The Center for Public Policy and Democracy Studies (PODEM), conducted a study in Diyarbakır as part of a project aimed toward understanding how events of the July 15th coup attempt and its aftermath have been seen in different parts of Turkish society. The aim of the research is to analyze current social and political events in Turkey through the eyes of the Kurds, to describe their expectations and demands in response, and to present concrete policy recommendations that will address their concerns.
The study was conducted in Diyarbakır and consisted of two phases. First, a field study was done in January 2017. Then, a workshop was held in February 2017. During the fieldwork, in-depth interviews were conducted with political actors, representatives from civil society organizations, opinion leaders, and academics. A group meeting was held to conclude. During the workshop, close to 30 participants, including representatives of civil society organizations, businesspeople, academics, and lawyers, chosen for their unique perspectives, debated the social and political developments that have taken place in Turkey in recent years.
It is possible to gather the findings of the report into a number of points indicating the mood in Diyarbakır and the region during the period between the July 15th coup attempt and the April 16th referendum:
- Diyarbakır and its environs are trying to recover after the recent period of urban warfare. There are ongoing effects of the destruction created by the fighting in the city’s Sur district. In addition to addressing the destruction itself, returning the city to normal daily life and overcoming preexisting social and economic problems are priority items on the agenda.
- The public holds the PKK and HDP responsible for the fighting, and as a result has distanced itself from both and has not responded to their calls to action. The increase in security measures taken by the state in the region has forced the PKK into hiding. All groups except the PKK have spoken loud and clear that violence is not the solution and that the people who suffer the most material and psychological damage during periods of fighting are the Kurds themselves. The PKK should, under appropriate legal conditions, bring the armed struggle inside Turkey to an end.
- The suppression of the July 15th coup attempt is generally welcomed. People find the government’s immediate reaction to the coup, the President’s call to the people to resist the coup in the streets, and the people’s response all worthy of praise. However, the HDP base is split in response. While largely doubtful of the reality of the coup, there is a minority view within the HDP that July 15th was indeed a coup attempt and that the party should have responded more effectively to it. All the same, there is general agreement that the background and aftermath of the coup attempt include many unanswered questions and that every aspect of the coup must be examined fully.
- As a result of the declaration of a state of emergency (OHAL), many associations and foundations have been closed and civil society in Diyarbakır has to a large degree ceased to function. The region in general is blanketed in a climate of fear. Kurds believe that the blocking of the coup attempt offered an important opportunity for social reconciliation in Turkey, and that unfortunately this opportunity was not taken advantage of. As part of this, there is a consensus that the government abused the post-coup period by using it to intimidate the groups it believed were its opposition.
- The AKP’s partnership with the MHP in the referendum process has created bitterness even among Kurdish AKP supporters. They explain the partnership with the MHP as being out of necessity. Other Kurds see themselves as being excluded from the constitutional amendment process. In terms of approaches to the presidential system, we can say that there is no absolute opposition to it among Kurds apart from supporters of the HDP. In general, for Kurds the most important and decisive factor in determining their support is whatever will best bring about a solution to the Kurdish issue. They will evaluate the presidential system, or any other system of government, from this perspective.
- Most Kurds feel stuck between their reaction to the PKK and the security policies of the government, and as a result may not go to the polls. The likelihood that a “yes” vote would be understood as approval of status quo politics and of the policies implemented during the OHAL is a significant problem for many Kurds. Many Kurds are nevertheless also concerned that a “No” vote would be exploited by the PKK and HDP.
- The Kurds do not believe that the constitutional amendment presented to the public will bring any resolution to important societal problems like those faced by the Kurdish and Alevi communities. The prevailing view is that instead of the proposed constitutional package, there must be process to develop a new constitution recognizing cultural rights and identities. They emphasize that a new political process is needed to solve the Kurdish issue and that the Solution Process, despite having ended inconclusively, nevertheless provided valuable experience.
The present study, titled “From July 15 Coup Attempt to the Referendum: Impressions from Diyarbakır ” and aimed toward understanding how different sectors of society experienced and understood the coup attempt of July 15th and its aftermath, is based on research PODEM carried out in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. The aim of the research was to study recent social and political events as seen by the Kurds, to determine their demands, and to develop concrete policy proposals to meet those demands.
The Diyarbakır survey was conducted in two stages. First, a field study was done in January 2017. Then, a workshop was held in February 2017. The fieldwork involved a total of 8 in-depth interviews conducted with politicians, opinion leaders, and academics and a group meeting involving 12 participants. At the workshop, a total of 24 people representing civil society organizations, businesspeople, academics, and lawyers and providing a variety of perspectives debated the social and political developments that have taken place in recent years. The present report was prepared relying on the data obtained from the fieldwork and workshop.
What July 15th tells
Among the Kurds, the understanding of what occurred on July 15th divides mostly into two groups:
1 – The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and groups close to the These groups exhibit three main approaches to July 15th. First are those who say that exactly what occurred on July 15th is still unknown. According to them, despite the fact that some data point to a coup, one must not ignore the presence of many questions that remain shrouded in darkness from that night. They point out that after July 15th the government initiated a wide-ranging purge of every area of government, slicing through the bureaucracy starting with the courts, security forces, education, and treasury. In addition to this, they mention the harsh interference in the private sector, including the liquidation of many large companies. They emphasize that many sectors in society — even artists and soccer players — have been implicated in the coup investigations, but the investigations have not extended into politics. The result is that not a single politician has lost their position in the aftermath of the attempted coup. These circumstances make it especially hard for this group to understand, much less offer analysis of what happened on July 15th.
“Was July 15th really a coup attempt? I don’t know. If we go into that subject we would find a whole lot of things to say.”
“We still don’t know what the story behind the coup was and exactly what happened. Because it wasn’t explained.”
The second of this group of views is the perspective that July 15th was a ruse. This belief is especially prevalent among young supporters of HDP. There are two main strands to this view: those who hold that the “coup attempt” was a government ruse from start to finish, and others who think that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) were aware at an early time of activities indicating a coup, but intentionally refrained from interfering in the attempt, carefully permitting it to reach a certain point before they decided to crush it. Each view shares the allegation that the AKP’s ultimate goal was to create an “epic story of democracy” that would justify an environment in which they could reinforce their strength and eliminate the opposition.
“I am not of the view that the AKP was caught unprepared by the coup. I suspect that they were aware of the coup beforehand, and so far no one has been able to satisfy my doubts. I don’t know when they learned about it but I don’t think they were totally unaware.”
“I think the coup was expected. When you look at all these lists, you can see that the government had prepared for the aftermath of the coup. So maybe they paved the way to the coup and then moved against it afterward. There was a need for this kind of a purge of the courts and the army. But without the coup there would have been no justification for cleaning house like this.”
