What's Next for Kurds of Turkey?

6/6/2017 10:30:00 AM
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Ceren Sengul
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Now that the dust has settled a bit after the, rather controversial, referendum on April 16, it is time to look at the near future of Turkey. The controversy of the referendum lies in the way the votes were counted: the Supreme Election Council (YSK) announced, during counting of the votes, that the envelopes without an official seal would also be valid, putting the validity of the results into question. The official results show that 51 percent of the votes were for ‘Yes’, and this close margin only increases any doubts people might have over the fairness of the results.

Whether elections could be effective when the fairness of the system is in doubt or whether they are only an ‘illusion’ is a topic of discussion for another day. What I will focus on here is the Kurdish Question of Turkey and what would be the agenda for Kurds in the near future.

Erdoğan already took the first steps towards changing the system: on May 21, he returned to the AKP as its leader, three years after he dissociated himself to be elected as the President. Thus, he is now a President who is not impartial even though an argument could be drawn that the impartiality was never there anyway since he was elected as the President in 2014.

If we look at the referendum results in areas where predominated by Kurds, we see that the Southeast region mostly voted for ‘No’ (in fact, Dersim was the town that had the highest percentage of ‘No’ in Turkey with 80 percent). However, if we compare it to the results of the general election in November 2015, we also see that the votes of AKP (converted as the ‘Yes’ votes in this referendum) has increased.

For example, the percentage of the AKP votes in Diyarbakır, the ‘spiritual capital’ for Kurds, was 21 percent in 2015, yet increased to 33 percent in this referendum. Erdoğan also took notice of this increase, and expressed his appreciation for people in the Southeast who voted ‘Yes’ in his post-referendum speech.

There is a significant number of people, including columnists and scholars, arguing that the referendum was won by the ‘Yes’ side due to the increase in Kurdish votes. What does this suggest?

The results in Southeast Turkey are a reflection of the situation across Turkey: an increasing polarisation. Considering that HDP campaigned for ‘No’, it would be fair to state that HDP has continued its impact on the voters there, expressing their support for the imprisoned co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and (the ex-co-chair) Figen Yüksekdağ.

It would be a fallacy, however, to ignore the number of ‘Yes’ votes. For instance, in Urfa, the percentage of the ‘Yes’ votes was 70 percent. I would suggest that it would be misleading to read all of these ‘Yes’ votes as a support for AKP.

As Erdoğan also mentioned in his post-referendum speech, HÜDAPAR (Hür Dava Partisi, or Free Cause Party) should be considered a major factor for the support for ‘Yes’. HÜDAPAR is a party that clearly differentiates itself from the other pro-Kurdish party HDP with its emphasis on a Sunni-Islam approach. In fact, in the party programme, it is stated that secularism and Turkism, which is described as the two main principles of the Turkish constitution, have caused so much suffering for Kurdish people since the establishment of the Turkish Republic.

One of the aims of HÜDAPAR that is stated in the party programme is to strengthen the local governments, which is a very touchy topic for a centralist state such as Turkey. Considering the dissatisfaction of HÜDAPAR with the current constitution, it was perhaps no surprise when it declared their decision for the referendum as ‘Yes’. With HDP backing ‘No’ and HÜDAPAR backing ‘Yes’, it is not surprising to see a result in Kurdish-dominated areas where it is possible to see the influence of both these parties.

What would be surprising, however, is to see any kind of compromise from the government. HÜDAPAR might have said ‘Yes’ but its goals and aims are clear: a constitutional recognition for Kurds, education in the Kurdish language, strengthening of local governments etc.

As I mentioned in my previous piece, a ‘Yes’ in this referendum was going to create ideal conditions for a one-man rule. Now that this ‘Yes’ is achieved in one way or another, I find it difficult to imagine that the conditions that would yield to one-man rule would be surrendered. Hence, the demands of Kurds, as with all the other ‘obstacles’ that would stand in the way of a one-man rule, would be swept under the carpet once more.


Ceren Sengul graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a PhD degree in Sociology in 2016. Her thesis explored the different manifestations of Kurdishness in Turkey by looking at the roles that state rhetoric, language, and regions play. Sengul also holds an MSc in Nationalism Studies at the same institution.