The HDK enigma
Esen Uslu continues his exploration of the Kurdish question by pointing to the ambiguities in the HDK’s ‘democratic autonomy’
examining what the programmes of the legal Communist Party, the
Freedom and Socialist Party (ÖDP) and the Workers’ Party of
Kurdistan (PKK) have had to say about the Kurdish national question,
it is time to take a look at the position of the newly formed
People’s Democratic Congress (HDK). While the HDK is still in the
making, it has its roots in the period when the ÖDP was formed in
lesser organisations stayed out of the process leading to the
formation of the ÖDP or split from it shortly after taking part in
the initial fusion. While they have diverse opinions, they tend to
agree that meaningful unity cannot exclude representatives of the
Kurdish freedom movement. Many had taken part in the formation in
1990 of the legal People’s Labour Party (HEP), a precursor of the
present-day Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), and worked within it
until it was banned by the constitutional court in 1993.
1991, 22 HEP members were elected to parliament from the eastern and
south-eastern provinces as part of the Social Democratic Populist
Party (SHP) election list and in 1992 they formed their own
independent group in the Grand National Assembly. However, when the
intention of the constitutional court to close down the party became
apparent, a ‘spare tyre’ - the Party of Democracy (DEP) - was
era ended with the expulsion of Kurdish members from parliament, and
the banning of the DEP in 1994. Afterwards it was no longer a
priority for the Kurdish freedom movement to work within a party of
the Turkish left, whose aim was to contest parliamentary elections.
The successive parties subsequently formed and banned focused on
local elections in Kurdistan. Participating in general elections was
not seen as a priority on the grounds of prohibitive thresholds.
the 2007 general election, the Kurdish freedom movement, this time in
the guise of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), joined with left
organisations in nominating ‘independent’ candidates on a
platform called Candidates of a Thousand Hopes. Enough were elected
to ‘join’ the DTP and form a parliamentary group. During that
time the idea of a more or less permanent umbrella party to organise
joint action between the Kurdish freedom movement and the Turkish
left, was considered. However, it did not come to fruition.
platform called the Labour Democracy and Freedom Bloc was formed for
the 2011 general election, resulting in the election of 36 MPs. And
this time efforts to provide a permanent structure proceeded with
more vigour. The HDK was the result of those efforts.
HDK programme is quite a short document and the section entitled
‘Kurdish question: peace and democratic resolution’ sets out its
stall on this central issue:
congress supports the right of every diverse identity to maintain
itself, and accepts the basic principle that all of them have the
right to exist within a law of equal and free citizenship. Our
congress approaches the basic rights and liberties of the Kurdish
population on the basis of that principle and defends and struggles
for a peaceful, democratic solution of the Kurdish question, which
has been condemned to irresolution since the establishment of the
republic, on the basis of equal rights. It defends the right of
forcibly displaced citizens to return to villages that were burnt
down or demolished.
congress evaluates the resolution on democratic autonomy adapted by
the Kurdish people as an important initiative towards the resolution
of the Kurdish question. It holds that democratic autonomy could play
an important role in the democratisation of Turkey and the formation
of a free and voluntary unity of peoples.
first glance, the HDK programme as a whole does not appear connected
to the demands set forth in the PKK programme. However, in reality,
the HDK programme closely reflects the current immediate aims of the
Kurdish freedom movement, especially its legal component, and those
aims can be summarised in two words: ‘democratic autonomy’.
2007 this new term started to appear in various ‘visit notes’
(that is, the near-verbatim transcripts of what imprisoned PKK leader
Abdullah Öcalan told his visiting solicitors, which were regularly
published afterwards), as part of comrade Öcalan’s preparations
for the PKK programme for ‘democratic confederalism’. It was not
very clear in the beginning what ‘democratic autonomy’ entailed.
But it became an important aspect of DTP work, especially while it
was preparing for the convention of the Democratic Society Congress
became a guiding principle of the DTP, DTK and later the BDP, and
various documents were prepared to expound the concept as a response
to the 2009 ‘Kurdish overture’ of the AKP government. When it
became apparent that the AKP’s eagerness for reform was ebbing, the
DTK ‘declared’ democratic autonomy in July 2011. But in the midst
of the wave of arrests and trials of prominent Kurdish activists the
declaration failed to achieve much.
in the space of five years ‘democratic autonomy’ has been
modified and extended, the concept itself is still to be clarified.
