Turkey’s elections took place against a backdrop of fear, intimidation and electoral fraud

Flags for YSP and other political parties in Hakkari, the day before Turkey elections Erdoğan Kurdish
Support us and go ad-free

People in Turkey voted in elections on Sunday 14 May, amid hopes that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s dictatorial presidency might finally come to an end. Erdoğan was up against Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Turkey’s radical Green Left Party called on its supporters to back Kilicdaroglu, in the hope of ending Erdoğan’s decades-long rule.

The election results dashed those hopes yesterday evening, amid voter intimidation and electoral fraud by Erdoğan’s ruling AKP party. Neither of the main presidential candidates achieved a majority. Media is reporting that a run-off will take place on 28 May.

I was part of an international election monitoring delegation, called for by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). My group was just one of many, out of a total of 175 internationalists, who answered the call. The HDP placed us in the Kurdish city of Hakkari in the Zagros mountains. Hakkari is close to the border of Iran, and is a stronghold of the Kurdish Freedom Movement.

State repression

The group I was part of arrived in Hakkari on Friday, and met with representatives of the HDP and the Green Left Party. Before the election, the Turkish state began a case against the HDP, aimed at criminalising the party and stopping it from standing in the election. The movement quickly organised itself under the banner of a new party, the Yeşil Sol Parti (YSP), or Green Left Party.

The radical politics of the Kurdish Freedom Movement has inspired both the YSP and HDP. For them, electoral success has never been the ultimate goal. Instead, it is a stepping stone on the path to creating radical people-centred democracy across Kurdistan, and across Turkey.

In Hakkari, members of the two parties told us repeatedly that their inspiration comes from the revolution in Rojava, in north and east Syria. They said that the achievements of the Rojava revolution are an example for them, and for the whole world.

The Turkish state has imprisoned 6,000 members of the HDP since 2015. In total the state is currently imprisoning 10,000 people on charges relating to the Kurdish Freedom Movement.

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Hope and anticipation

On Saturday 13 May, the day before the election, our group spoke to members of the YSP and HDP. The members said that they had hoped for change for the better if Kilicdaroglu beats Erdoğan. One member told us:

No protest has been allowed here for eight years.

The police were allowing more freedom to gather together because of the election campaign, according to the YSP Member. Normally the authorities ban all public events.

A stunning mountain landscape surrounds the city of Hakkari. However, local people told us that Turkey’s forces prevent them from accessing the mountains. One YSP supporter said that he hoped that, after Erdoğan, people would have freedom to enjoy nature, and not be imprisoned in the city by the police. 

High stakes

Another party member emphasised the importance of unseating Erdoğan from the presidency. She said:

As Kurdish people we have repression, all the repression, from the government. The government will not solve our problems. But if AKP wins the biggest response will be against the Kurdish people.

A fellow YSP member agreed. She told us that the consequences of failing to get rid of Erdoğan were grave:

If AKP wins, we will not be waking up in our beds, we will be waking up in prison.

The atmosphere on Monday 15 May in Hakkari was one of shock. The voting here was solidly against Erdoğan, and the YSP also won all three of the local parliamentary seats. Nationally, YSP won 63 seats. However, the YSP’s vistory in Hakkari is a bitter one. Local people say that if Erdoğan remains president things are set to get much worse .

Voting against a backdrop of fear and intimidation

On election day, our group attended several schools in Hakkari. They were being used as voting booths. Police were present at all of them, and officers carried guns both inside and outside the polling stations. This was in spite of the fact that guns are prohibited inside.

We attended one polling station where the YSP had made a complaint to the police. A paramilitary village guard was carrying a concealed weapon inside the room where voting was taking place. The village guards are citizens who the Turkish state has armed since the 1980s. They act as a paramilitary force to control rural Kurdistan. This pattern of armed paramilitary intimidation at the polls was repeated all over Bakur on 14 May. In Şirnak, for example, Şehmus Babat, the former head of the village guards, attacked YSP polling clerks, armed with rifles.

But it wasn’t just the village guards who were using violence against voters. In Hakkari, we attended one school where the YSP had made a complaint against the local head of the AKP. YSP members told us that the AKP head had entered the school with a gun, and told YSP supporters to leave. This intimidation of voters by AKP officials was also a recurrent theme. Mezopotamya Ajansi reported that AKP district chairperson Cihan Güven openly threatened people in the village of Zêwgê in the Cizîr region. AKP officials also pressured elderly citizens into voting for the party.

