Interview with Sedef Çakmak from the CHP: November 1st Elections from the Perspective of an LGBTI Activist
Interview with Sedef Çakmak from the CHP:
November 1st Elections from the Perspective of an LGBTI Activist
As the Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), we have conducted an interview with Sedef Çakmak, who is the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party) (CHP) City Council member and who combats against sexism and all other forms of discrimination in the Department of Social Equality of the Municipality of Beşiktaş. Sedef Çakmak laid out the increasing events of terror, the failure of the coalition process and the last elections from the CHP point of view. She also clarified the differences between the constituency of the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (People’s Democratic Party) (HDP) and the CHP which have been very controversial recently. Ms. Çakmak also emphasised on the ‘more daily’ and ‘almost ordinary’ violence against women and the LGBTI which had been shadowed by recent events. In this sense, we discussed the issue of misrepresentation of women and the LGBTI community in a detailed manner. As an LGBTI activist, deriving from her own candidature experience, she explained what kind of difficulties she faced and what kind of activities she led in the Equality Department since June. Lastly, we concluded our friendly interview by talking on the CHP’s position during the last elections.
Sedef Çakmak majored in sociology at Galatasaray University and worked in several NGOs during her life in college. She went to Lambda İstanbul for a project in 2004 and has been working there as an activist ever since. One of the founding members of the Social Policy Gender and Sexual Orientation Studies Association, Ms. Çakmak continues to work in the executive board of this organisation. Ms. Çakmak, who also owns a bijou café, has been working in the Department of Social Equality of the CHP Municipality of Beşiktaş.
Synopsis of the Interview
“To combat killings due to hate crimes; we came up with the slogan ‘Spite hate, hooray for life’ and made billboard advertisements. This was actually a first in Turkey. For the first time, a government agency has made such raising awareness work.”
“During Demirtaş’s presidential candidacy period, the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP) issued an election slogan with the posters of our trans woman activist in Ağrı and this was on the billboards in this way. This is very important in terms of visibility, because the LGBTI issue is a taboo subject in Turkey. People are afraid: ‘yes, we support’ they say, but do not pronounce it much. But now, in a more stable way, people have begun to argue that LGBTI rights struggle is a human rights struggle.”
“LGBTI people are still exposed to hate speech and murders of hate. Obviously, the most important reason is that the LGBTI rights are not explicitly entrenched in the constitution. The reason is that the state is not accepting the LGBTI as a social group, or as you say a disadvantaged group, and does not want to express it in that way.”
“In environments of hate and violence the greatest harm is inflicted upon the disadvantaged groups and the worst thing is this violence is also rendered invisible.”
“In an environment where everyone talks about peace, we think of the Kurdish issue as we talk about peace. However, actually what we call social peace should include a much larger group of people. Whether we want it or not, sadly, the rights of the Kurds have become a strategy of politicians and they are only supported or not supported for the interests of political parties or for people to be shown as targets by claiming that they are terrorists. Therefore, this problem still cannot be thought aside the Kurds and debated accordingly.”
“This is going to sound stupid but in some cases beatings in public or rape in household sounds like a more luxurious matter. We have to bear this in mind: there is no hierarchy among human rights.”
“We have to bear this in mind; even though I am a politician, peace policy is such an important matter that it should not be left to politicians. Peace is a matter in which we all should be subjects because it is not a matter that takes place outside of us. We know for sure that an event that takes place in the other end of the country also affects us. Therefore, all of us are subjects in this manner.”
“Melda Onur has a very nice saying: “Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party) (CHP) is like a flagship; it takes a long time to change its direction but when this happens it has the power to determine the whole events of the nation.” This is a metaphor that has left a big mark on me. When we think about a party like the CHP with a lot of history and turbulence, comparing it to a young and new party like the HDP is not correct.”
“Another criticism the CHP faces all the time, is that the CHP cannot confront its own history. I find some criticisms extremely cruel. The CHP is only as effective where an opposition party can be effective in an environment where the ruling party says no to everything.”
“Yet again, there has only been one openly gay candidate in Turkey and was chosen as the first such council member and this person is working on LGBTI rights at municipalities. Let us keep in mind that this person is doing his work at CHP municipalities. Therefore, we can see that the CHP has this kind of ground.”
“For instance the first question I encounter is the question of gay marriage… you have to explain patiently, one by one that this issue is not only about marriage. People are repressed by their families, imprisoned at their homes, beaten up on the streets, get murdered, experience mobbing at their workplaces, miss out on their education from the constant humiliation at their schools. What we are talking about is in fact about a group deprived of their social and economic rights. For this to be understood it has to be constantly expressed.”
“So I did not have any visibility problem as a politician, it was not causing me any trouble to go into politics with my open gay identity. But it is not that easy for everyone. Our friend in the HDP was crushed under this pressure, he said he did not receive enough support from the people around him so he sought asylum. Therefore, none of the political parties had candidates with an open LGBTI identity for November 1st elections.”
