The HDP is the ultimate bridge for democracy in Turkey

“The Kobani trial is only the tip of the iceberg. The Turkish-Islamic-Conservative power bloc of the AKP-MHP fills the gap in totalitarian policy. Erdogan wants to institutionalize his power. However, the HDP is a roadblock.”

Devriş Çimen, European representative of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) – Interview by Małgorzata Kulbaczewska-Figat for Polish news portal, published on 4 May 2021.

There are 108 defendants in the Kobani trial, which started on 26 April – could you tell us more about who are them? Apart from the best-known figures, the former co-chairpersons of HDP, are there parliamentary politicians, former mayors, regional party leaders?

The Kobani trial or the developments in Turkey are not taking place under normal circumstances. A totalitarian regime makes every effort to cling to power, although it has long since lost its legitimacy. History has taught us that totalitarian regimes acted in the same way as today in Turkey Erdogan. Thus, people are governed by coercion, violence, repression, oppression, fear, intimidation and war. Let us look briefly at the history of Italy under Mussolini, Spain under Franco, Germany under Hitler, Iraq under Saddam. We will quickly see the parallels between the way the Erdogan regime is taking power today with all the means available to it.

The Kobani process is taking place under such a totalitarian regime. This is why Erdogan’s policy is pre-defined. Everything else that does legally is part of a theatre.They are trying to ensure that the political decision is made by the judicial branch. All the people put on trial on 26 April were politically active. They have been hostage to the Erdogan regime for a number of years. To legitimise this hostage taking and break the freedom and democracy of others, they have prepared this judicial theatre.

How many among the defendants had already been imprisoned under other charges, or standing another – politically biased – trial?

Among the 108 accused are the former HDP co-chairs Figen Yüksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas and numerous other leading members of the party, 28 of whom are being held hostage as already mentioned. There is an ongoing manhunt for 75 people. Politically, Erdogan listed the charges against Demirtas after a cabinet meeting on 28 December 2020: Held responsible as “the main perpetrator of the incidents of 6-8 October 2014” and so all other politicians were gathered under the “Kobani trial”.

With this show trial, they want to portray known politicians as criminals in order for social support to the HDP to be arrested. The 3530-page indictment contains evidence that has nothing to do with the truth. If things go according to Erdogan’s wishes, Selahattin Demirtas should spend up to 15,000 utopian years in prison. This is the request of the Office of the Attorney General. But this is a proxy trial to avenge the victory against ISIS at Kobani. Thus, they want to criminalise the resistance and victory of Kobani.

The HDP members are accused of inciting violence and terrorism during the 2014 Kobani protests. What really happened in autumn 2014?

At that time, there was a cruel terror by ISIS in Kobani, which was also reported and noticed in the international press. At that time, ISIS was at the height of its power and had captured numerous cities in Syria and Iraq, and Kobani was something like the decisive battle. But the resistance in Kobani and the support was not taken into account. Erdogan wanted Kobani to fall and rubbed his hands together when he told Syrian refugees in the border town of Antep that “Kobani is about to fall”. His support for the ISIS has been internationally documented and criticised before, but these words have caused outrage. It is no secret that the HDP stood in solidarity with this resistance and absolutely opposed the siege of Kobane by ISIS supported by the Turkish state. Just as the dignity and consciousness of progressives all over the world have sided with the resistance in Kobani, so has the HDP.

In 2015, the HDP won a surprising 13,12% of the vote and became the third group in Turkish parliament. Even in 2018, after the first wave of repressions against opposition politicians, you secored more than 11% of the vote. Did the party believe, at that time, that Turkey would remain a democracy and it would be possible to change the country by democratic and parliamentary means? Or did you expect to be attacked by Erdogan’s government sooner or later?

