‘Turkey’s Most Important Woman’ By Alev Scott

Turkey is having its general elections on November 1, 2015. Turkey was the model of stability and democracy among Muslim nations but recently it is going through serious political upheavals. Among the chaos a new woman leader, Figen Yuksekdağ , is emerging. Upcoming election is critical how it moves forward. ( F. Sheikh).

ISTANBUL — Figen Yuksekdağ would be a superstar in a country less suffocated by macho politics.

As co-chair of the party which unexpectedly robbed the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of its ruling majority in June, Yuksekdağ  is one of the most important politicians in Turkey today. She is also the embodiment of the leftist Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) commitment to gender equality, in a country that ranks 120 of 136 on the Global Gender Gap Index. All positions in the HDP are split between a woman and a man as a matter of policy, but it would be ludicrous to view Yuksekdağ as “the token woman.”

Since the age of 17, when she was arrested for the first time in a street protest in southeast Turkey, she earned her political stripes with decades of activism before becoming co-chair of the party at its formation three years ago. She is also the kind of politician who dismisses Tansu Çiller, Turkey’s first — and only — female prime minister, as “a cheap copy of Margaret Thatcher.” It is safe to say Yuksekdağ is not a cheap copy of anyone.

As Turkey steels itself for the snap election called by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for November 1, Yuksekdağ, 44, is at the forefront of the HDP’s battle to retain its presence in Parliament and again deny the AKP its ruling majority. Yet she receives virtually no exposure in Turkish media — even less than her male counterpart, Selahattin Demirtaş — due to major TV stations boycotting HDP members, who have been accused of spreading “terrorist propaganda” by government officials and Erdoğan himself. The ostensible reason lies in the party’s high-profile backing of Kurdish rights and involvement in the now-stalled Kurdish peace process, which was set to end 40 years of conflict between the PKK, a Kurdish militant group, and the Turkish government. The cynical reason is a PR war of attrition against the HDP.

The party, which advocates decentralization of power and minority rights, stormed into Parliament for the first time in June with 13 percent of the vote, clearing Turkey’s uniquely high 10 percent electoral threshold for representation. It was, according to Yuksekdağ, “the most exciting, most hopeful moment in recent political history, perhaps the most euphoric of my life.”

Since then, the country has witnessed what she bluntly calls a “war”: a resurgence of the conflict between Turkish troops and the PKK in the southeast, the most deadly terrorist attack in Turkish history, and physical attacks on HDP members and regional headquarters. If the party gets less than 10 percent of the vote on November 1, the AKP will almost certainly win back its ruling majority — “the worst possible” outcome, according to Yuksekdağ.