Turkey: The Socialist Democracy Party, including origin, structure, leadership, objectives, and activities; requirements and procedures to become a member of the party, including membership cards; treatment of party members and supporters by authorities (2015-February 2017) [TUR106022.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Ottawa

1. Overview

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an assistant professor specializing in modern Turkish politics at 29 Mayis University in Istanbul indicated the following concerning the Socialist Democracy Party (Sosyalist Demokrasi Partisi, SDP):

[It] has operated in various forms in the country for the last four decades.

Its origins can be traced to the late 1970s. The social movement (that would later establish the SDP) first emerged in 1975.

It was then led by the proponents of "Socialist Liberation Journal" then published by Mahir Sayın, Mustafa Kaçaroğlu and their colleagues.

Since the late 1970s, they cooperated with various pro-Kurdish organisations aiming to establish an independent or autonomous Kurdish state in Turkey.

A social movement especially influential among the Kurdish and pro-Kurdish Turkish undergraduate youth, the SDP became a legal political party in 2001 as far as I know.

After 2001, the party leadership changed in quick succession due to intra-party disputes.

The founding chairperson of the party was Akın Birdal, a well-known politician and activist in Turkey.

The website of the party appears to be banned in Turkey at the moment, and I have not been able to obtain reliable information regarding current leadership.

The SDP's proclaimed objective has long been the political liberation of what they define as the "oppressed Kurdish and Turkish peoples of Turkey".

They believe that the establishment of a multi-cultural and federal socialist state would bring peace to the ongoing armed conflict between Turks and Kurds in Turkey.

As all the party's websites and documents are currently banned in Turkey, I have not been able to obtain any reliable and updated information on [the requirements and procedures to become a party member and membership cards]. (Assistant Professor 23 Nov. 2017)

Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the website of the Turkish Supreme Court Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor, as captured by the Internet Archive on 10 November 2015 [1], the SDP was founded on 28 August 2002, had 215 members as of 16 December 2014, and Rıdvan Turan was the leader (Turkey n.d.).

Information on requirements and procedures to become a member of the party, including membership cards could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

2. Relationship with Other Political Parties

The Assistant Professor indicated the following:

The SDP has never entered any local and parliamentary elections by itself, but it was part of several left-wing electoral coalitions in the 2000s.

Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, the movement consistently cooperated with pro-Kurdish parties such as DEHAP [Demokratik Halk Partisi, Democratic People's Party], DTP [Demokratik Toplum Partisi, Democratic Society Party], and BDP [Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi, Peace and Democracy Party]. The founding chairperson of the party, Akın Birdal, was elected a member of parliament (with the support of the DTP) in the 2007 parliamentary elections.

… The SDP has close ties and ideological affiliation with pro-Kurdish parties, while it has consistently clashed with the incumbent ruling party of Turkey (AK Parti or AKP - Justice and Development Party [Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi]).

The SDP spokespeople, though the legal status of the SDP as a political party was rather vague at the time, publically declared its support to the HDP [Halkların Demokratik Partisi, People's Democratic Party] during the 7th June 2015 and 1st November 2015 parliamentary elections. (Assistant Professor 23 Nov. 2017)

A UK Home Office Report on Turkey, from November 2006, citing the Anadolu News Agency, a Turkish news agency, TurkishPress.com, a news website on Turkey, KurdishMedia, an "independent information provider … on the Kurds and Kurdistan" (KurdishMedia n.d.), and Turkish Daily News [now Hürriyet Daily News], an English-language daily in Turkey, provides the following information:

Demokratik Halk Partisi (DEHAP) (Democratic People’s Party)

Founded 1997. DEHAP states that it is not organised on an ethnic base, and is not a solely Kurdish party; it is a party of Turkey, and wishes to embrace all the people of Turkey. In early September 2002 HADEP [Halkin Demokrasi Partisi (People's Democracy Party)], EMEP [Emek Partisi (Labour Party)] and SDP (Socialist Democracy Party) decided to unite under the roof of DEHAP at the 3 November 2002 general election. Chairman Tuncer Bakirhan, re-elected in January 2005. In August 2005 the party announced that it was dissolving to join the Democratic Society Movement (DHT). In November 2005 the party dissolved itself at their congress. (UK 21 Nov. 2006, 178, emphasis in original)

According to a BBC article about the key parties in the 2002 Turkish elections,

Dehap is a pro-Kurdish alliance between the People's Democracy Party (Hadep), the Toil [Labour] Party (Emep) and the Socialist Democracy Party (SDP).