Turkey’s militarised environment

In many Kurdish cities, authorities forced people to vote in a heavily militarised environment. Election monitors from the UK reported that authorities stationed heavy military close to the polling booths in nearby Gever.

Election monitors also reported a heavy military presence in Şemdinli. Former Canary editor Emily Apple tweeted:

‘There is always fear inside of people’

In one school in Hakkari where voting was taking place, the group I was with counted 16 police officers. Many of them were openly carrying weapons. The police had parked an armoured vehicle outside the school. The Canary tweeted:

We asked one Kurdish man how it felt to vote under these conditions. He said:

We always feel controlled, and there is always fear inside of people.

Bussing the military in to vote

Staff at one polling station told Apple that authorities brought in 300 military personnel to cast their votes. The military who arrived had no links to the local area. She tweeted:

While the military appears to have been able to vote where they liked, this hasn’t been the same for the general population. The state disenfranchised many of the Kurdish people who the recent earthquake displaced. They couldn’t vote, as they weren’t registered in the areas that they had been forced to move to.

The Independent Election Monitoring Platform and Human Rights Association reported that fraud took place in many of Turkey’s cities. Mass fraudulent votes were cast for the ruling AKP in the cities of Adıyaman, Ankara, Diyarbakır, Giresun, İstanbul, Gaziantep, Mardin, Urfa, and Şırnak.

Apple has been an observer at four elections in Turkey. She said that the voting cannot be considered fair:

The examples mentioned in this article are just a few of the incidents that took place during the election on 14 May. You can read a full account on the HDP’s live ticker here.

It’s clear that the Turkish state doesn’t want independent observers to monitor the elections. Authorities denied many teams of observers entry to the polling booths, and deported members of a Spanish delegation on 15 May.

Toward victory

We spoke to HDP and YSP members in Hakkari after the vote. People expressed disappointment at the results, but they also remained defiant. One member told us:

After our victory, we will be a big example to the whole world. I believe that.

The YSP’s role in Turkey’s election is only one front in the struggle to bring about radical democracy in all four parts of Kurdistan. It’s a struggle that is built on the principles of women’s freedom, grassroots democracy and radical ecology. Many people have given their lives and their freedom already to achieve those aims.

Yesterday’s results were a disappointment, but the movement remains creative, strong and defiant. I hope that one day soon we will see the end of Erdoğan‘s rule in Turkey, and witness the building of a new society in the graveyard of fascism.

Featured image taken by the author

Support us and go ad-free

Get involved

  • Check out the HDP’s live ticker, to see a full summary of the intimidation and fraud that took place on polling day.
  • Election observers were tweeting using the #ObservingTurkey hashtag.
  • Find out more about solidarity with Kurdistan.

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. Good to see the Canary joining with the US & UK deep state in wanting to remove Erdogan. Before he came onto the scene the Kemalists, Nationalists and military ran a literal fascist state in Turkey. Far more friendly to the World Hegemon’s interests.

    2. While I agree with Madge to SOME extent, the enormous suffering that Erdo has wrought amongst especially Kurdish minorities, along with the poor Syrians he sequestered and weaponised, his support for ISIS along with AQ groups, nd his turning of Turkey into what IS a dictatorship, somewhat muddy the picture too.

      I don’t trust Kilicdor… any more than many of the other Opposition parties do either, some almost preferring Erdo it seems! Maybe we’ll get to see why their reservations.

      I visited Turkish Kurdistan myself, some 20 odd years ago. The stories – and photos, local news reports etc – I was shown will haunt me. Then it got better under Erdo, for a few years.

      Until the CIA convinced him the Ottoman Empire was rebuildable, he just need to sacrifice the Kurds… again.

      And Invade Syria. And sell Syrian oil through front companies and ISIS intermediaries, under NATO air cover.

      And supply Saudi-backed terrorist Jihadis with chemical weapons: See UN reports, and Aaron Mate’s reports on the Syrian chemical attacks.

      100s of thousands of innocents have died from this stupidity and hubris, with undoubtedly many more to come yet.

      No, Erdogan is a thoroughly bad fellow. His ONLY saving graces are so are the Western sociopathic “Leaders”, and occasionally he annoys them. And his warning about interest rates. And the Turkish
      Govt having an S400 to protect it from NATO regime-changes.

      That’s not enough when put against 100s of thousands of lives needlessly lost for his cocaine-fueled fantasies about being “Sultan”, ffs.

      I’m not expecting a great deal from Kilicdor.., can only hope he wasn’t be anywhere near as bad as Biden. If the vote-rigging can be overcome for the second round.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.