On May 29th, I had the opportunity to ask few questions to the Turkish Green Party co-spokespersons Koray D. Urbarlı and Emine Ozkan. This interview is about the Turkish Greens’ principles, aspirations, and problems they face in Turkey as a Green Party.
For the Turkish version of the interview, click here.
Q: Even though the Turkish Green Party was established in 2020, Turkey has a history of green movements. After several green parties being launched and closed, what was your motivation to create the Turkish Green Party in 2020?
Koray D. Urbarli: “As you’ve mentioned, Turkey has a history of green movements; it first came to be in the 80s and the first Green Party was established in 1988. The Green Party retained its presence until 1994 and was closed by the Constitutional Court due to various economic reasons. Then, the green political movement experienced a pause in the period between 1994 and 2000. In the early 2000s, the idea of representing green perspectives on political terrain was revived and the second Green Party was established in 2008 which merged with the Equality and Democracy Party (EDP) in 2012 and transformed into another political entity.
Some former members of the party, with other green activists, started to coordinate in 2016 around green political platforms such as Greens Council, and subsequently evolved into the third and the current Turkish Green Party. This organization has both commonalities and differences from the previous ones. There are members from the previous parties, yet it has mostly rebranded itself with a new set of founders.
There are also different motivations behind each party. The first Green Party was born out of the emerging environmental movements, the second one correlated with Turkey’s relationship with the European Union, and the one we established, the third party, centralizes the urgency of the climate crisis and the necessity to take action. We’ve launched our manifesto with the slogan ‘Our House Is on Fire! We shall put it out‘ which is a reference to the global climate crisis, but also a stance against the economic and social crises in Turkey. We have a definition of ‘three big global crises‘ which are ecological, economic, and social crises. Our fundamental aspiration is to highlight that each of these crises is interrelated and can’t be deferred; our motivation comes from our belief that a green perspective and green thinking are the way to cope with those crises.”
Q: As a party embracing a political approach with ‘principles rather than identities’, you’ve laid out 10 founding principles for the Greens. Can you elaborate on these principles and comment on the applicability of these principles in Turkey?
Emine Ozkan: “We prioritize values and aim to start a discourse around values. For that reason, these green principles act as a compass to be involved in the politics in Turkey. Before defining principles, it is important to unpack the question, ‘How does the Turkish Green Party function as a political movement?‘ Our functioning mechanism isn’t solely driven by economic aspects; we believe that economic, social, and environmental justice should have equal importance; therefore, green principles are a guide for us to maintain justice in all three of these areas.
I should mention that these principles weren’t determined in a vacuum; previous Turkish Green parties and other Green parties were influential in the making of these principles. Even though Green parties all around the world have different representations and manifestations of their ideologies, there are a lot of shared principles among these parties. These differences often originate from political conjectures and corporate necessities specific to each country and period, hence, when we inherited these 10 principles from previous Green Parties, we’ve shaped them according to the context of our space and time. This was a product of a democratic process—meaning that all the founders of the party were involved in the discussion and production of the green principles.
For example, ‘combatting the climate crisis‘ is a principle added in 2020 whereas our ‘non-violence‘ principle was revisited and rebranded into ‘nonviolence and peace‘. The reason we felt the necessity to add the word ‘peace’ can be attributed to its applicability to our country. Our country has been polarized, and has been evolving into a more authoritative regime; one of the current examples is how President Erdogan threatened the Founder of the Good Party, Meral Akşener, and tried to legitimize his violent discourse last week in the parliament. Hereby, we have shaped our ‘non-violence‘ principle to ‘peace and non-violence’ to urge the necessity for a peaceful approach in both politics and society.
Our ecocentric approach has the risk of labeling us as solely a ‘thematic’ party who only exercises politics to protect the environment. Still, if we return to our principles such as ‘pluralism, sharing equitably, local and direct democracy, liberation, feminism, and gender equality‘, it shows that our principles have a rich content revolving around social justice and human rights. One can argue that green principles transcend the idea of being thematic and propose radical ideas towards social justice, the environment, and human rights.
