A member of parliament for Kurdish city Bingol, Hisyar Ozsoy also heads the left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) foreign relations committee. The party surpassed Turkey’s 10% election threshold to enter parliament in 2015. However the jubilation was short-lived when an end to the 2013-2015 solution resulted in a return to clashes between the Turkish military and Kurdish militants. Since then the pro-minority rights party has been on the receiving end of a crackdown by the Turkish government, leading to the imprisonment of its co-leaders and many of its deputies.
Komnews spoke to Hisyar Ozsoy about the crackdown and the constitutional reform package recently adopted by the Turkish parliament, which will be taken to a referendum in early April…
What are your thoughts on the constitutional reform package approved in the Turkish parliament?
These constitutional reforms were designed to build a dictatorial rule in Turkey. President Erdogan wants to monopolise all executive, legislative and judicial powers. There will be no separation of powers in Turkey, there will be no independent judiciary, and there will be no rule of law if these constitutional reforms are approved in the referendum.
The AKP says that the new constitution will make Turkey stronger. What do you think this entails?
It will not make Turkey stronger, that is definitely not true. In order for Turkey to be a stronger country the government should establish democratic rule with a clear separation of powers. But what we have in hand is a further centralisation of an already centralised political structure. This would exclude many sections of the population from political representation and we think that this political system, if it is approved in the referendum say by 51%, 52%, 53%, will further polarise the country. There has been no consensus, there actually hasn’t even been a democratic debate about the constitutional package. So, rather than reducing tension and bringing stability to political and economic life, this political system will definitely intensify polarisation and deepen socio-economic and political conflicts that have been damaging Turkey’s democratic standards for a long time.
You have declared your stance against the package. What kind of campaign will the Peoples’ Democracy Party (HDP) run to ensure a no result comes out of the referendum? And who will you be working with?
That is a very difficult question actually because we do not have access to the mainstream media. The opposition media, particularly the Kurdish and Alevi media, were all closed down by government decree laws, so it’s going to be extremely difficult. We will be engaging in one-to-one campaign and most of our activities will be face-to-face. We also know that the state of emergency will make it almost impossible to hold public demonstrations and meetings so our choices are limited. We will use social media extensively, but then again social media too is under governmental control, people nowadays are going to prison for stuff shared on social media. It is going to be a tough process but in all likelihood we will be in the neighbourhoods and conduct one-to-one interactions.
What will your party’s stance be if a yes vote comes out of the ballot box? Will you recognise the result?
Whatever happens we know that it is not going to be a fair, transparent and democratic referendum process. The whole country is under emergency rule. Ten deputies from our party are in prison, including the co-leaders, and yesterday two other deputies were jailed. More than 80 Kurdish co-mayors are in prison, plus the government has appointed trustees to many of the municipalities. There is an immense crackdown on the media; more than 1,600 civil society organisations have been shuttered; hundreds of thousands of people have been dismissed from their jobs.
Under these conditions, nobody can claim that the referendum will be held in a democratic atmosphere. The legitimacy of the referendum and its results are already under threat. No one will accept this as a fair and democratic referendum. If the yes vote comes out of the referendum our struggle will go on, so in this sense there won’t be much change; just that we will be struggling against a much more authoritarian or dictatorial rule by Erdogan until we transform the political structure in Turkey to be more inclusive and democratic.
You mentioned the crackdown on your party and other Kurdish politicians, why do you think the HDP is being targeted specifically at this time?
That’s a very good question, I would say. The HDP has been targeted since the 7 June general elections in 2015. President Erdogan has had this ambitious project that he calls “a Turkish style presidency” but which really is an Erdogan style presidency. The HDP prevented Mr. Erdogan from achieving his goal of a presidential system by stopping his ruling AKP from gaining a majority in parliament to make constitutional amendments and establish a presidential system. And again in the November re-elections we stopped Erdogan by preventing his party from winning the minimum 330 seats required to make constitutional amendments.
Now our politicians and deputies are in prison and I don’t just mean both our co-leaders and the eleven deputies, but also about 3,000 members and executives of our party and our sister party, the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), are in prison. They aren’t in prison for committing some sort of crime, but because we prevented Erdogan from achieving his goal and Erdogan knows full well that the HDP can stop him again in this referendum.
So our deputies, our mayors, our party administrators and members are being sent to prison en masse because Erdogan is trying to paralyse the HDP, render it organisationally dysfunctional in the lead up to the referendum. If the HDP could run an effective campaign and mobilise the people Erdogan would be dealt a great surprise in the referendum. So in order to not be face a surprise in the referendum, Erdogan is trying to wipe out the HDP from the political scene. Despite these abject circumstances, we are still very much committed to preventing Erdogan’s ambitious presidential system.
Why is there a confusion about the detention of some HDP deputies, how is it that they are being released and rearrested the very same day?
We’re unable to quite understand that to be honest, but my theory is that there is a certain faction within the state that believes the crackdown on the HDP is having an adverse affect on Turkey’s image internationally, in the EU and the US. And then there is Erdogan and his ambitions. I believe that these two approaches are clashing and this clash is being played out over the treatment of the HDP.
Are you worried that you too might be arrested and sent to prison?
Personally I am not worried but I may be imprisoned. Anybody in Turkey who is critical of Erdogan can be sent to prison at any time, particularly if you are a Kurdish politician and an executive of the HDP then definitely, the chances are high. None of our friends, none of our deputies have a problem, we do not have personal worries. But by eliminating the political opposition, Erdogan is sewing the seeds of further political violence for the future. The HDP was a hope and a promise, and our main promise was to build peace in Turkey and find a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish conflict and by targeting the HDP by trying to undermine its political promise President Erdogan is fuelling political violence and that will be costly for Turkey in general.