ANKARA, Turkey (Kurdistan 24) – An ordinary convention of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in Ankara on Sunday elected lawmaker Pervin Buldan and a founder of the party, Sezai Temelli, as its new Co-leaders.
Former Co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas, Figen Yuksekdag, and eight other lawmakers were not present at the convention because of a government crackdown that has imprisoned them along with 80 mayors and 7,000 members.
Delegates separately elected 100 members to the left-wing party’s central committee.
Over 10,000 people watching the congress chanted slogans in solidary with the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in Syria that is under a weeks-long Turkish military offensive.
Serpil Kemalbay who last year replaced Yuksekdag and stepped down at the congress vowed defiance.
“We can beat fascism,” she said, urging resistance to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration that main opposition parties accuse of creating a “one-man rule” in the country.
There were concerns of mob violence or police harassment targeting HDP supporters who gathered in Ankara, being bussed from Kurdish provinces in Turkey, because of a high number of Turkish army losses in Afrin a day earlier.
However, no violence took place.
The newly-elected Temelli praised his party’s supporters for showing up.
“You, our dear comrades who have courageously come here, were put through several security checks to weaken our congress. All the trouble they went to is in vain. These fools don’t know that a device to block courage is yet to be invented,” he said.
Most of the Turkish media did not follow the convention.
Pervin Buldan said the government was afraid of her party.
“Because we defend a democratic, participatory way of ruling a country. They should be afraid,” she said.
In a letter from jail to the audience, the charismatic Kurdish leader and a fierce opponent of Erdogan, Demirtas said the HDP had to install a new, “determined, and courageous leadership.”
“If fascism’s response to the resistance is arresting us all, even if they build a thousand new prisons, they wouldn’t find enough place to fit us,” his letter read.
Although the HDP central committee had requested a third term from Demirtas, he had ruled out a re-nomination.
Demirtas’ withdrawal from the political scene could prove fateful for his left-wing party, the larger Kurdish movement in Turkey, and the opposition as a whole in the run-up to parliamentary, local, and presidential elections set for 2019.
Under his leadership, the HDP became the most outspoken opposition bloc, and the first pro-Kurdish party to pass Turkey’s 10 percent-high parliamentary electoral threshold in elections three years ago.
Buldan is a native of the Kurdish province of Hakkari but representing an Istanbul constituency, also serves the Deputy Speaker of the Turkish Parliament from which seven of her fellow HDP lawmakers have been kicked out over statements courts have deemed as propaganda for terrorism.
She entered politics after Turkish paramilitary security forces abducted and extra-judicially executed her late husband Savas Buldan in 1994, one of 60 prominent Kurdish businessmen the then Prime Minister Tansu Ciller designated as a target for the Turkish state in a speech accusing them of funding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The European Court of Human Rights in 2004 found the Turkish Government guilty of violating the right to life in the Buldan family’s appeal.
There are at least two probes against the HDP’s new leader for alleged “terrorist propaganda.”
Istanbul-born Temelli is one of the founders of the HDP and a former lecturer of economics at Istanbul University from which he was sacked in late 2016 in one of the first waves of an ongoing purge of tens of thousands of state employees by the government.
He was elected to the Parliament in June 2015 elections only to lose his seat like 21 other HDP lawmakers in snap elections five months later after Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) successfully avoided the formation of a coalition government for the first time in over a decade thus ensuring its one-party domination.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany
(Kurdistan 24's Ankara bureau contributed to this report)