The Turkish state is shackled by its history of origin, where peoples are denied. As a result of the politics of denial and assimilation against the Kurds, Turkey is in crisis. Since 1984, there has been an armed war on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, PKK against this state policy. In order to overcome this crisis, to end the war and to promote democratization in Turkey, there was a dialogue and negotiation phase between the representatives of the state and the PKK and its leader Abdullah Öcalan, who has been imprisoned since 1999. The HDP believed, as it does today, that the Kurdish question can only be solved through negotiation and dialogue. This is why some HDP MPs took an active part in the solution process. Abdullah Öcalan also put forward the proposal to resolve the Kurdish question through dialogue, but the government rejected these ideas and relied on previous methods of oppression. Rather than democratizing the country, the government turned its attention to war.

Since the failure of this process, Erdogan has been waging a ruthless war on the Kurds in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. The most important factor in this war was the weakening of Erdogan. After the election results of 7 June 2015, his party could no longer govern alone. So Erdogan cancelled the elections and 4 months later he held the elections again. Since then, he has been supported by the fascist MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) party as a coalition partner. And since then, the AKP-MHP coalition has been waging war everywhere by all means. Kurdish cities such as Cizre and Nusaybin have been destroyed between August and December 2015. In northern Syria, Kurdish cities such as Afrin (early 2018), Telabyad, Serekaniye (late 2019) were occupied and the people expelled. At the international level, including the European Parliament, it is referred to as “occupation” and “ethnic cleansing”. In northern Kurdish Iraq, they are permanently engaged in occupation operations against the PKK guerrillas and dozens of military bases have been established. And since the HDP, among other peoples in Turkey, is very strongly supported by the Kurdish population, this anti- Kurdish policy is backed by Erdogan’s totalitarian regime.

What is the current situation of the party? How many members of the party are being active (approximately) and how many of them were arrested/imprisoned?  Is HDP able to continue public activities? 

Currently, there are tens of thousands of political prisoners. Since 2015, over 10,000 HDP members have been imprisoned. Even though some thousands were released after certain sentences, there are still more than 4000 HDP members, including MPs, co-mayors, leaders.

During the 2015-2018 election period, eleven parliamentarians had their immunity lifted. Six parliamentarians (Selahattin Demirtas, Figen Yüksekdag, Idris Baluken, Çaglar Demirel, Abdullah Zeydan, Gülser Yildirim) were imprisoned afterwards. For the 2018 term elected MPs Leyla Güven, Musa Farisogullari and Ömer Faruk Gergerlioglu had their immunity lifted and today they are imprisoned.

In the last local elections of 2019 alone, out of 65 municipalities won by HDP, 49 were looted by appointing “trustees”. 37 municipal co-chairs, including 19 women, were imprisoned. Currently, 15 communal co-chairs, including seven women, remain in detention. Six communal co-chairs are under house arrest.

Everything Erdogan loses through elections, he tries to gain through repression and robbery. But the HDP does not call this imprisonment, but hostage-taking by the AKP-MHP coalition. Apart from resistance against this systematic repression and hostage-taking policy, there is no other option on the HDP’s agenda.

For instance, on 28th April, the Turkish Parliament adopted a motion ‘condemning the recognition’ of the massacre of Armenians. The motion was adopted by all parties in the parliament except the HDP. The HDP, did not and will not stand any violation of human rights and crimes against humanity like all other political parties in Turkey. Moreover, will continue to its existence as representative of 6 million votes.

At the same time when 108 HDP members are standing trials in Ankara, another procedure aimed at banning the party has been opened. Do you expect that HDP would be banned, despite international solidarity and criticism of Erdogan’s actions voiced, among others, by the EU? 

It is a systematic crackdown against the HDP, which has continued continuously since 2015. The ban on the HDP and the Kobani trial are only the tip of the iceberg. The Turkish-Islamic-Conservative power bloc of the AKP-MHP fills the gap in totalitarian policy. Erdogan wants to institutionalize his power. So HDP is a roadblock. From Erdogan’s perspective, it is not surprising that the HDP should be eliminated by banning it. Therefore, as with many other decisions, they have made a political decision regarding the HDP and all other organs of the state must abide by it. The international solidarity is very important in this regard in order to give a sign of what democracy is. The international bodies such as the EU, EP and European Council must accompany these processes and call on Erdogan to stop these political procedures.

How does Turkish society react to political trials and persecutions? Do they believe the state propaganda portraying HDP as a dangerous organisation? Or is the public opinion divided on the issue? How do the other opposition parties react to what is going on?