“Stopping the coup before it happened might not have produced the results that the AKP were hoping for. ‘Let them come out in the open, then we’ll crush them’—they might have found that idea irresistible.”
The third approach is to see July 15th as a real coup attempt. According to the participants with this view, despite the fact that the AKP made many suspicious blunders in the lead- up to the coup attempt, this does not indicate that it was an AKP plan. Defenders of this view argue that the military in Turkey had a well-established history of committing coups, in addition to which the Gülenists, who had gathered great strength in the police forces and judiciary as well as the military, launched the coup when they understood it was in their interest to do so.
“On our side, people are of two minds. On one side, people like me called it a ‘coup’ and say it was necessary to forcefully resist it. On the other side, there were people who said this was ‘just Erdoğan’s latest trick.”
“One group in the party, because of the extent of their anger toward Erdoğan, did not want to move immediately against the coup. In fact some wanted to rub Erdoğan’s face in it.”
2 – Non-HDP Kurds. Apart from HDP supporters, a large segment of Kurds recognizes July 15th as a coup. In particular AKP supporters believe that the statements and attitudes expressing doubt about July 15th constitute a great injustice both to their party and to the nation, which resisted the coup. According to them, those who raise clouds of suspicion about the coup are merely unhappy that it was suppressed. According to these people, the invention of links between the AKP and the coup and the accusations that the coup was a work of the AKP come from the unwillingness of people to honestly express how unhappy they were when they heard the coup had failed.
“The truth behind the HDP members who say, ‘This is pure theater,’ is really just how sad they felt that the coup did not succeed.”
Outside of both HDP and AKP, Kurds who describe themselves more as Kurdistani than as affiliated with HDP, or as having a more generally Islamic identity than as being with AKP, make it clear that July 15th was a coup. However, they underline the fact that the political and social context during the July 15th coup attempt is very different from those during the coups that preceded it. The people in this group describe the coup as being a huge surprise, giving three reasons for this description:
- The perceived absence of circumstances in the society that would make a coup possible
- The inability to estimate the extent to which the Gülenists had infiltrated the government
- The belief that the power of the military to intervene in the political system had been broken
As a result, this group outside both the HDP and AKP made it clear first and foremost how shocked they were when they heard of the coup attempt.
“We thought the military no longer had any authority over politics. Besides, we didn’t know that Gülen’s reach was so long. The coup was a surprise for all of us.”
It is worth emphasizing that the coup attempt did not occur with as much severity in the Kurdish region as it did in western Turkey. As a result, the interviewees say that initially they could not quite understand what was happening on the night of July 15th. However, they said, they began to understand the severity of the situation as information reached them: the Prime Minister’s statement that there was an uprising underway against the nation; the putschists opening fire on civilians; the bombing of the Parliament and Presidential Palace; the seizure of the bridges over the Bosphorus; and warplanes flying low over Istanbul and Ankara.
“Every hour brought a different mood. No one could believe it. First I thought, ’is this some kind of performance?’ Then things got serious.”
“First no one understood what had happened. We said, we have to wait a while. But later, as the things became more intense, we understood that there was a serious situation.”
Suppressing the coup attempt
There have been many coups in Turkey’s history. May 27th, March 12th, and September 12th, are the anniversaries of outright coups by the military, while February 28th was an indirect,
so-called “postmodern” coup. In each instance, the political leaders in government offered no resistance to the coups they suffered.
On July 15th, something very different occurred. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, contrary to his predecessors, stated that he did not recognize the coup’s legitimacy and called on the
public to resist the putschists. The common wisdom holds that this call to the people, and even before it the flood of people taking to the streets, played a decisive role that night. Interview respondents indicate that Erdoğan’s actions were extremely risky, because if the people had not responded to Erdoğan’s call, it would have shown Erdoğan to have already lost and the coup would have achieved its purpose. Erdoğan took this risk and called on the people to take to the streets, and the people in turn responded and blocked the coup. Leadership is expressed in trying times, and Erdoğan in this difficult moment showed great leadership.
“Erdoğan faced his own death, but managed the crisis very well.”
“Erdoğan’s response was very encouraging. It was a moment of great difficulty for the government. The Prime Minister had recently changed. He showed good leadership. If not for his call to the people to go to the streets, everything would have been different.”
The people taking to the streets was also a first in Turkish history. In the past, as coups occurred, the people would retreat into their homes and silently watch the coup and its aftermath.
However, this time the people did not wait, but rather took to the streets to intervene against the coup plotters. And despite the general use of the term “the people,” in reality the largest share of those reacting to the coup were AKP voters and the religious-conservative base. Compared to this group, the reaction against the coup attempt was relatively weak among the secularists.
The situation in the Kurdish-populated region was roughly the same. For example, the street protestors in Diyarbakır were supporters of AKP and The Free Cause Party (HÜDAPAR), and the initial meeting point for the protest was in front of the AKP provincial headquarters.
In the context of the impressions we received from our fieldwork, we can separate the reaction respondents had to AKP and religious-conservative voters who took to the streets into two broad categories. The first was shock. Those who imagine AKP supporters as “pledging allegiance,” and as not having a democratic consciousness, did not expect this reaction from the people. As a result, the fact that people would take to the streets and risk death in the name of stopping the coup was extremely surprising to some.
“Erdoğan’s call to the streets was very smart. I was really surprised by the nation taking to the streets.”
A second segment of respondents claimed they had expected the people to come out against the coup as they did. In the fieldwork, there were two reasons commonly given by supporters of the AKP for why the religious-conservative demographic in particular was willing to use their own bodies to block the coup. The first is that this demographic had reached a certain level of
democratic development. The other, linked to the first, is their fear that everything they had won democratically up to the present day would be taken from them. Fifteen years of democratic and economic gains increased society’s level of resistance and ensured that people would rise up against the coup.
“Conservatives reached their prime to a certain extent. The fear of losing all that they had earned is what pushed them out into the streets. They rejected military rule.”
“People felt, ‘if this thing happens, if Erdoğan goes, it’s over for us.’ And they took to the street.”
Both groups of interviewees (those surprised by the public reaction and those indicating it could have been expected) said they had felt a huge amount of anxiety as the coup began. They said the putschists firing on civilians made them afraid that there would be a mass bloodshed. But as they saw the coup losing strength over time and the government taking control of the situation, hope began to take the place of fear.
“Standing against the military is a breaking point. It may have been a terrorist faction, but this was still the army, and the people stood up to it. From now on, if the army has any intention of conducting a coup they will have to think twice.”
