The June 7, 2015, general election in Turkey saw the left Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) win almost 13 percent of the vote and around eighty parliamentary seats. It passed the 10 percent threshold for parliamentary representation for the first time, with a total of almost six million votes.
The HDP captured all the seats in the following Kurdish cities: Batman, Agri Dersim, Hakari, Sirnak, and Igdir. The party won one million votes and eleven seats in Istanbul — a city with a huge Kurdish population although the party also won significant non-Kurdish support there.
Thirty-one of the HDP’s eighty new members of parliament are women, the highest proportion of any party. HDP candidates included Armenians, Yezidis, and Assyrians alongside Kurds. The HDP had the only openly gay candidate.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) also lost its parliamentary majority and received three million fewer votes than in 2010. The AKP lost many votes to the HDP in areas where it has had a big Kurdish following. Turkey’s parliament consists of 550 seats; 276 seats are required for a single-party majority government. The AKP has only secured 258 with which to try and form a coalition.
The speech below, originally published at Links, from HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş’s 2014 presidential bid, outlines the HDP’s vision for a new Turkey.
My candidacy is not just for a new president, but for a new way of life for Turkey. It is a proposal for rebuilding our fraternity on an equal footing. Our call is to all the peoples and all the beliefs in Turkey, to build a new life in which all are free to express their differences, free from pressure to conform.
The call for a new life is radical democracy!
I did not become a candidate in order to preside over an authoritarian, bureaucratic, antidemocratic, sexist state. The president we hope for is one who will be with the people on the streets.
This means ruling together and making everyone a partner in government. This determination not to be ruled, but for all to take part, will mean gains, not for individuals, but for the people. A new life will grow through the participation of the excluded and those voices against ethnic, religious, sexual, and class discrimination which have not been heard up to now.
The new way of life means, in place of the imposition of uniformity, an equal and voluntary union of our differences. We believe that a free and democratic Turkey is possible.
Turkey is at a crossroads. Either we will choose to further consolidate the authoritarian state, or we will pave the way for a fundamental change by taking radical democratic measures to realize the desires of all the oppressed.
By gathering the strength of all who object, we have the opportunity to root out the system in which the bureaucratic mechanisms of Ankara make all the decisions. Therefore, while we are presented with three candidates, there are in reality only two political choices.
Our policy: the people administers itself, freely expressing its differences with pride. The people can speak freely and determine their own future. Faced with the neoliberal and anti-democratic order, we refuse to make the false choice between nationalism and religious sectarianism.
We believe that the best government is the least government. We aim to make the state smaller and create a system where democracy and citizens’ rights prevail. We propose to transform the state, whose current aim is to protect itself and its power, into an efficient vehicle to serve the people.
No longer will the state revolve around one person and the hierarchy around him. Peoples’ assemblies will ensure the direct participation of the people in running the state.
We will establish assemblies of women, youth, the disabled, belief groups, cultural and ethnic groups, farmers, workers and laborers. Instead of increasing the powers of the presidency, we will undertake a presidency which will guarantee the increased power of the people.
All the channels of the system will be opened up to the people and be democratized. Turkey will no longer be run by institutions that defend the status quo or the products of military coups, such as the National Security Council. Strengthened local government and democratic committees will replace these institutions.
The state will no longer audit itself. In place of the State Audit Commission, we will have the Peoples Audit Commission. This is a fundamental precondition of an open and transparent state.
The Will of the People
The will for peace of the peoples of Turkey is the guarantor of the peace process. The determination shown in the presidential election by those who want peace will lay the foundations for a quicker resolution of the peace process.
The solution to the Kurdish problem is an inseparable part of the democratization of Turkey. As we bring the problem toward solution, Turkey will become more democratic. The more democratic Turkey becomes, the faster we will move toward a solution.
The will to achieve comes first from those of us who have fought for peace for years and from the forces of democracy in Turkey.
Our candidacy for the presidency has strategic importance for the achievement of a lasting peace. We are aiming for a transformation that will democratize Turkey from top to bottom and root radical democracy in society. This is the objective of our call for change.
Our diversity is our strength, not our weakness.
Our democratic nation is made up of Turks, Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, Greeks, Ezidis, Suryanis, Keldanis, Arabs, Circassians, Laz, Pomaks, and Romanis. We will move away from every form of imposed uniformity to a pluralist democratic model for the nation. We will move from the era of the state constitution to the era of the peoples’ constitution.
A New Constitution
The architects of our existing constitution were recently given life prison sentences. We have been under the oppression of the junta’s illegitimate constitution for thirty-five years now. To defend the provisions of this constitution is to defend the military coup.
We can no longer postpone the need to completely replace this constitution that sanctifies the state and tramples underfoot peoples, languages, beliefs, and cultures. This has become an urgent need.
We need a non-sexist, ecological, democratic constitution that reflects Turkey’s multiethnic, multicultural, religiously diverse, and multi-identity reality. The new constitution must be the foundation document of a democratic Turkey and should be written by the people.
