Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Turkish Elections: Kurds and Others

The Justice and Development Party, headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won a third parliamentary term in elections held on 12 June 2011. The western media has reported widely on the election outcomes, mainly focusing on the charismatic personality of Prime Minister Erdogan and the success of his reform agenda. What has been missing in the reporting on the outcome of the Turkish elections is the success of independent candidates under the umbrella organisation, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).  

In particular, l want to focus on two very interesting candidates that stood as independent BDP candidates. The first of these is, Ertugrul Kurkcu. Kurkcu is a well   known socialist activist, writer and journalist. But more importantly he has almost a pop star status with a large section of the Turkish population, in particular university students. Kurkcu is also identified with the 1960s student leftist movement, Dev-Genc. He witnessed the killing of his comrades in Kizildere, 30 March 1972. He only survived  by hiding in a hay stack. This historical event is documented by Professor Richard J Aldrich at Warwick University, UK,  in his book:  GCHQ - The Uncensored Story of Britain's Most Secret  Intelligence Agency.   Kurkcu was sentenced to death by the Martial Law Court but served 14 years in prison before being released in March 1986. 

In the June 2011 elections Kurkcu successfully won a seat in Parliament. His campaign galvanised thousands of supporters from across the country but in particular in Mersin where he stood as a candidate. Mersin is on the Mediterranean coast of Southern Turkey and made up of thousands of displaced Kurdish families. It also has a strong Alevi population. Kurkcu and his supporters were able to galvanise the  dispossessed workers and their families. He led a very open campaign concerning ethnic and religious rights, workers empowerment and an end to Turkey's dirty war against the Kurds. The electorate has invested enormous energy and hope in candidates like  Kurkcu: they are looking for tangible outcomes concerning Kurdish and Alevi rights as well workers and women's rights. 

The second candidate l want to focus on is Ferhat Tunc who was  an independent candidate under the BDP umbrella. Ferhat Tunc is a popular musician from a Kurdish Alevi background. His family roots are from Tunceli, Eastern Turkey. The population of Tunceli is Alevi Kurdish and is widely known for supporting socialist organisations. From this brief overview one would expect that Tunc would have won a parliamentary seat. However, he was defeated and the Republican People's Party was able to win the seats in this province. I believe Tunc and his supporters highly underestimated the power of Kurdish Alevi tribes who have a long history of alliance with the Republican People's Party. Whilst this political party has betrayed Kurds and Alevis and rarely supported their demands for cultural and ethnic recognition it nevertheless was able to capture  the majority of Tunceli's votes. The power of the tribes in Tunceli was not appropriately factored into the campaign. One does not need to be an anthropologist to detect this, you only need to look at the images of the masses gathered at  Tunc's election campaign meetings: young people, mainly men hardly any elders present amongst the crowd. The tribes of Tunceli had also declared their loyalty to the Republican People's Party. 

Despite the failure of Tunc's campaing overall the BDP was immensely successful in having 36 independent candidates elected.  Their victory is of historical significance and represents the importance the Turkish people have placed on the issues that the BDP candidates rallied around. While it is hard to predict how these candidates will fair in Turkey's dynamic political environment one can only emulate Hegel- he was terribly pessimistic about the path of the French Revolution but he never stopped toasting his glass to the revolutionaries on 14 July, the famous day of the storming of the Bastille.  Whilst l don't live in Turkey and have limited connections to the country l however do intend to follow Hegel's example and toast the 12 June BDP revolutionaries, especially Ertugrul Kurkcu!

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