Some participants, even if they ascribe significant meaning to the people’s reaction, underline that this is only a symbolic value in actually preventing the coup. According to them, one has to accept the value of the reaction, but also to acknowledge that the real factor behind the coup failing was not the people out in the streets but the presence of opposition forces within the army and police, and their intervention against the coup. If the coup attempt had occurred within a proper chain of command, whether or not the people took to the streets, the military would have completed it and taken control.
“If it had happened within the chain of command, the military would have crushed the people. If the military had taken to the streets as a whole, not much could have been done.”
The HDP stance on July 15th
One of the most controversial subjects among Kurds in regards to July 15th is the response of political actors against the coup, especially that of the HDP. Among interviewees, it was thought that the response to the coup was a test that the HDP did not pass, especially when, as everyone emphasized, the worst victims of any successful coup Turkey might face would be the Kurds themselves. In accordance with this view, anyone and any party claiming to represent the Kurds would have to oppose any coup, regardless of those responsible or who their target is. As a result, what the HDP needed to do on July 15th was to state its position clearly and concisely as soon as the news of the coup attempt emerged.
According to the respondents, the HDP did not perform as they should have. For a long while they remained silent. They followed a policy of “wait and see.” Instead of a taking a principled stance, they chose to wait to adopt a position based on the outcome of the coup. And so as soon as it was understood that the coup had ended in failure, they satisfied themselves with releasing statement —which itself only expressed muted opposition to the coup.
Respondents insisted that HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş could have easily gone on television the night of the coup attempt, as he was in Diyarbakır where there was no coup-related activity. He could have made it clear that he saw the coup as a violation of democracy and popular sovereignty that would never be accepted. In failing to do so, he squandered a huge opportunity to take a position in the public eye that would have strengthened him during post-coup politics.
“If only Demirtaş had called the people to the streets before the others. Then he would have been a partner of [the government in the process of amending] the constitution.”
Respondents point out two major reasons behind the HDP’s position. The first is that the HDP is not set up to have an independent decision-making process. Even if they had been unambiguously against the coup — which is clearly not the case — on July 15th the HDP simply could not decide what its statement would be on its own. The decision, quite probably, took place in Europe and in Iraq’s Qandil region, and was sent to the HDP. The HDP’s role was restricted to spreading this message to the public.
“HDP watched the coup silently. The HDP lacks an internal process to produce its own policy. Why did Selahattin wait until 1am? He didn’t bother going out in front of the HDP Headquarters to utter a single word. Because they are tied to Qandil, they follow this wait- and-see policy. But without reacting quickly, you can’t do politics.”
“HDP waited for Qandil’s position.”
“Past midnight and still there was no word from HDP. They were probably wondering whether the coup would succeed. But no matter what the Kurds should have come out against it.”
“In Siverek, they put an earth mover out in front of the military barracks. That was a really good sight to see. But in Diyarbakır the municipality didn’t lift a finger. If they had just put two buses or earth movers in front of the military, everything could have been different.”
The second reason people gave for the HDP’s stance was that both the HDP and the PKK filtered every development through the framework of opposition to Erdoğan. The hatred and rage felt toward Erdoğan in a large part of the HDP base opened the way to seeing Erdoğan as the author of every evil or negative development. In this respect, from the perspective of the HDP, any kind of interference, including a coup to put an end to Erdoğan’s government, could be accepted as a means to achieve that goal, or at a minimum silently brushed over.
That is, this view holds that the HDP may have seen the coup primarily as an opportunity to be rescued from Erdoğan.
“A part of the HDP would say Erdoğan should go no matter the cost. HDP took the wrong approach.”
“The HDP fell into extreme opportunism. It’s an immoral position.”
“After (the elections on) June 7th the HDP lost it. Constantly zig-zagging. HDP supporters didn’t believe in the coup, they said ‘just another trick.’ They were content to think, ‘even if it is a real coup, it’ll take out Erdoğan.’”
After July 15th: Yenikapı, State of Emergency and Statutory Decrees
There is a consensus on two issues related to the aftermath of July 15th. First is the fact that preventing the coup provided a great opportunity to create social unity in Turkey. According to respondents, there was a shared social position against the coup. The people rejected the coup, and the four political parties in Parliament eventually signed a statement against the
coup. The media took the side of the Parliament and played an important role in mobilizing the people against the coup plotters. As a result, a space was created for political as well as societal compromise. Political actors expected to broaden this common ground and enter into more cooperation and mutual support, which would have made it possible to produce reasonable solutions to the major problem areas facing the country.
“There was a fantastic feeling of national consensus.”
“A spirit of unity was born. I was so optimistic, I thought good things could happen.”
The second consensus was on the fact that the aftermath of July 15th was very badly managed and that this valuable opportunity was wasted. Respondents agreed that they had expected the spirit of societal compromise would be channeled towards solving problems, but instead the government used it to strengthen its own power.
There were several measures that drew complaints. The removal of the HDP from the process named “Yenikapı Spirit” was one of these. In Yenikapı, Istanbul, a joint rally against the coup was held with the participation of the AKP, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), but the HDP was left out. Similarly, most people think it was wrong not to include Demirtaş in the President’s leadership meeting in Beştepe, Ankara.
There are two perspectives on what type of result the government’s policy will bring. According to some, despite their mistakes and deficiencies, the HDP should have been brought into the process. Otherwise, the contrast between the cooperation of the AKP, CHP, and MHP on the one hand and the exclusion of the HDP on the other could result in Kurds feeling that there was “a Turkish bloc against the Kurds.” Others argue that Kurds did not see excluding the HDP as a serious problem. In particular, Kurds who support the AKP point out that the HDP pushed the AKP into this position, so they are not bothered that the HDP is excluded from the process.
“It was not good that HDP was excluded from Yenikapı, but then again they did everything they could to exclude themselves. They probably would not go even if they were called. They were sending those kinds of messages. But this wasn’t important to the Kurds; there was no fracture.”
Naturally, HDP supporters look differently on this issue. One HDP lawmaker included in the study claimed that the exclusion of parties from the anti-coup political process in Parliament and in the field is part of a long-term policy. According to the representative, Erdoğan had two ways forward after the coup. The first was to repair relations with the CHP and enter a dialogue with the HDP. The second was to collaborate with left- and right-wing nationalists. Erdoğan preferred the second option, considering the first to be insufficiently advantageous for him. This required the HDP to be pushed out of the process and criminalized. Current policies should be understood as necessary steps to fulfill conditions made necessary by this choice.
“We reached out as a party after the coup. We struggled to prevent any new stress on the system. But Erdoğan rejected this. This required him to make a sharp turn from the politics he had been pursuing for a year. He endeavored to establish a nationalist and conservative order instead.”
