In the lead-up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum on April 16, Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chair of the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), sits in prison on charges of terrorism. With his voice effectively muzzled, he has taken to writing short stories, the latest of which is “Aleppo Mince,” where one of his characters muses, “I wonder if in reality death is altogether commonplace, normal, and we are the ones who exaggerated it, made it into something extraordinary.” To understand the politics of Turkey’s upcoming referendum, one must understand its last general election in 2015 and the past two years in which, as Demirtas writes, violence has become commonplace.
Turkey has been wracked by political instability since Demirtas and the HDP won an unprecedented electoral victory in June 2015, exceeding 10 percent of the popular vote, which allowed them for the first time to create an HDP voting bloc in parliament and which also led to the first electoral defeat for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) since 2002. To undercut this electoral victory, Erdogan and his allies have used violence to create the conditions necessary to consolidate power. Meanwhile, the United States and Europe haven’t just remained silent — they have been complicit.
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