ISTANBUL – Metin (47) votes for Abdullah Öcalan. That the leader of the Kurdish seperatist movement PKK is in jail, is not relevant. Hij points at the posters of the candidate for pro-Kurdish party BDP. ‘I vote for Öcalan via him.’
The neighborhood Tarlabasi, a few minutes walk from Istanbuls central Taksim Square, is old, dilapidated and poor, and mainly inhabited by Kurds. Here only the pro-Kurdish BDP, Party for Peace and Democracy, campaigns here, even governing party AKP is invisible. The posters of the BDP candidate are everywhere, in Turkish and Kurdish. Everybody points at them if you ask who they vote for. But some don’t understand the question. ‘We are Kurds!’, three women say. But there are also Kurds who vote for AKP, isn’t it? Together: ‘But we are real Kurds!’
The Kurds started settling in Tarlabasi in the eighties, when in the South-East the war between the PKK and the Turkish army broke loose. And still new migrants come, now mainly attracted by the economy. At the previous elections many Kurds voted AKP because the party promised to solve the Kurdish issue by democratic means, but many voters are now deeply disappointed. ‘There is still no education in our mother tongue’, says Sevim, a 23 year old student. Öcalan-voter Metin: ‘The oppression and torture must come to an end.’ He shows his identity card: ‘Look, it has a Turkish flag on it. I want one with the Kurdish flag.’
In Tarlabasi the atmosphere is good, at the polling station the police chat with voters. But from the South-East reports are coming in about intimidation by the police: identity checks at the entrance of polling stations, armed police inside in stead of outside, votes being bought. Those reports are hard to check from Istanbul, but at the same time not hard to believe. The Kurdish question remains unresolved, Kurdish politicians were earlier blocked from participating in the elections and many Kurdish politicians and mayors are in jail.
Who searches, will find non BDP voters in Tarlabasi too. Market vendor Hüseyin (58) votes AKP: ‘The party brought many good things to Turkey.’ Sakine (55) chose the biggest opposition party, CHP. ‘Because of Ecevit’, she says. He lead the CHP in the sixties and passed away in 2006. Sakine: ‘The new CHP leader is also good.’