Kurds turn out for HDP in Turkey’s election, as special forces watch polling stations
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Voters were arriving at polling stations as soon as they opened in the south-eastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir on Sunday. And special forces soon appeared at the gates of all the schools where the city’s mainly Kurdish population was doing its civic duty. Although it is a minority party, the pro-Kurd People’s Democratic Party (HDP) could play a decisive role after the election.
With the Islamic State armed group (IS) active in the area, there was always the possibility that a bomb could go off on polling day.
IS suicide bombers caused over 150 deaths at two peace rallies, supported by left-wingers and Kurds, earlier this year.
And this week an IS cell killed two police officers who raided the houses they were living in in Diyarbakir, seven IS members also dying in the assaults.
But the Turkish government is as worried about the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the PKK, if not more so.
After failing to form a government following June’s general election, President Recep Tayyip Erogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) launched a new offensive against the PKK, ending peace talks.
The PKK responded but declared a new truce during the election campaign and would be unlikely to attack voters in a region where the HDP has massive support.
But government ministers seem far more concerned about the PKK and its Syrian allies the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), who are fighting IS on the Turkish border, than the Islamist group that it is supposed to be fighting alongside the US and Western powers.
They are also worried about the HDP, which claims that some 1,000 of its supporters have been arrested in the security clampdown.
That has not stopped virtually everyone you ask at the Diyarbakir’s voting booths declaring their support for the party sometimes very forthrightly.
‘’HDP, HDP, HDP, PKK, HDP, PKK!” recites Mehmetcik, a pensioner. “We Kurds will work together for a united and independent Kurdistan.’’
He has a sense of history, reproaching France, Germany and Britain for backing down on their promise of an independent Kurdish state after the fall of the Ottoman empire.
“If you had been honest with us, all these deaths would not have taken place,” he says.
Suna, a student who is translating for international observers, giggles when she says she will vote for the pro-Kurd party but her reasons are serious.
“And why? Because of the democracy of the HDP. Because I find them serious about all of the problems of Turkey … Now I’m not happy to be in this country because of this government and I want them to go.”
She believes the HDP will get 13-14 per cent, about what they won last time. Some voters are more optimistic, predicting as much as 20 per cent.
Zafer, a student who is half Kurd, half ethnic Armenian, wants peace and equality for all and believes that’s what the HDP is fighting for.
As two police officers bend an interested ear to the interview, he says that the truth about the genocide of Armenians during World War 1 has been hidden by successive governments.
“They won’t admit anything now. The truth is still concealed from us. I don’t know what will happen in the period following 1 November but things can’t go on like this. I think the situation will improve in the future.”
While some voters blame the PKK as well as the government for the ongoing violence, even former AKP supporters seem disillusioned in Diyarbakir.
“We were all for AKP at first,” says Taner, an electrical engineer, who is working in Iraqi Kurdistan and has come back to Diyarbakir specially to vote. “Then we saw that they had a very exclusive way of governing. So we saw that the situation was very bad and we understood that this way of governing is very bad.”
But, like the HDP leaders, he accepts that the next government will be a coalition.
In fact, he thinks that would be a good thing.
“Today if there’s a coalition it is like in a household where all the members of the family decide together and not alone. That’s why people have decided for a coalition and don’t want a one-party majority. Because if there is a majority that means a sultanate, that’s human nature.”
On a brilliantly sunny autumn day the turnout swells as the day goes on. Good news for the HDP, maybe not such good news for Erdogan.
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