In the previous three elections, pro-Kurdish parties were not able to overcome the 10 percent hurdle; this time, the Democratic Society Party (DTP) has chosen to circumvent it by fielding independent candidates.
In order to understand the mission of the DTP, I spent the month of June speaking with the "Thousand Hopes" candidates, DTP members and voters in Istanbul, and eastern and southeastern provinces.
The most important result of the DTP's entry into parliament will be that the Kurdish problem can then be discussed on a legitimate and legal basis. It may lead to the public understanding the issue better. However, the continuation of conflict will hinder the efficiency of the DTP and its influence in parliament.
From EU to Northern Iraq
The European Union influence, which was felt strongly in Turkish politics in the first half of this decade, has lessened in the Kurdish regions. People do not deny the positive changes which the adjustment laws have brought; however, these legal changes have not been applied in a satisfactory manner.
Although the region is generally quiet and people agree that it has become calmer in the last 10 years, they have given up on expectations based on the EU. They are bitter about the fact that the EU laws are not really reflected in their daily lives.
The Kurdish state in Northern Iraq, whose foundations were laid in 1992 and which acquired a more formal status after the USA's invasion of Iraq, has become an important influence on the political conscience of people in the region. The Kurds in Iraq have achieved autonomy, and this has fueled the political demands of some Kurds in Turkey.
These people believe that the geopolitical situation is in favour of Kurds and that the Kurdish gains will not decrease but increase. The fact that the Kurds in Northern Iraq have founded a relatively stable administration has increased the self-confidence of Kurds in the region in general and has led them to expect greater steps as far as the freedom to express their identity is concerned. It has to be said though, that these demands rarely involve an independent and united Kurdistan.
Particularly after the violence which has blighted their lives for the last 25 years, people have achieved political maturity.
An old man, who has lost one son in the armed conflict and whose other son is a political refugee, in a way summed up the Kurdish problem: "Like the people in the West [of Turkey], we do our military service, we pay our taxes, but we do not have the same rights. We are not allowed to express ourselves. What hurts the most is that we are described as the enemy. We want an end to the shedding of the blood of brothers."
DTP and its opponents
Many citizens of Kurdish origin want parliamentarians to communicate their identity demands and their political problems to the national and international public. This has resulted in intense support for the DTP candidates. The DTP support base is also made up of people who are tired of pain and violence.
Many people have lost their nearest relatives and friends in the conflict or know that they are still in the PKK. Some families have lost children fighting in the army and fighting against the state. For instance, within two months the dead bodies of two cousins were sent from Tunceli back to Hakkari. The first was a soldier, and the second was from the PKK.
The organic link which Dogu Ergil found between the people of the region and the PKK in 1995 still exists. That is why it is unrealistic to expect the DTP to act totally independently of the PKK or to oppose it in an organised manner. In a way, the PKK has created its own "martyr culture" among a section of the Kurds.
For instance, the funerals of killed PKK fighters are reminiscent of the funerals of fallen soldiers in other areas of Turkey. The slogans and desire for revenge are different, but the communal feelings of pain and loss are similar. These feelings feed support for the PKK.
On the other hand, among Kurds who have dedicated themselves to armed or peaceful struggle against the state there is a backlash against Abdullah Öcalan, even if it is not expressed towards the DTP or in public.
The backlash has been caused by the DTP's organisational structure and the process of candidate selection. Many of the candidates supported by the DTP are relatively young and well-educated, and - compared to the other parties' candidates in the region - they have fewer tribal and family connections.
However, just like in other parties, many of the candidates were chosen in a top-down approach.
In the lists which the committees brought out of prison, there is a clear commitment to Abdullah Öcalan's discourse of the "Democratic Republic".
Within the party there is a lack of tolerance and trust in names who depart from a certain line, as can be seen in the withdrawal of support for Baskin Oran, independent candidate for Istanbul.
When the independent candidates to be supported were selected, they were generally plucked from the provinces they were born in and lived in and shown as candidates in other provinces. Although this has created problems at the base, people have also acknowledged that there is no alternative and that the DTP is "our party". Some Kurdish intellectuals are accusing the DTP of imitating the oppressive methods of the state which it criticises so vehemently.
One Kurdish intellectual expressed his discomfort, saying, "The DTP has appropriated the democratic republic discourse, but has not allowed democracy to enter." Many people find Abdullah Öcalan's discourse statist and concessionary. They believe that Kurds have taken part in 80 years of assimilation and the politics of denial and that the time has come for Kurdish autonomy within the Turkish state.
One person who has been written about in Amnesty International human rights reports and has spent more than ten years in prison said: "I ask myself, what did we pay a price for, what did I waste my youth on? So that Kurds can determine their own fate. I don't believe in the concept of an independent state or the need for the redrawing of borders, but it is time that the idea of Kurdish self-rule within Turkey is accepted."
The DTP has difficulties reaching many of the citizens of Turkey who identify themselves as Kurdish. Party supporters explain this with the state oppression, the continuing importance of tribal connections and a lack of political consciousness, but it is obvious that the ruling religious Justice and Development Party (AKP) has developed a solid base in the East and South-East.
There are several reasons for this. Some people approve of [Prime Minister] Tayyip Erdogan's personality and attitude. Religious Kurdish citizens who did not pay much attention to the AKP in the last general elections (November 2002), have moved closer to the party in 2007. These people believe that the AKP is more moderate in its attitude towards the Kurdish issue and that it has been treated unfairly in the crisis surrounding the boycotted presidential elections in April. Furthermore, the AKP has increased interest in the party with education, health, food and fuel support, particularly among the poor.
On the other hand, many people accuse the AKP of not being brave enough to have a policy on the Kurdish issue. When Erdogan said in a speech in August 2005 that he recognised the "Kurdish reality", Kurds became excited, but were quickly disappointed when the state did not follow through with any matching practice.
The Kurdish issue in parliament
The entry of DTP-supported "Thousand Hope" candidates into parliament may contribute towards a more mature discussion and negotiation of Kurdish nationalism. It may also help the Turkish public to stop considering Kurds as separatist.
After the elections, by supporting the likely constitutional changes, the DTP candidates can make a contribution towards the democratisation of Turkey and initiate the legitimatisation of a Kurdish political identity and its acceptance in public opinion.
This process may lead to a separation of the Kurdish issue and the terror problem in the mind of the Turkish public. The presence of the DTP in parliament may make it easier for Kurds to express their political demands through institutional channels and to fully reject violence. As a result, an important part of the PKK may lay down arms.
If the violence continues, the DTP's will not be able to function in parliament and it will be impossible for the party to find a base for compromise with more moderate sections of society.
It may not be in the DTP's power to stop the violence, the party may have difficulties in expressing its demands, and they may not find people to communicate with in parliament.
If the parliamentary experience of the DTP is unsuccessful, in the long run some Kurds may become drawn to more adventurous and trans-national options. (GMT/EÜ/AG)
* Dr. Güneş Murat Tezcür, Loyola Üniversitesi Chicago.
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