18 April 2014, Friday
Today's Zaman

Kurds in Southeast Anatolia celebrate DTP’s boost in votes

31 March 2009, Tuesday /AYŞE KARABAT
Local elections were held on Sunday and the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society (DTP) won 58 municipalities in total, which many Kurds celebrated by taking to the streets for dancing.

In addition to Diyarbakır, Batman, Şırnak, Tunceli and Hakkari, the five provinces already run by the DTP, the party now has Van and Siirt, which previously belonged to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), and the Iğdır Municipality, which was under the control of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). Countrywide, the DTP garnered 5.4 percent of the vote, the highest figure since pro-Kurdish political parties entered the political arena almost a decade ago.

Throughout southeastern Anatolia, but especially in Diyarbakır, once initial results began coming in, many people took to the streets, chanting and dancing into the late hours of the night.

In Diyarbakır, the DTP received around 65 percent of the vote, up from the 42.5 percent it won in the last general elections, held in 2007.

In Hakkari, the DTP got 79 percent of the vote -- one of the highest figures in the election history of Turkey. And in Muş, Ağrı, Mardin and Adıyaman, although the DTP did not win the elections, it did increase its votes. In western Turkey, the DTP now holds the district of Akdeniz, Mersin province.

Baydemir an election factor

Şah İsmail Bedirhanoğlu, chairman of the Southeastern Anatolia Businessmen’s Association (GÜNSİAD), said Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir played a major role in the DTP’s success. “He did not solely run in Diyarbakır, he was everywhere. Baydemir participated in election campaigns throughout the region. His rhetoric did not encourage violence, but it did highlight ethnicity,” Bedirhanoğlu said.

An important AK Party figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity, in Diyarbakır agrees. According to him, the sharp decrease in support witnessed by the AK Party in the region has several reasons, including the power Baydemir yields. Noting that the AK Party candidate was Kutbettin Arzu, he said: “The race between Arzu and Baydemir was not confined to Diyarbakır but actually took place throughout the entire region. In every province, in addition to local candidates being compared, Baydemir and Arzu were pitted against one another.”

Galip Ensarioğlu, chairman of the Diyarbakır Trade and Industry Chamber (DTSO), is of a similar view. “Wrong policies pursued by the AK Party helped the DTP grow in the region while poor candidate choices helped the Felicity Party [SP] increase its power in the region,” he said.

The region served as a battleground between the AK Party and the DTP, except for a few places. Şanlıurfa saw a strong independent candidate, Ahmet Eşref Fakibaba, who was elected mayor, taking over the post from the AK Party. In a few other places, candidates put forward by the SP and the Democrat Party (DP) were relatively strong runners -- not because of their parties, but mostly due to their personalities.

The DTP’s rhetoric for the election was based on ethnic identity while the AK Party focused on supplying services and labeling the Kurdish problem basically an economic one. A speech Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made in which he said “I want Diyarbakır” was also unattractive to the regional electorate. Diyarbakır Mayor Baydemir replied by saying: “Diyarbakır is our castle; we will not give it up.” The DTP also frequently used the castle analogy during its election campaign.

The AK Party source, like many analysts, underlined that the results of the elections indicate problems are not only based on underdeveloped economic conditions of the region. “In the region, the AK Party did not enter into the race with only the DTP but also with the trauma experienced by the region for many years. The society has a collective memory dating back 30 years. The AK Party did not take this into account while preparing its election strategy,” he said.

Naci Sapan, the news coordinator of the local Olay newspaper, said the region’s electorate used its vote to say, “For us, democratization is not good enough; we want to underline our ethnicity.” He noted that the government launched a Kurdish broadcasting station, TRT 6, and promised to open departments of Kurdology in universities in addition to amending the Constitution to make it more democratic.

Ensarioğlu said the AK Party’s rhetoric threatened the locals’ identity and values, driving them to vote for the DTP. “But this does not mean that the DTP’s success belong only to it. Mistakes made by the AK Party helped them,” he said, adding that he hopes the DTP will not be ecstatic about its victory.

Bedirhanoğlu pointed to Erdoğan’s speech on the night of the election in which the prime minister promised to review his party’s policies. Bedirhanoğlu hopes this review will include policies the AK Party pursues in the region. “Some circles suggested the AK Party pursue some of its wrong policies, claiming that distributing financial aid and support to poor families will bring about success in the elections. The results prove that this idea was wrong,” he said.

He also underlined that Erdoğan’s “I want Diyarbakır” speech backfired, causing the AK Party to lose an important city, Van. Furthermore, Siirt, the hometown of Erdoğan’s wife, Emine Erdoğan, and Erdoğan’s first constituency changed hands.

Election night saw thousands pour into the streets in Batman. They headed for a large tent set up by the DTP as its election center. In Van and Siirt, however, when the results of the election were projected on a big white wall, the people were even happier and began to dance. The DTP also organized fireworks celebrations. Some also chanted pro-Abdullah Öcalan slogans. Öcalan is the leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and is serving a lifetime sentence on İmralı island in the Marmara Sea.

Sapan and Bedirhanoğlu underlined that the success of the DTP can make it stronger against the PKK, though there is an undeniable link between the two.

DTP’s women mayors

The success of the DTP increased the number of women mayors in Turkey. Seventeen women running as DTP candidates became mayors in places such as Tunceli (Tunceli province), Bağlar (Diyarbakır), Bismil (Diyarbakır), Lice (Diyarbakır), Eğil (Diyarbakır), Derik (Mardin), Nusaybin (Mardin), Yüksekova (Hakkari), Doğubeyazıt (Ağrı), Uludere (Şırnak), Varto (Muş), Bostaniçi (Van) and Viranşehir (Şanlıurfa).

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