Elections and hopes in post-Gezi Turkey

Many of us wonder who are the people who went to the streets during Gezi Park protests, who are behind the recent electoral success of the HPD party in Turkey, who has enough courage to sand up against Erdogan’s regime. Among others, there are also young activists connected to the green movement.
While travelling back home through Istanbul after CDN Study Session in Budapest “Bordering in the Possible”, I had a chance to interview two green Activists Pelin Atakan and Hayri Dagli and member of HDP Muhip Ege and get answers to some of those questions.
Masha: Let’s start with short introductions.
Muhip: My name is Muhip, I’m member of HDP – People’s Democratic Party and I was also representative of Üsküdar (one of the district of Istanbul) commission for People’s Democratic Congress, which eventually funded People’s Democratic Party. I am quite involved in politics.
Pelin: It’s Pelin Atakan, member of Young Greens of Turkey, writing for Yeşil Gazete (Green Newspaper).
Hayri: My name is Hayri, over the last 10 years I worked as an ecologist, educator and youth worker in Sweden, Portugal and Turkey. I currently develop and lead sustainability projects in Africa. I am also a supporter of young Greens of Turkey.
Masha: Could you introduce Turkish Young Greens?
Pelin: We have 20 members and we operate in 3 districts – Istanbul, Ankara and Mersin. The organization actively works for environmental politics, migration, workers’ rights, women’s rights, LGBT+ rights and children rights. We work with FYEG and CDN. We don’t have hierarchy and the organization‘s work is based on direct democracy principles – we are all involved in decision making process. We don’t have spokespersons.
Masha: How does it work then? For example who is a person that media talk to?
Pelin: Everyone. Some of us have some special knowledge, for example those who more acknowledged about women’s and LGBT rights, so if there is a need to give an interview about these issues, it’s them answering the questions, other members are good in other topics and they are communicating with media in those cases.
Masha: What about HDP?
Muhip: HDP or the People’s Democratic Party is a result of People’s Democratic Congress, which included 21 different parties, civil movements and 17 of them form HDP. HDP coalition includes Socialists, Greens, Feminists, pro-Kurdish, Pro-Armenian, LGBTİ movements and so on. It was formed in 2013- just after Gezi Park protests. HDP is a party that builds its front by including different oppressed groups together. In recent elections HDP party entered the parliament for the first time as a party, before there were independent politicians in the parliament. 
Masha: Do you mean the leftists? 
Muhip: No, there is10% threshold  and they were under 10% as party. They were in the parliament as independent.
Masha: Do TYG have any connection to the Green Party (Greens and the Left Party of the Future) and do you know what is on their agenda?
Pelin: Yes, our agendas meet each other, we both work on Environmental policy, urbanization etc. I would say that they are our friends, we have quite good relationship with the members of Green Party. We don’t have memorandum or any official document, we are both independent from each other, but we know each other quite good on a personal level and we have same positions on many things.
Masha: Can you share some emotions and feelings about the elections? How did it go, how HDP campaigned, are you happy with the results?
Muhip: I think what made this elections really important is that they are the first elections after the Gezi Park protests – event that shaped and influenced all the politics, especially green politics and all of the fields of life in Turkey. People were so passionately driven to overthrow AKP government and most of the people arrived at the point to make HDP to enter the parliament and weaken AKP, because assumption was if HDP enters parliament as party, automatically AKP loses its power by loosing seats in the parliament. And that’s what actually happened as result of this elections, HDP entered the parliament as party, so now AKP aren’t able to form government without a coalition. I believe it was success not only for HDP, but also for other political movements including the Greens, feminists and so on. As AKP is weakened there is some space opened for other movements and parties.
Pelin: The whole process was fun, but it was also stressful. It was a great thing that HDP passed the threshold, now there is some balance in the parliament, which is very important in democracy. I can’t say if this will work or not, we don’t know the future, we will see. Coalition will be okay, because concentration of power is never good. We expect the coalition to be formed in 2 months so it’s quite early to say something.
Hayri: Young generations grew with AKP and have never seen any other political force in power were quite pessimistic about political hegemony in Turkey untill this recent elections. These elections changed their view and made a bit more hopeful about the future. 
Masha: What would you say about campaigning? How did it go? 
Muhip: People were driven so much by the concern of getting rid of AKP, that they have never pay attention to other parties which had no space in parliament. So whatever they did, they did with a huge passion and the campaigning also was passionate. People knew that this was one of the the important possibilities to weaken the AKP in the parliament, although there was not funding or any other resource, but motivation. So people just by themselves went to streets and campaigned for HDP. Some organisation arise, for instance 10dan Sonrasi which was organised volunteers for working HDP.
Pelin: Green party never had a chance to campaign in its classical sense. So now being partner of HDP the Green Party became a part of this leftist grass-root political movement and automatically campaigned as a part of it.
Hayri: It was the first time that opposition parties CHP and HDP had their own root map and a positive campaign, they did not base their campaigns only against AKP’s policies. 
Masha: How do you see AKP and how do they act?
Pelin: They are a typical populist party, they don’t have structured ideology, they are responding on people’s basic needs, but not like social rights etc. They have had capial of money. When they first campaigned, they already had some organizational capital of money and human resources and they always have public media on their disposal. And with every election they get more money and other resources, they have better tools for campaigning and they get more and more popular. 
