“The Party has a steep slope to climb. So we said let’s give it a bit of a hand. We came all the way to Ankara. Let the Party step on the accelerator, we will push until it reaches level ground.”
Mustafa D. is a man in his sixties. He headed out from Osmaniye and came (to Ankara) to participate in the Congress of the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party). He pronounced those words in the midst of applause and slogans chanted by tens of thousands of others in the Congress Hall located just in front of the Ankara Station where 101 peace activists were massacred in the ISIS attack on October 10 2015. This is how he summarized his position at the Party’s side and, pointing to the full breadth of the hall, he continued: “Those you see here all came for the sake of their Party. The steeper the road taken by the State, the greater becomes the number of those pushing. We are not stubborn against the State, what we say is: the State should not be stubborn. Let peace return now, don’t be stubborn, hey, that’s enough!”
The HDP’s 3rd Congress was held in this same hall two years ago. Tens of thousands of people came from all parts of Turkey, and gathered here during one period when heavy oppression, custodies and arrests were already prevalent. But this time, contrary to the last one, police did not confiscate pencils, the phone chargers, lipsticks or headphones at the entrance, and was content with confiscating lighters. As a consequence, contrary to last time, it was easier to reach the hall after three routine checks.
Of course, this did not mean that the State was allowing some slack. In police operations beginning two weeks prior to the Congress, at least 200 members or sympathizers of the HDP had already been placed in custody. The last link in the custodies involved the 11 staff from the business responsible for the sound system in the hall, who had no affiliation whatsoever with the HDP…While I’m writing this article, it is still not clear if they were arrested for setting the volume too high or too low…
The Congress hall was filled with people rejoicing at having avoided a wave of catastrophies. On the other hand, everyone was surprised. So, indeed “The steeper the road taken by the State, the greater becomes the number of those pushing.”
Truly, this Congress can be recorded as the most attended and the most enthusiastic official initiative since the end of the “resolution process”. Most of the crowd was made up of those who had piled into buses on the previous day and had come from Kurdistan, dancing the halay on the way, and had managed to make it through the various checkpoints. As each group found fresh strength in the other, the Congress hall exuded a sense of self-confidence, a determination we had not seen for a very long time.
Two years ago, everyone was asking us journalists “what is going to happen?”. This time, no one asked, everyone expressed themselve. The majority said “we shall win”, some said “if peace is achieved, it will mean that we have won.”
One can state that with this Congress, the HDP has not only renewed one of its co-Presidents but also replenished its own self-confidence. When some hundred politicians, parliamentarians, Party representatives from European countries, Middle-Eastern ones and others, were invited up on stage, I was talking with an old man who had come from Dersim. “Look”, he repeated between all his other comments, “you see, as long as we stand tall, international solidarity grows”.
The HDP replaced one of its co-Presidents at this Congress. Sezai Temelli has left, Mithat Sancar has arrived. But it would seem that the change will not be limited to a change of co-presidencies. If Sancar’s speech is any indication, during this new period, the HDP wishes to change language, policies and strategy.
Sancar’s speech was truly a call to the peace process well thought out, historically, sociologically and politically coherent and well established, its conceptual framework woven with precision.
In this speech, Sancar was basically confirming the assessment made by Mustafa D. from Osmaniye: “When I saw the hall, a poem crossed my mind. Despite the difficulties, the threats, thousands of people are gathered here. Millions of others are present in spirit. Those responsible for the persecutions must be wondering “how will we ever get rid of this Party?” The answer is in the poem. “And the torturer rose from his bed one night/ My God he cried how complex this enigma!/ The more of them die, the more humans there are/ I have exhausted myself/ in killing them.” (Ataol Behramoglu, “The Torturer”)
In insisting on the fact “we must establish a new language”, Sancar seemed to have begun weaving it already. He was cleverly integrating into his political discourses the post-confrontation resolutions taking into account the past confrontations on which he had worked as an academic
Will the sole discourse of “a new language” be sufficient to push up over the steep incline? If the HDP is content with a hand from his membership, without stepping on the gas, can it avoid moving backward?
The atmosphere in the Congress hall showed that the base was determined to push its Party forward. Together we shall see if the HDP will continue fighting against the internal and external influences holding it back, or if it will step on the accelerator.