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Turkey: Europe is standing by and watching

Interview with Figen Yüksekdağ, co-President of HDP Party

Figen Yüksekdağ, co-president of HDP Party

Figen Yüksekdağ, co-president of HDP Party

“For Turkey now this is a very tough time, the democratic opposition is under attack: arrested journalists, censored news, and the Kurdish population is exhausted after months of curfew in the cities and villages of the South-East, while the army is granted immunity. And Europe is standing by ". Figen Yüksekdağ, co-President of the HDP - Halkların Demokratik Partisi (Peoples’ Democratic Party) founded in 2012 by pro-Kurdish and leftwing forces, representatives of the environmentalist and feminist movements and religious minorities - was clear at reporting the indifference of Europe in the face of the gross violations of the democratic rules in her country. In her first visit to Italy, Figen Yüksekdağ was a guest of the Centro per le Arti MACAO of Milan - where she met with the Kurdish community, gathered to celebrate the Day of solidarity with the victims of the ISIS - and then of the Italian Parliament in Rome. During these meetings she launched an appeal for the Italian press to report about the repression in Turkey and the authoritarian drift exerted by PresidentRecep Tayyip Erdoğan.

"We cannot call ourselves satisfied with what the Italian state did because, unfortunately, like other European states, it did nothing at all, proving it has no clear perception of the risks our democracy is running. The only problem for Europe is to get rid of the refugees. For us the silence in the face of the violence perpetrated in Turkey is unacceptable, as unacceptable is the fact that the EU has even signed a deal with the current government for the management of the migrant issue. The only feasible way is peace in the Middle East and European countries must support the democratic forces like HDP, which can make it possible", Figen Yüksekdağ told Gariwo.

Figen Yüksekdağ, 44 years old, born in a village of the Southern province of Adana into a family of Sunni Turkish farmers, ever since she was a student she has been a women’s rights activist and a socialist movement militant. A journalist, she ran the magazine Sosyalist Kadın (Socialist Woman) and she was a member of the Editorial committee of daily newspaper Atılım. Due to her activism she was arrested twice, in 2006 and 2009. In June 2014 she was elected along with Selattin Demirtaş, Kurdish, chair of the HDP, which in the general elections of 2015 gained 13,12% of the votes, becoming the third parliamentary group with 80 deputies, out of which 35 are women. This was an absolute novelty for conservative Turkey run by AKP, wishing to relegate women in the household.

"The Kurdish feminist movement helped bring about a great political revolution concerning women in the Middle East. HDP does not only represent the Kurdish demand for democracy, but the one of the whole country. Politically speaking, this means gender equality and the model of co-representation, the guiding principle that provides gender equality not only in the party, but also in the representative institutions. This system is formally recognized at the Parliamentary level, but not yet at the local level. However, in the cities where we govern, where there is a mayor there is also a female mayor, and this is a thorn in the side for a strongly chauvinist party like AKP”, explained Figen Yüksekdağ, remembering the role of the Turkish women in the tenacious resistance the city of Kobanê (at the Turkish-Syrian border) opposed to the siege of the ISIS, which here reported its first important defeat.

The electoral weight of the HDP sank to 10,4% with the elections of November 2015, sought by Erdogan to strengthen his party AKP and make it easier to pass laws such as the one which, in May, stripped the immunity of the members of the Parliament who had undergone some inquiry: at least 138 deputies, mainly belonging to the two opposition parties, HDP and CHP. "It is a gross violation, because a Constitutional guarantee was erased by an ordinary law. We rebelled at all levels, refusing to bear witness in the trials in which we are involved. We keep faith to the role we have assumed and we will keep on doing our duty, both in case we are in the Parliament and if we are jailed. The meetings abroad, like this one in Milan, are very important to us, because they make us feel less isolated. In Turkey the government prevents us from accessing the media by creating a sort of embargo toward our party, which cannot communicate with its people”, said HDP co-leader.

Immunity for the military who fight terrorism

Another measure her party has strongly criticized is the essential immunity granted to the military involved in counter-terrorist operations thanks to the law approved on 23 June, which demands the authorization of the top army officials and the political authorities for any trial concerning the actions of the security forces. This norm is retroactive and also protects the civilian officials involved in the crackdown. It was sought to “ensure support” to the men who fight the groups affiliated to the PKK, Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê‎ (Workers’ Party of Kurdistan) which is banned in Turkey and is considered as a terrorist group also by the US and the EU.

"It is a shameful law, because precisely Erdogan, at the beginning, when he was a minister, had said he wanted to abolish the army privileges by introducing an opportunity for civilians to sue the military, which was absolutely unthinkable after the coup of 1980. Today instead it is stated that those who operated over the recent months be untouchable, although they committed unspeakable crimes during the military occupation of the South-Eastern provinces against a helpless population ", said Figen Yüksekdağ."In cities such as Nusaybin they used warfare airplanes F-16, normally deployed in interstate conflicts and not on civilians. In Cizre, 150 people were burnt alive in the basements where they had found shelter during clashes. And it is paradoxical that the guilty for this violence are declared untouchable, while we, voted by millions of citizens to speak out, are convicted for what we say in the Parliament and in our political activity, and we are deprived of parliamentary immunity ".

According to the Website Middle East Eye, also the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, expressed the concern that this law may lead to an increase in the case of abuse by the militants of the South-Eastern areas, already reported by the UN and other human rights groups, worried for the sharpening of the clashes since July 2015, after a two-year truce.

PKK – State war

The conflict between the State and the Kurdish militants fighting for Kurdistan’s independence has caused over 40 thousands deaths from 1983 until now, mostly Kurdish. Erdogan has recently said that the Turkish state has eliminated over 7,500 members of the PKK, while the deaths among soldiers and police officers are nearly 500.
In the opinion of the co-president of HDP, it is necessary to recognize Erdogan’s responsibilities, in that he sabotaged the peace negotiations. "He apparently sought to scrap all the accomplishments made and annihilate the HDP after our success in the elections of 7 June 2015. But despite the assaults, bombs and massacres, he didn’t succeed in this. The negotiation process can be resumed only if both interlocutors recognize each other and are inspired by an authentic will of reaching a deal. Since April 2015, Abdullah Öcalan has been "archived, buried alive”, in his cell without any clearance to keep in touch with the people outside. This is a situation, to which an end must be put. The State must recognize Öcalan’s role as spokesperson of the Kurdish people and only this may lead negotiations to resume".

Viviana Vestrucci

11 July 2016

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