Struggle for a more democratic Turkey: the Kurds testify

7 February 2017
Struggle for a more democratic Turkey: the Kurds testify

At the invitation of the N-VA, a delegation of the pro-Kurdish Turkish opposition party HDP told its story in the Parliamentary Committee for Foreign Relations. Representatives Eyyup Doru and Ertuğrul Kürkçü informed their colleagues about the intimidation and prosecutions that they experience on a daily basis in their battle for a more democratic and multicultural Turkey. But above all they related a story of hope and the rock-solid belief that the Turkish people will not just sit idly by and let themselves be muzzled.

Under the leadership of President Erdoğan, Turkey, which is still a candidate country of the EU, is undergoing a transformation from a young democracy to an authoritarian state. However, civil society and opposition parties are standing in the way. They are holding on firmly to democratic principles and the culturally and ethnically diverse character of the Turkish state. In the run-up to a constitutional referendum, designed to give greater power to the president, Erdoğan is now leaving no stone unturned to stifle any opposition that remains. The favourite prey in this regard is the second-largest opposition party in the country, the HDP, which threatens to become a double victim with its pro-Kurdish and pro-parliamentary discourse.

“The struggle for Kurdish emancipation has been going on for decades now and claims the lives of hundreds of innocent people every year,” says MP An Capoen. “We had pinned our hopes on the peace negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish government to come to a long-term solution. The role of intermediary that the HDP was playing in this regard was crucial. Yet now the party is certainly paying the price for its efforts.” Today, a dozen HDP MPs, including party leader Selahattin Demirtaş, are languishing in jail awaiting their political trial. Hundreds of others, representatives and followers of the party alike, are looking at the prospect of a similar fate.

Giving dialogue another chance

And yet the speakers have not lost their faith in a happy ending. Turkey can look back, they say, at a long democratic and parliamentary history. The Turkish population will seize upon this referendum as a last chance to escape total oppression. If the Turkish government accepts the outcome, it will be possible to return to the negotiating table to find a political solution.

So in this context the HDP representatives are calling on our MPs to keep applying pressure and to openly state their support for the jailed MPs. They are also asking Europe itself to finally provide them with clarity. They are themselves in favour of Turkish accession, but at the same time they welcome the clear signal: for the first time the Turkish elite has been made clearly aware of its responsibilities. They therefore regret that the European Council and Commission did not follow the example of their own Parliament and instead opted for economic interests above their own values.

“We are in any case continuing with our support,” says Peter Luykx. “With a letter, signed by all groups in the Chamber, we are once again addressing the Turkish government, on the one hand to request the release of our colleagues and on the other to ask for dialogue to be given another chance.”

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