“Yes, they made a wonderful breakthrough with their election manifesto and they presented an openly gay candidate even though at the last row. The issue is that in the face of occurring assaults towards that candidate they may have protected him within the party itself but when we look at the public sphere it looks as if the HDP has left him behind. It looked like they were not defending him. The only thing I remember from that time is Demirtaş’s witty answer to the question about gay marriage which was; ‘I am very happy with my wife, thank you.’ Whatever happens, one would have expected a stronger comeback from a party with such an election manifesto.”
“We still question whether the November 1st elections were fair or not. People did not have an extreme level of motivation because of they had been questioning intensively. There was a big enthusiasm and ambition on June 7th and then it turned into tiredness.”
“Personally, as a citizen, I think that the coalition between the CHP, the HDP and Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party) (MHP) could have been a truly different experience for our country. It could have relatively been one of our nearest experiences to democracy.”
“Even when I try really hard to criticise my political party, I cannot find a vulnerable point to be honest. The CHP is such a political party that can say to the leader of another political party ‘OK, you can be the prime minister.’ This is a serious sacrifice for a political party.”
Full Text of the Interview
First of all, thank you for your time. Let’s start this way, I would like to ask a question regarding the effort you have been putting into the LGBTI movement in Turkey for more than a decade. From what we know, you are a former Lambda activist and an executive board member of a social policy based association named Spod. Due to the policies of the governing party, polarisation based on conservatism and nationalism are considerably in the rise. Considering that polarisations affect mostly the disadvantaged groups; how are the LGBTIs doing? Are they living in better conditions? If not, how are they dealing with this?
We are used to go back and forth in Turkey. This is also the case for LGBTI rights and struggles. I will tell it from a very small scale, but let us consider as of 2014 local elections, for example. With this election, we were employed in two municipalities, Şişli and Beşiktaş, with our gay identities. Our goal was, indeed, to give shape to LGBTI rights and struggle in the municipality. We did much work in municipalities in one year. Frankly, even we were amazed.
“To combat killings due to hate crimes; we came up with the slogan ‘Spite hate, hooray for life’ and made billboard advertisements. This was actually a first in Turkey”
What kind of work you have done?
For example, together with mayor of Beşiktaş, as LGBTI activists, we have made awareness raising works on billboards on November 20th, the commemoration day of the transgender victims of hate crimes. To combat killings due to hate crimes; we came up with the slogan ‘Spite hate, hooray for life’ and made billboard advertisements. This was actually a first in Turkey. For the first time, a government agency has made such raising awareness work. I see great value in this regard. Recently, we organised a Pride’s week reception in Beşiktaş Municipality. This was also a first, in this regard. Equality units have been started to be established. This was something which did not exist in İstanbul. We have established equality units in Şişli and Beşiktaş municipalities in İstanbul. In these units, we have given trainings to citizens about the municipality services and LGBTI trainings to municipality employees. We have worked on the challenges faced by LGBTI individuals, how we are responsible on these issues as the municipality, how we can conduct studies in this regard. The work was not limited to just these two municipalities. Requests are coming to associations from Sarıyer and Kadıköy municipalities for training regarding LGBTI individuals. During Pride week this year, Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party) (CHP) municipalities began to publish support messages on the social media. Obviously this was also a first in Turkey. They changed their official social media account logos to rainbows, issued messages condemning discrimination. While there were such developments in the CHP, the HDP also made an important attempt. During Demirtaş’s presidential candidacy period, the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (People’s Democratic Party) (HDP) issued an election slogan with the posters of our trans woman activist in Ağrı and this was on the billboards in this way. This is very important in terms of visibility, because the LGBTI issue is a taboo subject in Turkey. People are afraid: ‘yes, we support’ they say, but do not pronounce it much. But now, in a more stable way, people have begun to argue that LGBTI rights struggle is a human rights struggle. After Demirtaş’s presidential election campaign, one of our gay friends was also named in the parliamentary candidates list. But just in this process, as we have all seen, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) (AKP) has pursued a policy target of attacking the HDP, and this included attacking the LGBTI. It was the kind of policy that stressed that they have a homosexual in their list. As the ruling party challenged openly, hate speech against the LGBTI appeared in the media. So as I said, while there is good progress on the one hand, there are negative developments on the other. LGBTI people are still exposed to hate speech and murders of hate. Obviously, the most important reason is that the LGBTI rights are not explicitly entrenched in the constitution. The reason is that the state is not accepting the LGBTI as a social group, or as you say a disadvantaged group, and does not want to express it in that way. This of course causes a very serious impact on the lives of individuals. Also exactly as you said, in environments of hate and violence the greatest harm is inflicted upon the disadvantaged groups and the worst thing is this violence is also rendered invisible. This year, for example, our Pride parade would have been in its thirteenth year. The past twelve years, very surprisingly, there was not the slightest problem in Turkey. But this year the barring of the march by the governor and the excessive intervention of the police gave us –as LGBTI associations- a very clear political message which was: ‘you are going too far, know where to stop.’ This is an ambivalent situation. In an environment where everyone talks about peace, we think of the Kurdish issue as we talk about peace. However, actually what we call social peace should include a much larger group of people. Whether we want it or not, sadly, the rights of the Kurds have become a strategy of politicians and they are only supported or not supported for the interests of political parties or for people to be shown as targets by claiming that they are terrorists. Therefore, this problem still cannot be thought aside the Kurds and debated accordingly. At this point, during the ban on the Pride parade and the following two months, there have been systematic attacks on the LGBTI community because if the government acts this way, the people on the street draw power from this and continue their attacks the political agenda is always busy, these kind of attacks are not mentioned. This is one of the problems of the disadvantaged groups. The violence that they go through is never visible. Especially when the agenda is full like in our country and there are harsh events happening one after the other every day. This is going to sound stupid but in some cases beatings in public or rape in household sounds like a more luxurious matter. We have to bear this in mind: there is no hierarchy among human rights. There cannot be a situation in which we would say we will solve this first. For example, there is a certain phrase that we the LGBTI activists hear a lot: ‘even men and women are not equal in this country.’ Sexual equality is not fully secured even in many countries where LGBTI rights are respected and recognised. This is why we cannot set up such a hierarchy. Instead, what I understand also from democracy is that we need to think all of it as a whole since none of the concepts is inferior to the others. After all what we care about is a healthy, happy and peaceful human since those humans create a healthy, happy and peaceful society.
“HDP’s and CHP’s founding structures and dynamics vary dramatically”
Well, speaking of HDP issue; what are the points that CHP and HDP converge and diverge? For example, they have opposed in parliament to the internal security bill. Can you summarise the proximity and diverging points of the dynamics between the two parties? For example, I felt like they thought very differently of the call for the peace march for Cizre.
Yes, true. A committee has been instructed to watch the developments in the region by the chairman himself. That committee went and did their investigations but as you have said, there are certain points that they do not think alike. We have to bear this in mind; even though I am a politician, peace policy is such an important matter that it should not be left to politicians. Peace is a matter in which we all should be subjects because it is not a matter that takes place outside of us. We know for sure that an event that takes place in the other end of the country also affects us. Therefore, all of us are subjects in this manner. In the problem in Cizre, the fact that the civil society is involved in the manner somewhat relieves me.
When talking about the CHP-HDP relation, we should not forget that they are both political parties. There are areas that political parties are much more constrained. I think we should not expect what we expect from civil society from political parties. Of course, when it is right, they will stick together and at other times different strategies are implemented. These depend on the internal dynamics of a party and its relation with its electorate. In the end, the aim of a political party is to govern. When we hope for something from political parties, we should bear this simple and basic fact in mind. What matters to me most is that we need to stop being passive and become active citizens. Rather than waiting for a saviour, we need to –now that I am an activist I am saying it easier– accept that we are all individuals and we need to push political parties to act as we want them to upon matters that hurt our conscience, or we need to cooperate with NGOs with clear consciences. Of course I understand that it is not easy when one needs to earn a living, take care of his or her family and children, so I understand that it is unfair to expect people to just go out on the streets.
Common grounds where the HDP and the CHP agree are not that limited. For instance, the CHP and the HDP representatives have always come together on LGBTI rights. The LGBTI rights issue concerns all parties. Until now there has been little work done on the LGBTI community in the parliament, but since 2011 this process has been escalated. Through this process the CHP and the HDP representatives were acting together. Let me give you an example: In 2013, at the time of the Gezi, CHP MP Binnaz Toprak proposed a motion in order for a research commission to be established on the LGBTI issues and of course this motion was denied by the majority but this motion had been defended by the Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (Peace and Democracy Party) (BDP) representatives as well. They also expressed that there was a need for steps to be taken in the name of the LGBTI rights. These two parties agree in these certain crucial matters. No matter how much my party is being criticised, one needs to bear in mind that these two parties in fact are at the left wing. Leftist ideology lies in their core foundations. That is why it is completely natural for them to agree on some matters and disagree on others because their establishment and their dynamics are very different from each other.
“CHP is like a flagship; it takes a long time to change its direction but when this happens it has the power to determine the whole events of the nation”
In your opinion, on which subjects do they differ the most? The Kurdish question for example?