The recent use of the declaration of a state of emergency (hereinafter referred to as OHAL) and statutory decrees (hereinafter referred to as KHK) especially those announcing mass firings, is seen as a serious problem by almost all of the participants in this study. Actions like the expulsion of tens of thousands of people from the civil service with the KHKs ; careers being suspended; the imposition of non-democratic administrators to many municipalities; the increasing prevalence of lengthy detentions and arrests; the closure of Kurdish-language newspapers and television stations; the arrest of HDP parliamentarians—all these are causing great concern.
Practices that directly impact social life create a strong reaction, even if that reaction is a quiet one. For example, the most controversial action the government took after July 15th was to demand the suspension of 4500 teachers. This received a great deal of criticism from all segments of society, including the AKP, because they understood it to be unrelated to the coup, but rather intended to satisfy conservative public opinion and intimidate the teachers organized in a union opposed to the government.
“The suspension of the teachers got the biggest reaction of all. Even taking over the municipal governments did not attract this much attention. Seeing regular people suffering from it had a huge effect. Later they reversed their strategies.”
“The aftermath of the coup was not well handled. For example, first the teachers were suspended, then they were sent back to work. In that case, why did you suspend them? Did you just want to intimidate them?”
“On the subject of the (suspended) teachers, the atmosphere was really bad. Thank God, they returned to work.”
The concerns of Kurds are growing with the extension of the OHAL and the increasingly frequent issuances of KHKs. The OHAL and KHKs are creating an environment in which anyone, regardless of whether they had any link at all to the coup, could have their career and livelihood taken away from them, or even be detained and arrested. According to the interviewees, the government is constantly saying that the people prevented the coup, but the people have been excluded from decisions during the OHAL, which many see as a glaring contradiction. They see this refusal to acknowledge society’s concerns as dishonoring the very public that threw itself in front of the tanks and planes during the coup.
“We thought it would be different. When the first KHK came out we understood that it would be no different at all from the past. This is a dangerous path. You can’t arrest everyone you come across.”
“There’s no question the period in the aftermath of the coup was and is being very badly handled. Expectations were different. People resisted as a society, but in the period that followed there was no inclusion of the society at all. ‘We are in control, we will make decisions in your name and implement them for you.’ When no one at all is included, only the yes-men get heard.”
There is a strong consensus among various groups that the government is being cynically opportunistic. According to them, the government dismissing the law and highlighting the coup achieves two things. For one, it imposes its own agenda on society. For another, it sets the stage for liquidating all elements of the opposition. According to the respondents, there is no doubt at all that those involved in the coup must be punished, but using the coup as an opportunity to extinguish all opposition in the society is a huge mistake because this destroys common ground and creates instability.
“Right now the government is deepening social polarization. The coup plotters wanted the same thing. The KHKs coming out are unrelated to the coup. What does removing a university rector have to do with the coup? Erdoğan is imposing his own agenda now. There is no compromise. Right now, I think the Gülenists are happy.”
“Up to the Yenikapı rally, there was no real problem. But afterwards, they did not follow a process worthy of the 250 victims of the coup. They saw this as an opportunity. Was this what the people deserved to see? The whole system is being designed just for one person. A system is being created just according to his agenda.”
One of the criticisms leveled at the AKP is that the coup investigations have consciously avoided implicating anyone in the party. The people making this critique point out the sociological proximity between the AKP and Gülenists. They also point out that the AKP was in total control of the government for fifteen years, during which it was the party that forged the strong ties between Gülenists and the state. With this being the case, they find it significant that no political actors in the AKP have been touched as a result of the coup investigations.
According to them, with Gülenists spreading into every sector from football to politics, from media to the business world, it is unthinkable that they would leave politics alone. Therefore, it is likely that some who had acquired political positions would also take part in the July 15th coup attempt. These political actors must be identified in order to fully bring to light the details underlying the coup. But the fact that the coup investigations, which have otherwise gone into every corner of society, have not been allowed to enter the political sphere, reveals that the AKP has a number of reservations and concerns. In this respect, the respondents said, if the political wing of the coup is not fully brought to light, the responsibility for this will fall on the AKP first and foremost.
Alongside this heavy criticism against OHAL, a segment of respondents nevertheless indicate that they are pleased with how effective the OHAL period has been in breaking the effectiveness of the PKK in certain cities. According to this group, aside from certain exceptions like the suspensions of the teachers, which admittedly created real suffering, the OHAL generally has not directly interfered in the lives of the majority of society. On the contrary, it has broken the PKK’s influence over the people, reduced the fear people have of the group, and ensures that people can operate more freely in their daily lives.
“Here people are happy with the OHAL. The hegemonic power of the organization [PKK] has been broken. The business world is especially pleased. People feel more free now.”
According to this same group, the fact that the PKK brought violence into the cities has given an aegis of legitimacy to government policies that people had rejected previously. For example, in the past the security checkpoints and searches implemented in various cities had caused significant opposition. But as a result of PKK bombing operations in cities and the many people who lost their lives in them, now these security checkpoints and searches are seen as normal and unobjectionable.
“Sure, today there are a lot more police everywhere, there’s much more security, there are a lot more searches. But people don’t complain about it.”
The state of civil society after the coup attempt
Diyarbakır has always been known as a city with a vigorous civil society. Even in the worst circumstances, civil society organizations would organize meetings and conferences on a number of topics, and hold many activities. However, after July 15th, there has been a noticeable turn for the worse. Civil society activities in Diyarbakır have come to an end. Very few meetings are taking place, and these only with restricted attendance in closed settings.
We underline two causes among those identified for the silencing of civil society. The first is the climate created by the state of emergency. The KHKs have shut the doors of many NGOs, and those that remain open are in a state of fear. Today, all NGOs are showing much less activity, and feel they must pay much more attention to what they do and say. A general fear has settled over everyone, and has led to an extraordinary degree of self-censorship.
“Right now there is a huge problem. Many associations have been shut down. The government does not leave civil society alone. Public squares are forbidden, going into the streets is forbidden, there is no opposition press. We stay cooped up in living rooms— the police wait at the door. Institutions that have been operating for decades have been shut down. The Parliament has been bypassed by the KHKs. Freedom of expression and the foundation for democracy have been destroyed.”
“Civil society is very afraid. They can’t say much at all. They don’t hold public meetings anymore. Our association hasn’t met in a long time either. There’s no point!”
“In civil society, the state of fear is omnipresent. With the law being so flagrantly violated and the lessons of the past right in front of them, people have been scared silent.”
“Civil society activities are down to zero. For the moment, civil society is silent, above all after the municipal administrative takeovers and the arrests there has really been silence.”
