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Interview. Kamuran Yuksek, co-leader of the Kurdish party, DBP: “Whole communities are still under curfew, neighborhoods are inaccessible because of army blockades and more than half a million have been displaced.”

Turkish Kurds united against Erdogan’s power grab

Hayir. No. In Turkey’s referendum on presidential powers today, the Kurdish community is unified against the measure despite the enormous hurdles to carrying out a normal election campaign. The country has been in a state of emergency for nine months, thousands of members of the Kurdish and leftist parties are behind bars alongside simple supporters, cities are under curfew and there are a half million internally displaced persons. And they continue to lock up the leadership.

We spoke with Yuksek Kamuran, co-leader of the Kurdish party DBP. In late March, he was condemned in absentia to eight years and nine months in prison.

Two weeks ago, you were sentenced to nearly nine years in prison. Is this another attack against the Kurdish opposition? There are 3,850 DBP members in prison, including 83 mayors.

This is just the latest sentence. I have already spent five months in prison and there is another ongoing trial, with a possible sentence of 21 years. The charge is association with a terrorist association, a tool they are using extensively to strike us as the HDP. But we will not give up; I will personally return to Turkey because it is time to fight against the regime.

Has the repression affected the election campaign for a “No” in the referendum?

After the coup, media were closed and journalists were jailed. Our parties have suffered attacks at national and local levels: community commissions, mayors suspended and thousands of supporters and members in prison. It is impossible to carry out a peaceful election campaign. On the other hand, we know how the matter is felt by the Kurdish community [about 20 million people, 18-20 percent of the Turkish population] and it will make its voice heard. Erdogan fears it: Even the conservative Kurds, who were AKP supporters in the past, they know they’re at risk, and they will vote no.

If the ‘yes’ wins in the referendum, what will happen with only one man in command?

Surely the anti-Kurdish campaign will intensify. The alliance of the AKP with the nationalist party MHP, by nature contrary to the Kurdish democratic demands, will strengthen it. Everything will end up in the hands of one man, every institutional power. We fear there will be an escalation of the war against the Kurds. That has never ended, by the way: In Turkey and northern Syria, the Cizre, Kobane and Jazira cantons suffer other forms of repression.

Can the vote be held normally in the Turkish Southeast? The military campaign and the curfews are still standing.

This is the situation: Whole communities are still under curfew, neighborhoods are inaccessible because of army blockades and more than half a million have been displaced. It is obvious that the vote will suffer the consequences of the ongoing military operation, but we are also aware of the Kurdish consciousness. The Kurds know how critical this referendum is for their fight and they will go to vote anyway.

In the past months, the Turkish government presented reconstruction plans, but the Kurdish community has expressed a strong fear of another wave of displacement and gentrification.

The government promises to rebuild but still has not done so. We want to rebuild on our own to prevent the process from becoming another tool for the displacement and expulsion of our community from the Kurdish centers. To date, despite our efforts, the government prevents us from rebuilding houses. In Diyarbakir and Sur, the goal is clear: Ankara wants to make it a tourist center to be entrusted to the management of people within Erdogan’s circle, to take it away from the Kurdish community and exploit its potential. They want to transform Sur into their tourist site through a militarized reconstruction.

In late March, some Kurds in Brussels, who were going to vote at the consulate, were attacked by AKP supporters. Have there been any other similar incidents?

Three Kurds were seriously injured with knives. It was an attack perpetrated by people close to Erdogan, well-known individuals. This is why they are stopped first: The institutions of those countries need to ensure the proper execution of voting rights abroad. Erdogan is exporting his methods abroad, the intimidation practices used in Turkey are replicated abroad.

In the post-coup society, is there a real opposition, besides the HDP and DBP parties? Does the spirit of Gezi Park still exist?

There is an opposition, the groups that made the Gezi Park network, with which we have continuous contacts. We work together. A part of society is still active against Erdogan.

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