Turkey: Islamist Kurds enter politics to divide AKP, BDP electorate in the Southeast

Based largely in southeastern Turkey, a new Islamic Kurdish party has announced its foray into politics to “protect peace, justice, and brotherhood,” which for many analysts, targets to trim the votes of the ruling AKP and pro-Kurdish BDP.

The founders of the party hail from Mustazaf Der, an NGO that was shut down last May for its ties to Kurdish Hezbollah—a Sunni group with no relation to the Lebanese Shi’a Hezbollah—branded as a fundamentalist terrorist organization by the Turkish state.

Sait Sahin, founding member of the new party, said in a phone interview that the association would be called Huda-Par, which can also be translated as “On God’s Path”.

Huda-Par is short for Hur Dava Party, or Free Cause Party. But Huda also means God in Kurdish, translating into Party of God, or Hezbollah.

“Hezbollah has taken a big step towards politicization by establishing Huda Par. Hezbollah takes its place among the radical Islamist wings in the southeast,” said Yusuf Cinar, the founder of Strategic Outlook, a Konya-based think-tank in an email interview.

Formed in the 1980s by a Kurd, Huseyin Velioglu, Hezbollah is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people during the 1990s, the height of the Turkish state’s conflict with the PKK, when security forces turned a blind eye to Hezbollah’s activities in its ideological conflict against the Marxist-inspired PKK. It has been branded as a fundamentalist terrorist organization by the Turkish state.

In January 2000, shortly after PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured, Velioglu was killed in a police raid in Istanbul. The police captured Hezbollah’s archives and many weapons, and arrested around 4,000 of its members.

Meanwhile, over the past decade remnants of Hezbollah renounced violence and refocused on strengthening its social base through a network of NGOs, media groups, charities, and soup kitchens across Turkey. But the organization’s violent history and radical politics has prompted questions whether its followers have really given up the gun for politics and social activities.

“Kurdish Hezbollah’s brutal past and its alleged collaboration with other terror organizations are the reasons why its activities are being closely followed by Turkish people and authorities,” Suleyman Ozeren, director of the Ankara-based International Centre for Terrorism and Transnational Crime, said in a phone interview.

Sahin in his turn added that Huda-Par is the outcome of earlier discussions within the NGO to establish a political party.

“We’ve already submitted our petition to the Interior Ministry; completed all the preparations and established the party based on law and order,” he said. “Now, Huda-Par has its own place among political parties in Turkey.”

“The basis of our electorate is average people… Of course, at different times people might give their votes to different parties. But we believe that because our party is in harmony with culture, belief and values of these people, it will have enough support,” he added.

Yet, it is unclear if Huda-Par has direct links to the Kurdish Hezbollah movement that was involved in violent incidents in the past.

Sahin dismissed the new party’s links to Hezbollah, but added that Huda Par’s leaders have “certain backgrounds” and their party “gets its reference from the Quran and Prophet Muhammad; therefore [it] will be advocating for justice all around the country by serving Turkish people no matter what religion they belong to.”

The party calls for the constitutional recognition of the Kurds and Kurdish language, mother tongue education, the end to the 10 percent election threshold, and the decentralization of state power and strengthening of local administration.

The party also calls for an independent judiciary and investigation into the burning of villages and forced migration, as well as the injustices committed by Ergenekon, JITEM, and similar organizations.

The party also advocates for restrictions on the freedom of religion and worship to be lifted, the headscarf ban ended, wants adultery criminalized, and religious marriages to be recognized.

Moving beyond religion and the Kurdish issue, the party programmed wants an end to charging interest in the economy, no tax on those making minimum wage, and free water, electricity, and gas to the poor.

On foreign policy, among other things the party seeks to lift the “artificial borders that have divided Muslim Kurds into four parts,” and replace it with economic, cultural, social, and political co-operation.

In the meantime, for some security analysts, such as Yusuf Cinar, founder of Strategic Outlook, Huda-Par is the next phase of the evolution of Islamist Kurdish movement since the beginning of 2000s.

Though Kurdish Hezbollah is Sunni, its establishment in 1990s was influenced heavily by the Islamic Revolution and was very close to the Iranian regime.

“By Huda-Par’s entry into the Turkish politics, a political party that claimed to be in a direct close relationship with a neighboring country will be included in the election process, first time since 2000,” Cinar said.

“If Huda-Par is effective in politics it will positively influence Iran’s lobbying efforts in Turkey,” he added.

For Cinar, it’s interesting whether the PKK and BDP react to Huda-Par’s activity, as even though Kurdish Hezbollah gave up arms and its violent past, it is still being prosecuted.

The same goes for thousands of Kurds who are in prison for alleged links to the KCK. This does not encourage the PKK to give up its arms.

Due to its religious and Kurdish nationalist credentials, Hezbollah is also a challenge to the Gulen movement, which has made strides in southeastern Turkey and the Kurdish neighborhoods of large cities.

Wladimir van Wilgenburg, a writer for the Kurdish newspaper Rudaw who has been conducting research on Hezbollah for years, believes Huda-Par wants to form “a third way for those Kurds who are not happy with the AKP and the leftist BDP.”

In their own words, he said, “they want to form an alternative to Kemalism and Apoism.”

“The AKP managed to get many votes from religious Kurds due to its religious background, while the BDP and the PKK are increasingly trying to show they respect Islam by mobilizing religious clerics against the state and ceasefires during Islamic holidays. Both actors realize Islam is important in the southeast,” he said in an interview.

“Huda Par could try to steal votes from the AKP since it is increasingly becoming a statist party, and some Kurds of the AKP have expressed anger over the current hard-line policies. As a result more Kurds vote for the BDP,” he emphasized.

Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, an Istanbul-based think tank, believes Huda Par will primarily affect the AKP vote in the southeast.

“The new party is more likely to attract AKP supporters rather than BDP supporters,” he said in an email interview. “In fact, most of the BDP electorate will be quite distant to the Kurdish Hezbollah party for ideological reasons.”

As a result, he added, “it is difficult to foresee at this stage whether the Kurdish Hezbollah will be able to carve out for itself a significant share of the pie in the southeast and whether it has the potential to alter the present situation on the ground where today only two political entities [BDP and AKP] have any real impact.”

There are also questions whether Hezbollah and its organizations, which have regularly brought out tens of thousands of supporters to rallies in some southeast cities, will be allowed to operate by the government or the PKK.

“[The group] could face pressure from both the PKK and the state in the Kurdish southeast — and even the powerful Gülen Islamic movement — which would make it difficult for them to operate,” van Wilgenburg said.

“It’s also unclear if they can convince Muslim Kurds to vote for them, since BDP in general controls the municipalities, while the AKP controls the government. Hezbollah does not have lot of resources,” he said.

Galip Ensarioglu, an AKP deputy from Diyarbakir, told local media that officials of the ruling party were not worried about any new party or movements in the region.

In the meantime, he added, Kurdish Hezbollah is not popular in the region, even though it has some supporters in Diyarbakır, Batman, Adana and Bingol.

Alakbar Raufoglu

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Alakbar Raufoglu is a Washington, DC-based journalist covering Middle East, Turkey and Caucasus. Follow him on Twitter at @ralakbar. 

One Response to "Turkey: Islamist Kurds enter politics to divide AKP, BDP electorate in the Southeast"

  1. Rehman Malik  February 1, 2013 at 12:42 am

    Nicely written, good job, sayin Alakbar!

    Reply

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