Kurds defy repression with strong vote for HADEP


By Norm Dixon

The results of Turkey's April 18 national, provincial and local elections signal increased repression against the country's Kurdish minority and greater austerity for the working class. However, the strong vote in the south-east of the country for the People's Democratic Party (HADEP), in the face of harsh military repression and harassment, indicates that the Kurdish people's resistance will also escalate.

HADEP candidates stood for the first time in local government and mayoral elections. HADEP candidates dominated the results in the south-east, being elected to govern at least six provincial cities, as well as the region's largest city and administrative capital, Diyarbakir. HADEP reports that it has also won at least 38 mayorships and many provincial and local assembly seats.

Ankara will not allow HADEP to exercise real power in these cities. The 11 provinces in the south-east are under martial law — politely dubbed "emergency rule" — and occupied by 100,000 troops. Governors are appointed by the central government. The national government is seeking to have Turkey's highest court ban HADEP over alleged "organic links" with the outlawed militant Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Despite HADEP's strong showing, amounting to 4.7% of the official national vote, it will be denied seats in the 550-member national parliament because it did not secure a nationwide vote of 10%.

HADEP deputy general secretary Ali Ozcan claimed on April 20 that, had it not been for severe repression and blatant vote rigging, HADEP would have won 100 mayorships and 12-13% of the national vote, entitling it to around 80 seats in the national parliament.

"It is impossible to term these elections free and democratic", Ozcan said. "Our party was suppressed in every arena. Our party president, secretary-general, deputy presidents and six central administrators have been arrested since November 19." He added that 116 party officials and more than 5000 HADEP members had been detained for at least a week during the campaign.

"Our candidates were threatened by the security forces and some were even banned from the cities and towns where they were on the ballots. Our only bus equipped with a sound system was confiscated ... Our party was not allowed to open election bureaus, hang party flags, pennants and posters or make announcements from mobile vehicles", Ozcan said.

"Our party observers were not allowed to be present at any polling site, even though we have the legal right to do so. Security forces warned voters, especially those in the countryside, that their villages would be burned if any votes were cast for HADEP ... HADEP members were not allowed to be present during the counting of ballots. Some ballot boxes have been 'lost'", Ozcan reported.

Following the February 15 abduction of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan from the Greek embassy in Kenya, Turkey's prime minister Bulent Ecevit, the military and the establishment newspapers whipped up Turkish national chauvinism and anti-Kurdish racism. The government and military rattled their sabres at Turkey's regional rival, Greece, over its role in the Ocalan affair, Cyprus and Greece's half-hearted support for NATO's attack on Serbia.

This is not the first time that Ecevit, leader of the once-social democratic Democratic Left Party (DSP), has played the nationalist card. In 1974 he ordered the invasion of northern Cyprus.

While Ecevit's party benefited from the wave of reactionary nationalism — its vote jumped from 14.6% (in 1995) to more than 22%, making it the largest vote-getter — the party to gain the most from the renewed nationalism was the ultra-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), whose vote leapt from 8.2% to 18%. The DSP is likely to take 136 parliamentary seats, closely followed by the MHP with 130.

The MHP is closely aligned with the fascist "Grey Wolves" gangs that attempted to crush the left in the late-1970s, killing thousands, and prepared the ground for the vicious 1980 military coup. Ironically, the DSP was one of the Grey Wolves' targets at that time.

The MHP and the Grey Wolves retain strong support within the military. The Grey Wolves were allowed to attack HADEP supporters with impunity during the election campaign. The MHP also has links with organised crime.

The MHP harbours the dream of creating a "Greater Turkey" that encompasses the parts of the Balkans, the Turkic-speaking republics of the former Soviet Union and China, and other parts of the former Ottoman Empire. The party is violently opposed to the Kurdish people's quest for national self-determination.

It is a measure of the DSP's "leftism" (a description bandied about ad nauseam by the Western press) that it is entertaining the formation of a coalition government with the fascist MHP, as well as with at least one of the discredited and corrupt conservative parties.

As well as fanning nationalism, the DSP shares with the MHP support for NATO (both urge the war against Serbia be expanded, the MHP wants Turkish troops to play a leading role in any "ground" invasion) and the US war against Iraq (since becoming PM in January, Ecevit has allowed the US to use Turkey's Incirlik air base to bomb Iraq on a daily basis).

Both are committed also to implementing economic "reforms", privatisation and changes to the social security system demanded by the IMF and international "markets" to reduce Turkey's 50% inflation rate. Not for the first time will workers, intoxicated by their rulers' cynical promotion of nationalism and racism, be duped into suffering a drop in living standards and job losses.

A DSP-MHP coalition will also result in an intensification of the war against the Kurdish people. Most immediately, the influx of MHP and DSP MPs will make PKK leader Ocalan's execution more likely. If sentenced to death by the juryless State Security Court — as the state prosecutors are demanding — the national parliament must endorse the decision for it to be carried out.