Can the HDP separate its policies now?
Suruç is a small but very mysterious place to be. It has one big street that hosts both the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) town headquarters and the police station only 300 meters apart from each other. When we were there last year, during the first influx of refugees from Kobane, families were camping in the yard of the Amara Cultural Center grounds. There were empty, unfinished buildings that had become homes for the Syrian Kurds and Arabs who fled the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terror.
The terrorist attack in Suruç was a watershed event for Turkey’s perception of threat on its southern border. But it poses a bigger challenge for the HDP. Now, after enjoying 40 days of electoral success and 80 MPs in the Turkish parliament, the HDP’s top brass has to decide whether they are truly a party of Turkey or not.
The HDP has to live up to its promise of “greater humanity” by separating its policies from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). According to some intelligence analysts, the attack in Suruç could actually be a catalyst for the HDP to separate itself from violence and adopt true peace as its policy base. After all, if HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş wants the peace talks to resume, he has to prove to his voters in Istanbul, İzmir etc. that he can defend the rights of the innocent police officers killed in Ceylanpınar as strongly as the victims of the Suruç attack.
This is also an opportunity for Demirtaş, fellow co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ and the party to come to maturity in dealing with the Turkish state apparatus. The HDP may not be a partner of a coalition yet, but if it is strong enough to push the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and Republican People’s Party (CHP) to form one, it also has to come clean of the violence of the PKK. The HDP not only has to talk the talk, but also has to walk the walk.
To be fair, the HDP cannot do this alone. The government at least has to open a door for the party to move away from Kurdish nationalist policies. Allowing a visit to the Imralı Island prison and a transfer of messages from the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, might just be a small step. Leftist groups, environmentalists and women’s movements have all sought refuge inside the HDP to voice their concerns. Now it is time for them to step up and push the party away from violence and a possible war. The Turkish state establishment has a gift of squeezing parties into illegality. The HDP could be the latest casualty if it does not act fast and decisively.
So here is the to-do-list:
1) The HDP should give up insisting on the Dolmabahçe principles just for the time being, later to bring it back to the table.
2) It has to adapt to the new reality that when violence rises, Kurds cannot stay out of it.
3) It has to quickly decide whether it is going to adopt the policies of the Irish Republican Army in the second phase of the peace talks or move to a better place like the African National Congress did.
4) Just like Pervin Buldan did after the death of the soldier in Adıyaman, all party members should learn to condemn the killing of civilians, soldiers, police officers etc.
5) It should send a decisive strong peace message in the July 26 rally in Istanbul. It must avoid cliché slogans and any reference to Öcalan. The HDP should simply focus on the public and voters that supported it in the election.
This is the biggest litmus test for the HDP. It can be the biggest opportunity for Turkey’s future.