Upcoming local elections in Turkey a test of pro-Kurdish party
Kurdish New Year celebrations drew hundreds of thousands of people to Diyarbakir, the main city in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, and the center of a power struggle between the pro-Kurdish HDP Party and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The HDP organized the Diyarbakir Nowruz celebrations, using it to rally support for its candidates ahead of Sunday’s critical local elections. Among those waving from the party platform was lawyer Kezban Yilmaz, who is running for mayor in Diyarbakir’s Kayar Pinar district.
Yilmaz is running for office with Necati Pirinccioglu. All mayorships contested by the HDP have a joint candidature of a man and a woman. The large turnout for Nowruz celebrations is a welcome morale boost, Yilmaz said, given the mounting pressure the party is facing.
“The security forces often surround our election offices, deliberately creating an atmosphere of worry and fear for our supporters,” she said. “At the same time, police operations against our party have started again, with large numbers of detentions and arrests, especially of our party workers and officials.”
There is a heavy security presence in Diyarbakir, as there is in the rest of Turkey’s predominately Kurdish southeast. The region is a center of a decades long insurgency by the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which is fighting for greater minority rights.
Following the 2015 collapse in the peace process between the government and the PKK, a major legal crackdown on the HDP was launched. Authorities accused the party of supporting the insurgent group with more than dozen of its parliamentary deputies jailed, including its leaders. Over 80 of its elected mayors have also been imprisoned and replaced with government appointees called “kayuums.”
The HDP is now seeking to take back its lost mayorships, reaffirming its popular support. However, TV stations are refusing to broadcast the party’s campaign advertisements, while mainstream media mostly ignore the party.
Yilmaz, like her fellow HDP candidates across Diyarbakir, relentlessly pounds the street to reach out to supporters.
She appears to receive a warm response. On entering a tea shop, many people clap and whistle in support. With many of its mayors jailed, the HDP’s difficulties appear to be generating sympathy and feelings of injustice.
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