‘What the Kurds did has helped others in Turkey a lot’: Shamil Altan

Interview by a KT Correspondent in Istanbul:

Samil Altan

Shamil Altan

Shamil Altan, co-president of the Istanbul regional Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) spoke to a KT correspondent on the eve of Turkey’s critical municipal elections. He discussed the election campaign in Turkey and Kurdistan and said there is a danger, in the current state crisis, that the army will regain its power.

What is the background to the HDP?

The HDP’s roots lie is the Peoples’ Democratic Congress (HDK) which brought the Kurdish movement as a whole together with about 20 other left, democratic organisations, women’s and youth organisations, ecologists and so on. The HDP is based on the programme of the HDK – mainly democratic demands. It is a minimum democratic programme to bring together Muslims, Christians, Alawites, LGBTs and everyone.

The HDP wants to reach the parts that the Kurds’ own party, the BDP, cannot reach. But the HDP is not a replica of the Kurdish movement. Its democratic demands appeal to the whole people – every nationality, belief and social class. Whatever you are in Turkey, you are oppressed, apart from a tiny handful of people. People are not able to speak their demands openly because they are afraid of oppression by the state. The HDP is a democracy, labour and freedom front. An election front against the conservatives. In my 50 years of political life, this is the first time so many groups have been brought together under one umbrella.

How is the local HDP campaign going?

There is some confusion still. We are only three or four months old and there are problems introducing a new party name and logo to people. Of course we will mainly get votes from Kurds living in Istanbul but we want to add some new voters to this. In the past we have got under 5% and we hope to increase on this. But the political situation is very polarised between the AKP (government party) and CHP (biggest opposition party).

What about the accusation that the Kurdish movement struck a secret deal with the AKP and the HDP is standing to split the anti-AKP vote in Istanbul?

This is ridiculous. We went to meet Kılıçdaroğlu, the CHP president, to see if we could coordinate something against the AKP. But we wanted it done openly and in front of the people. They were pressing us not to stand. We said there should an open discussion with an agreed programme and conditions. But he told us, “We can do this behind the door but not in the open. If people see us together it will not be helpful to us”. He did not want to be seen cooperating with Kurds because his party is so deeply chauvinistic. So we will fight both parties.

They are saying this because Kurds and the state are in negotiations and there are talks taking place with Mr Ocalan, although these do not yet have the status of negotiations. Maybe the CHP and other (Turkish nationalist) opposition parties do not want a peaceful and democratic solution. Maybe they want to make use of the war.

How will happen after the election?

This has turned out not to be municipal elections but more like a general election. There is a governmental and state crisis. It is a big problem for the establishment, which is not even able to control the parties. What we fear is that the only way out will be the more fascist way. There is danger of an open fascist regime. The government is changing laws towards an openly fascist environment.

Why is there a split between prime minister Erdogan and his former ally Fethullah Gulen?

Most of the cadres of the Erdogan government and the state officials have come from the Gulenist movement. It has been preparing for 50 years and its method is to take power by penetrating the state structure. Now these two are fighting because the Gulenists want more than the AKP is offering. The AKP is not only a political party, it is also a company. This is like two companies fighting. The Gulenists wanted a bigger share and the AKP did not give it. It is a very dirty fight, with almost every day some new leaks of both private and state-level conversations – like the latest one where the head of MIT (Turkish intelligence), the foreign minister and a general are discussing setting up the conditions for an attack on Syria.

This fight is good for us. The AKP must lose some electoral base. If it gets 40% or more, that is not good for us – for Kurds, for Alawites, for anybody. Erdogan will attack and not talk about a Kurdish solution.

This is a complete crisis. No one can say what will happen over the next two or three months. Most of us could be in prison. Or Erdogan could be somewhere else.

How is the BDP doing in Kurdistan?

In Kurdistan there is very good news. The BDP will erase the AKP in a lot of places and is talking about winning 200 mayorships. It is not propaganda. You can see the support from the reactions of the people. It gets better and better. When Erdogan came to Diyarbakir and Van (on Thursday), he had lost his voice! I hope they lose a lot of votes and the AKP is reduced to the status the CHP now has in Kurdistan.

Why has the AKP had so much Kurdish support?

Erdogan has played the religious card and made use of money he has from the government. And when the AKP came to power it moved against the army and pushed to minimise its role in political decision making. There were the Ergenekon trials. Kurds and many democratic-minded people supported the AKP for these reasons. This programme was coming from the West which wanted to limit the unpredictable power of the army in the name of ‘modernisation’. But after five or six years, Erdogan was cooperating with the army again and letting generals out of prison.

How are Erdogan’s relations with the army now?

I know about the army. I was in the Turkish army in the ’70s and was dismissed for being a communist. It is pulling together. It lost a lot of authority but it is developing a new alliance (with Erdogan) which is very dangerous. It would be a little different but we could go back to the old days of the strong army. A lot depends on the US, which will play a big role. It has become critical of Erdogan because he has overstepped the line on some issues.

How would you sum up the role of Kurds in Turkey?

I am a Circassian and can say that what the Kurds did has helped others a lot. It has given them the strength to defend their own identities and languages.

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