Some respondents, however, point out that the PKK is a factor that cannot be ignored in the retreat of civil society. They make it clear that the PKK operated as a hegemonic power when it had the means, exactly in the manner that the state is, pressuring civil society and restricting the field of operations of NGOs that the PKK did not consider its partners. As a result, civil society is being undermined from both directions and cannot perform the functions expected of it.
“Civil society is weak; they can’t get away from the state or the PKK. They’re just stuck.”
“The PKK detonated a bomb on the Ongözlü Bridge in Diyarbakır. A five-person family all died. We published a statement on behalf of the civil society organizations of Diyarbakır, denouncing the act and calling on the PKK to disarm. The PKK openly threatened us. Then, the co-chairs of the Diyarbakır municipality were detained. We wrote a statement against it. Because of that, we infuriated the state. The Interior Ministry sent an auditor to the trade associations that had signed the statement.”
“Some of the NGOs close to the PKK were shut down; those that haven’t yet been shut down have been cowed into silence. The other NGOs are quiet too. The NGOs are actually an important component [of social peace] but at the moment they are non- functional.”
The second reason for NGO operations diminishing and street activity being less than before is due to society’s reaction to the urban warfare launched by the PKK after the general elections June 7th. According to the respondents, from the very first day the Kurds were opposed to bringing the war into the city, digging trenches in the city centers, and the formation of barricades.
People consistently responded negatively to the PKK when it called for these things, because they did not see any positive outcome that could come as a result, and in the meantime the Kurds would once again suffer the most. But despite the clear rejection of the people, the PKK insisted on enforcing this strategy. The HDP did not oppose this as they should have. This led to a split between supporters of the PKK and the HDP.
The interview participants mention this as the reason that there were not major protests and civil society groups had refrained from issuing a major objection after the arrests of parliamentarians and city leaders including politically significant names like Selahattin Demirtaş and Ahmet Türk. Because they saw the HDP and PKK as being responsible for the fighting that engulfed the city and created such suffering among the people, they were unwilling to heed their calls for support.
“Among the Kurdish society people distanced themselves from the PKK after June 7th. Two years ago Öcalan’s speech was read here. This Revolutionary People’s War made people ask questions. Why are you blocking the roads? Why are you extorting people? Why doesn’t the municipality provide services? People began to wonder. As the violence ended, people started challenging these things. Now there is no activism at all. There is only anger and resentment toward the PKK.”
“The PKK oppressed its own people here. And the HDP can’t reach the people. The HDP has to separate itself from the Turkish left. The people don’t stand behind them, because they don’t understand where the people are.”
“People don’t react to the arrests any longer. The issue is that the organization (the PKK) just misjudged the Kurds. The trenches are an example of this. People think the dead died for nothing. The PKK is misjudging Kurdish society.”
Approaches to the constitutional amendment proposal
The AKP has long wanted to change the system of government and move from a parliamentary to a presidential system. In 2007, Turkey enacted a constitutional amendment to allow the direct election of the President by the people. In the elections of August 10th, 2014, Erdoğan was chosen as President with 52% of the vote. According to the government, in that election Turkey already began to move away from a parliamentary to a presidential system. And now that de facto status requires a new constitutional amendment to be given the proper legal foundation.
Three parties in the Parliament (the CHP, MHP, and HDP) opposed the government’s request to change the system of government and adopted a posture of support for the continuation of the parliamentary system. However, after July 15th, Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the MHP, declared that the uncertainty over the system of government constituted a threat to the nation and announced that protecting popular sovereignty required a solution to this problem. At this, the AKP and MHP staffs immediately began to prepare the proposed constitutional amendments. In a brief time, the amendment they prepared passed the Parliament, was approved by the President, and has been presented to the people. The people will have the last word, and the upcoming referendum on April 16, 2017 will determine whether or not the proposed constitutional amendment will be adopted.
Public opinion polls related to the referendum indicate that numbers in support and in opposition to the amendment are close. It is a tight race. With the numbers as close as they are, the demographic weight of the Kurds gives great significance to what posture they might adopt toward the referendum. In this context, it is possible to describe Kurds in three different groups:
The first group is composed of the HDP supporters. The significant majority of HDP supporters are against the joint AKP and MHP proposal. There are two reasons for this. First is the overwhelming anger felt toward the AKP and especially Erdoğan. According to them, no initiative coming from Erdoğan could possibly be helpful to or good for the
Kurds. As for the second, recent developments (the arrest of parliamentarians, the seizure of municipal administration, the heavy-handed operations against every HDP and DBP-related organization, etc.) have hardened the hatred of the HDP base against the government.
“The choice for Kurds is like the choice of the sheep under the butchers’ knife. The state is saying, ’If I want to, I’ll kill you; if I don’t, I won’t.’ ”
“I don’t believe a single word Erdoğan says, much less a pledge. Making underhanded promises, giving out fake bribes, that’s how he’s trying to get this thing done. But that won’t work now. Erdoğan is implementing an extremely nationalistic strategy. This nationalism cannot be understood as a temporary tactic just to win the people’s votes. More than that, it is part of a sustained strategy against the Kurds. For this reason, the Kurds must reject this proposal without a second thought.”
In addition to the general tendency towards “No” among the HDP base, there are two questions that often arise. First, the HDP base is not feeling any wave of excitement, as it did before the June 7th elections. Moreover, the HDP and the Democratic Regions’ Party (DBP) party structure are in a significant degree of disarray. For this reason, the HDP and DBP are forced to focus more on their immediate problems than on the secondary issue of constitutional reform. This makes motivating and mobilizing the party base more difficult.
The second issue is the gap opened between the PKK and HDP and their base as a result of the war the PKK brought into the cities following June 7th. This rift has not yet been healed. The fighting taking place in the heart of cities has led to a breaking point in perceptions toward the PKK and HDP. Many study participants indicated that the control the PKK had over the people is shaking, and the psychological dominance of the HDP over the people has broken. For this reason, even if this estranged part of the base would not vote “yes,” they may simply not go to the polls.
“The Kurdish people have done everything for Kurdish politics. They’ve done the very best that they could. But some people have broken their trust. For the first time in my life, I have heard Qandil being debated. If the people are not reacting to the arrest of parliamentarians, mayors, the seizure of municipal administrations, the reason is insecurity. A lot of people are inclined not to go to the polls.”
“The Kurdish people have enough to worry about just trying to get by. Society might respond by choosing not to go to the polls.”
“People didn’t go out into the streets for Selahattin Demirtaş, but they didn’t suddenly become AKP supporters. A group of up to 20% of the HDP has lost faith in democratic politics, and because of that may not go to the polls.”