Lastly, one of our green principles that I want to mention is ‘harmony with nature‘ which is usually misinterpreted in our country. We believe that it is essential to establish harmony with nature while ensuring environmental, social, and economic justice, however, this ideology is boiled down to individuality nowadays. We can’t see this principle as a daily practice for individuals; this principle should be ensured on a collective level by politicians and political parties. This is also true for combating the climate crisis; we see singular actions and retreat in Turkey’s agenda on climate crisis, like backing away from the Istanbul Convention and refusing to sign the Paris Agreement which proves how difficulty but necessary is to implement this principle.”
Q : You’ve mentioned that the Turkish Green Party believes social, environmental, and economic justice are deeply intertwined. According to this ideology, can you mention the Green Party’s aspirations for the future?
Koray D. Urbarli: “I can start off by commenting on how seeing the Greens as a thematic party is the easiest way to alienate us from the political platform. It is easy to categorize us that way, yet the inaccurate part stems from the truth that environmental problems are not disjoint from economic and social ones. We believe that social, environmental, and economic justice are deeply intertwined and this ideology is becoming more apparent.
For example, there is a significant mucilage problem in the Marmara sea which should be more emphasized in our politics. The Marmara Sea is dying, or in agony according to some, and if we unpack this problem, we can derive lots of lessons. This is as significant as an environmental problem as it is an economic problem; a sea that is located at the center of the industry should be clean without external purification mechanisms. In addition, this is a social problem because it poses threats to tourism and agriculture. Just as we look at the climate crisis from various perspectives, from its economic underpinnings to social issues like climate immigration, we can find these three components in every issue regarding the environment.”
On June 1st, The Greens have called on the government to take action for the ecological crisis happening in the Marmara Sea, commenting “The Marmara sea is turning into a cesspool. #MarmaraSeaIsDying and you can’t manage an ecological crisis.“
Koray D. Urbarli: “Another topic I want to mention is fossil fuel dependency. We need to take action to stop fossil fuel consumption and implement renewable energy methods. When we highlight this problem in our discourse, people often deviate from the main premise and focus on issues it can create such as unemployment because there are examples of dead economies and social lives after stopping the mining industries in England, France, and Germany.
This indicates that we can’t limit our solutions to solve issues related to one of the three components, proving that we are not the thematic party in comparison with other profit-driven parties who should be referred to as thematic. At this point, I believe our approach should be implemented and evaluated. Greta Thunberg called the global leaders in the World Economic Forum in Davos and said, ‘I want you to panic!’ because we are at a period where we can either solve all ‘three big global crises‘ or none of them.”
Q : In one of your statements, you’ve mentioned that the Ministry of Internal Affairs haven’t provided the documents for your party to gain legal entity.This brings me to my last question; when you consider the political atmosphere in Turkey and the recent issue that you’ve been facing, what do you consider as the biggest challenge of the Turkish Green Party?
Emine Ozkan: “Well, first of all, this problem is different from the ones we’ve answered for the previous question since it is a bureaucratic issue. I believe this issue interferes with the way we function as a political party and it is an obstacle to our plans for the future. Honestly, we never thought that this would be a problem when we submitted our legal documents to launch a political party on September 21st, 2020, since establishing a political party is a constitutional right and is not subject to permission in Turkey. Still, we’ve been subjected to control and are still waiting to gain a legal entity after eight months, and this bureaucratic issue restrains our actions as a political party, for example, accepting members and collecting membership fees and contributions.
We know that we’ve established our party because the Ministry of Internal Affairs doesn’t have the legal authority to deny permission. For this reason, we have established all the departments (founders, spokespersons, etc.) as a functioning political party since September 21st and we are currently pursuing legal action against this problem.
One risk that should be mentioned is about participating in upcoming elections and starting a dialogue around green politics. Experiencing the electoral period as a participant is important for us and this bureaucratic issue forces us to evaluate our options and think strategically about how to behave during the electoral period. Even though this is an obstacle for us to coordinate as a political party, lots of people are reaching out to be included as volunteers, supporters, and members. That being said, we don’t believe our legitimacy can be taken away by a room in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, hence, we don’t see this problem as an obstacle we can’t overcome.”
Check out the Turkish Greens website to learn more about actions being taken against the problem of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and click on these links to follow Turkish Greens through Twitter and Facebook.