Leading members of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have condemned attempts by the country’s judiciary to close down the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP).
On November 16 Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya formally applied to the Turkish Constitutional Court for the closure of the DTP on the grounds that it had become a “center of activities aimed at damaging the independence of the state and the indivisible integrity of its territory and nation” (Radikal, November 17). Yalcinkaya also called for 221 members of the DTP, including eight sitting members of the Turkish parliament, to be banned from all political activities for a minimum of five years (Hurriyet, Milliyet, Vatan, Sabah, November 17). He attacked the DTP leadership for its alleged ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its refusal to characterize the organization’s use of violence as terrorism. “Those who don’t describe terrorism as terrorism are either terrorists themselves or are frightened of disobeying orders given them by members of the organization,” he said (Radikal, November 17).
The DTP is the latest in a string of six pro-Kurdish political parties founded over the last 15 years. The Turkish Constitutional Court closed down four of its predecessors. The case against the fifth, the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP), is still ongoing, although it is expected to be concluded early next year with the announcement of the party’s closure.
Nurettin Demitas, who was elected as the new chairman of the DTP on November 9, said that the charges were not unexpected. “Turkey has become a graveyard for political parties,” he said. “When it comes to closing down parties, it ranks first in the Guinness Book of Records” (Radikal, November 17).
The case has been welcomed by the ultranationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP). Earlier this month, MHP Chairman Devlet Bahceli unsuccessfully tried to persuade the government to lift the parliamentary immunity of the 20 DTP members of parliament so that they could be tried on charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.
“Parliament should reflect the will of the people. It shouldn’t be controlled by outside forces,” said Oktay Vural, the deputy chairman of the MHP parliamentary party (Radikal, November 17).
The nationalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) was more fulsome. “It is unacceptable for a party to give the appearance of being an extension of a terrorist organization. Turkey is a state of law and the laws will be applied in this case,” said Hakki Suha Okay, the deputy chairman of the CHP parliamentary party.
But the AKP has been outspoken in its condemnation of Yalcinkaya’s decision. In the general election of July 22 members of the DTP standing as independents received approximately 1.5 million votes.
“We should not choose anti-democratic means against those who have entered parliament with the votes of hundreds of thousands of our citizens,” said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was a member of three Islamist parties closed down by the Constitutional Court in the 1980s and 1990s (Milliyet, Radikal, November 19).
The case against the DTP is not expected to be concluded until late 2008 at the earliest. Under Turkish law, the DTP will be allowed to present its defense and can only be closed down if seven of the eleven members of the Constitutional Court approve Yalcinkaya’s application. The assumption is that in the months ahead the leaders of the DTP will hedge against the party’s possible closure by founding yet another new Kurdish political party. “In a democracy the solutions are endless,” said Ahmet Turk, the chairman of the DTP parliamentary party (Radikal, November 17).
No one doubts that many DTP members sympathize with the PKK. Although he is still only 35, DTP Chairman Demitas has already spent 10 years in prison for alleged pro-PKK activities. Erdogan warned that, if judicial pressure prevents Kurds from participating in the political process, many of them will simply join the PKK in the mountains (Hurriyet, Milliyet, November 18).
There have already been signs that the case against the DTP has hardened the attitude of many of the party’s supporters and pushed them closer to the PKK. Over the weekend the DTP organized a number of demonstrations in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey under the slogan “We’ve had enough.” Rallies in the cities of Van on Saturday (November 17) and Batman yesterday (November 18) both turned violent as stone-throwing demonstrators clashed with police. Many of the protestors carried PKK flags and pictures of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and chanted slogans in Kurdish such as “Damn the Turkish army” and “Long live Apo” in a reference to Ocalan’s nickname (Hurriyet, Sabah, Vatan, November 19).
In Van, DTP Deputy Chairman Bayram Altun told a cheering crowd: “They say that it is not clear what the Kurds want. But what they want is perfectly clear. The Kurdish people want freedom and honor. They will not compromise either their freedom or their honor but will resist to the end” (Dogan haber Ajans, November 18).
In Batman, former Kurdish MP Leyla Zana, who spent 10 years in jail for her alleged ties to the PKK, promised DTP supporters that the day was coming closer when Ocalan would be freed from prison. “I am sure that one day he will be among us and that you will listen to him,” she said. While many in the crowd carried placards declaring: “We are ready for peace or war” (Vatan, November 19).
Perhaps more worrying was a protest that did not even take place. Around one quarter of Istanbul’s estimated population of 12 million are believed to be of Kurdish origin. The fear has always been that fighting between the PKK and the Turkish security forces would one day spill over into ethnic clashes on the streets of Turkey’s major cities (see EDM, October 23). On Saturday (November 18), the DTP leadership cancelled a planned rally in the Gungoren neighborhood of Istanbul amid concerns that it would be attacked by ultranationalist Turks (Radikal, November 18). But there is an awareness that the specter of ethnic clashes is moving closer and that, unless something can be done to ease the tension, it is only a matter of time before the violence moves down from the mountains onto the streets of Turkey’s cities.