I do not know if it would be correct to claim that they disagree significantly even about the Kurdish issue. One of the most criticised aspects of the CHP is the issue of ‘you don’t offer a solid step, a plan on the resolution process.’ Whereas our chairman has always stated that the resolution process should have been discussed transparently and openly under the roof of the parliament. The respondents of this are the political parties. He states that political parties can go and talk to the groups or organisations of their wish, but all this interaction should be made in the parliament. Frankly, I agree with him. If we have a parliamentarian perspective, then have to defend this. Likewise, if we look at the statements of Demirtaş, we can see that there is no difference. So I do not think that there are opposite viewpoints on the Kurdish topic between the two parties. We only have some grounds in our party that are a little unidentified. I also believe that these areas should be more clarified but maybe they will be resolved in the future on their own. Of course I am speaking in the name of their objectives not on their dispositions. We cannot even compare the CHP’s attitude nowadays with the CHP in the beginning of the 2000s. Now they have a much more cooperative and understanding attitude and this makes me happy. Melda Onur has a very nice saying: “CHP is like a flagship; it takes a long time to change its direction but when this happens it has the power to determine the whole events of the nation.” This is a metaphor that has left a big mark on me. When we think about a party like the CHP with a lot of history and turbulence, comparing it to a young and new party like the HDP is not correct. Besides I do not think it is even correct to compare parties at all. Another criticism the CHP faces all the time, is that the CHP cannot confront its own history. I find some criticisms extremely cruel. The CHP is only as effective where an opposition party can be effective in an environment where the ruling party says no to everything. I agree that the issue of facing its history is also important to achieve peace. When we say peace it should not be perceived as a ceasefire of the armed conflict. We have seen how fragile the period of ceasefire was under the AKP government, and this was not a real peace process. I find the rejection of forming of truth and reconciliation committees on this issue like the ones in other countries is one of the biggest reasons for this. To achieve a truly societal peace, I think it is important to objectively and legally punish the people and the institutions that have created the clash environment. Because if you do not have a system of punishment, what happens is as I have mentioned before, the governor bans the pride parade and then men on the street beat up the LGBTI. I am referring to this kind of a period, because when people live in a country where they can get away with all types of behaviour, everybody would continue going their own way. For this reason I think the issue of adjudication is very important. Not only this of course, this has some stages, like to apologise or to form new strategies to prevent repetition. Unfortunately we have not experienced such stages. We have only seen a ceasefire. To establish a true peace we have to go through these stages. If we could initiate this at some point, I think this could be reflected on all the other confrontations in this country. What I mean is this: If we manage to generate strategies to reach true societal peace through the peace process, through forming a truth and reconciliation committee and only after we see how doable this all is, then this disintegration will also spread to the political parties. Political parties then would do their part.
Which problems for example?
The 6-7 September incidents, the Dersim incident, the Maraş incident etc. I can name many more because the traumas of our country are endless. I mean we could not even confront the 1980 coup on which supposedly everybody agrees. And the man who is responsible for the coup died before even being convicted. If we cannot confront even an incident where all the parties agree, I think it is unfair to expect from only one party to handle this alone. We have to do this firstly united as a nation, then we can expect some things from each party.
“We have to keep in mind that the only candidate and the first chosen council member who is openly gay is from CHP”
Let us talk a little about the CHP’s LGBTI and human rights policies. As far as I know, the assault on the president of the Red Umbrella Sexual Health and Human Rights Association, Kemal Ördek at his home in Ankara, has been brought up in the parliament. Are there any followers on this subject and alike in the parliament? Does the CHP propose constructive solutions to human rights violations?
The LGBTI movement started at the beginning of the 1990s. Unfortunately, our connection with the CHP is very recent. We started to reach the CHP only after 2009. Before that whenever we went to municipalities or tried to reach representatives we were never welcomed. However, after 2009 there was a real change at the CHP, a new awakening. With individual efforts of some representatives like Melda Onur, Binnaz Toprak, Aykan Erdemir, Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Gürsel Tekin and Aylin Nazlıaka, the matter of LGBTI was brought to the agenda of the CHP. The issue of LGBTI rights is still not part of the official strategy of the party. I view this as a missing point. For instance, just as the party has diverse strategies and studies on youth, women and disabled; I think the LGBTI should also be viewed like one of these groups. However, as an activist I am also aware that these processes take time. Especially for a party that changes slowly I think these processes will happen in a longer period. Still, LGBTI associations have also a lot of responsibilities. We should not expect everything from political parties, we should push them or we should push non-governmental organisations. I think that non-governmental organisations should associate much more with political parties. Yet again, there has only been one openly gay candidate in Turkey and was chosen as the first such council member and this person is working on LGBTI rights at municipalities. Let us keep in mind that this person is doing his work at CHP municipalities. Therefore, we can see that the CHP has this kind of ground. Just I think in order to enlarge this ground the LGBTI community and associations have to push it further. Because this is how it goes. I know how this goes since I am a subject of this matter. It is very important that these matters are handled and the strategies are shaped by the subjects themselves. For if the strategies are being formed by non-subjects it does not correspond very much to the actual needs. This of course does not mean the LGBTI rights can only be defended by the LGBTI themselves. Yet there are many problems rising from the fact that LGBTI rights are still a taboo and that this issue is unspoken means that it remains full of prejudices, speculations and taboos. For instance, the first question I encounter is the question of gay marriage… you have to explain patiently, one by one that this issue is not only about marriage. People are repressed by their families, imprisoned at their homes, beaten up on the streets, get murdered, experience mobbing at their workplaces, miss out on their education from the constant humiliation at their schools. What we are talking about is in fact about a group deprived of their social and economic rights. For this to be understood it has to be constantly expressed. Honestly, I feel hopeful about my party on this subject. When I became a council member candidate, this was what was important: can my party open a ground for this? Because this is the line we have to cross. For example at the AKP and the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (Nationalist Movement Party) (MHP) this line is a dead end because they would claim that their party agenda does not allow them to open up. Bu the CHP is not like that. They welcomed us and our agenda. From here the large part of the work depends on activists who want to enter politics with their open identities.
