Just after 10 a.m. on the morning of Turkey’s constitutional referendum, Suat Oztekin arrived with three colleagues to monitor the vote in a remote Kurdish village.
He left, he says, after being refused entry by the village headman, threatened at gunpoint with arrest and punched in the face by a soldier.
Oztekin’s account, disputed by a group of locals, may come as little surprise to opponents of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his effort to change Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential republic, with few checks or balances on his power. Yet it also shows that the story of the referendum — particularly in war-raked eastern Turkey where Erdogan benefited from a notable swing in his favor from mostly Kurdish voters — isn’t straightforward.
The narrowness of the 51 percent victory and irregularities surrounding it led to a damning preliminary report from international monitors and a rare challenge to the result.
In the Kurdish east, though, there’s another set of concerns: physical and economic security and even the nature of democracy in patriarchal villages. That makes it hard to discern how much of the winning margin was secured by what opponents are calling manipulation and what was down to calculated self-interest.
Oztekin and other Kurdish leaders from the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, in the eastern district of Kozluk said their observers were blocked from monitoring 17 of the region’s approximately 120 polling stations. In the village of Oyuktas and elsewhere, he said, officials from the governing Justice and Development Party and security forces brought intense pressure on voters to vote “yes.”
Some stations reported a remarkable 100 percent vote for the pro-Erdogan “yes” side, or as few as one or two “no” ballots to 200 or 300 in favor. Others showed more votes cast