We want to double our mayors in Kurdish cities – BDP official

Interview by a KT Correspondent in Istanbul:

Mehmet Akar

Mehmet Akar

Mehmet Akar, head of the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) media branch in Istanbul, spoke to a KT correspondent about the local election campaign and the prospects for the BDP and its recently-formed electoral partner, the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party).

KT: Why isn’t the BDP standing in Istanbul or anywhere in western Turkey in Sunday’s local elections? What is the point of the HDP?

MA: Usually Kurdish parties are not able to reach the Turkish people. However, as a Turkish party, the HDP is standing in 56 regions while the BDP is standing in 22 Kurdish regions. The HDP is introducing itself to Turkey. After these elections there will be presidential and parliamentary elections. The HDP is a leftist democratic party and the BDP is a party of the HDP. The HDP is an umbrella of 25 groups and movements. All cultural and ethnic minorities are represented in it. There are Armenians, Circassians. Greeks, and so on, all representing the HDP.

The BDP and HDP are the first parties to bring in a co-chair system, like that of the Green party in Germany. It is designed to increase the involvement of women at all levels of the organisation. On the Princes’ Islands, the HDP mayoral candidate and every one of municipal assembly candidates is a woman. There is also a LGBT  representative, for example,  standing for the Kadikoy city assembly. This HDP project is the first of its kind in the Middle East.

KT: What will happen in future elections – will you stand as BDP or HDP?

MA: We want to stand everywhere as the HDP, though we don’t know when this will happen and how.

KT: Who will you stand in the August presidential elections?

MA: No one knows yet, none of the parties has decided.

KT: So what is the BDP doing in the campaign?

MA: The BDP is the most experienced part of the HDP and it is leading the organisation of its election campaign. In Istanbul, in the elections of 2009 and 2010, we got 4.1% and 5.3% of the votes. Now we are hoping the HDP will get 10%.

The BDP is also standing in 22 cities and regions in Kurdistan where we already hold 100 mayorships. On Sunday we hope to double this number.

In particular we want to win Bitlis, Mus, Agri, Bingol, Mardin, Kars and Urfa which are now under the control of the AKP (the ruling government party). It can happen if there is no cheating and the authorities do not use their dark powers to steal votes.

KT: Why has the AKP so much support in the Kurdish areas?

MA: In the 1999 elections the BDP got 37 mayors. Over the years since then, the total rose to 54 and then 100, and now the target is 200. But Kurds have a religious society and the AKP has exploited these religious beliefs. You can do this once or twice but the third time people start to understand. Since the Roboski massacre more Kurds understand just how religious the AKP really are: killing fellow Muslims who are Kurds.

The BDP mayors have good and warm relations with our people. None of our mayors are accused of corruption. The government is always sending inspectors to investigate our mayors but they have never found anything.  The mayors are arrested for ideological reasons but never for corruption. We still have many mayors in prison. 15 days after the 2009 elections, nearly 10,000 Kurdish political activists, including many mayors, were arrested. More than 500 people were arrested in Istanbul, including many journalists and students. Most of these people are still in jail including, for example, the mayor of Batman.

KT: What happens when a BDP mayor is jailed – how does the municipality function? 

MA: The municipal assembly elects a deputy mayor and the work carries on.

KT: Is it true there will be some declaration of democratic autonomy if the BDP does well in Kurdish areas?

MA: We have already declared it and we are constructing it right now. We are trying to apply it, and if we win more mayoral positions, it will be easier to do so. The advances in Syria are also helping – and success in one region will help the other. Foreign powers, including the US and the EU, will have to cooperate with us.

KT: What about language rights and allowing people to be educated in Kurdish?

MA: Our aim is to have education in Kurdish and the right of everyone to be educated in their mother tongue. We want to make the government provide this. As a small concession a few universities are allowing students to study in Kurdish in subjects such as mathematics, chemistry, physics and astronomy – but not in history, geography, sociology or any of the social sciences. The government will now let us learn Kurdish, but it will not allow us to be educated in our language. Another problem is that they do not train teachers and professors who can teach in Kurdish.

KT: What about the stalled peace process? If the ruling AKP loses ground, won’t it be less likely that Erdogan will deliver a real solution?   

At the moment we still have hope that the peace will hold. If the process is broken, any decision to go to war would be made by the people and the freedom movement. The PKK is demanding autonomy, which is not an unreasonable demand. But still we Kurds have nothing reflected in the constitution. Of course we should not trust the AKP but it is the first party to start such a process and we are negotiating with them. Even if the AKP loses some votes, it will still be the biggest party in Turkey.

The more the AKP gets hurt, especially with the corruption revelations, the more dictatorial Erdogan becomes. Erdogan is trying to become like Putin. He is flirting both with the EU and the Shanghai 5 and he is also providing logistical and political support to radical Islamists operating in Syria, such as ISIS and Al Nusra. He is playing a dirty game.

Mehmet Akar, head of the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) media branch in Istanbul, first became involved in the freedom struggle in the 1970s as a teachers’ leader in Adiyarman (Semsur).

This interview was translated into English by Nechirvan.

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