‘Turkish government terrorising those voting ‘no’ in constitutional referendum’

Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker and party spokesperson Osman Baydemir.

Turkey’s opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) spokesperson Osman Baydemir spoke to Turkish daily Evrensel on the difficulties his party faces in the run-up to the constitutional referendum and tomorrow’s Kurdish New Year celebration in Diyarbakir.

We are publishing a shortened version of the interview below.

There are ongoing military and police operations and a crackdown on HDP members including the latest detentions related to Newroz celebrations; the picture is clear as to the AKP government’s approach but what kind of message will we see in Diyarbakir tomorrow? 

In Turkey, Newroz celebrations were always been banned from the 1980’s to the 2000’s; those who wanted to celebrate Newroz were attacked and many lives were lost. When we look at the years when the Newroz celebrations were not banned, we see that Newroz truly means a new beginning…

In the Newroz of 2013 a peace declaration, which was in my opinion at the same time a democracy declaration written by Abdullah Ocalan, was read out and from that day until April 2015 we saw a time of peace. Wounds that were 30-40 years old started to heal during this period. The fears and phobias people had against each other started to disappear and various groups were able to look at each other without dread.

The peaceful atmosphere that started with Newroz 2013 led to a leap in the democratic consciousness of the people. In that sense Newroz, being the national holiday of the Kurdish people, the spring festival of all Middle Eastern peoples and a bridge between these peoples, also plays an important role for going beyond political impasses. The call of Newroz this year will be to say “no” and reject the oppressive policies we have witnessed for two years in Turkey in general but especially in Kurdish regions.

Kurdish cities are among the places where the government is pushing very hard to obtain a majority ‘yes’ vote in the constitutional referendum. There are several manipulative propaganda narratives being disseminated, one claims that if Erdogan gets his presidential system he will become more powerful and be able to solve the Kurdish question and the other is that Kurds are pretending to say ‘no’ but will in fact vote ‘yes’ on the day they will go to the ballot box? 

The aim of the constitutional reform is to get society’s approval for the oppressive practices of an oppressive regime we have seen in the Kurdish region and Turkey in general for the last two years. This is a referendum that aims to obtain constitutional legitimacy for all the practices of emergency rule and make them permanent. With this referendum, policies of conflict and deadlock will be approved or rejected. At the same time, this government’s policies related to internal or foreign affairs such as the Syrian policy for instance will be put to a vote.

Members of the government keep repeating that “We must say ‘yes’ if Qandil (Kurdistan Worker’s Party/PKK) or the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is saying no” or they equate the ‘no’ voters with terrorists and putschists. Why is criminalising the HDP so important for this government?

Because the government cannot pacify the HDP and the mentality it represents no matter how much pressure it applies on the party and its members. This is because we are right. They’ve brought forward a package for a constitutional change but the content of this package is so indefensible that they are shying away from explaining it properly to the electorate… This is why they are terrorising our party and others who say ‘no’; they say that “to say ‘no’ is to support terrorism and to say ‘no’ means supporting a coup d’etat!” For God’s sake! They are organising a referendum and bringing forward two choices in front of the people on the one hand, but they are threatening the people who support one of these choices on the other… Today both of our party’s co-leaders, many deputies and almost all the elected municipality heads are in prison. This referendum is one of the main reasons why 60 percent of our party’s cadres in Kurdistan are imprisoned at the moment.

How does this situation affect your referendum campaign?

We can’t even distribute leaflets, let alone conduct a proper campaign or organise meetings. Even the vehicles we adorn with the ‘no’ banners are towed away, alongside the party members who are detained. But we are defending the right choice, and because we are right we are stronger than them.

The AKP is conducting its ‘yes’ campaign with armed propaganda, with armed pressure. Take what happened in the village of Xerabe Bava [Korukoy] or in Lice for instance… They have chosen armed propaganda as their campaign method in the Kurdish region. But I believe that society’s wisdom and righteousness will prevail.