A second large group is composed of AKP voters, a large share of whom support the constitutional changes. There are several reasons they base this support on. One is simply the trust they feel for Erdoğan and his party. They believe Erdoğan can solve the Kurdish issue, and in order to give him the opportunity to do so they want to strengthen his hand. That is, for them to say “No” means to take the side of the status quo—but no Kurd should be willing under any circumstances to be in the position of supporting the current constitution, a relic of the 1980 military coup. To stand behind the 1982 Constitution, which is the source of today’s problems, would be to commit a terrible sin against the Kurds.
“For me the question is quite simple: I will support any change that cracks the shell of the Constitution of ’82.”
“Not a single Kurd should support the putschists! No one should compare a single Kurd to the pro-coup mindset!”
In response to the criticism of the constitutional amendment prepared jointly with the MHP, and the absence of any provisions related to rights and freedoms in the amendment
proposal, the AKP supporters state that circumstances dictated this development. According to them, the implacable turn of the HDP against the AKP made cooperation with them impossible and removed the groundwork for making a more liberal constitution. According to the same opinion, if the AKP relies on the MHP today, the responsible party is the HDP.
“If Kurdish politics had not cut away all ties to Erdoğan, everything would have been so much better.”
“I wonder, if Demirtaş had taken the position on the night of July 15th that Bahçeli did, would any of this have happened to us? No, of course not.”
“The AKP-MHP coalition was formed on the night of July 15th. The HDP missed that train. After July 15th, it is obvious that the AKP has shown more concern for the sensitivities of the MHP.”
“With the HDP, we lost the presidential election. With the MHP, we got stuck with the presidency.”
There is however also a share of AKP supporters who are undecided. Some of them are unhappy with both the contents of the constitutional proposal and with the campaign being conducted. They are bothered by the absence of any proposal that would contribute to the resolution of the Kurdish issue, by the use of ultra-nationalist language, and by the influence of the MHP over the discussion.
There are two reasons it would be difficult for these dissatisfied people to go all the way to voting “No.” First, they do not want to take the side of the Constitution of ‘82. Secondly, they are afraid that the PKK and HDP might take advantage of a “No” vote. For this reason, they make it clear they would not vote “No,” but they might not vote at all.
“I am looking at the debate over the new constitution from the perspective of the Kurdish issue. Will Erdoğan becoming president make solving the Kurdish issue easier, or will it not? For me, that is the important issue. But now it seems that with this constitution the solution will be hard.”
“There is no clear position on the referendum among Kurds.”
The third group is made up of those who believe the constitutional amendment is not a big issue for the Kurds. According to this view, because the issue does not include Kurdish rights and freedoms, Kurds do not need to vote “Yes.” On the other hand, since “No” means defending a system that already creates problems, Kurds do not have to take this position either. Therefore, there is nothing to require Kurds to take an absolute “Yes” or an absolute “No” vote on the subject of the constitution. Some will choose “Yes,” some will choose
“No,” and others will choose not to go to the polls.
“Kurds do not see themselves in the constitution. They aren’t reflected in the amendment either. For this reason, from the Kurdish standpoint I don’t think the coming referendum is very important.”
“The constitution is not really on the agenda for people in the East, it’s mostly of interest in the West [of Turkey]. What’s happening is the shifting of all that Erdoğan has done into a constitutional framework. While the Constitution of ‘82 did not give the Kurds any rights, this constitutional amendment would hijack them. What the average citizen wants is simply not reflected in this debate.”
“People are saying, ‘everything for the presidential system, and once again, nothing for us.’”
“Today we are very far from the question of what should be in the constitution, or what the constitution should be. The situation is very insecure, I do not feel safe, and I do not want to debate the constitution.”
“This is not the constitution Turkey was hoping for. The AKP brought up the demand for a new constitution, but didn’t meet it, and there is nothing to be done about it.”
Supporters of the HDP find the approach ascribing little importance to the constitutional amendment to be very wrong. According to them, when this constitutional proposal passes, it will make a radical change in the fate of the country, and it will affect the Kurds in the same way as everybody else. For this change constitutes the groundwork of a “Turkist” project, and if it is approved by the people, it will undermine all of the victories won to the present day.
“There is a Turkist alliance here, an anti-Kurdish organization. It does not stay indifferent or neutral. To say “No” to this Turkist alliance is not merely to say “No” to Erdoğan. The issue is not just that of the PKK or HDP, either. This is a Turkist plan. If one remains indifferent to it, not just the HDP or the PKK but all Kurds will suffer from it. Even today the municipalities, which have been seized by the government, are taking down Kurdish-language signs, banning activities, and has removed the Roboski Monument—a completely Turkist project is being implemented. That is why we must oppose this very clearly.”
The Kurdish Problem, ramifications of the coup, and violence
Interviewees highlight two points in particular when explaining their ideas on the proposed constitutional amendment. The first is the link between the Kurdish issue and military coups. That is, the guardianship that the military has exercised over civilian politics, including seizing control where necessary, plays a decisive role in the Kurdish issue. For the violent aspect of the Kurdish issue increases the influence of the military on politics. By referring to its efforts in the field, the military imposes its demands on the government and defines the frame for politics. It grants itself the right to interfere in nearly every field, from democratic rights and freedoms to economics. In this respect, until the Kurdish issue is resolved, the system remains open to anti-democratic interventions.
“If the culture of coups is ever to be eradicated, the Kurdish issue will have to be solved first. Coming to terms with the coups requires a change of mentality, which democratization will require.”
“If you hand a task the civilians should solve over to a soldier, it strengthens the soldier. Once he is sufficiently strong, he seizes power.”
“During periods when the Kurdish issue erupted in violence, the army increased its strength. In political, legal, economic and administrative terms it is strengthening even more.”
“While the Kurdish issue remains unresolved, coups will always remain on the agenda in Turkey and authoritarianism will deepen in politics.”
With regard to the last point, interview subjects point out that almost all high-ranking soldiers in Turkey’s eastern and southeastern Anatolia regions were arrested after July 15th on the grounds of participation in the coup. The putschist soldiers on the one hand are responsible for creating a situation of conflict by ignoring the digging of trenches in the region, and on the other hand helped prepare the necessary conditions for a coup by using excessive force to inflame the anger of the masses.
Violence has been inextricable from the Kurdish issue, and naturally allows the military to pressure democracy. Therefore, according to the interviewees, in order to break the influence of the army on politics, it is necessary to take steps to remove the Kurdish issue from the cycle of violence and to bring it into the domain of law and politics. It is commonly held that constitutional change could be an opportunity for this, but has not yet been tried. This amendment proposal, which does not include provisions that would facilitate a solution to the Kurdish issue, does not remove Turkey’s constitutional problems but rather opens the door to new ones.
