Turkey: HDP, Kurds persecuted by the Erdogan regime

November 11, 2021
Imprisoned HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas
Imprisoned HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas. Photo: @HDPEnglish/Twitter

November 4 was the fifth anniversary of the imprisonment of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chairs Figen Yüksekdag and Selahattin Demirtas by the Turkish state.

The HDP has been resisting these and other arbitrary and systematic repressions. Various trials are underway in Turkish courts against our imprisoned former co-chairs, parliamentarians, co-mayors, members and the party itself. The most important of these are the Kobani trial and the trial to ban the HDP. About 500 HDP politicians face a five-year ban from politics.

Arbitrary trials and imprisonments

The HDP calls these proceedings politically motivated trials. There is no other way to describe these arbitrary proceedings. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's regime has total control of all state institutions.

The HDP is the second-largest opposition party in Turkey. The Islamic nationalist regime has been cracking down on the HDP systematically for years. Since 2016, more than 10,000 HDP members have been imprisoned. More than 4000 members are still in prison.

In addition to the imprisoned HDP members, thousands of other political prisoners are currently in jail in Turkey. In addition to almost complete media censorship, dozens of journalists have been imprisoned for years for their critical reporting.

These political prisoners are subjected to arbitrary state treatment in detention centres. This includes isolation, denial of medical treatment and other torture methods — both psychological and physical — documented by various human rights organisations.

They are held as political hostages by Erdoğan's regime.

Demirtas is the subject of numerous trials. The Constitutional Court of Turkey ruled that his detention was unlawful. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) also condemned Demirtas' years of imprisonment and has repeatedly demanded his release.

Demirtas is a defendant in the so-called “Kobani trial”, along with 107 others. Among other things, they are accused of “destroying the unity of the state and integrity of the country” in connection with the 2014 Kobani protests.

Kobani protests

When the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) attacked the Kurdish town of Kobani on the Turkish-Syrian border, there were large demonstrations and solidarity actions by thousands of people worldwide and in Turkey. There were some violent clashes and escalations with Turkish security forces in Turkey during the protests, at the beginning of October 2014. The Erdoğan regime blames the HDP for these clashes.

With this trial, the Erdoğan regime seeks to criminalise the demonstrations and also worldwide solidarity with Kobani.

Kurdish achievements are always perceived as a threat to Erdoğan's hold on power. While people in Turkey expected the Turkish government to support them against IS, Erdoğan saw the IS siege of Kobani as a welcome opportunity to destroy Kurdish gains in Rojava without much intervention.

The so-called “peace process” between the Erdoğan regime and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was still going on at the time in the background, aiming to expand democratic conditions in Turkey and to solve the “Kurdish issue” in a democratically peaceful framework. However, these talks were broken off due to Erdoğan's tactical, clearly anti-Kurdish stance.

Instead of democratising the country as much as possible, the war method became a political instrument of the regime.

In the parliamentary elections in 2015, the HDP was able to increase its vote to 13.1% and enter parliament directly with 80 seats. This prevented Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) from achieving a constitution-amending parliamentary majority. Erdoğan then began a systematic campaign of revenge against the HDP. In the course of this, towns in south-eastern Turkey with a high proportion of votes for the HDP were besieged by the Turkish military and security forces, resulting in hundreds of people losing their lives.

The state of emergency imposed by the Erdoğan regime on these cities has become routine for the inhabitants.

Turkish troops in Iraq and Syria

Parliament passed a resolution on October 26, to send more troops to Iraq and Syria. Deployment of Turkish troops, which were first sent to Iraq in 2007 and to Syria in 2012, was extended for two more years, to October 2023.

The HDP, the Republican People's Party, the Workers' Party of Turkey and the Democratic Regions Party rejected the motion in parliament. Political parties outside parliament and non-governmental organisations also opposed the mandate. However, MPs from the AKP, Nationalist Movement Party and Good Party voted in favour. HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan called the mandate an “extension of war and occupation”.

Turkey is in Syria and Iraq in violation of international law and human rights and is committing crimes against humanity. Turkey, described by the EU Commission as an “occupying power” in northern Syria (Rojava), has also been acting against the PKK in northern Iraq (southern Kurdistan) for years.

Chemical weapons

As part of the ongoing invasion of northern Iraq, Turkey has used chemical weapons, according to several reports. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime and a violation of international law. Calls for an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are becoming more numerous and louder — especially from international women's organizations and Kurdish and Arab intellectuals from Iraq and Southern Kurdistan.

For weeks, protests have taken place against Turkey’s use of chemical weapons in Southern Kurdistan. There have also been numerous appeals to the OPCW and the United Nations from various bodies such as the Kurdish Friendship Group in the European Parliament calling for an investigation into these attacks and the use of chemical weapons.

Respect for human rights, international law and international democratic law, should be covered internationally. But Turkey must also abide by these rules. If it does not, then it is the task of the international bodies to hold Turkey to account, including, if necessary, with legal measures, if a democratic Turkey is in the interest of these international bodies.

[Devriş Çimen is the European representative of the HDP.]

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