Right at this point I was curious about your joining period to the CHP. Why did you choose the CHP and not the HDP? What was the factor influencing your position as a CHP City Council member candidate?
What was important for me was this: The work of the CHP on the LGBTI was very limited whereas the HDP already had this type of actions and many activist friends of mine were working there. I think this is an injustice done towards everybody; this is a lack both of the party and the LGBTI living in Turkey as well. All in all, we are talking about the main opposition party here. We are talking about a party with great historical importance and a deep-rooted past. Whether it is positive or negative everybody has a connection, an emotional bond with the CHP. Nobody in this country can claim that they know or think nothing about the CHP. It burdened me that a party so effective in our lives does not engage in LGBTI politics.
This is the reason I became a candidate from the CHP. Another thought I had was that I did not want to be a candidate just for the visibility –although it is an important aspect–, but to pass beyond the visibility that the LGBTI has achieved today (with more than 80,000 participants in the Pride parade) and I thought the CHP’s was the only Istanbul municipality that would grant me this possibility. After I decided I asked all of my friends at the association. This was new for each of them. To be honest, for the activists at our association the CHP was a big source of disappointment not on an individual level but they had great expectations from the CHP although nobody wants to shoulder the responsibility. So when I asked my friends their reaction was ‘I would not do it myself but if somebody does I would support.’ Of course I am talking about the period prior to 2014. Back then people would have never guessed that me and Boysan could make way for so many changes at the municipality through our council member candidate positions or the fact that one of us could be elected as a council member. They did not believe in such a possibility. Now people are more encouraged. Many friends of mine tell me that they want to enter politics and ask for advice. I think we are leaving behind the learned helplessness and hopelessness and begin to see that we can do some things or that good things can happen.
“Most of the LGBTİ members are CHP voters”
How do you view the in-party quota issue? Do you think there should be a quota for women, youth and LGBTI in the parties? For instance, can LGBTI branches be formed within the parties like there are women and youth branches?
Unfortunately, there are some problems with youth and women participation in the CHP but the party’s structure is not the only thing to blame for this. This has two sides. Unfortunately, we as women have to work twice as much, sadly this reality is not going to change in the near future anywhere in the world. Bearing this presupposition in mind, we have to stretch the limits further to enter into politics. To encourage this, parties form diverse strategies for instance the one you mentioned like a quota or like our chairman’s nice strategy of positioning women into the front rows. This can happen as well in the party but also through the pressures of the voter youth and women. The majority of LGBTIs vote for the CHP. We do not have rich statistics on this but one statistic shows that most of the LGBTI individuals are CHP voters. It is very important that they do not remain as passive voters but enter politics. Because only then you enter a region where you can say directly what needs to be done.
Other than this, the issue on the quota is being discussed even among the LGBTI associations, therefore I do not have a clear-cut answer to this. Participation on political parties, political representation is very new for the LGBTI community in Turkey. I am referring to the new discussions going on since 2014. Before that, there were some friends who were candidates with their open transsexual identities but they were doing this for the visibility, they did not have the concern for political representation. Therefore, this movement in itself could not develop its strategy on how to associate with political parties. This will take time. That is why the question of the quota leaves a question mark in my head. On one side it is a very difficult practice, I mean how will you implement the quota; will it be named as the LGBTI quota, will this depend on personal statements, will the LGBTI candidates be chosen just because they are LGBTIs? This types of ramifying questions can be raised with this issue. Still I think political parties should place the LGBTI to a memorable place as a starting strategy. In the simplest way they can name LGBTI as well within their cliché party slogans where ‘women, youth, unemployed’ are being referred. This would be in no way a loss to a party. For example, the HDP has put up huge LGBTI posters, stood up despite all the assaults, passed the threshold. It is the same in other conservative countries. There is no danger of losing votes on this subject because as a sociological reality there is not such an influence on the voters’ behaviour. However, this would have a massive transformative effect in return. This would be incredibly effective on a group where there are people who still did not accept their identities, or accepted it but trying to convince their families, or people who insist on being referred as a woman instead of a man, or people who are saying that they will not get married because they are gay, people who have to repeatedly say every single day to their environment. For a party to state their acknowledgment of this group should be the starting point. In my opinion, instead of saying, ‘we are a modern party and that our doors are open for everyone’ the correct approach should be, ‘we are caring for the socioeconomic problems of the LGBTI community.’ Firstly they have to be welcomed, and only then we can all together start talking about strategies on visibility and representation.
