DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY - Turkey’s ruling AKP, with a message of services, jobs, and construction, is seeking to defeat the country’s main pro-Kurdish HDP in Sunday’s local elections. Diyarbakir, the largest city in the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, is the center of the battle for power.
Baglar is Diyarbakir’s largest district and a long time stronghold of the pro-Kurdish movement. Huseyin Beyoglu, in his bid to win the mayorship, is seeking a breakthrough for the AKP.
"People of Baglar want services, want peace, want jobs,” said Beyoglu, “and they believe that peace, the services and the jobs will only come from the hands of the AKP Party municipal officials.”
“People of Baglar are showing a red card to HDP, which for the last 20 years brought nothing but discontent to their district,” he added.
Following the collapse of a peace process between Kurdish separatist group the PKK and Ankara, fighting erupted in Diyarbakir, like in many towns and cities across the Kurdish region.
In unprecedented fighting in the decades-long conflict, parts of Diyarbakir were razed to the ground as security forces ousted PKK fighters who had taken over parts of the city. Tens of thousands of people remain homeless.
Throughout the decades the PKK had avoided fighting in towns and cities. The change in tactics even drew criticism from its usually loyal supporters along with the broader Kurdish movement.
The AKP is seeking to exploit any rift and is pouring millions of dollars into rebuilding destroyed parts of the city.
Critics point out; it remains unclear who will be able to afford the new housing, with the areas destroyed in fighting among the city’s poorest.
Senior officials from Ankara regularly visit the construction sites, to assess progress before Sunday’s crucial local elections. Huge posters adorn rebuilt walls, highlighting the destruction by the fighting and the vision of a modernized restored city.
The AKP in Diyarbakir believes they have a winning message of development and progress over strife.
AKP mayoral candidate Beyoglu has for weeks been delivering his message to local people across the HDP’s stronghold. “For 65 days we are in the field,” said Beyoglu. ”We are by the people. We visited 16,000 tradespeople, 450 coffee shops and saw that people now say, ‘enough’ to HDP.”
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In his latest campaign drive, Beyoglu targets local traders. Before starting, he stops off at a newly constructed police checkpoint, protected by massive blast walls and an armored car.
The checkpoints have been set up all across strongholds of the pro-Kurdish movement in Diyarbakir.
An armored car slowly drives up the street shadowing Beyoglu and his campaign activists as they drop into shops and small businesses.
Some businessmen offer support, “As tradespeople, we were very unhappy,” said this cleaning materials wholesaler, who wanted to remain anonymous. “We couldn’t open our shops, always fighting, always chaos. Thank God these people lifted that wreckage; that’s why our choice is AKP Party.”
Listening is Abdurrahman Dogan, an AKP campaigner who is also running for the local parliament.
"They (people) don’t want to go back to the old days (of fighting). Two years ago store shutters were almost permanently down in Baglar;" said Dogan. "There was no rest; there were gas bombs, fights, and noise. There was no peace. Now, they want peace, services, and job."
"We will rebuild Baglar with the help of our government, build new housing complexes," he added. "There are many streets here where no ambulance or fire engines can enter. They will all be knocked down and a brand new Baglar will be rebuilt."
Abdurrahman claims with the PKK defeated in Diyarbakir there are no longer any "no-go" areas for his party and freely campaigns across the city.
Despite such optimism, the AKP is facing a difficult struggle in Baglar. In the last local election, the AKP lost by 58 percent to 32 percent.
Many of the district's 400,000 people were forced to leave their villages in the 1990s by security forces in its war against Kurdish separatists the PKK.
The scorched earth policy displaced more than a million people. There appears a strong sense of injustice among some, that its previously elected mayor is now languishing in jail, and replaced by a state appointee.
In a coffee shop, an old man who did not want to be identified predicted offers of prosperity would not be enough. “What I have been observing is that HDP will come out of the polls on top in Diyarbakir just like the old elections,” he said. “I believe they will get back the votes that we're taken from them, deserve by increasing their votes.”
However, Beyoglu insists people are increasingly ready to listen, “People of Baglar broke away and are estranged from the HDP in a strict sense. People know that the services will come from the AKP party and AKP party mayors.”