Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 177

On September 16 the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) presented its final defense in the case filed for its closure at the Turkish Constitutional Court.

Public Prosecutor Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya first applied to the court for the DTP’s closure on November 16, 2007, arguing 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 indictment called for 221 members of the DTP, including eight sitting members of the Turkish parliament, to be banned for five years from membership in a political party. The DTP is regarded by its opponents and many of its supporters as being sympathetic to the violent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it has consistently declined to characterize as a terrorist organization. “Those who don’t describe terrorism as terrorism are either terrorists themselves or are frightened of disobeying orders given to them by members of the organization,” Yalcinkaya alleged (see EDM, November 19, 2007).

The DTP is the sixth pro-Kurdish political party to have been founded in the last 16 years. Four were outlawed by the Constitutional Court. The verdict in the case against the fifth, the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP), is expected to be announced later this year.

The case against the DTP was filed several months before the March 14, 2008, application for the closure of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on the grounds that it had become a focus for anti-secular activity (see EDM, March 17). The latter was fast-tracked through the Constitutional Court, however, in order to try to minimize the potential for domestic political instability. On July 30 the court found the AKP guilty but opted to impose a fine rather than close the party down (see EDM, July 31).

In the days following the announcement of the verdict in the AKP case, many Turkish commentators enthusiastically proclaimed that the era of closing down political parties in Turkey was now over; but it is far from certain that the court will be as lenient with the DTP. The DTP itself is taking nothing for granted. On May 9 42 Kurdish politicians with links to the DTP formally applied to the Turkish Interior Ministry to found the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), ready to serve as a successor to the DTP if it is eventually banned (see EDM, May 13). On September 7 the BDP held its inaugural party congress and elected the relatively unknown Demir Celik as leader (Anadolu Ajansi, September 7). The DTP currently controls 54 municipalities in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern Turkey. A recent opinion poll suggested that popular support for the DTP has begun to rise (see EDM, September 15). If the DTP is closed before the March 2009 elections, any DTP party members who have not been banned are expected to transfer their allegiance to, and run as candidates of, the BDP.

As in the case against the AKP, at least seven of the 11 members of the Constitutional Court need to vote for the DTP’s closure in order for the party to be outlawed. On September 16 the DTP’s final defense was presented by the party’s co-chair Ahmet Turk, who also presented the final defense in the closure case against one of the DTP’s predecessors, the People’s Labor Party (HEP), which was outlawed in 1993 (www.gundem.com.tr, September 15).

Despite the likelihood of the DTP case ending in closure, party officials remain defiant.

“The error lies not with what we do or say but in a system that doesn’t accept but excludes what we do or say,” said DTP Co-Chair Emine Ayna (www.gundem.com.tr, September 15).

There is no doubt that some members and supporters of the DTP are, at the very least, sympathetic to the PKK; but there are also many Kurdish nationalists who are not only opposed to the PKK but appalled by the organization’s often brutal violence. Yet the policy of suppression traditionally adopted by the Turkish state toward any expression of Kurdish nationalism, whether it is peaceful or violent, arguably plays into the PKK’s hands, enabling it to claim that the only way for Turkey’s Kurds to try to win greater cultural and political rights is through the use of arms. The concern now is that if, as expected, the DTP is eventually closed down, not only will it be replaced by another pro-Kurdish party with a similar agenda but that Kurdish nationalism will become irretrievably associated with violence both in the eyes of the Turkish state and those of Kurdish nationalists.

On September 15 DTP officials from the Silvan neighborhood of the city of Diyarbakir invited the local population to a “people’s court” in Dagkapi Square on the following day, at which a condemnation of the closure case against the DTP would be read out at the same time as Turk was presenting the party’s defense in Ankara (Firat News Agency, September 15).

Most Kurdish nationalists trace the history of violent Kurdish resistance against the modern Turkish Republic back to the 1925 rebellion led by a prominent Kurdish religious leader known as Sheikh Said. After fierce fighting, the rebellion was eventually suppressed. Sheikh Said and 46 of his followers were captured, tried, and executed. The DTP officials are likely well aware that Sheikh Said himself was hanged in Dagkapi Square on June 29, 1925.