Veteran Turkish political activist and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Izmir deputy Ertugrul Kurkcu spoke to Kom News about the new people’s congress his party is forming across Europe, European institutions’ attitudes towards the Turkish government and the upcoming referendum in Turkey.
Interview by Duygu Yildiz*
You recently formed the Peoples’ Democratic Congress of Europe (HDK-A), which is like the grassroots organisation of the HDP. What is its importance and what do you aim to achieve?
The HDK-A is the first political and social initiative launched by opposition circles, after many years, to unite the opposition. It represents a new organisation of the left-democratic, migrant and identity-based opposition.
More importantly it is not just a structure that harbours the political opposition, but is also a form to change the lives, working conditions, human relations, labour relations, art production and ecological relations of the opposition, migrants and oppressed. The HDK-A is political-philosophical connection between Turkey and Europe. When a migrant from Turkey or Kurdistan arrived in Europe 20-30 years ago, they would ask themselves how they could support the struggle back home, now they are asking themselves what they can do to strengthen the social-political struggle in Europe and how to tie this in with Turkey and Kurdistan. This doesn’t mean distancing oneself from the homeland but conversely represents a more rational and complex approach. The HDK-A is the form for this approach and this is why I think it’s very important.
Another important point is that as Turkey nears its ‘moment of truth’ [referring to the referendum] the agendas of Turkey, Kurdistan and Europe are overlapping. Migrants can now vote in Europe and have a decisive impact on the path Turkey is going to take. Therefore, they will play a key part in deciding whether their homeland slides into fascism or whether a period of social and political struggle prevails.
All of these perspectives point to the fact that all the elements – philosophical, political, social, historical and actual – have converged to make the formation of the HDK-A possible.
The HDP has been targeted with operations and arrests recently. 12 deputies, including the party’s co-leaders are behind bars. What kind of an approach have European institutions, public opinion and democratic forces had to this? Are you informing them of developments during state of emergency in Turkey and does the European Parliament have sanctions against Turkey on its agenda?
The opposition in Turkey is held in very high regard – the highest it has ever been in fact – by mechanisms that are used for forming public opinion, human rights associations, think-tanks and rights activists. The violence perpetrated against the HDP has made people in Europe very angry. The HDP’s resistance against this violent, extra-legal and incessant authoritarianism has also gained the party many admirers.
European public opinion is well informed about the violent, oppressive and negative policies implemented by the government during the state of emergency declared post 15 July. Europe is also angered that the AKP government is suppressing the Kurds and their representatives, who are one of the biggest forces fighting the Islamic State group in the Middle East.
The purge of workers and labour forces with statutory decree laws was also met with anger by workers unions and human rights organisations in Europe. However this situation was not reflected in the attitude of political organisations and governments unfortunately.
In fact there are two important institutions in Europe: The European Council Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) and the European Parliament (EP). We have made the necessary requests and proposals to both of these institutions. However these proposals did not result in any sanctions at the Ministry level. Capitalist interests and bargaining with the Erdogan government was chosen instead. These institutions believe that Erdogan will, in the end, have to face up to the reality of capitalism, which will bring an abrupt end to his unlimited rampage. However, the decisions Europe will take after that will not meet our needs. The public’s expectation is to put an end to the bloodshed today, to stop IS and bring Erdogan’s reign of cruelty to an end.
Was it possible to view this discomfort in Angela Merkel’s last visit to Turkey?
Merkel’s visit showed that criticisms against the [Turkish] government had been heard in the [German] camp. Her “Islamist/Islam” [Merkel used the term ‘Islamist terror’ to describe IS, to which Erdogan objected] argument with Erdogan was a diplomatic way of criticising the Turkish government’s proximity with IS. In short we can say that mutual interests are forcing a compromise. European governments are pinching their noses and having to put up with the stink.
What will the reforms in the 16 April referendum bring to Turkey?
The European Council Parliamentary Assembly has an expert advisory body on constitutions called the Venice Commission. This commission will publish a report on this reform. I’m pretty sure the report will be negative. Because this reform does away with the principle of the separation of powers. However, the report should have been published before the reform package was approved in parliament, now it has no affect. It’s too late publishing the report after Turkey has been turned into a fascist dictatorship.
The constitution draft was conveyed to the president 12 days after being approved in parliament. What was the reason for this delay?
There is speculation regarding why this happened. It was said AKP members had knowingly made a spelling mistake to give Erdogan a ‘complete presidency’. However, I think it’s because Erdogan, since 15 July, has been trying to gain time by stalling. He thought the referendum vote would certainly be in his favour following the coup attempt. But the support has slowly been waning since then. If the draft had been sent to him the day after it had been approved in parliament, he would have had to sign it the next day, which would have resulted in the referendum being held a month earlier, in March. I think the delay was engineered so that the AKP would have more time expound its propaganda.
Critics say going to a referendum under state of emergency may create problems in terms of how democratic the process will be. What do you think?
A referendum should not be held under state of emergency. In fact there should be no state of emergency. But it is happening. Three things can be done about it: The first is a passive boycott, in other words an apolitical stance. The second, an active boycott, but this would strengthen Erdogan. So in both cases boycotting would favour Erdogan. He wants to keep those who will vote no away from the ballot box and convince others who are inclined to vote yes in his absolute victory.
The third option and the correct one is to vote against the reform. This referendum is an opportunity for the people to stop Erdogan. Even though many of our rights have been taken away from us during state of emergency, we need to work to grow the no vote.
What will happen in either scenario?
Personally I think the yes vote can only win marginally if it does. This will mean mounting internal tension in Turkey. [Erdogan] will try to suppress society into accepting his programme with late night decree laws. A yes vote will mean the institutionalisation of fascism in Turkey.
It is very likely that Erdogan will not recognise the result if there is a no vote. However, because we will gain the legal and political advantage, it will strengthen us for a new period of struggle. We can implement a plan to end the state of emergency, force Erdogan to resign and demand an extraordinary general election to elect a new founding parliament.
Lately the Erdogan and Trump administrations are being compared. Is this comparison fair and if the referendum ends in a presidential system for Erdogan, is it likely he will implement Trump-like policies?
If you want to see what will happen following a yes victory in the referendum, look no further than Trump’s America, and then imagine what Erdogan will do. Plus, Turkey does not have a strong judiciary like the US, which is curbing Trump; in Turkey the judiciary is a toy in the hands of the government and Erdogan, so there will be no resistance. Some circles see the army as this curbing mechanism, however the army does not have the power to curb the government any longer.
*Duygu Yildiz is a photographer, freelance journalist and editor at Komnews.