Most people in Turkey know what the HDP stands for and why it is so strongly attacked. But since Turkish society depends on the politics of the state, they dare not act against this regime. They see how the Kurds are systematically persecuted and massacred, so they know how brutal this state can be. At the same time, more than 95% of the media is controlled by Erdogan’s regime. Consequently, the information provided by the Erdogan regime is also taken into account. In the totalitarian regime, social criticism is eliminated. This is also the case in Turkey today. There is an indifference of the Turkish society.

Antonio Gramsci, who was a victim of Mussolini’s fascism, said: “I believe that to live is to take sides. Indifference is apathy, is parasitism, is cowardice, is the opposite of life. I live, I take sides. That is why I hate the one who does not intervene, I hate the indifferent.” Because they have to realise that it is not the HDP that is a dangerous organisation but the authoritarian regime under Erdogan. The same goes for the opposition parties. To date, the opposition parties have not been sufficiently opposed to such a policy. Turkey must democratise itself. This is the task of the Turkish society. Otherwise, their dignity and freedom will remain plundered by Erdogan.

To many left-wing parties, including those in Europe, HDP – headed always by a chairman and a chairwoman – was an example of internal democracy and inclusiveness. How did you work out this party model? How does the internal democracy work within the party?  

The HDP has a constituency of more than 6 million votes potentially to over tens of millions people. They have all been oppressed or excluded in some way by the dominant nature of Turkish politics. The 6 million voters and their families form a strong, political and democratic force that is politically decisive in Turkey. The HDP knows where the problems are and describes in its program and policy how these problems can be solved. This is not a classic political party, but an idea founded on freedom. There are several parties, organizations, representatives of different social groups represented in the HDP. It is almost like a small Turkey of all working together for a dignified, free, democratic Turkey. Hanna Arendt said: “The meaning of politics is freedom”. So people who strive for freedom can pursue their sense politically. The HDP sees itself as a democratic, ecological and women’s freedom-based idea that is growing despite repression and criminalization. As we are under systematic repression, we cannot talk much about our organizing model, but our core element is the organizing of women, who play the leading role in the HDP. Whether it is in the party committees, or in the municipalities, or in the local decisions are taken by common consensus.

In this context, in almost all decision-making bodies, decisions are taken through the system of codecision between a woman and a man. It’s unique and successful. Also, the HDP has co-mayors of women and man through all municipalities in Turkey, first time in entire history of Turkey.

However, women who stand up for freedom in politics, therefore, face systematic oppression and exclusion. The exit of Istanbul Convention is a good example of this.

Do you still believe that a secular, social and multi-national Turkey is possible? Or we should rather expect long years under Erdogan and further drift to the authoritarian, Islamic right?

Erdogan keeps his head above water through daily propaganda. AKP and MHP are in the same ship and therefore share the same fate. If one sinks, the other drowns, so they have to support each other. Their worldview and base is founded on nationalism, Islamism, conservatism and patriarchy. This leads to the totalitarian regimes that have been mentioned several times. There are very big democratic deficits and a big vacuum. This has been filled by dictatorship and fascism, which claim to decide everything. To maintain

their power, they exhaust all resources, just as I gave examples of Italy, Spain, Germany or Iraq at the beginning. If society wants freedom and democracy, it should stand with the HDP as a democratic front.

Either all opposition groups in Turkey – whether they like it or not – will have to show solidarity with the HDP, or Erdogan and the fascist MHP will impose their power and dictatorship, so that the last hope for a democratic future will be abandoned for many years. HDP and its strong base for all peoples in Turkey will continue to organize and resist until an interlocutor for a democratic Turkey presents itself in Turkish politics.

Erdogan’s regime does not acknowledge any other religion but Islam. If other opposition groups and parties in Turkey would not stand with the HDP and not oppose Erdogan’s regime. There can be irreversible consequences. The HDP is the ultimate bridge for democracy in Turkey. This is the last chance for Turkey’s future to be open to all religions, all peoples, all languages, women’s rights and freedoms.