry that compromised building safety.
What makes the Green Left Party different?
The YSP isn’t your average parliamentary party. It’s part of a movement that wants to overcome the nation-state itself. The party seeks to lay the groundwork to decentralise state power in Turkey. Further to this, they want to enable local communities to build structures of radical democracy.
The new party is just the latest electoral manifestation of the radical ideology of the Kurdish Freedom Movement. The HDP is by no means the first political party the Turkish state has criminalised, and the practice of refounding institutions under a new name to avoid repression has a long history.
The HDP is running under the YSP’s ticket out of necessity. The Turkish state has imprisoned at least 6000 HDP members since 2015. The state is trying to close down the party, in order to prevent them from being able to take part in the elections.
The HDP has been successful in local elections in Turkey’s largely Kurdish southeast. In response, the Turkish state has forcibly replaced the HDP’s elected mayors with state appointees, known as ‘kayyums’.
The party insists on the principle of co-leadership, and co-mayorship. This anti-patriarchal practice means that no man can hold a position of power on his own. The HDP has faced legal challenges from the Turkish state as a result of demanding co-leadership. In fact, the state has criminalised the practice of co-mayorship.
Part of a movement demanding radical democracy
Since its foundation in 2012, the HDP has played an essential part in a movement for radical democracy. The democracy they demand is much broader than the sham offered by modern-day nation-states. In Bakur (the part of Kurdistan that lies within southeast Turkey), the HDP has played a key role in the Democratic Society Congress (DTK). The DTK, now criminalised by the Turkish state, linked neighbourhood and village assemblies together with women’s organisations, trade unions, and ecological alliances in a region-wide confederation.
On a Turkey-wide level, the movement established the People’s Democratic Congress (HDK). The HDP actually emerged out of the HDK.
These assemblies are attempts at bringing together Turkey’s left-wing and people’s movements. They want to create a base of power that is independent of the institutions of the state. For example, the DTK established a network of co-ops in an attempt to establish a non-capitalist cooperative economy in Bakur. These co-ops, however, were soon expropriated by the state.
‘The contrasting paradigm of the oppressed’
The ideological inspiration for both the HDK and DTK is democratic confederalism. This is a paradigm of the Kurdish Freedom Movement, stemming from the prison writings of Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) co-founder Abdullah Öcalan. The Turkish state has held Öcalan in solitary confinement for over 24 years
Here’s what Öcalan had to say about nation-states:
the foundation of a state does not increase the freedom of a people.
nation states have become serious obstacles for any social development. Democratic confederalism is the contrasting paradigm of the oppressed people. Democratic confederalism is a nonstate social paradigm. It is not controlled by a state.
democratic confederalism is the cultural organizational blueprint of a democratic nation.
Öcalan puts forward the concept of the ‘democratic nation‘ as a viable alternative to the all-encompassing power of the nation-state. In a democratic nation all the groups that make up society are guaranteed their own autonomy. They are represented within a directly democratic system.
The Green Left Party echoes Öcalan’s concept of establishing a democratic nation. In its inaugural declaration, YSP spokeswoman Çiğdem Kılıçgün Uçar said:
We will remove this government [and] establish the Democratic Republic
A Democratic Republic is possible with a Democratic Nation. The Democratic Nation is the democratic expression of a society in which all ethnic, cultural and religious identities coexist equally and freely and their existence is constitutionally guaranteed.
The Green Left Party wants to decentralise Turkey, in order to enable people to make decisions at a local level.
Additionally, Uçar said that the party wants to rewrite the Turkish constitution:
We are ready to write a new democratic constitution in accordance with Turkey’s multi-identity, multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-lingual structure, to write a constitution for all society with democratic participation and social negotiation!
Co-leader İbrahim Akın said that the YSP wants to transfer authority, so that the people can be involved in managing themselves through local assemblies. He said:
We are coming to build a strong local democracy in which the separation of powers is extended to the local level, the transfer of authority and resources to local governments is secured, and local participation mechanisms function.
We will strengthen local governments based on democracy and equal representation with the will of the people participating in management and decision-making processes through assemblies, city councils, platforms, professional organisations and democratic mass organisations.
The YSP’s statement says that the party stands in opposition to the state’s militaristic foreign policy, against male domination, and with LGBTI+ people, workers, and disabled people. It will continue the practice of co-leadership, and will act to defend nature and combat poverty. According to Uçar:
We will build a new life where ecological assets are protected against the domination of nature and gender by the male-dominated capitalist system
A brave stand against fascism
There is much that those of us who are outside Turkey can learn from the movement that the YSP is part of. It is a movement that has chosen to engage in electoral politics, but one that has never let go of its revolutionary vision, or its critique of the state.
One thing is for sure – Erdoğan and Turkey’s fascist right will fight tooth and nail against these ideas. That fight has already seen thousands of people imprisoned, and many have lost their lives too. Against this backdrop, the stand taken by the YSP is a brave one.
Please note that the quotes from İbrahim Akın and Çiğdem Kılıçgün Uçar are taken from an unofficial translation.
Featured image – HDP campaigning in London in 2018, via Philafrenzy/Wikimedia Commons (cropped to 770x403px)