Elections in Turkey Raise Hopes for Turkish Kurds


Turkey’s June 12 elections brought a third victory for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), with an unprecedented 50% of the votes. Alongside Erdogan’s victory, however, Turkish Kurdistan is also celebrating the victory of 36 members of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, the BDP, in Turkey’s parliament. The increased presence of Kurds in Turkish politics, along with the fact that Erdogan needs to form a coalition government in order to gain a two-thirds majority, is hope for some Kurdish leaders that new pressure will build up against the government in terms of its stance towards Kurds. There is also hope that the BDP’s stronger presence in parliament will finally allow the Kurdish voice to be heard. One of the newly elected member of Parliament, Altan Tan, stated Kurdish demands. “We want a new constitution, we want an agreement with the government, which will give us our rights. If they don’t solve this problem, they could not do anything.”

With Erdogan attempting to push through a wide range of reforms in the wake of Turkey’s centennial celebration of its existence, the timing of the Kurdish victory is even more crucial. Should Kurds get a say in what a new constitution entails, then Kurds could win degrees of freedom and self-determination that have been brutally denied them up till now, such as the decriminalization of the written Kurdish language and the de-censoring of Kurdish media.

Excitement over the election of members of the BDP had yet to wane before Turkey arrested over 74 prominent Kurds and politicians, without explanation. Such actions by the Turkish government seem to imply that little has changed when it comes to the defense of Kurdish human rights in Turkey, regardless of their increased political voice.

All eyes are on Turkey and the BDP to see whether or not the Kurdish Question will be successfully addressed in Turkish politics. Although imprisoned Kurdish leader of the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) Abdullah Ocalan prolonged a cease-fire in place since last summer, the memory of violence between Turkish forces and the PKK are still particularly sensitive. Still others say that it yet too early to tell what the AKP’s reaction will be to a stronger Kurdish political presence.

One of the strongest political advocates for these rights will be veteran Kurdish female politician Leyla Zana, who was imprisoned for ten years for advocating for Kurdish rights and speaking the last line of her 1991 oath into office in Kurdish. Her presence in the Turkish parliament will be alongside the largest number of female politicians in Parliament yet.

Amidst both optimism and pessimism, however, the Turkish elections have been at the very least notable when it comes to Turkish Kurds. The progress of Kurdish rights may well be an indicator of the overall direction that Turkish politics begins to take, especially in the context of not just a changing Turkey, but a quickly changing Middle East as well.