Muhip: Before defining the parties, I think we should state that the Turkish politics is really divided. I would say, that AKP is not based on any absolute ideology but has a very conservative understanding of politics. So we see islamisation during past decades, it was not such a big problem during the last few years, but now people came at a point when you see islamisation in the streets and in daily lives. I would say that a part of AKP‘s conservative and islamisatioin policies are aimed to peoples private lives and secularity. In addition, AKPs neoliberal policies made people really angry and as a result Gezi arose and I think we still live in an environment, where the most of the politics is shaped by Gezi park events. I think we can say that we live in post-Gezi time. Because Gezi allowed people to start think from Green perspective and critical thinking towards understanding of nation, state, government. What happened is that Gezi opened a new space for the other identities in Turkey for instance Kurdish identity in Eastern Turkey or feminists, socialists, greens, for left politics in general. And HDP used this trend in their election campaign, they published lots of statements regarding Gezi protests and addressed the values highlighted during Gezi, LGBTI, women struggle, green politics, etc.
Masha: Are you happy with the results? Did you expect this or not? How many greens are there?
Pelin: I am personally happy of course, because we will see some different people in the parliament. Nothing else is important but the representativeness, but as I said we don’t know how it will work out and what kind of coalition we will have. We don’t know how each party will act. From greens there is only Sruhan Oluç but he represents HDP. For small parties it is not even possible to be visible in the media. We had an option to choose from 20 parties or more during the elections but we have only 4 in the parliament. They don’t even have chance to meet the people or be on mainstream media. The threshold ensures majority government, but nor representativeness, neither democracy. 
Muhip: As a result of the elections we pretty much showed AKP that they are not the only decision makers and they are not only one there to rule. And people are there, ready to punish them, although they are not the majority. They can be punished by the minority if minority gets united. I believe that this is a result of the elections as well.  It shows the AKP that their time is over, so they will be overthrown as soon as the opposition parties (CHP-MHP-HDP) stop attacking each other and unite in their battle with AKP. However, their ideology is really in a clash and this is what made the elections very important. Also, I think that after gezi park protests lot of people started to be involved in politics and became really politicized during this process. I think this was one of the reasons why the participation rate was so high, maybe 87%. If I am not mistaken, this was one the highest participation rates in history.
Hayri: Although this election was a victory for the opposition, AKP still got 40% of total votes despite the fact that they are involved in number of corruption scandals. This shows that  there is a long way to go for Turkey to overcome hegemony of AKP.  Making changes will not be easy and quick. 
Masha: Does this election show the current situation? I mean is the amount of each party’s members of parliament proportionate to the amount of their supporters? Was the participation equal? Were the elections fair?
Muhip: In previous elections there were so many scandals and AKP was blamed to steal votes etc. I believe many people in Turkey don’t trust the elections. During this elections couple of civil movements appeared, one of them is ‘oy ve ötesi’, meaning vote and beyond. This movement organise volunteers for working at elections, counting etc. which is important because most of the frauds occur at this stage.  As for the fairness of pre-election process, what can we say? AKP holds all the mainstream media, so they were talking only about them. HDP and other parties had no chance to have space there; also HDP was targeted by many attacks, for example HDP chairman was holding a speech a week ago and almost half million people were there and there a bomb explosion. 5 people died. This was not directly done by AKP, but since they are the ruling government and they are really crazy about intelligence services, we assume that they knew about this, but didn’t prevent it. And the same could be said about other opposition parties. They are threatened and oppressed by different organisations and movements, what can be surely prevented by AKP and intelligence services, but they are not interested in this. 
Pelin: We have seen a very good example of solidarity for these elections, as well as the previous ones. There is this organization called “vote and beyond” – “oy ve ötesi” caring about each vote to be counted correctly. Thousands of people work together voluntarily to ensure each vote is counted correctly. This is a thing that state should do! Those people dont trust state for this work. They got together and showed admirable work. Besides, they helped elections to work fairly. They show a good resistance, what they dont like about state and they produce alternative rather than only complaining. 
Masha: What are the future plans of HDP and greens? What are the hopes?
Muhip: At the moment we don’t have coalition government, because the parties couldn’t form it yet.  AKP probably won’t make a coalition with HDP and CHP, but MHP which is extra right wing party i believe MHP are close to coalition and this coalition will be really tough for green and leftist politics. But I believe the success of left parties and movements will continue. There are so many struggles, but we have hope, we will continue, we will never give up because we already passed the most critical points.The struggle just begun and the struggle will continue not only in the parliament, but also in the streets and protests. And this is the only way the left politics should evolve – in the streets. There are so many things to change in our daily lives, in the culture, in the policies and basically everything. We have the hope and motivation and we will fight for it! We unite and fight!
Pelin: After Gezi people start to learn how to use the streets, how big their power is, they go on the streets. I am not very hopefull about the coalition but I am sure that HDP will be a great opposition. As young greens we will be always there to oppose everything we consider wrong. Nothing is over!
Masha: How can Young European Greens support you?
Pelin: We expect support in media and promotion of refugee topic. Europe must take more responsibility in accepting more refugees.
 
The interview by Masha Pashkova-Dzneladze, member of Georgian Young Greens (www.younggreens.ge/en) and EC member of Cooperation and Development Network Eastern Europe (www.cdnee.org), her main fields of interest are sustainable development, alternative urbanisation, clean sources of energy, free and open source technologies and media. 
The photo is published with the permission of its authors.  From left to right: There is Hayri Dagli, Pelin Atakan, Muhip Ege.