Turkey: Youth are still fighting amid plans for People's Assemblies, leftist says
Ender Imrek is a member of the Taksim Platform, the key organising centre during the Gezi Park protests. He is also former vice-president of the revolutionary socialist party Labour Party-Turkey (EMEP) and a central executive member of left-wing umbrella group the People’s Democratic Congress (HDK).
The HDK played a key role during the Gezi protests, when police brutally evicted protesters seeking to stop the destruction of trees in Taksim Gezi Park in May. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's I. Zekeriya Ayman
* * *
Can you tell us about the HDK?
The HDK formed in October 2011. It was preceded by a progressive electoral bloc (the Labour, Democracy and Freedom Bloc), which got 36 candidates elected to the 550-seat national parliament despite harsh repression and electoral fraud.
Most of our MPs were elected in the Kurdish region. We also won three seats in Istanbul, and one each in Mersin and Adana, where there is a Kurdish population concentrated outside the Kurdish region.
One of our MPs was disqualified for his “criminal” political history and he was replaced with a government candidate. Five of our Kurdish MPs are still in jail.
The bloc was formed by the Kurdish freedom movement, socialists, other social justice and peace supporters, and movements and faith groups. It was supported by intellectuals, artists, LGBTI activists, youth, women, greens, feminists and number of unions.
The election success caused great excitement and cleared the path for the formation of the HDK. A number of groups that had not been part of the electoral bloc participated in forming the HDK.
How are groups in the HDK alliance relating to the new generations radicalising through the Gezi uprising? Do you think there will be a significant number who will remain politically active and get more politically organised for the future?
Non-organised youth were dominant during the Gezi uprising. We still haven’t developed a strong connection with them.
They hadn’t been involved in any political struggle before. They have a unique character, language, wit, slogans and symbols, which are totally different from traditional left parties and groups. The government couldn’t repress their enthusiasm and resistance during Gezi.
Today it's not at the same level it was during the Gezi days, but to some extent the youth are still organised. It suddenly pops up in stadiums during soccer matches, at the forums that are continuing in city parks.
The HDK hasn’t connected to this layer yet, but what we saw and the lessons we learned from Gezi give us a strong basis to relate better to the newly active young people and women. We know that young people are watching HDK closely and many act with us and are actively seeking a way to get organised.
The park forums are ongoing open mass meetings to discuss the way forward for the movement. What do you think about the park forums?
The HDK supported the park forums from the start. The forums excite us as a platform from which to build for the future.
Despite unbearable summer heat, university holidays and the general summer slowdown, the forums are continuing, especially in Istanbul. Attendance has decreased, but we predict it will rise again. We are entering a phase where representatives of the various forums will gather, discuss issues and draw up plans for the future.
There are about 70 forums in Istanbul. Now they are discussing how to transform themselves into People’s Assemblies. Discussions include how to create a network of representatives from towns, suburbs and streets. We are planning to form city and regional People’s Assemblies.
There are many ideas, but the main tendency is towards forming People’s Assemblies. Many forums are also discussing candidates for next year’s local elections.
What was the orientation of the Kurdish movement to the Gezi uprising?
The Kurdish freedom movement sees the peace negotiations with the government as a huge success after decades of armed struggle. They don’t want to see the process derailed.
Although armed guerillas have been withdrawn from Turkey, the Kurdish movement is critical of the Turkish government’s slowness to implement the agreed democratic steps. But the Kurdish movement don’t want to be the first to leave the negotiating table.
Because of this, the Kurdish movement did not participate enough in the Gezi resistance.
Another important reason was a different reading of the Gezi movement. The Kurdish movement was concerned the uprising may be taken over by anti-AKP [Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party] nationalists and become racist, chauvinist and anti-Kurdish.
The more that Gezi was dominated by progressive forces the more Kurdish concerns reduced. Many Kurds in the cities of Western Turkey were involved in the Gezi protests, especially in Istanbul.
What role and influence did revolutionary parties and movements have during the Gezi protests?
The HDK and non-HDK leftists were at Gezi Park right from the start. The group who stopped the bulldozers that first day in Gezi Park included HDK MP Sirri Sureyya Onder and other leftists.
We actively campaigned for the opening of the park to the people after the police occupied it. All left groups took part in the demolition of the police barricades.
But the revolutionary parties and groups who were in the Taksim Platform, the governing body of the Gezi Park protests, did not predict the size and impact of the movement.
Revolutionary parties and organisations got very excited and we threw ourselves into Gezi’s every moment. There was never any hesitation. We met a new generation of youth and women and realised that this new generation had no idea about the history of the progressive movement. It was a huge and historic experience for all of us.
Are there new debates and discussions happening inside your party because of the Gezi events? Has it challenged old ideas, for example, on the issue of gay, lesbian and transgender rights?
Gezi affected the groups and individuals in the HDK in different ways. The HDK is not an ideologically homogeneous group. Internal discussions started from the first day of Gezi.
Not being able to resolve the differences quickly during the uprising meant we weren’t able to play as good a role as we should have. Each HDK component was visible, but HDK the umbrella was not. Nevertheless, Gezi made us stronger.
Gezi shook up all the component parts of HDK. We are now preparing for the next phase by getting agreement on major goals.
We all agree that Gezi affected our psychology and we need to learn from it. I can tell that there is a feeling of renewal in all of us.
The HDK already had many gay and lesbian members. We are now more connected to many more people and are becoming a pole of attraction that is watched carefully by everybody. We joined the tens of thousands who marched in the Pride Week organised by the LGBTI movement in the last week of June. That march also demonstrates the transformation in Turkey.
To what extent do you think the Gezi youth were influenced by the Occupy movement and the Arab Spring?
All Occupy movements around the world, and especially the rebellions against dictators in the Arab world, affected Gezi. Some specific developments were catalysts.
The new organising capabilities of social media combined with a passion for freedom and the AKP government’s despotic practices made the explosion inevitable. The Erdogan government’s intervention in social life, urban development projects giving international and local tycoons millions of dollars, the destruction of historic and cultural values, banning abortion, telling women how many children they should have, what they should wear and not wear … This all created such a strong resistance.
What are the HDK’s future plans?
In August, we held the HDK national congress. HDK can’t stand in the national elections as a party because of anti-democratic election laws. Our affiliates have founded a party, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and we are discussing running in the local elections as HDP.
Our election strategy will be based on the Kurdish people’s demands and the unique structure of the Kurdish region. There will be a big campaign on World Peace Day, September 1. There will be lots of “Peace, equality, solidarity and freedom” celebrations in major cities including Istanbul.
There will be “peace chains” and talks on peace, equality and freedom in all forums on August 30. Also, there will be a peace forum in Gezi Park.
Local elections will be held in March next year. We are trying hard to bring all forces to act together. We want to push this oppressive regime back and advance as we win new ground.
The gigantic power that Gezi released and the positive effect the peace process has provided after 30 years of war gives us new opportunities. Our aim is not to waste it and to unite the wider community behind progressive politics.