DIYARBAKIR - The DTP stands for cultural identity. The ruling AKP stands for public services. In the middle stands Diyarbakır, around which the Southeast’s political forces revolve and upon which the country’s power balance may hang
As scores of municipalities ready to become the battlegrounds in upcoming local elections in March, this city is set to be decisive in the battle of wills between the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP.
Diyarbakır, which has become synonymous with terrorism and children throwing rocks at police in violent street demonstrations, has also become a symbol of the AKP’s ability to reach the hearts and minds of Kurds. In the general elections last year, the AKP won six of 10 parliamentary seats, while the DTP won four seats. While the DTP won significant majorities in areas with large Kurdish populations, the AKP, alone among the national parties, was able to carve itself a sizable portion of the Kurdish vote.
The AKP is aware the only way it can claim to truly represent the entire nation is to win mayoral posts in the southeast, which have been in the reserve of pro-Kurdish parties for the past 15 years. The basis of the serious clashes between the two parties is that they both see their legitimacy tested by the other.
Both parties view every person of voting age as a potential supporter. The DTP is dominant, especially among people with little education, the poor and hundreds of thousands forced out of their villages during the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, in the 1990s.
The AKP is the choice of the economic elite and nonpolitical conservative Kurds. The semi-feudal social structure of Kurds, most of who live under the ağa system, is mostly religiously conservative. The ağa system features land barons and their families that completely dominate the lives of poor people living on their properties, effectively treating them like serfs.
Diyarbakır and its environs have received around 1 million people who were forced out of their villages.
These new migrants have struggled to adapt to urban life and face many problems, which causes the DTP to focus on them. It is impossible to say the state has any hold over these displaced people. The AKP’s stance on the Kurdish issue prior to the July 2007 elections had won it many adherents in Diyarbakır. Soon after the elections, however, the ruling party adopted a more hawkish stance toward the PKK and the Kurdish issue in general. Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker, who is a deputy from Diyarbakır, took the other five AKP deputies and toured the province during last week’s bayram, trying to explain how Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was misunderstood.
Still, the people of Diyarbakır seem to think the AKP is really the same as the other national parties. Even AKP deputies are finding it hard to defend Erdoğan’s statements and the party.
There is a general consensus, however, that the AKP missed a huge chance in changing its stance because it was almost sure to win the Diyarbakır mayoral post if it had stuck with its conciliatory policy, local experts say.
The political gap between the well-to-do and the poor is becoming deeper as the local elections draws near. By closing during the recent violent protests, shop owners were seen as tacitly approving the protests held against the prime minister during his visit in early November. Some owners, who spoke to Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review without divulging their names, said that was not the truth at all.
Under the guise of protests, many shops were looted during the demonstrations, with shops selling mobile phones a popular target. Such demonstrations, organized by the DTP and labeled as "protecting the Kurdish identity," have been widely criticized.
The Kurdish elite in the city, seen as the well-educated and well-off section of society, say the "Kurdish problem is becoming a politics of looting."
While the DTP mainly sees itself as a party on a mission, its municipal services are left wanting, with DTP’s Osman Baydemir, mayor of Diyarbakır, criticized for the lack of services.
It is nearly certain that Baydemir will run for office again. However, whether he will be backed by the DTP. The only reason the DTP may still back him is because of the other two potential candidates. One candidate, Hatip Dicle, said he had no intention of running for Diyarbakır mayor and the other, Leyla Zana, was sentenced to jail recently and is banned from politics. Abdülkadır Aksu was recently appointed as the AKP’s deputy leader. Aksu, an experienced and influential politician, has a lot of say among Kurdish deputies.
Previously, Aksu used his influence to garner support within the party and was pushed aside by the leadership as a result. He does not have a great deal of credibility in Diyarbakır, but as a local expert on the regional hierarchy, he is sure to boost the AKP’s presence there.
The AKP is yet to announce its candidate for the mayoral post but if Erdoğan’s recent visit to the region is anything to go by, the party’s election campaign will focus on municipal services.
During his visit in early November, Erdoğan criticized Baydemir and the DTP, saying the mountains of garbage on the streets were evidence that the DTP was ignoring public services. There are two people likely as the AKP’s likely candidate for Diyarbakır mayor.
Feyzi Erdoğmuş, who made a failed bid to become rector at Dicle University, is not liked by AKP grassroots supporters. The strongest candidate is AKP Diyarbakır deputy Abdurahman Kurt, with his Kurd-Islamist stance, good relations with northern Iraq and close association to Erdoğan’s former advisor Cüneyt Zapsu. His stance on the Kurdish issue and backing by the AKP grassroots make him the most probable AKP candidate.
Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review Deputy Editor Serdar Alyamaç is a native of Diyarbakır.