It was formed partly to pre-empt moves by the courts to ban Hadep, which has been accused of having links to separatist Kurdish rebels of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Emep and the SDP were also too weak to run for election independently

Dehap is popular in the mainly Kurdish south-east, and urban centres with many Kurdish migrants. (BBC 4 Nov. 2002)

According to a master's thesis, submitted to Middle East Technical University, Turkey, about the roles of the municipalities run by members of pro-Kurdish political parties in socio-spatial practices in Diyarbakır, citing a Turkish article from Bianet, a Turkish press agency, "[d]uring the local elections of March 2004, an election block involv[ing] DEHAP, SHP [Sosyal Demokrat Halkçı Parti (Social Democratic People's Party)], SDP, ÖDP [Özgurlük ve Dayanışma Partisi (Liberty and Solidarity Party)], EMEP and Freedom Party was put together and the block won sixty-nine municipalities throughout Turkey" (Öztürk July 2013, 41). The same source further states that following the abolishment of DEHAP in 2005, the DTP was formed to participate in the 2007 general elections, and "received the support of the Left-wing political parties (ÖDP, EMEP and SDP) in the western metropolitan cities and hence [established] a coalition called 'Candidates for Thousand Hopes' [Bin Umut Adayları]" (Öztürk July 2013, 41). The same source also states that the DTP won ninety-nine mayoralties in March 2009 local elections, and indicates, citing Bianet, that the DTP was closed by the court in 2009, and replaced by the BDP (Öztürk July 2013, 41). According to the same source, BDP created an election platform for the 2011 elections called The Labor, Democracy and Freedom Block (Emek, Demokrasi ve Özgürlük Bloku) (Öztürk July 2013, 42).

According to a book chapter by Erdem Yörük, Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Koç University (University of Oxford n.d.), about the People's Democratic Party (HDP),

[t]he 2007 elections saw the earliest attempts to establish an electoral alliance of democratic, anti-capitalist forces in Turkey. Its electoral platform, "One Thousand Candidates," brought together the Kurdish party of the period, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), several socialist organizations and parties, feminists, and environmentalists. The alliance performed well, sending 22 deputies to the parliament. Before the 2011 general elections, the BDP established the Democracy and Freedom Bloc, an electoral alliance with 20 socialist parties and movement groups. These organizations included the Labor Party (EMEP); Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP); Socialist Democracy Party (SDP); Socialist Solidarity Platform (SODAP); Socialist Re-Construction Party (SKYP); and the Green and Left Future (YSG). In the general election, the Bloc successfully surpassed the 10% threshold and sent 36 deputies to the parliament.

In October of 2011, the Bloc expanded this cooperation to include labor and rights-based civil society organizations, such as women’s, LGBTQ, and environmental movements; trade unions; representatives of various religious minorities; and more socialist parties. Together, they established the People’s Democratic Congress ([Halkların Demokratik Kongresi] HDK) with the participation of 820 delegates from 81 provinces. The HDK is organized in a bottom-up manner, originating from local neighborhood assemblies that aim at direct action and grassroots radical democracy. In 2012, this expansive coalition, featuring 35 parties and organizations, founded a new political party, the HDP. It garnered support from both Kurds and non-Kurdish groups to a degree unprecedented for previous pro-Kurdish parties. (Yörük Jan. 2017, 3-4)

A 2013 article by Hürriyet Daily News indicates that "[t]he jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan has declared the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) - an umbrella party encompassing the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and a number of leftist parties - as the inheritor of the 'historical legacy of [his] revolutionary struggle'", and also mentions that SDP leader Rıdvan Turan is "among the HDP’s advisory board members" (Hürriyet Daily News 27 Oct. 2013).

For more information on DEHAP and treatment of its members, please see TUR42991 of September 2004. For further information on the DTP and the BDP and treatment of their members, please see TUR103419 of March 2010. For further information on the HDP and treatment of its members, please see TUR105537 of June 2016.