“In Spain, after Franco there was a new constitution within three years. How long has AKP been in power? So there is no intention of actually making a new constitution. The fact that a new constitution has not been made shows their democratic caliber. A constitution that does not provide a solution to the Kurdish problem cannot be ‘new.’ Looked at technically, this constitutional package is broken. It is not a positive step, and will definitely present new crises.”
The second point of consensus is that violence is definitely not a solution. The participants agree that violence has destroyed many aspects of Kurdish social and political life. In periods of increased violence Kurds have suffered the greatest losses, both in material and psychological terms. Participants emphasize that the gun is an obstacle in the struggle for democracy in Turkey, because armed violence has led to the criminalization and securitization of the struggle for Kurdish rights.
According to the interviewees, violence damages democracy in Turkey in two ways. On the one hand, democratic gains in Turkey have lost ground during periods of increased violence. On the other, the presence of weapons allows the PKK to put pressure on other Kurdish political parties and groups. For this reason, the right thing for Turkey and the Kurds is for the PKK to disarm, under appropriate conditions, and for the HDP to create a democratic politics safe from the shadow of the gun.
“In the coming phase, no one — aside from Qandil — supports violence. There isn’t enough commonality in the demands, and Kurds have to agree on their methods of struggle. Just when the Kurdish parties come to an agreement, the PKK detonates a bomb and everything falls apart. [But] the means to achieve a legitimate outcome are obvious.”
“Kurds will go nowhere with the violence of the PKK. Kurds should come out against weapons and violence, and defend democracy and the rule of law. Politics in Kurdistan needs to be made more pluralistic.”
“The PKK has to declare a ceasefire. After that we can talk, we can put pressure on the other parties. But right now there is nothing for us to say.”
“The PKK must announce that it is ending its armed struggle in Turkey. In the event this occurs, the government must then take steps. The rule of the gun is over in Turkey; we need to see this. If you say ‘I’ll settle this with guns,’ then you are going to where the state wants to lead you.’”
But a large share of respondents say that, for three reasons, the PKK is very far from disarming. The first is the claim that the PKK is pursuing unchallenged dominance in the region. Interview subjects claim that the PKK, stemming from its militant structure, prefers to pursue hegemony based on arms and is not inclined to pursue democratic competition. As demonstrated in the last “trench wars” in the cities, the PKK imposes its own preferences that the public does not want, does not accept any criticism, and so in order to maintain itself it needs weapons.
Second is the belief that all of the gains the PKK has made are thanks to their being armed. That is, the PKK calculates that to the extent they are able to use violence to force the state to take certain steps, this will cause the people to forget all the problems the PKK is directly responsible for. By setting the state against the people, it will keep the people on the PKK’s side and allow them to consolidate their power. Respondents suggest that the state, by — generally speaking — taking certain steps while the guns are blazing but failing to implement any solutions when the fighting stops, is supporting this concept and related rhetoric of the PKK.
Third is the general state of complexity in the Middle East. Related to and as a culmination of the earlier points, while borders are changing and fighting is ongoing in every quarter, it is considered unthinkable that the PKK would abandon their weapons. Respondents instead predict that the PKK will further arm themselves in order to maintain the intensity of operations that ensure U.S. aid and allow them to maintain their position in Syria.
“The mentality of the organization makes disarming hard. It has become an ongoing problem in the heart of the Middle East.”
“On the subject of armed struggle, the PKK will not compromise with anyone. The Middle East is complicated. The PKK is interfering in everything, it won’t disarm.”
“In the Kurdish movement there is no independent authority that can criticize them. There is no self-criticism among these people regarding the pressure they put on people over the trench issue. To the contrary, there is only their blaming people for ‘not being a part of our struggle.’”
“You, as the state, gave the Kurds some of their rights while the armed struggle was ongoing. So actually you are the one that legitimized the gun. Therefore, at the moment disarmament is a dream.”
“In terms of popular support, the price will be paid by the HDP more than the organization (the PKK). The organization isn’t criticized enough.”
The future of the reconciliation process
The PKK is no longer an organization with an agenda and operations limited to Turkey. It is a structure with arms in Iraq, Iran, and Syria alongside Turkey, and has goals for each country. As a result of this, it cannot be expected that the PKK will disarm completely in the short term. However, the PKK must stop its armed struggle in Turkey. In order for this to happen, Turkey must have a new peace process.
All interview participants, including Kurdish AKP supporters, state that although it may be impossible for the PKK to reach its goals by means of arms, it is also impossible for the state to bring about a solution to the Kurdish issue with a perspective trapped in a security framework. A Kurdish consciousness has developed, and no one will give up their Kurdishness because of oppression and coercion.
There is a broad consensus that the solution is to go through politics and negotiation. The process that began in 2013 and ended in June 2015, remembered as a period in which people were happier and more optimistic than they had been in many years, proves that a political solution is possible. Arguments that the people would not support a new process are not credible. If the language politicians are using begins to change, public opinion could change within a short period to the point that people would accept a political solution.
“If you create a new climate, the climate of conflict can change in an instant. The original reconciliation process is a good example of this actually.”
“The oft-cited argument that ’society isn’t ready’ fell apart during the reconcilitation process. Popular support for the process was at a level around 70%.”
According to respondents, the new process will not, cannot, and in fact must not be like the old one. This is due to the new nature of the Syrian issue since 2013. Before the parties can meet at the negotiating table, there has to be first and foremost a shared understanding on the matter of Syria. Likewise, a new process would have to eliminate the errors of the previous one. In order for this to occur, the parties must use trustworthy and peaceful language, interlocutors must be carefully chosen, negotiation targets must be clearly spelled out in advance, and there must be a timetable for implementation.
“The state can bring new actors into play. It has to put forward a strategy and a goal. If the state changes its rhetoric, its language, there would be an important shift. The organization (PKK) has to be able to make an honorable exit. The state has to take that step. There has to be an appropriate representative.”
“The government must develop a ‘non-violent’ solution for the Kurdish problem. The security framework in politics can never solve a single thing, it can only strengthen the PKK.”
“Turkey faces many threats. We must create a climate of peace in general, beyond the Kurdish-Turkish settlement.”
“We need some kind of ‘peace engineering’ to spread the concept behind the peace to every social strata. Every demographic has to participate in the process, so that they see themselves as having a part and come to take ownership of the whole process. If different Kurdish groups had been involved in the process from the beginning, there would have been a more open debate over these mistakes.”
Shared constitutional demands
According to participants, Kurds and Turks share a common bond. There are cultural similarities and in terms of demographics the two communities have become inextricably close. Because of this closeness, there is broad agreement on three important topics:
- Violence coming to an end
- Increasing democratic standards
- The desire to live together in a shared homeland
“There is a cultural common ground. There is cultural proximity. Reactions, feelings, excitement, customs, traditions, they all resemble one another. Even with different languages, distinguishing a Turk from a Kurd is very difficult, you can’t notice the differences. So there’s already a common denominator. This has to be crowned with a constitutional framework.”
