Labor pains of the new HDP
There seems to be an ongoing political struggle inside the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Rather than a fight over the party leadership, internal debates have mainly focused on long-term strategy issues. While the former Diyarbakır mayor and Şanlıurfa deputy Osman Baydemir represents the radical axis, Kars deputy and HDP’s spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen stands for renewal of the official party discourse.
On Dec. 15, speaking at a conference in Istanbul titled “Middle East: Searching for possibilities for peace and living together,” Bilgen conveyed his particular vision on Turkey’s role at home and abroad. In his speech, Bilgen broke with the classic HDP routine and openly criticized “petroleum politics,” foreign interventions in the Middle East and imperialist wars. Moreover, he said various forms of micro-nationalism in the region were doing more harm than good, thus paving the way for severe exploitation.
On Jan. 9, Bilgen spoke at the HDP’s parliamentary group session, stating that “under the HDP, a specific Turkish solution to the Kurdish issue would prevail.”
Bilgen has been considered a rising star in the HDP for some time now. His moderate and constructive position in the Kurdish political sphere has been welcomed and praised by the Turkish intelligentsia. Furthermore, he has also been appreciated by the traditional Kurdish electorate. It is also true that his recent almost one-year imprisonment has increased his overall popularity. Almost everyone irrespective of political affiliation strongly disapproved the “terrorist organization membership” allegations articulated by prosecutors.
No doubt Selahattin Demirtaş was a charismatic leader. Even “White Turks” in rich neighborhoods in Istanbul felt sympathy for him. He was certainly a game changer and a pivotal figure. Nevertheless, his personal charisma took a serious hit with the massive radicalization of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists. As PKK bombings and unrests throughout Turkey expanded, it was impossible to maintain his reputation.
Ayhan Bilgen, on the other hand, got the balance right. He surely hasn’t the “attractiveness” of Demirtaş. But he makes his moves carefully and chooses to act on a purely rational and realistic basis. He seems to be fully aware of society’s expectations. He knows conservative politics well as he is a practicing Sunni Muslim but he also knows general state traditions, socialist utopias and Kurdish political aspirations.
A great synthesis could emerge from Ayhan Bilgen’s vision if the balance between different (and sometimes incompatible) demands is professionally optimized. Even if some “opinion polls” claim the “peace process” is irreversibly blocked, I am still deeply convinced that society’s desire for a just peace will never end.
Achieving a national peace prospect is no easy task indeed. Nevertheless, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should give up trying either. Turkey is maybe entering one of the most critical periods in its history. As politics in Turkey tend more and more to lie on personal charismas, Bilgen’s persona could make a difference.