3. Treatment of SDP Members

A 2007 report on Turkey by the Swiss Refugee Council, a non-partisan and non-profit organization that notably conducts research on asylum seekers' countries of origin (Swiss Refugee Council n.d.), mentions, without further explanation, an example of young people arrested while putting up SDP posters and then being [translation] "mistreated" at police stations (Swiss Refugee Council Oct. 2007, 14). Both the 2007 report and a 2008 report on Turkey, also by the Swiss Refugee Council, state that the SDP was a legal opposition party that was subject to less persecution than other opposition parties (Swiss Refugee Council 9 Oct. 2008, 17; Swiss Refugee Council Oct. 2007, 14). The 2008 report notes that party officials participating in demonstrations as organisers [translation] "should expect to be dragged to court", and that in April 2008, five members of the SDP were arrested in Trabzon due to suspicions of contact with the PKK (Swiss Refugee Council 9 Oct. 2008, 17).

Sources indicate that on 11 June 2013, [during the Gezi Park protests [2] (Amnesty International 2 Oct. 2013, 43; FIDH 12 July 2014, 14)] authorities targeted the SDP, arresting approximately seventy people (Amnesty International 2 Oct. 2013, 43; FIDH 12 July 2014, 14; ANF 11 June 2013) at the SDP headquarters (Amnesty International 2 Oct. 2013, 43; ANF 11 June 2013). A 2014 report by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) concerning the Gezi Park protests indicates that on 11 June 2013, "while a particularly violent police operation designed to evacuate Taksim Square was taking place, 74 people were arrested during a raid against the Social Democracy Party (SDP)" (FIDH May 2014, 14). An Amnesty International report on the Gezi Park protests states that:

Another wave of arrests targeted members and supporters of the Socialist Democracy Party (SDP). Lawyers told Amnesty International that 72 people were detained following arrests that were made in the party building and two nearby locations on 11 June. Of those individuals, four have been remanded in pre-trial detention. According to the lawyers, persons questioned were accused of offences including: attempting to change the constitutional order by force (Article 309 of the Penal Code), Attempting to overthrow the government by force (Article 312). Of the four people who have been remanded in pre-trial detention one of them has been charged under Article 314 of the Penal Code (membership of an [illegal] organization). The three others have been charged with committing a crime in the name of an [illegal] organization (Article 220/6 of the Penal Code). The authorities maintain that one of the detained persons was photographed on Taksim Square throwing petrol bombs at police. (Amnesty International 2 Oct. 2013, 43, square brackets found in original)

Firat News Agency (Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firatê, ANF) [3] reports on 16 October 2014 that "on the pretext that they joined a solidarity rally with Kobanê [a "Syrian Kurdish city" (Carnegie Europe 10 Oct. 2014)]", anti-terror police arrested six SDP members in Antalya, namely "SDP Party Assembly members Hasan Özseçen and Zafer Aldemir, members of the board of SDP Antalya branch Murat Pircan Yaratan, Hüseyin Yıldırım, Ali Çalışkan and Sadi Murat Türkmenoğlu" (ANF 16 Oct. 2014). ANF reports that SDP Executive Committee member Leyla Can was arrested outside a courthouse on 17 October (ANF 17 Oct. 2014). ANF also reports, on 18 October 2014, that SDP's Antalya Provincial Executive, Ali Çalışkan, was arrested for allegedly "'damaging public property'" (ANF 18 Oct. 2014). In a 2015 article, ANF reports that a member of the SDP was detained in house raids in Antalya; the member has "been remanded in custody and sent to prison on charges of 'membership to a terrorist organization,'" (ANF 29 July 2015). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

In correspondence with the Research Directorate, the Assistant Professor indicated the following:

In 2010, the Turkish state security forces launched an operation on the party's headquarters and buildings, seizing all its documents and arresting many members of the party.

[The SDP] party was banned in 2010 on charges of sponsoring Kurdish terrorism (in particular, on charges of supporting the armed Kurdish organisation PKK - Kurdistan Workers' Party - which is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkish state authorities). Many former members and sympathisers of the SDP have been arrested on many occasions, such as the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul and Ankara, as well as in other street protests against the Turkish government. I believe that prosecutions still continue.

As far as I know, the party has been dissolved and is currently a banned entity.

[T]he [SDP] believes in socialist revolutionary struggle. This struggle involves the defence of the rights of what they consider "the oppressed peoples of Turkey".

[D]uring the Gezi Park protests in 2013, the party leadership and members often condemned what they term the "repression of Kurds by the Turkish state authorities".

They believe that the Turkish state represses the self-determination rights of Kurds and other minorities. So they consider the struggle to defend their rights as a struggle for basic human rights. (Assistant Professor 23 Nov. 2017)

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


[1] The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library of Internet sites (Internet Archive n.d.)

