Women, ethnic, religious minorities change face of Turkish parliament

Daily Times: ANKARA: A record number of women, together with Christians, ethnic Kurds and Armenians, are set to enter Turkey’s parliament after Sunday’s election, a huge shift for a country that has long viewed demands for diversity as a threat to national unity.

Emblematic of the change sweeping parliament is the arrival of Dilek Ocalan, niece of Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan.

Now 27, Dilek was 11 when her uncle was seized in Kenya by Turkish commandos, spirited back to Turkey and sentenced to hang, later to be spared the noose and banished to an island prison. For many Turks that may seem now like another world.

“First of all I see myself as a representative of women and youth,” she told local media. “I may be Kurdish, but I will be representing all those exploited, oppressed, ignored groups, all peoples, cultures, beliefs and languages.”

Her appearance in the Turkish legislature would have been unthinkable a decade ago. But Turkish leader Tayyip Erdogan braved the wrath of nationalists to open talks with Ocalan and his Kurdistan Workers Party, and Dilek it was who delivered many of her uncle’s public missives from Imrali prison.

The opening to the Kurds, after a war that has cost over 40,000 lives, is seen by many as one of the conciliatory, liberal reforming moves by Erdogan in his first years in power. It is not clear what now will be the fate of this peace process.

Ironically, it was the success of Dilek’s Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), that stripped the ruling AKP Party of its overall majority – and thwarted Erdogan’s drive for sweeping new powers. The HDP had drawn voters disillusioned with the more combative, authoritarian Erdogan of recent years.

The election marked a watershed in Turkish politics.

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A total of 97 female lawmakers are due to enter government, accounting for 17 percent of Turkey’s 550-seat parliament. That level of female representation is still well behind the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan and most of Europe, according to World Bank data.

 

“In Turkey, it is regarded as a luxury for women to be involved in politics. We will fight to change this,” said Selina Dogan, an ethnic Armenian lawmaker with the secular, centre-left opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

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