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Erdoğan Will Never Defeat the Fight for Democracy in Turkey

Sebahat Tuncel is an MP for the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) who has spent almost five years in Turkish jail on fabricated terrorism charges. She writes from prison on how President Erdoğan is using the courts to suppress dissent — and why Kurdish and democratic forces will never give in to his regime.

Sebahat Tuncel, who has currently been in jail for almost five years, after being freed from a jail in Gebze, Turkey, in 2007. (SEZAKI ERKEN/AFP via Getty Images)

Does the law really do justice? Who makes the law? Is everything legal really fair? 

We can go on asking questions like this. Who does the law protect? The laws of the male-dominated capitalist system exclude women from social and public life and impose the system of slavery. The law was created to protect capital, patriarchy, and the state. It denies freedom to the working poor, women, believers, and those in need of rights and liberties.

Of course, throughout history, poor working people, women, and faith-based groups have fought these laws. This fight has helped to guarantee individual and collective rights and international conventions. Nevertheless, a free, equal, and democratic legal system has not yet been put in place. Nation-states frequently contradict their own laws in pursuit of their interests. This is clearly apparent in the policies of oppression, persecution, and violence against the Kurdish people in Turkey.

Kurds living in Turkey played a significant role in the creation of the Turkish Republic. The 1921 Constitution was created in this context. However, the pluralistic, multicultural, multi-identity, and democratic nature of this constitution was ignored and, instead, policies of denial, destruction, and assimilation were established. The Kurdish people have always rebelled against these policies.

The Kurds, one of the most ancient peoples of the Middle East, had their territory divided into two parts by the Kasr-i Shirin Treaty between the Ottomans and the Persians in 1639, and into four parts by the Treaty of Lausanne after the First World War. The Kurds, the largest non-status people in the world, have been the target of repressive and cruel policies by Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The fate of the Kurds, who have spent the last two hundred years subjected to violence, also has a profound impact on the future of other peoples living in the Middle East.

As a result, the gains made by Kurds in the struggle for equality, freedom, and peace will have a positive effect on other peoples in the struggle for freedom. As the Rojava revolution reveals, every gain made by the Kurds has galvanized the search for freedom felt by other oppressed peoples. Once again, the Kurds’ relentless struggle — against the antihuman terrorist organization ISIS — has been an inspiration to all.

My purpose in writing this, of course, is not to tell these stories in full. What I want to say here is that the Kurdish struggle for freedom has an international and national dimension.

It is no coincidence that the world, especially the United States and the EU, is indifferent to this persecution of the Kurdish people — this is a long-term policy. However, we can counter these policies through organizing — such as the huge movement of international solidarity that emerged when Kobanê was attacked in 2014. You may remember that this resistance was the beginning of ISIS’s defeat.

However, the defeat of ISIS was not something that Turkey, which supports the jihadists, wished for. Although Turkey has tried to appear to be against ISIS, it has always supported ISIS: the killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi right next to Turkey’s borders, and the salary given to a paramilitary force of jihadists, should be considered in this context. Ultimately, Turkey’s support of organizations like ISIS and its derivatives continues as before.

It would be wrong not to consider the repression of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) politicians for calling for solidarity against ISIS’s attacks on Kobanê in 2014. The Turkish state targeted these politicians as terrorists — another case of Turkey’s support for ISIS. 

In Turkish territory, home to more than twenty million Kurds, it was a necessity for political leaders to call for solidarity with their brothers and sisters on the other side of the border against a barbaric organization like ISIS. It was also a humanitarian responsibility that the HDP did not remain indifferent to this situation. All parties should oppose ISIS attacks; attempting to prosecute those that do shows how brutal the Turkish state is in response to the Kurdish struggle for rights and recognition.

The dialogue process between Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned leader of the Kurdish freedom movement, and Turkish state representatives was ended by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2015. With this, Öcalan was subjected to absolute isolation.

During this period, a regime of repression was established that exceeded those previously carried out in the history of the Turkish Republic: the will of the Kurdish people was hijacked when mayors, lawmakers, and tens of thousands of Kurdish politicians were detained and arrested, and Kurdish institutions were closed and trustees were appointed to govern municipalities. The repressive regime and colonial law in Kurdistan have led to the elimination, detention, and arrest of those opposed to power in the western part of Turkey.

Using the coup attempt of July 15, 2016, as an excuse, Erdoğan’s government turned this process into a coup against society — and led it toward the construction of a monotheistic, bourgeois, sexist, religious regime under the name of the presidential system. 

It would be no mistake to describe this situation as the “Second Republic” — which is, in fact, often said without hesitation or irony by the government’s supporters. Erdoğan himself has said, “We will make a new constitution” — meaning that the Second Republic will complete the construction of the Turkish Republic, under an oppressive roof.

To the Turkish state, the only obstacle to the establishment of this repressive regime is the Kurdish political movement and the HDP — the unified forces of freedom and democracy in Turkey. In this context, since 2015, pressure on the Kurds and the HDP has been continuous, as they have hampered the planned tyrannical regime. Therefore, the judicial machine has fallen under the yoke of power — and international conventions and law have been trampled upon.

As far as the Kurds and their friends are concerned, Turkish law is interpreted in arbitrary ways. After all, the European Court of Human Rights decided in favor of jailed former HDP coleader Selahattin Demirtas; his imprisonment was ruled to be in suppression of political pluralism. Yet he remains in prison — and the Turkish state has only escalated its persecution of opposition politicians. 

President Erdoğan’s statements — “We do not recognize the decision of the ECHR” — were accepted by the Turkish courts as an order. Ankara’s 22nd criminal court declared that they would not comply with the ECHR decision before the proceedings began. This shows the government’s influence on the judiciary.

The trial regarding HDP politicians’ support for Kobanê, which began in Ankara on April 26, was carried out in the shadow of earlier instructions given by the government to the justice system. Our lawyers weren’t allowed in: they said the door was locked. The president of the court appears to have been involved in this case in order to pursue a political career in the future.

It has been revealed that the Kobanê case was a revenge case, an attempt to throw the HDP out of democratic politics; it had nothing to do with uncovering the truth and serving justice. It was clear that the judicial system has been tampered with by the Turkish state, with political instructions given by the government and partisan court officials and judges appointed by politicians.

Well, what are we going to do?

We will resist the way we have resisted for a hundred years. We will continue to defend the struggle for democracy, ecology, women’s freedom, human rights, democratic justice, equality, and peace.

At the same time, we will continue to resist and struggle to establish the foundational principle of HDP: free life. While we are fighting, we invite our friends, all those who are in favor of equality, freedom, democracy, and peace, to show solidarity.