In Turkey, pro-Kurdish HDP faces again mass arrests, threats of outlawing

More than 700 people detained, including party provincial leaders · Arrests come after Ankara blamed the PKK for executing 13 Turkish hostages in South Kurdistan (Iraq) · Erdogan’s far-right partner insists HDP should be banned

HDP flag.
HDP flag. Author: HDP
718 people, including prominent members of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party HDP, have been arrested a day after the Turkish government announced that 13 Turkish nationals had been executed by the PKK in an operation in South Kurdistan (Iraq). The wave of arrests takes place as Turkish far-right party MHP, the main parliamentary ally of Erdogan’s AKP, insists on outlawing the HDP.

According to Turkey’s Interior ministry, the arrests were made within an ongoing operation against the PKK’s operations in Turkey. Among those detained are HDP provincial and district leaders. The arrests were made in 40 provinces, and “numerous weapons and organizational documents” were seized, according to the ministry.

Waves of arrests of HDP members on charges of PKK links are common in Turkey. HDP members —and other pro-Kurdish parties that preceded it— have been detained for such reason by the thousands since the founding of the first of those parties —the HEP, established in 1990.

The HDP is a legal political party, the third largest in the Turkish parliament. Its leaders systematically reject the use of violence and deny that it maintains any ties to the PKK, which is an illegal organisation in Turkey.

In November 2016, the two HDP co-leaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdag, were arrested on terrorism-related charges.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in November 2018. and again in December 2020. that Turkey should release Demirtas immediately. The ECHR says that in the detention of Demirtas —whose trial is still pending— no evidence is found of links between his actions and the charges against him. Turkey has ignored the two European court rulings, and continues to hold the Kurdish leader in jail.

13 killed in Gare, South Kurdistan

The Turkish government on Sunday 14 announced that a Turkish army operation against a PKK base in the Gare mountains in South Kurdistan (Iraq) had resulted in the deaths of some 50 members of the Kurdish armed group. The Turkish government blamed the PKK for executing 13 Turkish prisoners as part of the operation. Among these people were presumably military and police officers, as well as civilians, kidnapped years ago by the PKK.

At first, the United States refrained from backing the Turkish claim that the 13 had been killed by the PKK, angering Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who accused Washington of supporting the Kurdish armed group. Then, in a new statement, the US government specified that it believed that the PKK “bear responsibility” for the 13 deaths.

Domestically, Turkish Presidential Communications Director Fahrerttin Altun remarked immediately after the news broke that “the PKK and the HDP are one and the same.” “Not all terrorists shoot people,” Altun added, referring to HDP members. “And today,” he told the pro-Kurdish party, “your silence means tacit consent —and complicity” with the PKK.

This, despite the fact that the HDP issued a statement in which it not only expressed its “deepest regret and condolences” to the families of the 13 killed, but also claimed to have made itself available to the families and the Turkish government for participating in a delegation that, like on other occasions happened, could have negotiated the release of hostages with the PKK. Such negotiations, in the past, had allowed the “safe return” of people abducted by the PKK, the statement argued. According to the HDP, the Turkish government is responsible for the deaths, for not wanting to resort to this “diplomatic” action. In the statement, the pro-Kurdish party also called the PKK to release “the rest of captives” it still holds.

Far-right demands a ban on HDP

For months, far-right party MHP —the main parliamentary partner of Erdogan’s Islamist conservative AKP— has been pushing for proceedings to outlaw the HDP “for ethnic separatism and terrorism,” said MHP leader Devlet Bahceli in December 2020. The far-right leader also added that this time it was necessary to ensure that the outlawed party could not be re-established.

Bahceli insisted again on the idea in January 2021, asking the Turkish judiciary to open the procedure for closing the party. If this does not happen, the MHP leader said his party would “do what is necessary” under the Political Parties Law to outlaw the HDP.

Since the HEP was outlawed in 1993, the pro-Kurdish left has been founding one party after another whenever the previous one has been banned.