“HDP had to appropriate their LGBTI candidate more at the public sphere, more that Demirtaş’s answer to the question about gay marriage which was ‘I am very happy with my wife, thank you”
So do they have to be more precise?
Not only precise but they have to be consistent. Let us take the HDP again. Yes, they made a wonderful breakthrough with their election manifesto and they presented an openly gay candidate even though at the last row. Okay. The issue is that in the face of occurring assaults towards that candidate they may have protected him within the party itself but when we look at the public sphere it looks as if the HDP has left him behind. It looked like they were not defending him. The only thing I remember from that time is Demirtaş’s witty answer to the question about gay marriage which was; ‘I am very happy with my wife, thank you.’ Whatever happens, one expects a stronger comeback from a party with such an election manifesto. Not a dodgy witty answer but a stronger stance like ‘So what!’ was expected of him. I should not favour my party as well and will tell the same about them. Again, before the elections the manifesto of the CHP had a smaller part on the LGBTI compared to the HDP’s, it only entailed a sentence on the fighting against the discrimination specifically in Istanbul. And there as well the chairman was asked a question, of course again on gay marriage (!). He made a joke referring to a famous social media video and said; ‘Nobody can interfere in everybody’s life.’ Like I said the expectations were high from these parties but we have to be realistic. It is neither realistic, nor is it right to form strategies without us the subjects take this matter in our hands.
I want to go back to the topic of representation. Patriarchy is deeply rooted in Turkey and does not look like this is going to change in the near future. Under these circumstances can you evaluate the situation of representation of the LGBTI before and after the June 7th elections?
With the discussions started in 2014, there also has not been a consensus among LGBTIs on the topic of how political representation should be. There are two opposite arguments: one groups say that just because one person is LGBTI does not mean that s/he represents me and the other group says can you not see how empowering it is to have someone in an elected position saying that ‘I am gay or I am trans’ while people are forced to live hiding their identities? Both of them are right from their point of view. Therefore, the issue of political representation is not something that has been solved entirely. But, for instance, Spod LGBTI association, they organise politics schools, trainings, campaigns just so LGBTI would pay more attention to the topic, so there are efforts for it. I can say, a little bit based on my own experience as well, that it is already a long process and maybe sometimes an impossible one for one person to accept, to have people around him or her accepting that s/he is gay/lesbian and then live at peace. You may be obliged to leave your family and leave the place you are living. I have been in this for 11 years; I have dedicated my life to this. I have already been appearing in the press, giving speeches and making interviews for the association’s work and during the marches. So I did not have any visibility problem as a politician, it was not causing me any trouble to go into politics with my open gay identity. But it is not that easy for everyone. Our friend in the HDP was crushed under this pressure, he said he did not receive enough support from the people around him so he sought asylum. Therefore, none of the political parties had candidates with an open LGBTI identity for the November 1st elections. We are talking about a difficult period here. You face a lot of pressure. The sense of work in the civil society and in political parties can be way too different. And this might surprise you; but, the biggest problem for an LGBTI individual to enter politics is money. During your whole candidacy process, if you do not have your own business that you can earn life from, if you do not have spare time to run your campaign and if you do not have the necessary economic conditions to sustain yourself, then things get really hard. During my own candidacy process, I have been to Ankara quite often, brochures were printed, I invited people to attend events etc., all this hustle requires money. We saw this in a very bitter way as three friends who were candidates to being council members. The three of us, we were working as a team. During our candidacy, two of our friends were unemployed. We tried to manage it all with a very small amount of money, well actually pennilessly; with what I received from my café-bar business. We understood that we could have done much bigger and more effective things if we had had more money during that period. Unfortunately, this is how politics is.
So you could not find a sponsorship?
