Turkey: Erdogan’s Alliance Brings Terror-Linked Islamist Party into Parliament

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters at the AK Party headquarters after polls closed in Turkey's presidental and parliamentary elections in Ankara, Turkey May 15, 2023. Turkey is braced for its first election runoff after a night of high drama showed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan edging ahead of his secular …
ADEM ALTAN/AFP via Getty Images

The newly elected Turkish Parliament will feature 16 different political parties, reports citing Turkey’s top electoral authority explained on Thursday, including a radical Islamist party accused of having ties to the Turkish terror organization Hizballah.

The Free Cause Party, known more commonly by the acronym HÜDA-PAR, is a small ethnic Kurdish party that supports the implementation of a sharia state in secular Turkey and whose leader, Zekeriya Yapıcıoğlu, has defended Hizballah as “not a terrorist organization.” Turkish Hizballah is a separate organization from the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah, but has repeatedly been identified as having friendly ties to Iran’s Islamist regime and is believed to be responsible for a wave of kidnappings, bombings, and guerrilla attacks in the 1990s and early 2000s. While attracting Kurdish Sunni Islamists, Turkish Hizballah is adamantly opposed to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a communist terrorist group also active in the region.

Yapıcıoğlu and three other members of Hüda Par will join the Turkish Parliament as a result of joining a coalition led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Islamist ruling party of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the “People’s Alliance.” The AKP-led alliance secured 323 of the parliament’s 600 seats in last week’s national elections.

Following the announcement of Hüda Par’s alliance with the AKP in March, those affected by Hizballah terrorism condemned the move as an insult to those killed.

“As a family, we know … that Hüda Par is a massacre organization. … Watching the formation of this alliance with them makes our blood boil. We don’t find it right,” Mehmet Genç, the brother of slain feminist author Konca Kuriş, said at the time in response to the party joining the AKP. Hizballah killed Kuriş in 1999.

The union is a natural extension of an alliance that had already been building between Erdoğan and the Islamist party, according to the outlet Turkish Minute.

“HÜDA-PAR endorsed the president in an April 16, 2017 referendum that gave Erdoğan broad powers,” the dissident news site noted. “All convicted and charged Kurdish Hizbullah members have been released from prison in recent years thanks to Erdoğan’s reshuffling of the judiciary through which Islamists were put in key positions.”

The May 14 election – the main event of which was the presidential race between Erdoğan and his top rival, secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – were a heated competition for power between the president’s People’s Alliance and the CHP coalition. The CHP secured 130 seats in the parliament, boosted by dozens of seats in the hands of other members of its National Alliance – the conservative nationalist Good (Iyi) Party and several other small parties, such as the Democratic and Felicity Parties.

Kılıçdaroğlu lost narrowly to Erdoğan, but deprived the president of obtaining over 50 percent of the vote, meaning Turkey will host its first-ever runoff election between the top two candidates to decide an ultimate winner on May 28. Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) reported that Erdoğan received just above 49 percent of the vote, while Kılıçdaroğlu received about 45 percent. The results were a near-exact inverse of what national polls were showing the likely vote breakdown to be; Erdoğan regularly polled at between four to six points below Kılıçdaroğlu. The CHP has challenged the results of the election, presenting evidence of fraud or irregularities in thousands of ballots.

The closeness of the race, the strongest challenge to Erdoğan in his 20 years in power, elevated the importance of Turkey’s ethnic Kurdish vote to both sides. Nationalist parties tend to eschew Kurdish causes, while Kurdish voters largely gravitate towards parties friendly to them or led by Kurdish. The most popular Kurd-friendly party in Turkey is the anti-Erdoğan People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The HDP did not formally join Kılıçdaroğlu’s coalition – which would have likely alienated supporters of parties like the Iyi Party – but did not field its own presidential candidate, leaving Kurds free to vote for the CHP leader.

The HDP’s presidential candidate in the 2018 race, Selahattin Demirtaş, has been in prison since 2016 on unsubstantiated charges of supporting terrorism and ran his last campaign from prison. Demirtaş endorsed Kılıçdaroğlu this year. Erdoğan spent much of his campaign efforts on convincing nationalist Turks that a hypothetical Kılıçdaroğlu administration would free Demirtaş and thus support terrorism.

“They would take Selo [Demirtaş] out of prison. What did this Selo do? They killed our 51 Kurdish brothers in Diyarbakır,” Erdoğan claimed without evidence during a campaign stop this month.

The president made combatting alleged Kurdish terrorism a central theme of his campaign while simultaneously allying with HÜDA-PAR, a move outside observers deemed “desperate” and risky given the nationalist elements within Erdoğan’s own coalition, most prominently the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The AKP announced its alliance with Hüda Par in March and, to the surprise of many, the MHP supported the decision by denying that HÜDA-PAR had any ties to terrorism.

“It is a known fact that the Free Cause Party [HÜDA-PAR], which decided to support our president and the People’s Alliance, was founded on Dec. 19, 2012. There has not been any persuasive and substantiated information so far for a clear relationship between the Hizballah terrorist organization and the Free Cause Party,” CHP leader Devlet Bahçeli claimed.

Bahçeli then accused Kılıçdaroğlu’s National Alliance of banding alongside “terrorist organizations,” without naming any. Bahçeli was presumably referring to the HDP, which is not a member of the National Alliance.

HÜDA-PAR’s presence in Parliament will likely become a critical campaign issue leading up to the presidential runoff election on May 28. On Thursday, Kılıçdaroğlu accused Erdoğan of making “bargains” with terrorists during a press conference in Ankara.

“Erdoğan, aren’t you the one who sat at the table with terrorist organizations many times and made bargains behind the door? What are you doing to slander us?” the opposition candidate asked. “Here I am open and declaring it again. I declare to all my citizens. I have never sat down with terrorist organizations, and I never will.”

Kılıçdaroğlu also bizarrely accused Erdoğan of “nurturing” Hizmet, the Islamic movement led by Philadelphia cleric Fethullah Gülen that Erdoğan claims is a CIA-linked terrorist organization (the Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization, or FETO). Erdoğan’s regime has arbitrarily arrested tens of thousands of suspected political dissidents for allegedly being allied to Hizmet.

The secularist newspaper Cumhuriyet quoted Kılıçdaroğlu as specifically condemning Erdoğan’s alliance with HÜDA-PAR in a social media video on Thursday.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.


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