Kurdish Women Politics Turkey

Kurdish Women’s Movement Reshapes Turkish Politics

Figen Yuksekdag Kurdish Women's Movement in Turkey

Via Al-Monitor — The People’s Democracy Party (HDP) is a Kurdish-led, minority-representation political party in Turkey. The party has co-chairs for all representative levels — a female and male official share the responsibility. The HDP has become the fastest-growing political movement in Turkey since the August 2014 election, and is currently chaired by Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.

Following the momentum of the last election, Figen Yuksekdag explained, the HDP is now ready to participate in the next general election as a political party, believing it will be able to acquire at least 10% of the national vote, the threshold required to enter parliament. Previously, members of the HDP have entered the parliament as independent candidates.

An Interview with Figen Yuksekdag

Figen Yuksekdag has been active in politics since she was 20. She did not fall into politics by coincidence or family connections, but rather chose politics as a career. A breath of fresh air, Yuksekdag is the leader of a party that seeks to represent diverse groups, yet is most prominently known as the party of Kurds.

Yuksekdag is not Kurdish, although people in Turkey simply assume she is Kurdish or Alevi. Yuksekdag told Al-Monitor that she comes from a Sunni Turkish farming family, proudly carrying the banner for all oppressed people in the Turkish political scene. She was arrested in 2006 and 2009 for her political views. Prior to the establishment of the HDP, she was the co-chair of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP).

Excerpts from the interview follow:

Al-Monitor:  Only a few years ago, Kurdish women had a reputation in Turkey for being the most oppressed. This perception was reinforced by movies and sitcoms portraying the victimhood of Kurdish women. Now, this has been turned on its head both in Turkey and the region. Kurdish women rock in Turkish politics, also have become the face of the revolution in Kobani and Rojava (the Kurdish name for the Kurdish region of Syria). How did this happen?

Yuksekdag:  The years I started my political career, hundreds of young Kurdish women went to the mountains [to fight] for national freedom. They were on the forefront of the battles of all towns and cities of Kurdistan. So the Kurdish women’s movement has a special place among women’s liberation process in Turkey. As the Kurdish national liberation movement grew, its positive effects on Kurdish women became visible. As hundreds of women became martyrs in the process, it strengthened women’s position in Kurdish society.

We see the remnants of this history in today’s HDP. Women are indeed half of the party, and are equal members with men. This is not a privilege given to women, rather it is HDP’s understanding of how gender equality should be sustained. For the other political parties in Turkey, the Justice and Development Party [AKP], the Republican People’s Party [CHP] and the Nationalist Action Party [MHP] women are mostly utilized as window dressing. In the HDP, women are the active players.

The developments in Rojava and the resistance in Kobani are the climax of the movement — indeed Rojava is a women’s revolution. Only three years ago, in Rojava, women were suppressed under male dominance. But women entered the public domain with their involvement in the revolution; they changed their destinies. In all leadership posts women and men share the responsibility; female literacy levels are also rising. Women are establishing an army of their own. The YPJ is the Women’s Protection Units, engaged in direct combat. They have become the most secular, enlightened and revolutionary face of Middle Eastern women. Women resist against the Islamic State because they see their sole salvation in fighting. In this way, Kurdish women have become a force to be reckoned with for the whole region.

Al-Monitor:  And much depends on the success of the peace process. We have been hearing captured Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan has had crucial demands about sustaining the role of women in the process; any insights for our readers?

Yuksekdag:  It is a turning point in the peace process that the Turkish state now openly considers PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] leader Abdullah Ocalan as a counterpart. We keep communication channels open and the HDP is actively involved in the process. For Ocalan, women’s involvement in politics is crucial, and this is reflected under the “societal demands” section of the 10-item packet that the AKP and the Kurdish delegation agreed. Under the social demands a section guarantees support for women’s liberation movement.

Al-Monitor:  Also, the HDP has been successful in bringing the LGBT community, an outcast group in Turkish political scene, under its umbrella. When were  you first convinced that the HDP could become a party represented in all of Turkey, not just Kurdistan?

Yuksekdag:  The HDP was established as the party of all oppressed and all peoples. All factions find a voice in the HDP. We must accept that the LGBT community is real. We give all groups, including LGBT community members, access on the basis of merit at all levels. So they feel welcome here. It is difficult to bring together sections of society so different from each other, but as the HDP we always believed in a unified movement of the oppressed in these lands. That is why the HDP was established, so our success and effect on society is a result of this unifying power.

[Read more at Al-Monitor]

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