THE CORRIDOR - AKP and BDP going neck and neck in Van

THE CORRIDOR - AKP and BDP going neck and neck in Van

The number of Armenian tourists has increased since the reopening of the Akdamar Church in the eastern province of Van. You might come across people on the premises simply praying or others who are there for a wedding. There are plenty of Armenian tourists in the streets. We had a conversation with a few Armenians from Istanbul on the shores of Van Lake. I saw they were happy with the reopening of the church even though the Armenian initiative had been left half-finished.

And there is the Kurdish initiative, which has been left half-finished, too, by the government. And the Kurds in Van do not look satisfied with the consequences of this initiative. The ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, had five deputies from Van in the 2007 general elections. The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, had two. But this time the total number of deputies has increased to eight.

The AKP gained 163,000 and the BDP won 100,000 votes in 2007. In the 2009 local elections, the arithmetic in the general city council turned the opposite. The BDP rose to 190,000 votes as the AKP dropped to 135,000 as the AKP lost the mayoral seat to the BDP.

Van sent five AKP deputies to Parliament in 2007, but today it cannot be said that the pulse is in favor of the governing party. Ferit Hayva, a journalist in Van, supports this view: “The governing party is losing votes in Van. The result could be four AKP, three BDP and one CHP deputy. Or the AKP and the CHP might have four each.”

Hayva said the government had already been weakened by various issues, such as a regression in farming and stockbreeding, unemployment and a half-finished Kurdish initiative. After former Education Minister Hüseyin Çelik’s candidacy was moved to the province of Gaziantep despite heavy criticisms, Ankara Deputy Burhan Kayatürk was listed number one in Van. Although he is a native of Van, he has been criticized for not visiting his hometown in years. In the second row, we see Fatih Çiftçi; former provincial party head Mustafa Bilici is in the third spot while Gülşen Orhan is number four.

On the BDP electoral list, there is the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK, co-chair Aysel Tuğluk; Özdal Üçer from the radical wing; Kemal Aktaş, a defendant at the Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, which is alleged to be the urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK; and the BDP’s former Washington representative, Nazmi Gür.

“An awakening in Van and strong willpower clearly show the stance of the region,” Tuğluk said.

 “Kurds this time will send over 35 deputies to Parliament. We will have at least four seats in Van,” Gür said.

The AKP candidate Bilici did not agree, though. He believes the ruling party will have at least six deputies from Van. Çelik’s brother, Ramazan Çelik, who emphasized that he made a good prediction last time, shares the prediction.

There is one deputy candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, that may emerge in the race in Van, although it is difficult; Zahir Kandaşoğlu, the former Chairman of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce, is known for his colorful personality. Kandaşoğlu’s election poster has a Van cat with eyes of two different colors. Kandaşoğlu is quite ambitious and said he would be elected to Parliament.

However, the previous election results of the CHP were quite poor. The main opposition party won only 11,000 votes in 2007 but the CHP still has a chance of increasing the number of votes up to 30,000 with Kandaşoğlu.

Like other provinces in the region, tribal loyalties have an influence in Van. A political party that is not backed by any of the tribes stands slim chances of winning the elections here. Although the AKP has tried to stay away from candidates who are members of various tribes in Van, they had no chance but to place Orhan in the fourth row. Orhan’s family is from the Miski tribe, which has over 10,000 members. The Alan tribe, with 20,000 members; the Ezdinan tribe with 10,000; the Milan tribe with 9,000; and the Sevilen tribe with 5,000 members all support the AKP.

Kandaşoğlu of the CHP is from the Baruki tribe with a population of 30,000, most of whom are expected to vote for the AKP; others will vote for the BDP and another group will vote for the CHP because of Kandaşoğlu’s candidacy.

The Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, candidate Mustafa Kaçmaz is a member of the Küre tribe, which has 20,000 members.

The BDP, on the other hand, is against the tribal system, but independent BDP candidates are familiar with the system. The BDP often wins the votes of some Baruki members while almost everyone in the Şerefhan tribe, which has 25,000 members, backs the pro-Kurdish party. The 10,000-membered Gewdan tribe, which is a branch of the Ertuşi tribe, is very influential in central Van and its villages also support the BDP.

My observations in Van suggest the AKP and the BDP are in a neck-and-neck race in the province, as they are in the entire region. If the AKP loses a few seats, the incomplete Kurdish initiative, as well as a false choice in candidates, would be the reason. In addition to these reasons, the harsh reactions against Kurds in western Turkey have increased the interest in the independent, BDP-backed candidates