Election Monitoring in Diyarbakir
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 30th March, 2009
I spent the weekend in Diyarbakir, in south-eastern Anatolia, monitoring the local elections. Turkey’s ruling AKP had hoped to make inroads into the Kurdish homelands, but in this they were largely disappointed. In Diyarbakir, a historic walled city that has seen more than its fair share of civil unrest and repression over the years, everyone assumed that the DTP — one of the few legal Kurdish political parties still operating — would win. The question was by what margin. There was quite a festive atmosphere at many of the polling stations (all of which were in schools) on polling day on Sunday, as people queued to vote, chatted to neighbours and then hung around outside for a good gossip. There was minimal police presence at the polling stations in the city, but in outlying areas there were reports of their intimidating presence and, more commonly, angry disputes between rival candidates for village chiefs and their families.
Polling was from 7am to 4pm (by noon at one village I went to, 95% of people on the electoral roll had already voted!), so results started to trickle in after 6pm. As the evenig went on, the city went crazy; thousands of supporters sang and danced outside the DTP headquarters and motor vehicles cruised the streets blaring their horns in celebration of the party’s 70% share of the vote. The atmosphere was like a world cup victory parade! The Kurdish question has by no means disppeared from Turkey’s political scene, despite some beneficial reforms and easing of some restrictions on the Kurds’ cultural rights by the government in Ankara. And for many of the people who turned out in their droves to vote in Diyarbakir and other predominantly Kurdish towns and cities, the election was all about their identity.