Turkey's Kurds see fear behind election setback

by Reuters
Sunday, 1 November 2015 21:02 GMT

(Writes through, adds voter comment and details of protest)

By Humeyra Pamuk

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Turkish police fired tear gas against protesters in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on Sunday after an election that saw President Tayyip Erdogan's hold on the country tightened and the main pro-Kurdish party almost voted out of parliament.

It was, this time, a brief flareup. Stones were thrown and roads were blocked before the crowd dispersed and the tea houses nestled inside the city's Byzantine walls emptied.

But it illustrated a stark change from the jubilation that followed June polls when the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) swept into the legislature, helping put a brief end to the one-party rule enjoyed by the AK Party Erdogan founded.

Bullet-scarred buildings overlooking streets patrolled by special forces, some wearing masks, and armoured cars stationed near polling stations all told the story of the four months between the two votes. Conflict had flared again, on a large scale, between Kurdish separatist fighters and security forces.

"We are talking about people - shopkeepers, business owners - caught up between bullets, tear gas and clashes," said Hakan Akbal, the head of a local young businessmen's group, of the last four months. "I think this has created psychological trauma and it also had a concrete economic impact on business.

"We're talking about families not even being able to send their kids to school. So I think these things may have played a significant role in the decline of the HDP's votes."

A 2-1/2-year-old truce with the PKK, which had been fighting for greater Kurdish autonomy since 1984, collapsed in July amid fierce fighting. Towns were put under curfew as fighting spread and Erdogan vowed to root out every last "terrorist", as the group is classified by the EU and Washington as well as Ankara.


The HDP denies Erdogan's accusations of links to the PKK and says it rejects violence.

Some critics of Erdogan accuse him of cracking down on Kurdish militants in a bid to shore up the AKP's nationalist credentials, hoping to woo back voters who feared it had 'gone soft' on the PKK after four years of peace talks.

Many in Diyarbakir put Erdogan's success, as well as the decline in the HDP vote from 13 percent in June to around 10.6 percent on Sunday, to weariness and fear over renewed violence.

"I am a Kurdish loyalist so I didn't change my vote, but I know that other people might have changed their minds," said 24-year-old Ersin Polat, who works in a clothing store in the Sur district, which has been under security curfews in recent weeks.

"I know that our neighbours were scared and they were going to vote for AKP this time."

Sunday's vote unexpectedly restored the AK Party's overall majority, allowing it to form a one-party government and strengthening Erdogan's position in the country, which had been weakened since the June vote.

HDP co-leader Figen Yuksekdag said the election outcome was the result of a deliberate policy of polarisation by Erdogan.

Voters in Diyarbakir had turned out in droves, queuing in the shadow of armoured police vehicles to cast their ballots against what some said was state intimidation.

Long lines snaked out of the crumbling schools that served as polling stations in the city, parts of which have been scorched by fighting between security forces and militants.

At one school in the Sur district, all the windows were broken and the walls and doors peppered with bullet holes. The local roads were filled with rubble, shattered glass and rubbish.

The security presence was heavy across the city.

"Everyone has seen the real face and intention of Erdogan pretty clearly. He's telling all of us: 'If I am not in power, the killings, the chaos will continue'," said Azad Koyuncu, a 37-year-old carpenter.

"Here we are today, once again, after five months to resist that, to say no to that." (Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Daren Butler)

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