Kurds Hope for Turkey Peace Boost From Electoral Surge

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Kurds Hope for Turkey Peace Boost From Electoral Surge

Supporters celebrate outside the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) headquarters in Diyarbakir, Turkey on June 7, 2015. (REUTERS)


Diyarbakir:  Turkey's Kurds are hoping the electoral success of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) will advance their standing in parliament and spur a stuttering peace process to end decades of violence in the southeast.

Sunday's election saw the HDP win seats in parliament for the first time as a party rather than as a group of independent MPs.

The party passed the 10-per cent threshold for parliamentary representation to win 80 seats in the 550-member chamber.

The HDP is expected to use its position to try reinvigorate peace talks between the government and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), whose insurgency in the Kurdish-dominated southeast has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

The party will also press other Kurdish demands, including education in their Kurdish mother tongue for Kurdish children in state-run schools.

"The election outcome has proved nobody can make a decision about the Kurds without the presence of Kurds," an HDP official, who asked not to be named, told AFP in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir.

The negotiations with the PKK on ending its insurgency has been one of the cornerstone policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But the talks stumbled in recent months as the election fanned nationalist sentiments and divisions emerged over whether the PKK should disarm before or after a peace deal.

Party officials and analysts say there is still a chance to turn a 2013 ceasefire, which has largely held, into a lasting peace deal.

'Saving The Kurdish Problem'

"The HDP's presence in the parliament will help save the Kurdish problem from arms," Vahap Coskun of the Diyarbakir-based Dicle University told AFP.

"We are talking about a party which won votes not only from the Kurdish region but also from all over Turkey," he said.

During the campaign the AKP accused the HDP of being a front for the PKK, which has been designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey and its Western allies.

But HDP lawmakers dismissed any links with the armed group, while calling for the peace talks to resume.

"There is no link between the HDP and the PKK but it is a fact that many of the party electorate have sympathy for the PKK as they have sons who are either in the mountains or victims of the deadly conflict," Ziya Pir, one of the HDP's new-elected MPs, told AFP at the party headquarters in Diyarbakir.

Nursel Aydogan, another HDP lawmaker, said both the PKK and its jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan had to be accepted as partners for the talks to succeed.

"Nobody in Turkey has patience for fresh chaos or deaths. Peace cannot be sacrificed to political concerns," she said.

The AKP lost its parliamentary majority in the elections and a coalition or early elections are looming as possible options.

One of the possible scenarios is a coalition between the AKP and the right-wing nationalist MHP party, which some fear would poison the peace talks, given MHP leader Devlet Bahceli's insistence that Ocalan be excluded from the process.

Ocalan was given the death penalty for treason in 1999, when the MHP was part of a coalition government, but his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment.

'Never Forgive'

Pir warned that Turks would "never forgive whoever leaves the negotiating table".

"The onus has fallen on the government and all political parties."
Tahir Elci, the head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association, said the peace process was above politics.

"Any bargaining over anti-peace narratives would drag Turkey into a catastrophe," he warned.

Since it came to power in 2002, the AKP had enjoyed some support among Kurds, who make up an estimated 20 percent of Turkey's 76 million people and form the country's biggest minority.

The AKP sees the peace process as beginning in 2005 when Erdogan in a public address in Diyarbakir acknowledged the existence of a

"Kurdish problem" and granted Kurds some language, education and cultural rights.

But in Sunday's election, the AKP haemorrhaged support in the southeast to the HDP, which won a landslide 78 per cent of votes in Diyarbakir province, compared to just 15 per cent for the AKP, less than half its showing in 2011 elections.

"We have to heed the warning signal coming from the people," said the AKP's Diyarbakir branch head Muhammed Akar.

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