How will Turkey’s Kurds vote in Erdogan’s referendum?

Published April 12th, 2017 - 07:40 GMT
This file photo taken on October 05, 2015 shows a Turkish police officer stand guarding a street in Silvan, after clashes between Turkish army and Kurdish rebels. (AFP/Ilyas Akengin)
This file photo taken on October 05, 2015 shows a Turkish police officer stand guarding a street in Silvan, after clashes between Turkish army and Kurdish rebels. (AFP/Ilyas Akengin)

Mustafa Celik makes no secret of his voting intentions in this Sunday's constitutional referendum in Turkey.

The 43-year-old Kurd is so convinced that a presidential system should be introduced that he has named his newborn daughter according to his voting preference: Evet, meaning "yes."

Celik is not the only Kurd to switch his allegiance from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

At 20 percent of the overall population, Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey. The strongest political force in their region of south-eastern Turkey is the HDP, which in 2015 gained seats in parliament with an anti-Erdogan stance.

But Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) enjoys support among conservative Kurds. Diyarbakir province, where Celik lives, sent 11 deputies to parliament in 2015 - nine from the HDP and two from the AKP.

Celik's village of Gecitli - population 250 - is about an hour-and-a-half's drive from the city of Diyarbakir. A muddy path leads to the farmer's humble house.

Sheepdogs announce the arrival of a stranger with a chorus of barking. Celik receives visitors in a sunny yard where chickens peck at the ground and cows look on from a few metres away.

Celik has thrown a scarf around his neck and is wearing an old brown suit with elbow patches. He is obviously enjoying the publicity resulting from the name he gave his baby daughter.

The farmer, who has eight children by two wives, is bitterly disappointed by the HDP. "They received 80 seats in parliament. And what did they do? They betrayed the people."

He accuses the HDP of having joined ranks with the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). "I had hoped the HDP would work for peace," said Celik, blaming the PKK and HDP for the collapse of the peace process in the summer of 2015.

In remarks that could have come straight from an Erdogan rally, Celik said the president wanted peace and had done a lot not only for the Kurds, but for the Turks.

The farmer accuses "the West" of supporting the PKK in order to prevent peace in Turkey and thwart the country's rise.

The openness with which the "yes" faction of Kurds like Celik support Erdogan is astonishing. But they are not representative of Diyarbakir as a whole, where there are masses of Kurds in the "no" camp.

One is Ismail Uzmez, 65, from Sur, the historic district of the city of Diyarbakir. The neighbourhood has been largely destroyed in fighting between the PKK and the Turkish army. Uzmez says Erdogan bears the blame.

"Kurds who vote 'yes' are blind. They don't see the truth," Uzmez says. "They hope to profit from it. But this hope will not be fulfilled."

Asked if he fears one-man rule should the "yes" vote win, Uzmez observes: "We already have a dictatorship." But a "no" result might secure a bit of "breathing space" for the country, he adds.

Semra Buyum, 26, is another resident of Sur. But she blames the destruction not on Erdogan, rather on the PKK and HDP - the latter of whom she voted for in 2015.

She and her 32-year-old friend Hulya Dagan are clear about how they will vote. "We say 'yes' down to our last drop of blood," Buyum says.

Then there is Ziya Pir, a Turkish-German HDP deputy in Diyarbakir, who is trying to persuade "yes"-leaning Kurds to change their minds. "We are having problems mobilizing people," he admits, while complaining about the "chicanery" of police at HDP campaign events.

The uphill battle that the HDP faces can be seen in Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu's boast about having banned the HDP's campaign song entitled "Na" - Kurdish for "no" - and his description of them as "vultures."

But Pir says he won't be discouraged. "What makes me feel so helpless is when I meet Kurds who say yes on the referendum. Sometimes we hear remarks like, 'If anyone can solve the Kurdish problem, it's Erdogan.'"

Pir says the HDP's aim isn't limited to achieving an overall "no" result in Turkey. "In Kurdistan we need a very clear 'no,' otherwise Erdogan will feel strengthened in his policies and clamp down even more harshly than is now the case."

By Can Merey

© 2021 dpa GmbH

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