Diyarbakır: set to punish the AKP at the ballot box

It’s a hot day in Diyarbakır. I am heading into the city by the Urfa road. Every two meters, there are Turkish flags hung next to Erdoğan posters, even though the Bağlar District Elections Board ordered the flags taken down on 10 June.

Diyarbakır is usually quiet, and in the city, there is no election feeling in the air. The sounds of past elections with their drums and clarinets come to my mind. One businessman I talk to says, “There’s not any major excitement, but people are ready for the election. They’ve made up their minds. The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) vote will be much higher than it was in November, and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) vote will definitely go down. The Good Party will get more votes than the Republican People’s Party (CHP). There will be one Popular Alliance, one National Alliance and ten HDP representatives[.1] .” The Popular Alliance is an election bloc formed by the AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). And the National Alliance is an election bloc formed by the CHP, Good Parti, Felicity Partisi and Democratic Party.

“So, who are you going to vote for?” I ask.

“I want there to be peace, so I’ll vote for HDP again,” he answers gamely. “After the elections, if HDP wins a decisive place in Parliament, I think there will be more active initiatives to solve the Kurdish problem without weapons.”

Not everyone in this city is so cavalier about saying which party they will vote for. This is an environment of fear and oppression. But within this oppressed and silent city, it’s impossible to miss how decisive people are. At the HDP election office, an elderly woman sits by herself. “I come here every day because they are so alone. I don’t want them to feel alone,” she says. Another housewife says what she’s doing for HDP, and she describes her daily prayers for them:

“Every day at every prayer time, I pray for the HDP. I pray the ones in prison will be freed. How many families have been torn apart? How many people were illegally and unfairly fired from their jobs and are now going hungry? There’s not a place even in the afterlife for the people who are doing this to them.”

In Diyarbakır, among the approximately 10,000 security-related personnel and their families, who they’re going to vote for is much discussed. The police and the soldiers are fed up with AKP, and it’s starting to show. A good portion of them are leaning towards the Good Party.

It seems that in every era, there are changes in families’ voting tendencies. In some traditionally AKP and MHP villages around Çınar and Bismil, people are saying they will vote for the Good Party.

The rage brought on by the state’s destruction of Sur, a historical district in the heart of the city, has also turned some former AKP voters off the party. One says to me, “In this election, I will vote for the HDP. The AKP completely razed the city. They destroyed 7,000 years of Sur.”

However, AKP has made more campaign promises about Sur than they have about Diyarbakır. All around the city, there are campaign flags and posters with slogans about what’s being done to rejuvenate Sur, but these campaigns do not even seem to be impressing their own constituency.

It is wide thought that the HDP will get more votes than they did in the June 2015 elections, when the HDP was the first Kurdish party to overcome the 10 percent election threshold and enter Parliament. A high-profile civil society leader explains why:

“In July 2015, people voted for the HDP with the goal of bringing peace. Now they are voting for the HDP to punish the AKP. Even AKP supporters are saying they don’t want any AKP representative to emerge from this city. The people want to punish the AKP because for the last few years, the AKP’s enmity towards the Kurds has become obvious. Throughout the Kurdistan referendum process in Iraq, AKP threatened Iraqi Kurds that they would go hungry if Turkey imposed sanctions. Then the Turkish occupation of Afrin started. The AKP has been saying, ‘We’re so opposed to Kurds that we’d work together with ISIS against them.’ And they did.”

Another factor causing the AKP to lose votes in Diyarbakır lies in local state administrations. In addition to throwing district mayors into prison, state administrators have been appointed to replace elected Kurdish mayors. These administrations have destroyed monuments and changed the names of streets and parks. Then there are the thousands of unemployed people who have been laid off since the arrival of these administrations. After two and a half years with them, the pointless 24-hour curfews continue in six neighborhoods in Sur. All of these things only increase people’s anger.

“But what if AKP wins?” I ask the civil society leader.

“There is no chance of a free and fair election,” he replies. “In fact, it’s highly likely that AKP won’t gain even a single representative in Diyarbakır. They have brought us unbelievable lawlessness, injustice, and division. The people of Turkey cannot undo this.”

What the people of Turkey can or cannot undo this remains to be seen, but it looks as though the people of Diyarbakır are going to seriously punish AKP at the ballot box.