Profile: The Peoples' Democratic Party in Turkey (HDP)

Profile: The Peoples' Democratic Party in Turkey (HDP)
After a historic victory in the parliamentary elections this weekend, the HDP is now a major player in Turkish politics. What are its policies and what does it stand for?
2 min read
08 June, 2015
Celebrations in Kurdish towns in eastern Turkey as election results were announced (Getty)

Turkey's ruling party won the biggest portion of the vote in Sunday's polls but lost the parliamentary majority it had held since 2002, delivering a severe blow to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambition to expand his powers.

The party that caused this is a newly born pro-Kurdish socialist party. The People's Democratic Party (HDP), was founded in 2012 as the political wing of the Peoples' Democratic Congress, a union of numerous left-wing movements.

While primarily upholding the Kurdish cause, the HDP has managed to draw the support of non-Kurdish groups and communities, consequently unifying the Turkish opposition against Erdogan's 13-year old rule.

Relations with the PKK

Several sources claim that the HDP has direct relations with the PKK, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union, the United States and Turkey.

During one of its conferences, HDP supporters came dressed as PKK guerrillas, with many members holding banners picturing the PKK's imprisoned founder Abdullah Ocalan. Indeed a message by Ocalan was read out on that day, where Abdullah Ocalan's brother, Mehmet Ocalan, was among the guests.

HDP co-chair, Selahattin Demirtas's brother, Nurettin, was jailed in the past for being a member of the PKK. Nurettin Demirtas is now in the Kandil mountains in northern Iraq where the PKK is based. 

Even though most of the politicians from HDP are secular left-wing Kurds, the candidate list for the elections last weekend included devout Muslims, socialists, Alevis, Armenians, Assyrians, Azerbaijanis, Circassians, Lazs, Romanis and LGBT activists.

Of the 550 candidates, 268 were women. The election results confirmed Baris Sulu, HDP candidate, as the first openly gay parliamentary candidate in Turkish history.

The Kurdish Podemos

The HDP is commonly seen as a Kurdish version of Greece's SYRIZA and Spain's Podemos. Similar to both parties, it adheres to anti-capitalism and aspire to end religious, gender, and racial discrimination. In that sense, HDP is secular. 

But, for political reasons, it has refrained from endorsing the secularism enshrined in the principles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the nationalist founder of modern Turkey. The HDP has also called for a new constitution that enshrines minority rights for Kurds, Alevis and other communities.

To that end, the party enforced a 50% quota for women, 20% for youth, and 10% for LGBT community when fielding candidates. The party operates a co-presidential system of leadership, with one chairman, Selahattin Demirtas, and one chairwoman, Figen Yuksekdag.  

HDP also upholds environmentalist policies. It opposes nuclear energy projects in Turkey. In 2013, the party spoke out in favour of environment-driven Gezi Park protests.