Istanbul—On the streets of Istanbul’s Kadiköy neighborhood, HDP—the Turkish acronym of the People’s Democratic Party—is frequently scrawled on the sides of buildings and sidewalks. This Sunday, Turkey will vote in a major election that will determine whether the leftist, pro-Kurdish party will retain the parliamentary representation that it won over the summer, thus ending the increasingly authoritarian 12-year majority rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
While the leftist, pro-Kurdish HDP was conceived as an amalgam of leftist movements in 2012, it rose to prominence in 2013, when the Gezi Park protests served as a natural incubator for its environmentalist, anti-capitalist, and egalitarian principles. Although the protests—which started in Istanbul and then spread to the rest of Turkey—lost momentum after a few months, the party steadily grew, developing into a strong movement that, in addition to emphasizing female and minority representation, gives an unprecedented political voice to Turkey’s Kurdish population. This past June, the party became a major political player when it won 13 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections, thus surpassing the 10 percent needed to have political representation in Parliament.
It was a short-lived victory. After a summer of deadly attacks on leftist, often HDP-affiliated gatherings, the party’s supporters—many of whom are young leftists—are as concerned about violence leading up to and following the elections as they are about the elections themselves.
“In Turkey, being a leftist isn’t a popular thing to do,” laughs Umut Dortkos, a 22-year-old student activist and self-identified leftist. “Now there is a large mass of people who want to massacre us.”
Despite a bomb that targeted an HDP rally in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir two days before the June elections, the summer began optimistically, and fairly peacefully for Turkey’s left. The HDP’s June victory was celebrated, and symbolic on many levels. In addition to shifting the balance of power away from Erdogan’s ruling AKP, the victory marked the first time that a pro-Kurdish party—and Kurdish politicians—would be represented in Turkish politics, a historic change given the AKP’s traditionally disenfranchising policies toward the country’s Kurdish population of 14 million.
“We were very excited following the June elections,” said Fulya Dagli, another 22-year-old student activist and HDP supporter. “But then they [the AKP] tried to build a dictatorship.”