Turkey's Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Headquarters in Ankara

Turkey's Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Headquarters in Ankara

The HDP leadership in crisis

PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan's call on the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) to remain neutral in the Istanbul rerun was the campaign season's final surprise.

PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s call on the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to remain neutral in the Istanbul rerun was the campaign season’s final surprise.

First of all, it was noteworthy that Öcalan’s letter was hidden from the public for two days. Nor did keen observers of Turkish politics miss that former HDP Chairman Selahattin Demirtaş’s endorsement of Ekrem Imamoğlu, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate, came right after a meeting between Öcalan and his lawyers. When the letter was leaked to the press, the HDP leadership announced that it shared Öcalan’s views, yet said that their election strategy would remain the same.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan argued that Öcalan’s letter reflected a power struggle between the PKK founder, Demirtaş and the group’s senior commanders in northern Iraq. He added that the PKK offered nothing but death and destruction to “my Kurdish brothers and sisters.”

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) Chairman Devlet Bahçeli also weighed in on the letter, “The terrorist leader’s letter is the product and result of his reaction and discomfort with the HDP’s unfortunate slide and shameless support to the [Nation] alliance. The HDP and [the PKK’s senior commanders in] Qandil have aligned themselves with the CHP. We are faced with a deplorable situation.”

The People’s Alliance maintained that the controversy had nothing to do with them and urged Kurdish voters to see the true face of PKK terrorists. Going forward, it is clear that the counter-PKK campaign will continue without interruption.

Öcalan’s letter, which was released just days before the Istanbul rerun election, has been the subject of public debate with regard to its potential impact on the ballot box. Many observers were left wondering whether or not HDP voters would refrain from siding with one of the two contenders, per the PKK founder’s request. Unfortunately, there was no time left to measure the impact of Öcalan’s letter or the subsequent debate on voter behavior.

Yet, the divide between the CHP’s supporters and advocates of neutrality amounts to a serious crisis among PKK/HDP ranks. Öcalan and PKK commanders in northern Iraq assumed opposite positions on the election. The crisis, however, won’t be confined by yesterday’s vote. If the PKK and the HDP disregard Öcalan, whom they invoke in hunger strikes, ideology and symbolism, the cracks in the organization will indeed deepen.

The competition between Öcalan and Demirtaş in the Kurdish nationalist movement is increasingly visible and obvious. To be clear, the current dispute might not be limited to a leadership race. Differences of opinion may arise over the future of PKK/HDP and the organization’s stance toward Turkey.

Let us recall that Öcalan had previously urged the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is the PKK terrorist organization’s Syrian affiliate, to respect Turkey’s “sensitivities” in Syria. Yet the group’s commanders in Qandil argued that their leader was in captivity to disregard that order. If the terrorists ignore Öcalan’s call for neutrality in the Istanbul rerun election, the PKK leader will have been reduced to an immaterial figurehead.

It is possible to view that development as a problem in the PKK and the HDP. As a matter of fact, the rise of the Turkish left’s representatives to leadership positions in the HDP hierarchy was already causing problems. According to sources, it was the same group of politicians that concealed Öcalan’s letter and disregarded his earlier orders. If true, this means that Kurdish nationalism has surrendered itself to the Turkish left.

Öcalan’s call for neutrality sparked a serious crisis for the HDP leadership. The HDP, which does not hide its links to the PKK’s leader, is now moving to topple him. However this power struggle ends, Turkey and its counterterrorism campaign will be the beneficiaries.

[Daily Sabah, 24 June 2019]

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