“Stopping the conflict is right at the top of the points of commonality. The number of people who want the fighting to stop is increasing.”
People ascribe particular importance to the desire to live together. Secession from Turkey is not a majority position among Kurds. The state must recognize the value of this will to remain, and must take steps to strengthen it. Respondents suggest that the state knows the Kurdish demands quite well. This was plainly evident both during the reconciliation process and in the studies undertaken regarding the Kurdish issue. There are five important demands on the legal and constitutional level:
- A constitutional recognition of citizenship without ethnic implications
- The use of the mother language in education and official procedures
- Robust decentralization
- A legal framework that will make disarmament possible
- A law governing elections and party formation that will strengthen democratic politics
“The Kurdish demands are all modest demands. The conduct of the state towards these reasonable and innocent demands is important.”
“What’s rational would be a provincial system.”
“Strengthening local administration is a general demand, not just a Kurdish demand.”
“Elementary native-language instruction is advocated very powerfully. Debating native-language instruction at this point is like using violence.”
“The mother-tongue issue is a red line. People want politics now, not violence.”
“Ending the emphasis on Turkishness and using a phrase like ‘everyone is included in the bonds of citizenship’ would work. That is a more acceptable formula.”
“The key issue is decentralization and localization. Both to serve economic development and for rights to cultural identity localization is important.”
There are two topics that respondents mention on the subject of legal and constitutional regulations: One is that it is offensive to present the issue of legal and constitutional rights as some kind of gift to the Kurds. According to the interviewees, the state must permanently abandon its manner of responding to Kurdish demands as deigning to address requests from below. When the state responds to a demand for rights with a top-down, condescending attitude, even positive actions are perceived negatively.
Secondly, making guarantees of legal and constitutional rights will inspire confidence among the Kurds and prevent violence. Interview participants point out that as long as there is no constitutional mechanism to guarantee them, these rights can be rendered ineffective and their scope narrowed depending on temporary government policies. In order to protect legitimate rights from expedient government policies and the exploitation of those who advocate violence, they must be given deep constitutional foundations.
“The state has to abandon this ‘I wonder how cheaply I can buy them off?’ mentality.People are tired of it.”
“My rights must be given constitutional protection. These rights have to be recognized. There is TRT Kurdish right now and it is broadcasting, but there is no constitutional guarantee for this. A new government could take it all away tomorrow.”
“The Kurdish issue is an issue of constitutional consensus. It won’t happen from someone saying, ‘Here, I gave it to you.’ “
The present work, focusing on the state of public opinion in Diyarbakır following July 15th, began with in-depth interviews conducted with opinion leaders, civil society representatives, and academics from different sectors. Afterward, participants holding multiple viewpoints were brought together to address and debate various topics in a workshop, held in Diyarbakır. It is possible to gather the output of the interviews and workshop into the following conclusions:
- Along with the whole region after the recent urban fighting, Diyarbakır is struggling to recover and get back on its feet. The priority agenda items are the recovery from the enormous devastation in the public squares, the binding of social and economic wounds, and to the extent possible bringing cities back to a normal standard of life.
- The effects of destruction and demoralization created by the conflicts in Diyarbakır’s Sur district are continuing. The people are keeping their distance from the HDP and the PKK, whom they consider responsible for this; they are refusing to heed their calls for support. Security checkpoints are being established in every part of the city, the state is increasingly dominant as it increases operations in the field, and in opposition the PKK is retreating further into its shell.
- Apart from the PKK, every group is declaring with increasing fervor that violence is not a solution and that with violence, the greatest destruction, both physical and moral, is suffered by the Kurds. Therefore the PKK, under appropriate legal conditions, must end the armed struggle in Turkey.
- The suppression of the coup attempt on July 15th was generally welcomed. People praise the government’s immediate reaction to the coup, the President’s call for the people to oppose the coup in the streets, and the people’s compliance with that call. However there are questions remaining around the lead-up and aftermath of the coup. Emphasis is placed on the need to bring all aspects of the coup to light.
- The HDP base has a fragmented perspective on July 15th. A large portion are suspicious of the coup’s authenticity and describe it as “another trick” played by Erdoğan. There is a minority who describe July 15th as a ‘coup’ and state that the party should have given a swifter and harsher response to it.
- There is a wide consensus that the government managed the aftermath of the coup very badly. The failure of the coup presented an important chance to bring social unity to Turkey but the government is described as having wasted this opportunity. The government was opportunistic, and exploited the OHAL to launch operations to intimidate those it saw as its opponents—not just the coup plotters.
- Civil society in Diyarbakır has been crippled, in a way that it never was in the past. There are a large number of associations and charities that have been closed down during the OHAL. The NGOs that have not been shut completely have been buried in silence. This atmosphere created by the OHAL has generated an unprecedented level of self-censorship among individuals and institutions. A general climate of fear reigns over the city and forces everyone to pay far greater attention to what they say and do.
- The debate over the constitutional amendments is not generating excitement among the Kurds. The partnership between the AKP and MHP is creating bitterness among Kurdish AKP supporters. Observers of the process are dismayed by the lack of any provisions in the proposed constitutional amendment in the area of rights and freedoms. Other Kurds feel that they have been excluded from the constitutional amendment process entirely.
- Kurds do not think that this amendment, even if the people approve it on April 16th, will solve either the constitutional issue nor the enormous social problems (the Kurdish issue, the Alevi issue, etc.) that exist in Turkey. As a result, what is necessary is not a constitutional amendment, but a new constitution recognizing cultural rights and identity.
- Aside from the HDP there is no Kurdish group voicing absolute opposition to the presidential system. These Kurds will evaluate the presidential system or any other proposal in relation to its potential to solve the Kurdish issue.
- Kurds are thinking about the vote they will give in the April 16th referendum more in terms of the political meaning of the outcome of the vote than in the change to the system of government itself. Kurds feel squeezed between their rejection of the PKK on the one hand and the security policies of the government on the other, and are thinking they may not vote at all. Many Kurds are deterred by the thought that voting “Yes” could encourage the government and be understood as approving current politics and the actions taking place under the OHAL. Likewise, other Kurds are worried by the thought that a “No” vote could be exploited by the PKK and HDP.
- Solving the Kurdish issue requires a new initiative. Although the reconciliation process may have ended, they emphasize how valuable the experiment was. It is impossible to have a solution outside of politics. But any new political process must learn from these past errors in order to offer new answers to old shortcomings.