“I was not expecting to be interrupted. The police were ignoring us, since they got orders from their superiors. But this time, apparently the ‘superiors’ who know me and were concerned about my embrace of the Kurdish people, they restricted our walk inside Diyarbakır,” said politician Tuna Bekleviç after his “Brotherhood Walk” from Ankara to Diyarbakır, marking the first anniversary of a Turkish referendum in 2017 that introduced an executive presidency to the country.
In an email interview with Turkish Minute, Bekleviç said he arrived in Diyarbakır after walking 27 days and 1,058 kilometers, with an original plan to walk with people inside the city and make a statement in Four-Legged Minaret Square, where the head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, Tahir Elçi, was assassinated in 2015.
However, he was only allowed to walk alone in the streets. “Police recorded a statement on camera, threatening us with a response if we tried to act together,” said Bekleviç. Afterwards, he decided not to push the limit and cause more damage to the Kurdish people.
“This is not an end to our efforts,” stated Bekleviç after acknowledging that everything has been said regarding the Kurdish question. “Thinking that a physical walk would attract more attention, we launched the Brotherhood Walk. We will continue to do something.”
Bekleviç, a 41-year-old politician from Edirne province, established his first political party, the Strong Turkey Party (GTP), in 2006 with a motto of “More democracy, more freedom.” Two years later, the Supreme Court of Appeals prosecutor filed a case against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), seeking its closure. At the time Bekleviç met with then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and invited him to join his party if a decision were made to close the AKP.
“In those years, we perceived the situation as an intervention in civilian politics by the oligarchic bureaucracy. That is why we supported Erdoğan to prevent the closure. Today I cannot say if it was a good or bad decision. But in principle, I was against the closure of political parties. I still am,” said Bekleviç.
Prior to a referendum on April 16, 2017, he decided to form the Hayır (No) Party in order to work against government’s proposal to introduce an executive presidency to Turkey. Accompanied by fellow party members, he visited 69 cities throughout the country. In September 2017 Bekleviç was the first politician to publicly announce a presidential bid. However, since the Supreme Election Board (YSK) only allowed five days to collect the 100,000 signatures required to become an official candidate, Bekleviç decided to drop out.
“The five-day rule was ruthless. There was a high risk of us failing. When the decision to go to snap elections was made, we were on the fourth day of our Brotherhood Walk. We preferred to complete the walk, which was found meaningful by the public, instead of embarking on a signature campaign,” explained Bekleviç.
One of the promises of the Brotherhood Walk was to carry the Kurdish question to people in middle Anatolia, who mostly support the AKP and its nationalist stance. It could have been a difficult confrontation. But according to Bekleviç, people from those conservative regions were quite open to discussion, including assimilation politics against the Kurds, the oppression that Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) leaders have been suffering and education in the mother tongue.
Bekleviç argued that when a person from Edirne, in the northwestern corner of Turkey with its ultra-nationalist population, walked for the Kurdish problem, it attracted genuine attention. Edirne is also hosting the HDP’s former co-chairman, Selahattin Demirtaş, in one of its prisons while he is confined to pretrial detention.
When asked about a comparison between Edirne and Diyarbakır, Bekleviç made an out-of-the-box statement, saying if there were to be a mature discussion of a federal system in Turkey, more people in Edirne might vote in favor of it.
Bekleviç claimed that security forces have been tracking his activities since 2017, including during this walk. To him, the job of surveillance is given to inexperienced officers, and therefore they reveal themselves very quickly. When he notices suspicious looking people following him, it often turns out that they are plainclothes police officers. However Bekleviç did not seem bothered by the situation, saying: “If law enforcement officers who are following us introduce themselves to me, I can be more helpful. Otherwise, I feel worried because they might be someone who has threatened us before since we have received threats from several sources.”
Kurdish journalist Nurcan Baysal wrote a piece on May 8 for the Ahval news website about daily life in the rural areas of southeastern Turkey, claiming that curfews and other security measures were affecting people to the point that they might not be able to vote in the snap elections on June 24.
“In Diyarbakır, life is not going on under difficult conditions. For the Kurdish people, life has almost stopped here,” Bekleviç said, confirming Baysal’s observations.