Sadly, we could not get any sponsorship at the time. I think it is also related to the authentic characteristic of that period. We were setting sail into an unfamiliar territory, we were both putting our candidacy for being a council member and we were trying to become one from the CHP. There were two unknown territories we were sailing towards. People were thinking that we would not make it, and they were also not supporting it because they could not image what we would do and what kind of return they would get if we succeeded it. But I think we were able to prove ourselves in the last elections. We proved how municipalities can actually be important institutions in making LGBTIs’ lives smooth and easy. You know how it is the first ones that go through all the suffering, we have worked really hard but I think that from now on things will be easier for council member candidates and they will be more easily embraced both financially and spiritually.
So what do you think about the political representation after November 1st?
November 1st was some sort of a transition process. I even think it is still debatable whether November 1st elections were fair or not. Maybe not during these elections, but the representation might increase in the next general and local elections. For this election since the agendas were really busy, we did not have enough time to get prepared as a social movement and we did not have enough time to prepare the candidates either. Plus, as I said, we still question whether the November 1st elections were fair or not. People do not have an extreme level of motivation because of they have been questioning intensively. There was a big enthusiasm and ambition on June 7th and now it is more turned into tiredness. On June 7th Spod Association had prepared a pact called ‘LGBTI friend MP Candidates’ and now when we ask whether we are going to issue the same pact for this campaign, everybody just stares at each other absently. In the last few months, what has been happening in the country drained all of our energy. I believe there can be more serious political steps in the next years. We can make another interview at the next election period and then we can compare it.
Now let us talk about the hot topics. In the eyes of a CHP member, why do you think coalition period was not successful? How did the dynamics that led to the early elections, such as rising terror incidents, MHP’s outbursts and the Resolution Process being put into cold storage, take place? How do you think these should have been guided by the CHP?
My observation is that the primary reason for all this is because the ruling party has been procrastinating everything. I also think that since the main reason of asking for the early elections and the motivation for wanting it has been delightfully expressed by the president of the country, other political parties have been greatly influenced by it. I also think that the MHP as an opposition party has been a big disappointment to the public. You may think it is a bit of a cliché but I interpret the outburst of the MHP saying that ‘I would not sit on the same table with another political party’ as a total misfortune. I do not think it is quite right to reject another political party. I also think that the CHP guided a very smart and very reconciliatory path during this process. Even when I try really hard to criticise my political party, I cannot find a vulnerable point to be honest. The CHP is such a political party that can say to the leader of another political party ‘OK, you can be the prime minister.’ This is a serious sacrifice for a political party. In such an environment where such things were expressed, the other party was still saying ‘No sir, I won’t recognise the X party.’ It was very obvious: the ones that blocked the whole process were the MHP and the AKP.
“The coalition between CHP, HDP and MHP would have brought us closer to the democracy”
Well, do you think CHP did the best that it could? Or do you think it could have developed other strategies?
I believe so. When we consider realistically and we consider the inner party dynamics, I think that it adopted a manner where the party does not compromise from its principles but at the same time appears as reconciliatory and also it had an attitude of caring about the national interests before party interests. The positions that the CHP was being tried to be drawn into are also quite clear, they were really tough positions. There were going to be really compelling positions for all political parties in whichever coalition formula had happened. Personally, as a citizen, I think that the coalition between the CHP, the HDP and the MHP could have been be a truly different experience for our country. It could have relatively been one of our nearest experiences to democracy.
There will be the same outcome; I do not think that the HDP will drop below the threshold. We have already seen in June elections that it entered the parliament with a high percentage. I but I do not have a foresight for the votes of the MHP and AKP. I worry that people feel themselves even more insecure and hopeless and they feel as if they live in a country where there is no law and justice. Therefore, I hope each political party behaves with common sense.
Now that you mention hate speech, what does the CHP have on its agenda in regard to the resolution process? What kind of path is the CHP going to follow, while the president and the AKP claim they ‘have frozen’ the process?
The CHP does not have a step by step defined strategy where we can say loud and clear ‘this and this will be done.’ Our chairman insistently expresses: this topic should be resolved in the parliament. I believe that the ideas suggested by any political party aimed at the solution of this topic will be considered by the CHP and the CHP will take coordinated steps with them. Shelving it is not even a matter of discussion. But I think there will be a tendency to listen to other political parties’ suggestions and take steps accordingly. I believe that the CHP, instead of taking initiative, will listen to other political parties’ suggestions and make a choice consequently.
And why do you think that is? When we look at other political parties, we hear clear answers of the MHP, AKP and HDP. Why does not the CHP share a concrete strategy?
The party abstains due to its inner structure and the relation to its constituency. It does not yet have an opportunity to discuss this matter within larger party organs and develop a strategy accordingly. I believe the party’s structure is causing the problem.
Again as one of the hot topics, after the human trafficking in our coastline with an incredible growing speed and the big protests just erupted in Edirne, what do you think about Turkey’s problems on welcoming, allocating and integrating Syrian refugees to the society? What is the CHP’s solution suggestion on this matter?
