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The courage and principles of HDP leaders

By DAVID ROMANO 18/12/2017

At a conference in Washington a few weeks ago, a colleague of mine mentioned “the fatal error of Selahattin Demirtas and the rest of the HDP (People’s Democracy Party in Turkey) of not supporting Mr. Erdogan’s bid to become President of Turkey.” I asked him, “So you think they should have backed Erdogan’s drive to become Turkey’s elected dictator for life?” He replied, “Of course – look where their choice got them now. Demirtas and most of the others are in jail, the state’s war on the PKK has resumed, and the Kurds in Turkey have less rights than before.”

Your humble columnist, perhaps out of naiveté, has trouble accepting such logic. Most of us spend our days complaining about politicians who make back room deals, who betray their nation’s dignity to others, who lie just about every time they open their mouths. I know my colleague who made this comment about Mr. Demirtas complains about these sorts of things in America all the time. So how can we then turn around and berate the HDP and its leaders for holding true to their word and principles?

The HDP’s platform from the beginning revolved around more rights and democracy not just for Kurds, but for everyone in Turkey. In a fairly devout and conservative country, the HDP ran female and minority candidates, including Alevis, Armenians and Chaldeans, in the elections. They loudly stood up for the rights of women, minorities, atheists and even the LGBT community. Selahattin Demirtas insisted on grieving for both Kurdish guerrillas and Turkish soldiers killed in fighting between the state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), saying that “they are all our children.”

These principles eloquently put forth by their leaders brought the HDP, a very new party, from having less than one per cent of the vote in Turkey in 2014 to around 13% in the June 2015 elections.

When President Erdogan and his party thought that they could benefit electorally from Kurdish votes, they pursued a “Kurdish opening” and peace talks with the PKK – which the HDP mediated. The siege of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobane in the autumn of 2014, and the Erdogan government’s apparent satisfaction with the imminent ISIS take-over of the city, changed everything. In reaction to Ankara’s embargo on the defenders of Kobane, assistance to jihadis in Syria and refusal to assist Syrian Kurds against ISIS, Kurdish protests broke out across Turkey.

Shortly after quelling the protests violently, Mr. Erdogan probably looked at opinion polls showing that he and his party had just lost the Kurdish portion of its electorate. He then seems to have reasoned that “If they’re not going to support us, then why do anything for them?”

The “Kurdish opening” and “peace process” with the PKK was quickly abandoned as a result, as the Erdogan government tacked to the Right and began working harder to court the vote of extremist Turkish nationalists who normally vote for the fascist National Action Party (MHP).

In the lead up to the June 2015 elections, Mr. Erdogan and his AK Party nonetheless still looked to the possibility of getting the HDP’s help for passing constitutional amendments to turn Erdogan’s post from a ceremonial one into an “executive presidency.” HDP leaders refused. Co-chair Demirtas described the HDP’s stance on the issue in March 2015:

I want to remind here our promise to the people not to abandon the principles of democracy, peace and freedom. We are not a movement of bargaining, a party of bargaining. There has never been a dirty deal, between us and the AKP and there will never be….I will keep today’s parliamentary group very short. I will in fact express my message in just one sentence: Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, you will never be able to be the head of the nation as long as the HDP exists and as long as the HDP people are on this soil. We will not make you the president [he repeated the last phrase three times].

When the HDP’s share of the vote in the June 2015 election denied the AKP a majority government for the first time, Mr. Erdogan’s reaction to this and Mr. Demirtas’ refusals quickly became manifest: resuming the war with the PKK and throwing HDP deputies, including Mr. Demirtas, in jail. 

The HDP deputies are still in jail, with exception of a few such as Osman Baydemir – who was thrown out of the Turkish parliament this week for saying the word “Kurdistan.” Mr. Erdogan got his executive presidency via a questionable referendum.

Yet still I think my colleague is mistaken. Mr. Demirtas and other HDP leaders did not make a mistake. The kind of political system that has taken hold in Mr. Erdogan’s Turkey would have never given the Kurds or others their rights. By holding to their principles instead of making back room deals for short-term advantage, HDP leaders such as Selahattin Demirtas, Osman Baydemir and Figen Yuksekdag keep their dignity and play the long game.

One day authoritarianism and intolerance in Turkey will wane, and just like Nelson Mandela and other freedom fighters in South Africa, they are willing to wait for that day.

David Romano has been a Rudaw columnist since 2010. He holds the Thomas G. Strong Professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University and is the author of numerous publications on the Kurds and the Middle East.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


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View | 18/12/2017
Agree! Excellent!
Volkz | 18/12/2017
Stopped reading this non sense when i saw "elected dictator " How can someone be ELECTED and be a dictator? The elections in Turkey has been watched by foreigners. The members of the 5major political party were at EACH ballot and they counted all together. That is how it works in Turkey. Your anti Turkish statements are well known and you are a good foreigner in a Kurdish news site that want to stir up emotions against and towards Turks. You and I we know very well that if there is a nation that has walked this earth hand in hand for long long centuries it is Turks and Kurds. You are trying SO hard to pass your negativity against the Turks but it is part of your agenda.
Pliny The Kurd | 18/12/2017
Demirtesh has opted for priciples and has defied the bloody dictator, - in Kobani and elsewhere the Kurds have fought and defeated the Islamist State,a job that neither nation dared to do ; and then what has happened ? ... The U.S..and the World are backing bloody and chauvinist islamist terror states to kill Kurds and condemn them to submission and humilliation. The Kurds have succeded to defeat the terrible I.S. but they can not fight against the Whole world order that condemns them to remain as a FORBIDDEN NATION. The column is a piece of rhetorical exerecise , which is just an exercise with no consequences neither for the author nor for those who support his views while the consequence are for the Kurds who fight and die just to be abandoned and be betrayed. This is what America and the World are doing to the Kurds, - right now.
pre-Boomer Marine brat | 18/12/2017
You are correct. Even if the long game turns out to be that of a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it is better than having your corpse burned by cronies so the enemy won't get it. (The reference is to young Erdogan having proudly carried a copy of Mein Kampf with his university school books.)
kurt basar | 19/12/2017
There was never a "Kurdish opening", It was a ruse of the Turkish terror state, for to find out & locate strategic supply locations & rout of distribution of the Kurdish fighters, unfortunately the naive & uneducated Kurdish leadership took the bait, and because of that Turks are now attacking them with their full strength. In today's Turkey, the reality is that Mr. Erdogan, who surrender to the Turkish deep state since his corruption scandal no longer in charge, because of that the ultra fascist & nationalist MHP party supporting him, by order of the deep Turkish terror state for to finish the Kurdish insurgency for good. And unfortunately those suppose to be civilized but hypocrite world nations, for their interest are supporting this vicious Islamic & barbaric Turkish terror state's massacring of the Kurd's without of any shame or remorse.

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