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VOICE OF AMERICA
SLUG: 5-55089 Turkey / Kurds
DATE:
NOTE NUMBER:

DATE=3/26/04

TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT

TITLE=TURKEY / ELECTIONS

NUMBER=5-55089

BYLINE=AMBERIN ZAMAN

DATELINE=DIYARBAKIR

CONTENT=

VOICED AT:

INTRO: Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party is widely expected to win municipal elections March 28th. But the Islam-rooted party faces a serious challenge in Turkey's Kurdish dominated southeastern provinces. Amberin Zaman visited the largest Kurdish province, Diyarbakir, and filed this report on the Kurds' political ambitions.

TEXT: Multi colored banners of political parties competing for municipal seats in elections this coming Sunday are draped across buildings and between lampposts in this ancient city in Turkey's predominantly Kurdish southeast. But there is little doubt among residents here that one party will win easily, the Democratic People's Party, or Dehap for short.

Turkey's largest pro-Kurdish grouping controls scores of municipalities in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern provinces where ethnic nationalism still holds sway. Ethnic Kurds first swept to power here in municipal elections held in 1999. Being Kurdish in those elections was enough to attract votes, say Dehap leaders. But five years later, millions of voters here expect service as well.

Osman Baydemir is the party's mayoral candidate for Diyarbakir. He is a 33-year-old human rights lawyer, who built his reputation exposing widespread abuse by government security forces in the region. The current incumbent, Feridun Celik, was not re-nominated, party officials say, because he did not do enough to improve services in Diyarbakir and spent almost half of his time outside the province touring European capitals.

Mr. Baydemir has ambitious plans for Diyarbakir.

/// BAYDEMIR ACT IN TURKISH; EST AND FADE///

He says his plans include building a light rail system to relieve traffic congestion and to transform Diyarbakir into a prime tourist destination by restoring the city's ancient mosques, churches and other monuments.

In a bid to extend its reach beyond the Kurdish provinces, Dehap has forged an electoral alliance with a group of non-Kurdish left-wing parties. The alliance is running under the banner of the Social Democratic People's Party led by Murat Karayalcin, a former mayor of the Turkish capital, Ankara.

Firat Anli, is a mayoral candidate for Diyarbakir's Yenisehir district. He says, in the long run, he hopes the alliance will enable Dehap candidates to enter the Turkish parliament.

Dehap failed to win seats in the November 2002 parliamentary polls after falling short of the minimum 10 percent of the national vote needed to qualify for parliamentary representation.

///ANLI ACT IN TURKISH; EST AND FADE///

He concedes that his party has an image problem in Turkey. With its demands for greater rights for Turkey's 14 million Kurds, he says, Dehap has come to symbolize Kurdish separatism for many Turks.

The party is currently faced with closure by the constitutional court over claims that it is acting as a political front for a Kurdish rebel group known as the Kurdistan Workers' Party or P-K-K. Dehap denies this.

A similar claim had led to the banning of several Dehap predecessors.

Hoping to shed its militantly pro-Kurdish image, Dehap is for the first time fielding non-ethnic Kurdish candidates in the Kurdish dominated provinces. Yurdusev Ozsokmenler is one of them. The former journalist from Turkey's western province of Canakkale, and widow of a P-K-K guerrilla fighter, says she will focus on women's issues, if elected as mayor of Diyarbakir's Baglar district.

///OZSOKMENLER ACT IN TURKISH; EST AND FADE///

Mrs. Ozsokmenler says she uses a translator when seeking votes from her Kurdish constituents.

For her, and candidates like her, having Turkish roots may work to their disadvantage in Sunday's elections. (Signed)

NEB/AZ/MAR/RH



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