By Mehmet Yuksel, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mehmet Yuksel is the BDP representative in Washington, DC. The views expressed are the author’s own.
Many U.S. officials still consider Turkey a model for the Middle East, crediting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with ushering in reforms that have excised the presence of the Turkish military from the political sphere. They are wrong. Erdoğan’s recent treatment of political opposition suggest that rather than democratize Turkey, he is instead following the model employed by Vladimir Putin in Russia or Mohamed Morsy in Egypt.
Erdoğan entered office promising a new approach on the Kurdish issue, a topic which the predominantly Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] holds dear. But his outreach was insincere. On September 5, 2012, he demanded the judiciary investigate BDP members of parliament, and called for the AKP to use its supermajority to strip parliamentary immunity from 10 BDP members of parliament. Security forces and Erdoğan’s backers interpreted his remarks as open season on the BDP. Even sitting BDP members of parliament faced police abuse and attacks. The irony is that all cases against the BDP boil down to political dissent, whereas the several dozen cases pending against not only AKP deputies but also Erdoğan himself are over corruption and fraud.
Erdoğan’s call to strip immunity is not mere posturing. Already in Turkey, five BDP deputies, two Republican Peoples Party [CHP] deputies and a Nationalist Movement Party [MHP] deputy are in jail. To stand up to Erdoğan and demand true debate on his dictates now appears to be a criminal offense.
Erdoğan’s move against opposition MPs simply brings into parliament what is already a reality throughout Turkey. In 2009, Erdoğan and security forces under his control launched a massive repressive operation against both the BDP rank-and-file and the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK). More than 8,000 Kurdish activists are reportedly in prison, including elected municipal administrators and high level party members. The repression has increased along with BDP success. In 2009 elections, the BDP doubled the towns and cities it administers, sometimes achieving more than 80 percent of the vote. The BDP also dominates Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey’s Kurdistan.
In response to Erdoğan’s efforts to constrain both democracy and a political outlet for Turkey’s Kurds, senior BDP leaders and several hundred Kurdish prisoners staged a 68-day hunger strike, demanding justice as well as the right of Kurdish prisoners to defend themselves in their mother tongue. While Erdoğan’s drive faltered in the face of widespread non-violent protest, should he continue his vendetta against the BDP and their efforts to win Turkey’s Kurds basic human rights, the results could be grave.
The BDP represents many disillusioned Kurds who otherwise might abandon the political process altogether. Already, most Kurds consider the Turkish parliament to be a house for Turks only, and not citizens of Turkey who are not ethnic Turks. Should the BDP abandon Ankara for Diyarbakir, Kurds will have no other option than to demand the international community recognize the self-determination of the Kurdish people, just as they have for Palestine.
Erdoğan’s dictatorial tendencies increasingly ensure Kurds have no internal democratic recourse to win their fundamental rights within Turkey.