This past Spring marked a new time for Turkey. A happening that begs the question: Will the new Turkish Congressional members serving in the national Assembly be able to save the lives of women? A task the current President and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have not been able to do. Or will Turkish daughters and mothers have a devastating and tortured ending like Ozgecan Aslan: A 20-year-old university student that was stabbed and murdered as she tried to resisted a rape attempt by a public minibus driver earlier this year. She brings a face to the list of assault case names that have contributed to the growing number under the current President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's administration.
So, the left-wing People's Democratic Party's (HDP) members like Deputy Filiz Kerestecioglu, are dedicated to bringing the voices of women and the LGBT community to the frontlines of Turkish politics. I sat down with her to discover why she decided to be part of this first time congressional party that comes to the table with a turbulent history, as they represent a group of minorities in this Middle Eastern country.
Broadly: Why did you get involved with politics?
Filiz Kerestecioglu: I've been in politics for a long time, especially involving human rights and women's rights issues. With regards to the recent election, I joined the HDP party because I'm against the voting threshold and I wanted to help HDP get into Parliament to destroy it. Aside from that, I want to enhance the voice of women in Parliament, as well as feminism.
You mentioned the threshold. Can you explain what that means?
We have a 10 percent voting threshold in Turkish politics, and due to this threshold, Kurdish politicians, feminists and socialist couldn't get into Parliament, and it has always been the ruling regime's agenda not to have these people near them. So we really need to eradicate this threshold.
What are the biggest struggles facing Turkey and your party. How are you going to address it?
My biggest goal is to establish peace in Turkey. There are many critical issues like the murder of women and workers--women are very important when it comes to establishing peace in Turkey. There has been a feminist struggle for many years in Turkey and it has come together now; we've began advocating for more rights for women. However, implementation of these rights leave much to be desired.
We need to change the system on all levels.
As they correlate, LGBT rights and human rights should be implemented. Our goal now is to implement the rights we have already gained in the struggle, and to be able to live in a country where youth and all people can live in peace and freedom. Sadly, Turkey is not alone in the fight for equality in the Middle East. So if Turkey can accomplish this, it can set a precedent for other Middle Eastern countries.
When you say war in the Middle East, can you define what war you're referring too and what the elements are of this war?
There's a war between the Kurdish Workers Party (KKK) and the neutral forces of the Turkish republic. As I mentioned, this war began again after 2.5 years in a negotiation process and without any armed conflict. But, the AKP government reignited the tense feud.
Turkey is not alone in the fight for equality in the Middle East. So if Turkey can accomplish this, it can set a precedent for other Middle Eastern countries.
Unfortunately, the Turkish Republic has long been behind violence against the Kurdish population in Turkey, where Kurds are considered to be a minority. Turkey has been fighting in arms for a long time but, after the recent elections, the AKP and President Erdoğan wanted to raise their votes, so they began to violate the ceasefire in order to gain nationalist votes, and forced Turkey to vote in a re-election. Erdoğan and the AKP were also very uncomfortable with the success of the Kurds and their supporting forces.
Aside from that, Kurdish civilians reacted against the violent actions of the AKP and Erdoğan. They began to defend themselves because most of them were violated, killed, tortured, and forced to migrate in the 90s because of the state violence. They did not want to resort to that again.
Armed forces of KKK are constantly saying that they want a ceasefire to be reinstated, and that they're not in war with their full force--they will only defend themselves against the state's attacks. During this conflict, many Kurdish civilians--including children from 7 years old to 17--were killed by state forces.
Military service is compulsory, so families are supposed to send their young children to war. However, families began to protest Erdoğan and the AKP at funerals, because the state started wars for petty gain. The state now forbids the press from displaying family's reactions from funerals.
Nobody wants this war, but the AKP government started it in order to rule without a coalition. What they want now, is to have a re-election and to get the HDP party under the threshold, so they can gain even more seats.
What are your personal goals?
While in Parliament, my first goal is to destroy this oligarchy and discrimination. But, of course I can't do this all by myself as a Member of Parliament, so I need to be in solidarity with women and feminist movements outside of mainstream politics. We need to change the system on all levels.
This interview has been edited for clarity.