[2] According to the BBC, the Gezi Park protests were anti-government demonstrations that spread nationwide and led to a "police crackdown" in 2013 (BBC 16 June 2013).

[3] According to a 2015 report by Freedom House, the Turkish courts have indefinitely blocked access in Turkey to ANF, an "alternative news sourc[e] that report[s] news on southeastern Turkey and Kurdish issues" (Freedom House 28 Oct. 2015, 8). According to its website, ANF is a Kurdish focused news source operating from the Netherlands (ANF n.d.).


Amnesty International. 2 October 2013. Gezi Park Protests: Brutal Denial of the Right to Peaceful Assembly in Turkey. (EUR 44/022/2013) [Accessed 22 Nov. 2017]

Firat News Agency (ANF). 29 July 2015. "More People Arrested in Ongoing Police Operations." [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017]

Firat News Agency (ANF). 18 October 2014. "36 Arrested in 4 Cities." [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017]

Firat News Agency (ANF). 17 October 2014. "Eleven People Detained in 4 Places." [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017]

Firat News Agency (ANF). 16 October 2014. "6 People Taken Into Custody in Antalya." [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017]

Firat News Agency (ANF). 11 June 2013. "Over a Hundred People Detained in Istanbul." [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017]

Firat News Agency (ANF). N.d. "Contact." [Accessed 24 Nov. 2017]

Assistant Professor, 29 Mayis University. 23 November 2017. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 16 June 2013. "Turkey Protests: Istanbul Erupts as Gezi Park Cleared." [Accessed 22 Nov. 2017]

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). 4 November 2002. "Turkish Elections: Key Parties." [Accessed 20 Nov. 2017]

Carnegie Europe. 10 October 2014. Marc Pierini. "If Islamic State Militants Were to Gain Control of Syrian Kurdish Areas, It Would Trigger a Political Earthquake Among the Kurdish Communities of Turkey and Western Europe." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2017]

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). May 2014. Turkey: Gezi, One Year On. [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). 12 July 2013. Turkey: Growing and Worrying Repression of Protesters and Civil Society. [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017]

Freedom House. 28 October 2015. "Turkey." Freedom on the Net 2015. [Accessed 24 Nov. 2017]

Hürriyet Daily News. 27 October 2013. "PKK Leader Öcalan Hands Over Legacy to Umbrella Party of Leftist-Kurdish Alliance." [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017]

Internet Archive. N.d. "About the Internet Archive." [Accessed 28 Nov. 2017]

KurdishMedia. N.d. "About Kurdishmedia.com." [Accessed 27 Nov. 2017]

Öztürk, Duygu Canan. July 2013. Socio-spatial Practices of the Pro-Kurdish Municipalities: The Case of Diyarbakir. Master's Thesis. Middle East Technical University, Turkey. [Accessed 15 Nov. 2017]

Swiss Refugee Council. 9 October 2008. Helmut Oberdiek. Turquie - Mise à jour : développements actuels. [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017]

Swiss Refugee Council. October 2007. Helmut Oberdiek. Turquie : mise à jour - octobre 2007. [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017]

Swiss Refugee Council. N.d. "About us" [Accessed 22 Nov. 2017]

Turkey. N.d [Captured by the Internet Archive on 10 Nov. 2015]. Supreme Court, Chief Public Prosecutor Office. "Sosyalist Demokrasi Partisi." [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017]

United Kingdom (UK). 21 November 2006. Home Office. Country of Origin Information Report - Turkey. [Accessed 16 Nov. 2017]

University of Oxford. N.d. "Erdem Yoruk, Associate Member." [Accessed 22 Nov. 2017]

Yörük, Erdem. January 2017. "The Radical Democracy of the People's Democratic Party: Transforming the Turkish State." From the Streets to the State: Changing the World By Taking Power. Edited by Paul Gray. SUNY press [Accessed 15 Nov. 2017]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Nine professors specializing in Turkish politics; People's Democratic Party, Washington Office; Research Turkey; Turkey – Embassy in Ottawa.

Internet sites, including: Agence France-Presse; Al Jazeera; Austria – Austrian Centre for Country of Origin and Asylum Research and Documentation; Bianet; Daily Sabah; ecoi.net; European Union – European Asylum Support Office; Factiva; Germany – Office for Migration and Refugees; Global Security; Human Rights Watch; Hurriyet; Milliyet; Political Handbook of the World; UN – UNHCR, Refworld; US – Department of State.

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