For a while it was regarded as a component of the PKK’s ‘democratic
confederalism’, which applies to all peoples of the region, but
later it came to be used in support of a Kurdish federal or
autonomous region/state. However, a gradual expounding of the
‘democratic autonomy’ concept as the main immediate aim of the
Kurdish freedom movement is now discernible. It is the demand that
would be put on the table in negotiations for a peaceful resolution
of the Kurdish question following a mutually agreed ceasefire with
the Turkish government.
July 2011 meeting of the DTK agreed the following:
autonomy] requires a substantial reform of the political and
administrative structure of Turkey in order to achieve
that by changing only the state system problems cannot be resolved,
it requires the empowerment of society. It is based on the philosophy
that in order to develop methods to resolve problems the local should
be empowered and the people should have a decision-making voice.
include people in decision-making processes it defends democratic
participation and accepts assemblies at all localities as its basis.
of autonomy based on pure ‘ethnicity’ and ‘territory’, it
defends a regional and local structure where cultural diversities can
be freely expressed.
proposes that every regional and autonomous unit develop its
self-government under its own colours and symbols, while ‘the flag’
and ‘official language’ are applicable to the ‘nation of
autonomous administrations are organised through a ‘regional
assembly’ and the persons taking part in it are defined as
‘representatives to the regional government’.
document was prepared by comrade Öcalan in 2009 to lay the basis of
the so-called Oslo process - the secret negotiations conducted
between the representatives of the PKK and the Turkish MIT
intelligence service, representing the prime minister. The so-called
‘road map’, entitled ‘The problems of democratisation of
Turkey, models of the solution in Kurdistan’, was kept secret by
the state until March 2011. While the text did not contain any direct
reference to ‘democratic autonomy’, the demands were clearly in
line with other documents expounding the concept.
freedom movement leaders have stated that democratic autonomy accepts
as a first step the principles of the European Charter of Local
Self-Government, which was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1985.
On the other hand, there are documents containing detailed references
to an independent or autonomous federal state enjoying diplomatic
relations with other peoples in the region.
HDK has not attempted to clarify the ambiguities of the ‘democratic
autonomy’ project. I believe this failure reflects the sad state of
Turkey’s left generally, since it fails to seriously address
matters of controversy with a view to dispelling any confusion, which
also exists in the disproportionately powerful Kurdish movement. The
result is that the confusion is compounded.
May this year, the HDK adopted a series of resolutions. One of them
was entitled ‘The Kurdish question and a democratic solution’:
impasse over the Kurdish question continues. A quite comprehensive
agreement has been reached by the supreme command of the armed forces
and the AKP on the basis of ‘security’ [a euphemism for the
crushing of the PKK by the military]. This new view of the Kurdish
question is being shaped by the prominence of security and total war.
The AKP government reiterates at every opportunity that it will
proceed with violence instead of taking steps towards democratisation
and the resolution of the Kurdish question; it refuses the
comprehensive demands of Kurdish people, such as equality, education
in the mother tongue and recognition of a status such as democratic
autonomy. The ongoing isolation imposed on Öcalan, the Kurdish
popular leader, and the inhumane treatment of the detainees in the
prisons are other signs of that view.
these developments, the first general meeting of the HDK directs the
general assembly to pursue campaigns and actions demanding the
termination of fighting and the implementation of mechanisms for a
democratic resolution, aiming for the resumption of direct or
this way the HDK plays down the problems faced by the movement - and
right in the middle of an intensified military campaign. During the
summer hundreds of guerrillas and military personnel, as well as
civilians, were killed, and the attacks have been stepped up before
the quickly approaching winter lull.
HDK tries to make people believe that campaigns and activities aimed
at stopping the fighting and creating an atmosphere of negotiations
have a chance, knowing full well that the previous secret
negotiations and ceasefires came to nothing. The HDK general meeting
refused to even consider alternative proposals.