1994-2016. Turkey Detains Kurdish Politicians, Again

Photo: EPA

Turkish authorities have detained 12 deputies of pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP), including co-chairs, in simultaneous police operations across the nation, sinking whatever left of a prospect for a political solution to the country’s endemic Kurdish conflict and raising the specter of a cycle of violence. 

Turkish police stormed headquarters of the HDP in Ankara and detained Deputy Chairman Idris Baluken at the office, while HDP officials and party personnel reacted to the police. Turkish Interior Ministry said detention orders were issued for 13 HDP deputies, but only 12 of them were detained by police while two were abroad. On Friday morning, HDP lawmaker Ziya Pir was released pending trial. 

Video footage showed the police raiding houses of HDP Co-Chairs Figen Yuksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas in Diyarbakir. “The HDP calls on the international community to react against Erdogan Regime’s coup,” the party said on its official Twitter account in its first reaction to the government move. 

The crackdown followed a tense week in Diyarbakir where pro-Kurdish media outlets were shut down, co-mayors of city, Gulten Kisanak and Firat Anli, were arrested. 

While lawmakers previously were immune to the prosecution, a government-sponsored amendment to the Turkish constitution lifted immunities for HDP deputies who face charges of abetting and defending terrorism. The Turkish government accuses pro-Kurdish HDP, the country’s third largest party in Parliament with 59 seats, of being the political wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Kurdish militant group fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast. 

HDP denies to any link to the insurgent group, which is seen as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and EU, but acknowledges that it shares common constituency. HDP tasked itself with finding a political and peaceful solution to the conflict that raged on for decades.

HDP Adana lawmaker Meral Danis described the arrests as a declaration of war on democracy. “This is a midnight coup d’etat, the November 4 coup. By constitutional law, MPs cannot be detained,” she tweeted. 

“Very bad news from Turkey. Again. Now HDP members of parliament are being detained.” Kati Piri, European Parliament’s Turkey rapporteur, said on Twitter. Federica Mogherini, EU’s external affairs commissioner, said she is “extremely worried” over the arrest of Kurdish politicians. 

There were also nationwide disruptions on the social media in the country, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Whatsapp.

Hours after the arrests, a bombing attack in Diyarbakir killed at least 8 people, and wounded over 100. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim blamed the PKK for the attack, and said the arrest of HDP lawmakers is part of a legal proceeding.

Bekir Bozdag, Turkey’s justice minister, said Turkey is fighting against ten terrorist groups and that the detention of HDP lawmakers is a situation of a “law being applied.” He said lawmakers are not above the law.

HDP and its leader Demirtas rose to the national fame after he led his party to a historic election triumph last year on June 7, sinking President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s presidential bid. Demirtas’s then admired leadership and style expanded the reach of the pro-Kurdish party to liberals and seculars alarmed by Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism. HDP’s success deprived ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) of majority in Parliament, first time since 2002 when the AKP first came to the power. 

But that June 7 election abruptly shifted political calculations of many actors, most notably, President Erdogan and the PKK, both of whom were increasingly anxious with rising of HDP, and Demirtas as an aspiring opposition politician. The two-year-old truce between the Turkish government and Kurdish militants collapsed over reasons still unclear today.

The following war in urban areas was seemingly designed to undermine HDP as a political option. Erdogan’s preference of imposing an armed solution on the region served the same objective, to degrade HDP’s popularity, by forcing them to get closer to PKK’s discourse. 

Against that backdrop, the president’s gamble with reviving war and old security-first approach stunningly paid off on Nov. 1 elections, as AKP won a clear-cut victory, enough to form a one-party government, with an agenda to re-launch Erdogan’s presidential campaign. 

What followed abortive coup on July 15 was the escalation of violence across Southeast, further destruction of cities and full-scale assault on Kurdish media. Last month, the government appointed administrators to Kurdish-run municipalities after arrests of dozens of Kurdish mayors. Last week, the crackdown on Kurdish politics reached to new levels, with jailing of co-mayors of Diyarbakir, Turkey’s largest Kurdish city. Tens of thousands of Kurdish teachers have also been purged over alleged ties to terrorism, a charge that government employs to proceed its purge of non-loyalists.

Melda Onur, CHP lawmaker, said on Twitter that the arrests of deputies of Turkey’s third largest party are a reflection of disregard of the will of nearly six million people who voted for the Kurdish party. According to critics, authorities’ systematic disregard of public will and closing the path of politics will only embolden the PKK whose primary strategy is to appeal to violent methods to achieve its political objectives. 

This is not the first time Turkey is arresting Kurdish politicians. Leyla Zana, a veteran Kurdish politician, along with five other pro-Kurdish deputies, were arrested back in 1994 on charges of separatist talks and links to terrorism.

As recent as in 2011, at least six Kurdish lawmakers were in prison.

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