Freedom News

“If Erdogan loses there will be a big party. If he wins, people will go to prison”

Loukas Christodoulou interviews two UK election observers in Turkey for the presidential election:

Turkey’s authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could lose power for the first time in 20 years as Turkey votes on Sunday the 14th May.

I spoke to two UK activists, Anne Ohne and Ashes, who are in the Turkish occupied part of Kurdistan (Bakur) to show solidarity with those facing repression. The presence of militarised police in this region is overwhelming.

“If you compare it to a demonstration in the UK, the heaviest form of policing you’d see there is taking place here just for a meeting. There’s constant intimidation from police and the military” says Anne.

“There’s police armoured cars on the streets. We passed maybe four checkpoints on the way here. The repression is very visible,” says Ashes.

Both Anne and Ash are anarchist members of the IWW who have been inspired by the Kurdish freedom struggle, and the ways the wider movement has organised to resist oppression.

In Turkey they are part of a delegation to the Green Left Party (Yeşil Sol Parti, YSP) which is part of the HDP pro-minority rights coalition. The general election will see 600 members of parliament elected, at the same time as the first round of the presidential race happens. Tens of thousands of activists and politicians linked to the HDP have been jailed over the past few years.

While the presidential race is between two candidates who represent parties linked to Turkish nationalism, the main focus of the local movement is a hope that things will improve in very concrete ways if Erdogan loses.

Anne: There is a really strong sense of hope within the YSP supporters here and in the movement that this will be the fall of Erdogan. Whether this is so clear cut remains to be seen. There’s a sense of optimism among the Kurdish community. We expect to see voter fraud and suppression of the Kurdish vote at the polls but there is a feeling that many who have been AKP voters are moving away from Erdogan regime.

Ashes: We are hoping for very tangible things. It’s not like in UK where people are voting between two parties that represent the same system. The YSP is a parliamentary manifestation of a wider freedom movement that is very present in Kurdish society. There would be tangible impacts of Erdogan being removed from power, like the release of prisoners. Many organisers could be released, many hope to return from exile. There’s a hope that murder, arrest and rape at the hand of the state will cease.

Anne: But many candidates are aware if Erdogan wins they will go to prison.

Ashes: If it goes well there’ll be a big party and people’s dads will be out driving their cars waving flags. If it does not go well, many will be forced to flee. People have explicitly told us that they are prepared to die.

In the Kurdish mountains Anne and Ashes are struck by how quickly they have been welcomed and what an incredible spirit of solidarity people show.

“It’s incredibly beautiful. It’s been very hot the last two weeks but the mountains are still covered in snow”, says Anne adding that every time they come to a new place they are welcomed, usually with cups of cay. “Every time you sit down someone brings you cay.”

“We eat with Kurdish families we share conversation late into the night. We have been entirely welcomed into the movement. And it’s amazing to see the spirit of resistance in such an oppressive place. Everyone you speak to has been experienced repression at the hands of the regime; through imprisonment, through police and military violence, and many have martyrs in their families.”

The solidarity delegates say their presence on the campaign trail “shows the world is watching and they are not going to get away with it.” as candidates YSP face repression, on top of the daily suppression of Kurdish cultural and everyday life.

There’s also a clear connection to the struggle in Turkey against this 21st century brand of authoritarian and what people in places like the UK face.

Ashes said, “In Bristol we’re still facing repression from the Kill the Bill demonstration against, repressive legislation. The situation in Turkey is a good example of the abuses of the state, and what happens when the state uses force to ban protest.”

“When we try to express to people in the UK what state repression looks like there’s a dissonance, people don’t realise the full extent of the systems of control”, says Anne. “It’s much more direct and violent here. It’s something much more widely felt by the Kurdish people.”

The solidarity delegation is there to bear witness to the struggle against the regime and they also hope the presence of international observers will have a concrete impact. During the 1st of May demonstration it was clear police were treating international people differently, allowing them to leave the kettle.

Ashes: “There’s an expectation that we can use our privilege as internationals to check the oppression of the state; but it can also put the safety of others at risk if we’re not careful with it. We need to make make sure we have discussions with people that are around us about these things.”

“Something that was affected by us coming here was shown when we were visiting the offices of the Green Left party. There were a hundred people there who were all very welcoming and really appreciated that internationals were visiting to show solidarity. They told us it gave them strength.

They want the world to hear what is happening in the Kurdish lands to the Kurdish people.”

~ Loukas Christodoulou

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