The HDP’s presentation of its vision for the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2023 (which will probably be held in a year or so) has triggered debate about alliances in Turkish politics, and about who is serious about solving the Kurdish issue and who would just pay lip service to attract Kurdish voters. The answer to one question can shed a light on these issues: whose struggle is it?
It seems like an easy question to answer. The Kurdish struggle is fought by the Kurds. But of course, it is more layered than that. You can also say that the Kurdish struggle is in fact a Turkish problem, because it is the Turkish state that caused it and the brainwashing of Turks for near on a century that keeps it in place, and that both the state and the dominant population have serious work to do to solve the problem. True, and in fact, that is one way to describe what the Kurdish political movement is striving for.
But the fact that the Kurds are denied their political, cultural and linguistic rights, is an expression of a larger problem. Radically solving the Kurdish issue – and by that I mean, from the root of it – will also solve the marginalisation of other groups in society that don’t fit the single identity that is officially allowed, like Alevis, Yezidis, workers, LGBT-people, Roma, Armenians, Arabs and Laz. Eventually, also the dominant group has a lot to gain by everybody’s freedom, because everybody thrives better in a democracy in which not just the right of power and money defines your chances in life.
The Kurds have suffered from the Turkish state system ever since the very moment it was installed in 1923, so they know it by far the best. They have resisted it since the very beginning. In different times during the Republic, other groups have experienced the brutality of the state as well. Pious Muslims were such a group. Erdoğan is their representative who changed their deprived position. The rise of the pious Muslims in Turkey actually shows what can go wrong if you don’t connect your own struggle to that of those who were already struggling: it just bringsanother group to a dominant position, which perpetuates the suppressive system and liberates no one.
It reminds me of the Gezi demonstrations of 2013. Suddenly, a huge group of (mostly) young people who had so far not really been that much interested in politics, took to the streets when they felt that their right to live life the way they wanted, were not respected. I lived in Diyarbakır at the time. Some Gezi-protesters were asking why the Kurds weren’t massively joining the protests in Kurdish cities. But the Kurds I spoke to threw the question right back into their faces: Why have you never joined our struggle? Why don’t you see our rights are all connected? Why don’t you see our struggle is a well-organised mass movement, proposing real solutions? Many Turks were privileged and had lived in blissful ignorance about oppressive structures.
I don’t write about the pandemic a lot, but this column begs for it, because I see connections with a current development in my own country, the Netherlands. Last week, bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and concert halls were opened again, but to enter, you have to either prove, with an app, that you were vaccinated against corona or had recovered from it, or show the negative result of a recent corona test. Some artists are cancelling tours they had planned because they disagree with this policy, some venues refuse to check customers because they are ‘against discrimination’ and want ‘freedom’ and ‘accessibility’. Groups of people join them for the same reasons.
Many of these people, venues and artists opposing the rules and are screaming about ‘discrimination’ and ‘accessibility’ now, have never raised their voice against (real) discrimination in their lives. One of the restaurants in the forefront of the protests turns out to not even be accessible for people who use a wheelchair. Now that their privileges are being touched, they climb the pedestal and show themselves as human rights defenders. Not very convincing, and only hurting the struggle of groups in society that are structurally marginalised and who have waged a struggle for accessibility for decades.
When there is Turkish news involving ‘alliances’ again, ask yourself: who should join whose struggle to bring about change? It’s not the HDP that should join the AKP-MHP alliance (islamism and grey wolves), or the CHP-IYI Party alliance (Kemalists and a break-away pack of grey wolves). The HDP is an alliance in itself, and whoever wants to, can join. The two established and occasional alliances are about preserving or gaining power, the HDP alliance wants to break power down and make everybody free. Demanding that the HDP join power-focussed alliances, is like demanding from a person in a wheelchair to join a protest in a restaurant they can’t enter, run by owners who are oblivious of their own position and have never shown any sign of awareness of real struggle, for real rights.
Fréderike Geerdink is an independent journalist. Follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her acclaimed weekly newsletter Expert Kurdistan.