SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.
On Sunday Turkey’s ruling party AKP suffered their biggest setback in 13 years by losing their parliamentary majority. The new Kurdish-sympathetic party, the HDP, surpassed 10 percent threshold, which means that there are now less than 40 days to form a coalition government or head to the polls for a second election. The HDP ran on platform supporting Kurdish rights, and 40 percent of the HDP’s newly-elected members of parliament are women, and they support the rights of ethnic minorities.
Now with 80 seats in the hands of the HDP, what does this mean for the future of Kurdish sovereignty? Joining us now from Toronto to discuss all of this is Baris Karaagac. Baris is a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University in Ontario. He’s also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises, and Struggles: Capital and Labor in Contemporary Capitalism.
Baris, as always, thank you for joining us.
BARIS KARAAGAC, LECTURER OF INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT STUDIES, TRENT UNIV.: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. Hi.
PERIES: Baris, so what is the significance of having a Kurdish-sympathetic party garnering 80 seats in [inaud.] 550-member parliament?
KARAAGAC: Well, there are a few consequences of this election. First of all, the electorate, the people of Turkey sent a very clear message to Erdogan, the current president, that they do not want a presidential system. And Erdogan, who became the president last year, has been pushing for an executive presidential system with quite weak if any checks and balances on his power. And many people have been referring to him as the new Turkish sultan, or as a leader who is on his way to becoming a sultan. The results were a clear signal that the electorate doesn’t want the presidential system.
PERIES: But Baris, now there’s a presidential system already in place, because Erdogan is the president.
KARAAGAC: Yes. But what he had in mind is the presidential system that we see in countries like France. So he wanted to concentrate political power in his own hands. And actually, when you look at his, his politics, his practice in the past few years, he’s become really authoritarian while at the same time concentrating power in his own hands.
This authoritarian attitude created a significant discontent among the population. And they gave a clear signal to Erdogan that they do not want to see him installing or introducing a presidential system in Turkey.
PERIES: So Baris, tell us more about the HDP, who does it consist of and how did they garner this 10 percent?
KARAAGAC: So the HDP, the People’s Democratic Party, was founded in 2012. It is the biggest and most prominent representative of the predominantly Kurdish people in Turkey. And so far whenever the HDP or any Kurdish party try to enter Turkish Parliament, because of the really high electoral threshold either they would go into an alliance with one of the existing parties, national parties, or they would run as independents.
For the first time, they ran as a party. And there was a lot of pressure on these people, because 10 percent, electoral threshold is so undemocratic. It’s a huge hurdle. But they were able to gather 13 percent of the electoral vote and enter the parliament as a political party. And now they have 80 members, which is equal to that of the ultra-nationalist NHP. Which is very, very interesting and which is a very, very hopeful sign for Turkish politics.
And this party should be seen as a coalition of various segments of Turkish and Kurdish society, but it also of course includes other ethnicities. You would see landowners. You would see Kurdish bourgeoisie within the ranks of this party. But when you particularly look at the leadership, except for a couple of people, most of these people are on the left of the political spectrum.
So this party has been quite critical of capitalism. It’s been really vocal about it. This party has presented itself as a green party, an environmentalist party which is concerned about the ecological crisis we are facing. This party has presented itself as a feminist party. Again, 50 percent of all its candidates have to be females. It’s also been a big supporter of LGBT rights in Turkey.
So it is in general a very progressive force. And it has become a party of Turkey as a whole. It is not anymore exclusively a Kurdish party. And in this election it is quite striking, so significant that this party got the votes of Kurds and some other ethnicities, but also Turks, mostly on the left of the political spectrum. Most of the mainstream media have presented these people as liberal Turks, but I would disagree. These are mostly leftist Turks.
PERIES: Tell us a bit more about the HDP. How were they formed, who are some of the leaders, and how did it evolve?
KARAAGAC: Well, HDP is the last representative of a series of parties that were founded by Kurds to, to continue their struggle on the political level. On the legitimate, political level, through elections and political organizing. And this is a relatively new party. But of course, its roots go back to the early years of the Kurdish resistance. And when we look at the structure of the party, and at the membership at the base of the party, yes. The majority of its supporters and also its activists, are of Kurdish origin. But at the same time you see people from other ethnicities in Turkey.