For Religious Pluralism
Life together can only be based on equality and freedom. The pressure on all the oppressed and excluded faiths — Alevis, Christians, Jews, Ezidis — must be lifted. The way must be opened for all faiths and worldviews to coexist freely in a pluralist democracy.
The right to worship in one’s mother tongue must be ensured. The Department of Religious Affairs, which exists to make religion serve the official ideology of the state, must be abolished. The state must abandon any attempt to influence or control religion through any institution. All hateful and discriminatory words directed at different beliefs must be removed from school textbooks and all incitement must be punished.
Legal status must be granted to the Alevi djemevis and the places of worship of all faiths and religions.
We must develop a libertarian secularism that frees all from the state monopoly over religion and enables those of any faith or of none to live freely as they chose.
Defending the Earth
From the resistance of the villagers of Bergama to cyanide gold mining in the 1990s to today, attacks on nature are never out of the news.
In every corner of our country we see similar stories with different actors: women of the Black Sea coast beaten by the gendarmerie for resisting the construction of a hydroelectric scheme on their local river, farmers in Thrace protesting the pollution of their waters with industrial waste, and villagers threatened by the construction of nuclear or fossil fuel power stations where they live.
The earth which feeds us, the air that cleans our blood, water which is the source of life, and the other species with which we share the earth: those not prepared to defend this shared inheritance cannot possibly talk about democracy, justice, and humanity.
The right to life is not just a right for people; defending the right to life of all animals is one of our basic principles.
Youth in Revolt
Our youth are in revolt against the attempt to force them into a predetermined mold by those who imagine themselves the owners of this country. Our young people are besieged by systemic problems such as unemployment and the failures in education. The new way of life we are proposing will give voice to our youth.
The “peoples’ assemblies” we will set up will include youth assemblies which will ensure the active participation of young men and women in every arena and remove every legal obstacle to youth self-organization. Ensuring the effective exercise of the political, economic, social, and cultural rights of young people will be a responsibility of the state.
In place of the mentality that understands youth only as a problem of “maintaining order” without any attempt to deal with the problems facing young people, the new life will give our youth a voice.
Our youth will not be led, but will be leaders.
Education is a public right afforded to every citizen free of charge. Access to education should be opened up to all equally, regardless of language, religion, faith, ethnicity, sex, sexual identity, or race. Public expenditure on education must be increased, and the education budget should be utilized in a just and equal way.
The educational curriculum should be freed from nationalism and sexism. We should offer a scientific, democratic, high-quality, secular education, without rote learning, that develops the creativity of individuals and that orients students in accordance with their abilities. Compulsory religious education lessons should be abolished and, instead, elective lessons in individuals’ own religions should be offered in accord with their own wishes.
Education in one’s mother tongue should be recognized as a right. At all levels of education, alongside the teaching of the official language, Turkish, there should be an opportunity to receive education in the student’s mother tongue. Education must be become multilingual on the basis of mother tongue education. It should be made possible, even if only one person requests it, for this right to be exercised without obstruction.
Education should no longer be exam-centric. The Higher Education Council should be abolished and the academic and administrative autonomy of the universities should be strengthened.
Every day at least five women are murdered in Turkey. In this patriarchal society that allows women neither a voice nor a share in power, the oppression and slaughter continue unabated. We have taken a principled stand against all forms of discrimination against and violence to women. In this, we will continue.
Only if women take a leading role can we achieve our new way of life. Every society is only as free as the women in that society.
The call for a new life means a sexually free society. The system ignores the fate of those LGBTQ individuals who face oppression and murder because of their sexual orientation or sexual identity. The very existence of LGBTQ individuals is seen as a crime. Homophobia and transphobia are encouraged. In the way of new life, every citizen, whatever their sexual identity, will have equal rights and be able to live freely life without facing discrimination.
Turkey is obliged to make a structural change in its foreign policy. Before, we had a foreign policy that ignored the problems resulting from the period of military domination of Turkish politics. Now we are face to face with the grave consequences of a foreign policy, with Ottoman references, that has the ambition to become a regional power.
Turkish foreign policy perpetuates itself by fanning the flames of sectarian hatred and opening the way for organizations like ISIS. In the West, the European Union membership process has virtually come to a halt, as have the related plans for reform in Turkey.
Our radical democratic belief in the possibility that people with different beliefs and identities can live together freely and equally, without assimilation, must also be the basis of our foreign policy.
A Call to Organize
The neoliberal period has brought fundamental changes in property relations, production, and employment. The production process has been atomized, split into small units, and reorganized.
Under the heading of “flexible working,” workers face insecure, subcontracted, uninsured employment conditions that not only divest workers of their basic employment rights, but also rights in all aspects of their lives.
We aim for a presidency that will make direct interventions for the investigation of industrial murders, the prevention of the use of child labor, and the reorganization of the conditions of seasonal agricultural workers.
The new life must guarantee the social rights of all workers, especially those in precarious employment.