THINKING about your holidays? Turkey seems nice.

You’ll have seen the adverts on the telly. Happy healthy young people enjoying themselves on the Aegean coast. Looking like a cross between the casts of The Apprentice and Love Island, they soak up the sun, demonstrate prowess at water sports, dine in Michelin restaurants and dance the night away. Capricious and carefree, everything is wonderful. Yes, Turkey seems nice.

If you live there, not so much.

Even more so if you are one of the minority Kurdish population.

Two weeks ago, there were municipal elections all over Turkey.

READ MORE: The black bisexual Scottish comedian making waves on the circuit 

Pro-Kurdish parties were expected to do well, not only in Eastern areas where they are the majority population but in major cities where they represent the principal opposition to President Erdoğan’s ruling AKP party.

One such area is the historic city of Van in Eastern Turkey – a place about the same size as Edinburgh. Abdullah Zeydan was the candidate for mayor for the Kurdish left-wing DEM party. He is no stranger to political repression, having previously spent six years in prison for criticising the Erdoğan government – an offence under the Turkish penal code.

Released in 2022, he had his candidacy approved by the Supreme Election Council. On Sunday, March 31, he got 55% of the votes cast in Van’s mayoral election.

No sooner were the votes counted than the Ministry of Justice demanded the local court disbar Zeydan and replace him with Erdoğan’s (below) candidate who had received just 27% of the vote. It’s hard to imagine any government so blatantly overturning an election result in this way.

The National: Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The decision sparked mass protests not just in Van but all over Turkey and drew international condemnation. On this occasion, there was a happy ending. Three days later on April 3, the Supreme Election Council overturned the local court and re-instated the elected mayor. This most egregious attempt to subvert a local election has been thwarted, but this is but one example amongst many in a systematic campaign by the Turkish government to silence its opposition.

The DEM party had been expected to do well and indeed they did. But they still had to overcome serial unlawful attempts to undermine the elections.

Earlier in the year, DEM released a summary of illegal voter registration in 21 constituencies where their support was strong. These are blatant attempts at major fraud to tip the balance against them.

An example is in Siirt city centre which DEM’s predecessor the HDP won narrowly in 2019 against Erdoğan’s AKP. Since last May’s general election, registered voters at one address increased from 10 to more than 2000 and at another building – owned by the police – from seven to 1996. At a third address which hadn’t previously existed, 2555 men who had never voted before in Siirt now appeared on the register.

READ MORE: SNP back signing TPNW nuclear ban treaty post-independence

These are the ones that were spotted. It seems reasonable to think that with ballot stuffing on this scale, some of it was bound to be undetected.

But fraudulent voter registration is very much the soft end of a campaign of political repression against Kurdish representation which has being going on for decades.

The HDP, now DEM, can testify to being on the receiving end of political violence for a very long time. Their leaders, including MPs, have been jailed, their offices ransacked by mobs and their organisation demonised as terrorists by a media which is pretty much in the pocket of the president.

Modern Turkey has always had a built-in tension with that part of Kurdistan which it incorporated early in the last century, but it has been turbocharged since the military coup of 1980.

The National:

Until 1991, the very existence of Kurds was denied, the Turkish government referring to them as “mountain Turks”. The Kurdish language was banned, and those who spoke or sung in it were imprisoned. Still today, it is illegal for schools to teach in the Kurdish language – even in places where that is the language spoken by most of their pupils.

Parties which tried to represent a Kurdish interest were banned in the 1990s and play a cat-and-mouse game with the central state even today.

This official denial of all things Kurdish led to resistance movements like the PKK and a guerrilla war fought with the government. Turkey proscribed the PKK as a terrorist organisation and set about enlisting the support of the US, EU and others to do the same.

Keen to keep Turkey as a Nato ally, most of them obliged, although international courts have ruled that this did not follow international standards of due process.

Since Erdoğan’s election as president in 2014, he has doubled down on the demonisation of Kurdish people. Following the failed 2016 coup, Kurdish parties who had opposed the coup were nonetheless blamed for it and their repression intensified. Erdoğan unashamedly nurtured and galvanised a right-wing Turkish nationalism in which minorities like Kurdish people were the enemy. Speaking Kurdish, or engaging in Kurdish cultural activities was likened to terrorist activity. And it worked.

Last year, despite widespread and coordinated centre-left opposition in the urban areas, Erdoğan achieved a majority in the general election and was returned for another term.

Article 299 of the Turkish penal code makes it an offence to insult the president. It is punishable by four years in prison. And what constitutes an insult appears to be in the ear of the person receiving it. Since Erdoğan became president, the number of prosecutions under this provision have risen exponentially.

READ MORE: On nuclear weapons, independent Scotland will be as reasonable as UK

The president, it seems, has something of a thin skin. This is an exercise in power, not vanity; the articles are used to suppress and outlaw political criticism and dissenting views.

It’s not just Kurdish people who are on the receiving end of political repression in contemporary Turkey. Many human rights activists have fallen foul of the state authorities too. The most prominent in recent years being Osman Kavala, sentenced to life in 2022 on flimsy evidence which has been condemned by the Council of Europe and many Western governments (though not the UK).

It is, however, the Kurdish question which is the running sore that divides Turkey against itself, discriminating against its minority population, and preventing it from becoming a modern democratic country at ease with itself.

From demonising their culture to razing their villages to the ground, the attacks by the Turkish state have driven many Kurds to leave. Many are here.

The next time you go to a “Turkish” restaurant, you will most likely be served by Kurdish people. There is a “Scottish Solidarity with Kurdistan” group on Facebook that keeps people up to date and coordinate support.

Kurdish people need, and deserve, our solidarity. We should begin by insisting that the Erdoğan government ends it war on its own people and restarts the abandoned peace process with the PKK. Central to this will be the release of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan.

The man who founded the PKK long ago turned away from the armed struggle and for decades he has been advocating peaceful transition and co-existence.

He has led the Kurds away from the notion of an independent state and towards the idea of respect and autonomy with the existing states of the near East. His writings on bottom-up community cooperation have inspired social movements throughout Kurdistan.

And he has done this for the last 25 years from a prison cell. Since being abducted by Turkish intelligence in 1999, he has spent his time incarcerated in a prison on Imrali island which the government built just for him. Ocalan is the key – not only to justice for the Kurds, but to a brighter future for all of Turkey.

Our government should join the calls for his release and stop turning a blind eye to the serial human rights abuses in Erdoğan’s Turkey.