And we need to keep in mind, we have to remember that Turkey, as opposed to the official discourse, is a multi-ethnic, multi-faith country. So the HDP has been able to bring together all these different colors of Turkish society under its own umbrella. And this Parliament is arguably also the most colorful parliament of the republican era. Arguably. We have now, for example, three Armenian members of the Parliament. We have someone representing the Roma people. We don’t have official results, but, official data on this, but there are approximately half a million Roma living in Turkey if not more. So for the first time, a representative of this ethnicity will be in Turkish parliament. So this Parliament is a very unique one in many aspects.
PERIES: And what is the relationship of the HDP to the Kurdistan Workers’ party? What are the murmurs there in terms of continuing the peace process?
KARAAGAC: Many people point to the organic connection, relationship between those two political actors. But the HDP is not an armed unit, whereas the PKK has its own armed wing. So the HDP is all about elections. But at the same time they have been the mediators between the PKK, its armed branch, as well as its leader, Ocalan, and who is in prison on an island in the Marmara Sea. They have been the mediators.
But this is a completely legitimate political party that participates in elections and vies for political power through peaceful means. But many people have pointed out those organic links between the armed wing of the Kurdish movement. This is a very sensitive issue, actually.
PERIES: And so now how do you think the Kurdish sovereignty issue is going to play out?
KARAAGAC: Kurdish sovereignty. This election also is a response. A reaction of the Kurdish electorate towards Turkey’s foreign policy adventures in both Iraq and in Syria. Especially what happened in Kobani. When ISIS attacked Kobani–it is important. When ISIS attacked Kobani and laid the siege on the city, which is one of the three cantons in a predominantly Kurdish area of Syria. Turkey refused to assist the Kurdish resistance there, and in addition created obstacles. And many people actually argued or alleged that the Turkish state aided ISIS or Islamic militants attacking Kobani in various ways.
Actually, in one of the interviews I mentioned this. I late 2013 and in January in 2014, a number of trucks were stopped by the police and the gendarmerie, and these trucks were on their way to Syria. And some people within the republican People’s party, and members of the party in the parliament, alleged that these trucks were carrying weapons and ammunition to assist the Islamic militants in Syria fighting against Assad, but also against the Kurds and some other ethnic groups. But we didn’t have concrete evidence.
In May about a month ago, one of the major newspapers in Turkey, Hurriyet, released video footage in which the police and the gendarmerie were opening these trucks and looking at the content. And we see that there were weapons, ammunition, and half-finished mortar shells. And these were going to Syria.
So this created a lot of discontent and anger among particularly Kurds. Because when Kobani was attacked many of them perceived this as an attack against Kurds. Because Kobani is right on the border, and these people had family there. And also they spoke the same language, et cetera. Shared a culture.
So [inaud.] failed attempts in those two countries and in the Middle East as a whole, was one of the factors that led to the significant decrease in the votes of the AKP in this election.
PERIES: Now Baris, one last question to you. All these changes in Turkey are taking place at a time when there’s a huge crisis in the region. What will be the situation now in terms of alliances with the regional countries and also with the United States?
KARAAGAC: It is very, very difficult to say something about it. It’s difficult to foresee or predict. But it is clear that the United States is not happy with Erdogan’s and Prime Minister Davutoglu’s foreign policy strategy in the Middle East.
The answer to your question depends a lot on the composition of the new government and upon which conditions the new government, most likely a coalition government it will be, will be based on. Big capital, both international and Turkish, has been pushing for a broad-based coalition between the AKP on the one hand and the republican People’s party on the other. Their expectation is that this will bring, or this will sustain economic stability in Turkey.
We need to keep in mind that the last 15 years is the longest period in which economic crisis did not take place in the country. Since the foundation of the country. And particularly after the 1990s, this is a very important feat for any political party or government. But at the same time, Turkey has become–especially since 2006, has become one of the most fragile economics because of the debt it has accumulated. When the AKP took over, the total debt was about $130 billion. At the end of 2014, this has gone up to more than $400 billion. So this has increased by 210 percent, so it cannot be sustained. But still, big capital, both Turkish and international capital, still will do anything to sustain this fake stability.
PERIES: Baris Karaagac, thank you so much for joining us today. And I know you’re on your way to Turkey very soon, and we’re looking forward to your report from there.
KARAAGAC: Thank you so much, Sharmini. Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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