The chairman says we should solve the root problem of this issue. What is the root problem of this issue? The war in Syria. I agree with that and I think it is valuable and important. Of course first of all, the war conditions should end so that people could peacefully live in their own countries. But the position where we stand at has way past this point. The CHP has been mentioning this for years; we receive an unrestrained level of migration. The CHP, as a political party of Turkey, cares about what is happening within its own borders, for sure. There have been exceeding comments on this topic. Following this process, I think a strategy should be formed by further involving international public opinion and institutions and by forcing/compelling them. Because the refugee issue is not something that a country could solve on its own. Besides, I also think that it would be unfair to expect a country to solve a problem as far-reaching and internationally tied as this one singlehandedly. The party should have strategies aiming more at mobilising international mechanisms. There are certain things that are said within this direction but honestly I would expect more concrete steps to be taken. And this is what should be done.
Do you think this will be one?
What draws my attention is that the Syrian refugee issue has been going on since 2010. Since that time, there is a refugee influx coming towards the country. However, nobody took an interest on this issue, neither in Turkey nor abroad, other than one or two non-governmental organisations. It was when the poor drowned boy’s photograph was released that relevant international institutions have then begun to take action. Even the society itself and international institutions that mainly address this issue have newly roused up. Therefore, it would take much more time for their politics to correspond to the party.
Other than this, we can also talk more about the new party politics aimed at women.
The party is trying to create certain mechanisms. As I said earlier, there are certain things that would further encourage women. For instance, woman candidates are not charged with nomination fee.
What is the nomination fee normally?
It depends on the person. A male adult is approximately charged with 2000-2500 Liras. I mentioned this while I was talking about the political representation of LGBTIs that during the candidacy process, we should be able to make our own living; accordingly, our life responsibility should also be divided appropriately. If you are married and have children, you, as a woman, should not have the whole responsibility of the kids so that you can enter into politics and run after it. Considering all this, I see that the party is showing more efforts on this issue. I also believe that women should ask more at this point. I think that women who work more on women issues within the party should come together and get organised. The point where we are at is not what I wish it to be, it is not the ideal point but it is changing for better.
When you say women getting organised for instance there was a lot of requests for ‘Özgecan Law’ and various non-governmental organisations have also made several requests about it. At least, there are requests in the media, but it seems that there is not a lot of reflection of these requests within politics.
It is exactly like that. Everything in this country is blocked at the moment. Opposition parties keep giving motions; they constantly make parliamentary research committee suggestions however none of these gets approved by the ruling party. For this reason, November 1st elections, just like the June elections, were important. Another feature that I like about our political party is that we are making crystal clear suggestions. For instance, enacting the law of political morality, passing this kind of a law against corruption, having the electoral threshold decreased… The party, again seeing the blockages, suggests resolutions for these issues. But, as an outcome of our existing parliamentary system, if you do not get the majority of seats in the parliament you may also become an ineffective element. Earlier when I was speaking, I was talking about groups within inner party structures rather than works done in the parliament. For instance, the HDP appears to be more progressive in terms of women’s visibility; however, our political party has also increased its works towards this. Yes, it is not in its ideal level, but it will definitely increase.
We know CHP’s election manifesto for last elections. When you looked at it, was there anything you thought was missing or was there any point that you criticised?
No, not really. Under current conditions, meaning under the conditions where we know why November elections are being carried out, I believe this election manifesto was a really good and a pertinent one. As a person who sees things through the lens of social and economic rights, I believe this election manifesto is a really good. However, after we, as a country, get over this period and after we relatively start breathing more easily, in an environment where we feel safer and where we feel that we are somewhere the rule of law is respected, this election manifesto will not be sufficient, indeed. Several new clauses will be added to it. But for now, I believe it is sufficient.
“Political parties’ ties with the civil society should be further developed”
Is there anything you would like to add?
I do not think there is. I just think that political parties’ ties with the civil society should be more developed. I, as a party member, make efforts for this. The civil society could redress a good balance between the people, political parties and state institutions. Therefore, I believe we should pay more attention to the civil society in order to find out more about what people think, what they expect, what kind of difficulties they go through in their everyday lives, what kind of injustices they suffer from. At this moment, I do not know how we can do it but I believe that civil society should play a key role in defining inner-party strategies through certain mechanisms. For instance, in a matter concerning the refugees, not only the party’s central executive board but also civil party organisations and their responses to this topic should be taken into consideration on a formal level and not only on an unofficial one. I believe this would be beneficial for the party, the individuals and the public.
Thank you for this interview.
Please cite this interview as follows:
Research Turkey (December, 2015), “Interview with Sedef Çakmak from the CHP: November 1st Elections from the Perspective of an LGBTI Activist” Vol. IV, Issue 12, pp.58-79, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey), London, Research Turkey (http://researchturkey.org/?p=10324)