Centre for Turkey Studies and Refugee Workers Cultural Association (RWCA) Joint Forum


‘Kurdish Issue in Turkey and Problems of Democratic Participation’

29 April 2013
The Brunei Gallery, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


Professor Büşra Ersanlı has been working at the Department of Political Science and International Relations of Marmara University, Istanbul since 1990. She obtained her BA degree in 1978 at the Department of English Language and Literature of Boğaziçi University in Istanbul. She completed her MA and PhD at the Department of Political Science of the same university respectively in 1981 and 1989. Her PhD thesis titled “A Cultural Dimension of the Kemalist Revolution: The Turkish History Thesis” was written under the guidance of acclaimed political historian Prof. Şerif Mardin. In 2009, Prof. Ersanlı was elected to the Party Assembly of the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party). She has been included in the commission that was established within the BDP for writing a new constitution under the roof of the Turkish Grand National Assembly. Contributing to the preparation and consensus-building talks held with the representatives of other political parties, Prof. Ersanlı has continued to reflect her experience as a political scientist and activist in the constitutional process. In October 2011, Ersanlı was arrested alongside publisher Ragip Zarakolu as part of the KCK (Kurdistan Communities Union) trials. She was accused of ‘leading an illegal organisation’. Ersanli was released pending trial in July 2012.


The Centre for Turkey Studies held a joint forum with the Refugee Workers Cultural Association (RWCA). Our keynote speaker was eminent academic Professor Busra Ersanli and the forum was chaired by Ibrahim Avcil of RWCA.

Prof. Ersanli’s speech concentrated on the political representation and participation of the Kurdish minority in Turkey. Ersanli analysed the issue at three levels of political activity which were parliamentary, local and intermediary levels.

Prof. Ersanli evaluating the parliamentary level stated that the 10% electoral threshold for political parties to enter the National Assembly is the most significant obstacle that raised a steep barrier for the Kurdish representation in the political context. She pointed out that several political parties representing the Kurdish population were founded and subsequently closed by the state. This ongoing oppression on the Kurdish political activity has always been backed by the Turkish mainstream media, and has been aggravated more due to securitization of the Kurdish issue based on the PKK’s insurgency. The media tends to represent Kurdish politicians and activists’ demands for rights and freedoms as a legitimizing tool for the PKK’s activities.


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Ersanli expressed that the Republic of Turkey witnessed Kurdish rebellions, executions, resettlements in the early years of the republic (1925, 1930, 1938) and strict ‘turkification’ policy on the non-Turkish and non-Sunni minorities of Turkey followed in the later years. Kurdish identity, language and culture were entirely denied constitutionally and politically. Turkey’s democracy having been battled three times by three major military coups until 1990s restricted any Kurdish political activity. Ersanli argued that the political powers in the 1980s manufactured radical attacks on the Kurdish movement which was already becoming more complex during this period due to solidarity with the Kurds in diaspora and other countries. Ersanli pointed out that the ongoing restrictions on the Kurdish political activity do not require propaganda. On the contrary, she continued to say, the facts, which are murders of some Kurdish leaders, consecutive closures of five Kurdish parties, continuous trials of Kurdish political activists and intellectuals and currently about 900 imprisoned party members, can only demonstrate grave political inequality in Turkey.

Prof. Ersanli indicated that the current Kurdish party, BDP (Peace and Democracy Party), which not only represents the Kurdish struggle, but also brought issues in relation to women rights, environment and other national issues to the parliament. However, Ersanli stated, the Kurdish parties have deeply suffered from the 10% electoral threshold as a 5% threshold would have allowed these parties to win more seats comparing to the other governing and main opposition parties, AKP and CHP. Also, she added, the Turkish legal infrastructure prevented Kurdish political representation. Many party members and MPs have been subjected to legal attacks and their cases have been associated with the infamous anti-terror law. Ersanli emphasized the urgent need to amend the anti-terror law as this law with a broad definition of terrorism classifies any propaganda or intellectual activity as terrorism and denies democratic rights despite no evidence of violence.

Ersanli examining the Kurdish political representation and participation at local level stated that the Kurdish population has demanded de-centralisation and self-governing for more than a century. Ersanli pointed out that local governance in Turkey changed after the 1999 Izmit Earthquake so that the municipalities and councils could engage in severe issues efficiently. The municipalities of Kurdish cities benefitted from this change, however further reforms have not been implemented and some mayors in the region have been imprisoned. Turkish media, Ersanli argued, represented the Kurdish demands for rights and freedoms as separatism which only promoted hatred against the Kurds. Ersanli pointed out that Turkey’s first constitution did allow regional governing but it was ruled out in the 1924 constitution. She added that this information along with many other historical facts have never been taught in our school books.

Lastly, Prof. Ersanli examined the intermediary level of the Kurdish political activity. She stated that several human rights associations with lawyers assist people in remote parts of the region who have been unjustly attacked politically and in judiciary. Also, women’s associations assist people in the region with child and mother care and combat against violence and honour killings. Ersanli added that these intermediary groups support the communities under attack and aid the democratisation process.

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Professor Busra Ersanli’s speech was followed by an engaging Q&A session. Ersanli, answering questions by the audience about sincerity of the recent ‘peace process’ and actions taken so far by the incumbent AKP government, indicated the arbitrariness of the judiciary and political decisions. She emphasized the significance of the process itself, not the end-result yet. She argued that this process must bring the long awaited transparency to politics in Turkey.