We Are Trying to Prevent Further Chaos in Turkey

HDP Leader Figen Yuksekdag
Co-chair of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) Figen Yuksekdag delivers a press conference in Ankara on November 1, 2015, after the first results in the country's general election. Turkish authorities have called on Yuksekdag to face charges of supporting an extremist group after a speech in which she backed the Kurdish YPG militia, considered an extension of the PKK group, which is outlawed in Turkey. AFP/Getty Images

When Newsweek asked for my evaluation on the Turkish government’s legal proceedings against me after my 2015 speech, in which I stated my support for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Democratic Union Party (PYD)—who fight the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) on a daily basis—the ISIS suicide attack on a wedding in Gaziantep in Turkey’s southeast had not yet taken place. The Turkish government had not yet ventured into Syria. Above all, we weren’t this close to an even-wider regional war and a civil war in Turkey.

During the past year Turkish politics has fallen into a habit of replacing each and every adverse political development with an even worse one. Following the coup attempt on July 15, the Turkish political institutions, having warded off a major debacle, should have performed gloriously.

However, Turkey isn’t a country where democracy is institutionalized and, as of now, instead of superseding a coup through stronger democracy it is in effect superseding the coup attempt with yet another one. It is true that generals, most fortunately, could not seize the power, and the only reason they failed was the united opposition by all political parties and the peoples of Turkey. But today, one part of the society that opposed the coup is under attack: the Kurds and those associated with the People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

The process to rake us out of parliament was set forth through the lifting of our immunities in June, and today it has resulted in the accumulation of the entire legislative and executive powers to Erdoğan. A regime of Executive Presidency is in practice today in the harshest manner, as a one-man rule and single-party regime. For a legal basis, Erdoğan and his government deem it sufficient to say that “the regime has de-facto changed.”

The state’s war against the Kurds, ongoing in conjunction with the putschists before the coup attempt, has now developed to a war against Syrian Kurds as well. The government, which is allegedly known to be a supporter of ISIS and other Salafi hordes, has entered Syria under the pretext of fighting ISIS.

It is well known that the Turkish Armed Forces are aiming at the Kurds and the Democratic Syrian Forces, consisting of Arabs and Assyrians, not ISIS. Kurdish civilians were killed in attacks and, though they are the most effective local force fighting ISIS, both People’s Protection Units (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) positions have been targeted.

None of this had to happen. Had Turkey managed to be at peace with its own Kurds, and ally with the Kurds in Syria, we could be living in a country where blood-thirsty ISIS militants could not roam free. Where over a thousand civilians did not have to die, where bloody coup attempts couldn’t be carried out, where rights and freedoms are not suspended.

In a speech I gave two years ago, I mentioned these very facts. Because of that speech, I now face a court case which could put me behind bars for 15 years. I could be arrested at any time, whenever the government and Erdoğan wish. There are 58 other HDP MPs who are being tried in similar trials. In Turkish politics, you need a very long life to be able to speak freely. Otherwise, you wouldn't be able to serve such terms as 70, 100 years, or even a double life-sentence behind bars.

The speech that I made on the border between Turkey’s Sanliurfa and Syria’s Kobane was a response to the government, which accused the HDP of standing on the shoulders of “terrorist organizations," implying the PYD and YPG in Syria. I concluded my speech as following: “Let’s join together with Syrian Kurds in a historical alliance and make Turkey a safe, secure, strong and the democratic center of gravity in the region.”

The government’s deep-rooted, jingoistic hostility for the Kurdish people left them deaf and blind. And they have declared that the PYD, the political representative of Syrian Kurds with thousands of relatives in Turkey, is a terrorist organization. Even though they had hosted its leader in Ankara to cooperate in an endeavor to save its sacred land that was occupied by ISIS.

But the truth still stands high. It is problematic that I am put on trial for telling the truth, but another problem is that Turkey doesn’t have an independent judiciary. Talking about a fair trial and equality before the law is impossible in Turkey, when every member of the high judiciary has pledged their loyalty to Erdoğan. The existing legal system has been torn asunder. The outdated constitution and laws have been replaced by lawlessness and no constitution.

The government had already amassed their cohorts in judiciary posts and a purge of the high judiciary was concluded well before the July 15 coup attempt. After that, thousands of judges and prosecutors have been discharged and arrested. Public confidence in the judiciary is at an all-time low. In this situation, there is no judicial mechanism that we can go to seek justice.

Therefore, we are doing what is legitimate and right: we refuse to go to the prosecutors and the courts.

Figen Yüksekdağ is the co-chair of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, the country’s third-largest political faction. Turkish authorities have called on Yüksekdağ to testify on charges of “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.”