The January 4 bomb attack by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in southeast Turkey has increased the pressure on the members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) to distance themselves from the PKK’s violent campaign. But they are also aware that any denunciation would probably result in their becoming unelectable.
On January 8 another victim of the January 4 attack died from his injuries, raising the death toll to six civilians, five of them teenage students. The PKK has already admitted that its militants were responsible for the attack, in which an improvised explosive device (IED) in a car parked outside a school was detonated as a bus carrying military personnel passed along the street (see Terrorism Focus, January 8). The bombing is believed to have been a response to a series of Turkish air raids in December against the PKK’s main camps in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq.
The DTP has consistently dismissed accusations that it is affiliated with or controlled by the PKK. However, it has repeatedly refused to describe the PKK as a terrorist organization and has usually hedged any condemnation of a specific PKK attack by denouncing all violence, which has been generally interpreted as suggesting that it is also opposed to the military campaign being waged against the PKK by the Turkish security forces.
On December 27, the DTP parliamentary party took the decision to launch a campaign to protest the Turkish air raids against the PKK camps in the Qandil Mountains, including holding public rallies inside Turkey and sending a delegation to the EU to lobby for pressure to be exerted on the Turkish government to halt the raids (CNNTurk, NTV, December 27). The decision came the day after the DTP released a statement in which it described the PKK as a “political organization seeking a solution to the Kurdish problem” (Hurriyet, Milliyet, Radikal, Sabah, December 27).
Such statements are unlikely to help the DTP’s cause when it presents its defense to Turkey’s Constitutional Court next month. On November 16, 2007, 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” (see EDM, November 19, 2007). The DTP was originally due to present its preliminary defense by January 10. However, on January 9, the Constitutional Court extended the deadline by an additional month (NTV, Anadolu Ajansi, January 9).
Following the bombing in Diyarbakir, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan angrily reminded the DTP of its description of the PKK as a “political organization.” “If the PKK is a political organization, then what need is there for you?” he asked (Hurriyet, Milliyet, Sabah, Vatan, January 9).
For the DTP, the situation has been made even more difficult by the fact that all of the dead were members of the civilian population in the largest city in the Turkey’s Kurdish region,
Aysel Tugluk, a DTP member of parliament from Diyarbakir and former lawyer for imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, admitted that the bombing had stunned the party. “Nobody who has a heart beating in their breast can accept these deaths,” she said (Yeni Safak, January 9).
Osman Baydemir, the DTP mayor of Diyarbakir, also condemned the attack. “I hope this city never has to suffer such pain again,” he said (Vatan, Radikal, January 10).
But the DTP has still avoided condemning the PKK itself or calling on the organization to lay down its arms. One of the problems is that, whatever its leaders may say, the DTP is regarded not only by its opponents but also by many of its supporters as being affiliated with the PKK. In the election of July 22, 2007, the majority of the population in southeastern Turkey, which has long been the most conservative area of the country, voted for the ruling moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP). Like the PKK itself, which until relatively recently was officially a Marxist organization, the DTP has always been regarded as being very secularist, at best indifferent to or even — for many of its detractors — actively hostile towards Islam.
Although not everyone who voted for the DTP in the July 2007 election is likely to have been a PKK supporter, there is also little doubt that, if they voted at all, most PKK sympathizers supported the DTP. As a result, if the leading members of the DTP were to denounce the PKK they would not only alienate the party’s core constituency but almost certainly condemn themselves to the political wilderness, as their weak Islamic credentials would prevent them from ever being able to compete with the AKP.