Turkish police are harassing and arresting Kurdish leftists in the run up to the election

HDP in Amed; Turkish
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Turkish police assaulted several members of the Green Left Party on Tuesday 25 April. The Green Left Party (YSP) is a radical Turkish opposition party connected with the Kurdish Freedom Movement.

The Green Left Party is standing candidates in the upcoming election, after the Turkish state moved to criminalise its predecessor, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

YSP isn’t your average political party. On 4 April the Canary wrote:

[YSP is] 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.

Intimidating the opposition

The police assault happened in Diyarbakır, in the Kurdish-majority region of Bakur, in Turkey’s southeast.

The HDP has asked international observers to come to Bakur during the election run-up. One of these observers witnessed the police attack. She told the Canary:

Read on...

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The co-chair and manager of the HDP Yenişehir office in Diyarbakır were attacked outside the office building today at 11am by police in civil clothes. Several military and police vehicles lined the street. Everyone from the office ran downstairs when they heard what was happening and confronted the police, who responded by arguing with the HDP and [Green Left Party] members, defending their actions. The two police who attacked the members sped away in their car as a crowd formed around them.

The HDP office manager had to go to the hospital after the attack. Luckily, he didn’t have any broken bones.

The election observer told the Canary that the attack came in the wake of a wave of arrests of people from the movement spread across many different cities. She said that the most significant number of arrests happened in Diyarbakır. Police arrested a total of over a hundred people, including journalists and lawyers.

HDP co-spokespeople Feleknas Uca and Hişyar Özsoy said in a statement that the arrests on the morning of 25 April were of journalists and lawyers. Uca and Özsoy said it was a blatant state attempt to silence its critics before the election:

The government, which has been trying to prolong its life with political coups, massacres, black propaganda, special warfare methods, threats, blackmail, and all kinds of attacks since 2015, has started a new political coup against the 14 May elections with the detentions this morning. This operation is against the elections and the will of the people. It is a clear intimidation and threat to society and to its political preferences. It is not a coincidence that lawyers who will protect the ballot boxes and fight against unlawfulness, journalists who will inform the public, and politicians who are fighting the AKP in the field are being targeted simultaneously.

These attacks of the AKP are futile efforts that will never yield results. Our people, and all social segments whose will is threatened, will give the best response to these attacks through their votes in the elections.

History repeats itself

The Turkish state routinely attacks and represses the radical opposition at election time. The Canary‘s Emily Apple attended the 2018 Turkish presidential election as an international election monitor. She interviewed Özsoy at the time. He told her about the climate of fear the Turkish state was creating to prevent the radical opposition from mobilising:

We are doing this under emergency rule, where we don’t have access to media. Our chairs are in prison. So many politicians are in prison. So many people were detained… We haven’t been able to carry out a campaign. Not all candidates had equal access to the media and other opportunities that were available to the ruling party.

The Kurdistan Solidarity Network (KSN) sent election monitors to Bakur in 2015. They witnessed the widespread intimidation of voters in Kurdish areas, with state forces bringing soldiers, paramilitary ‘village guards’, and heavy artillery to the polling booths. The KSN delegation said many voters didn’t come out to vote, for fear of the military presence.

The police assault on the HDP and YSP members on Tuesday is a continuation of this pattern of state intimidation of the left at election time. Turkish state forces will do whatever they can to prevent the leftist opposition from being able to take to the streets.

The atmosphere of fear and intimidation has often spilled into extreme violence. In 2015, bombs targeted a HDP rally and a peace protest in the run-up to election time.

It seems like the same pattern of violence and intimidation may repeat itself this year. However, the YSP is determined to continue mobilising despite the state violence against them. They aim to rewrite the Turkish constitution and create radical democracy in Turkey, building participation from the grassroots. According to YSP co-leader İbrahim Akın:

We [want to] 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 isn’t standing a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections. Instead, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s dictatorial president, faces an electoral battle with the Nation Alliance, led by the Republican People’s Party. The Nation Alliance includes parties and politicians with right-wing ideologies.

The election could determine conditions for revolutionary change

Cemil Bayik, co-representative of the executive committee of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), stated the importance of the upcoming election in Turkey. The KCK is an overarching body that includes parts of the Kurdish Freedom Movement from within the states of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. It aims to establish democratic confederalism in the region. Democratic confederalism is a concept developed by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) co-founder Abdullah Öcalan. The proponents of democratic confederalism seek to establish a system of direct, stateless democracy. According to Bayik

With each day that passes it becomes clearer that the results of the upcoming presidential elections in Turkey will be decisive for the future of the country. The vote on the 14th May is a “vote of fate”, as it is called by many, for both the revolutionary-democratic forces as well as for the forces behind the fascist regime consisting of Erdogan’s Islamist AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party MHP.

The election takes place 100 years after the foundation of the country in a time when the republic faces it’s perhaps largest crisis so far. The war of extermination against the revolutionary movement in Kurdistan and it’s allied democratic forces waged in the past 8 years has bled out the economy of the country, and an expansionist and aggressive politics of occupation in the region as well as the open support for jihadist forces such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaida have led Turkey into a dead end regarding their foreign policy.

One thing’s for sure, and that is that the radical left is refusing to be intimidated by Turkish state aggression. The HDP and YSP are displaying courage and resilience in the face of continued attacks, and things may well escalate over the next few weeks.

You can read more coverage from the Canary about Turkey’s elections here and here.

The featured image is of the HDP/Green Left Party rally, moments before the police attack. Via the international election monitors in Bakur (with permission)

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