Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 16

As Turkey’s ruling moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) continues to try to find a way to lift the ban that currently prevents women wearing headscarves from attending university, members of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DPT) have called on the government to show a similar sensitivity to the rights of others to express their own beliefs.

The DTP has frequently been accused of close links with the violent Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). However, even non-violent expressions of Kurdish nationalism in Turkey continue to result in judicial action. Turkey’s Constitutional Court is currently considering an application for the DTP to be outlawed on the grounds that the party has 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).

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has devoted considerable efforts to trying to ensure that women who believe that the Koran commands them to cover their heads are allowed access to university, even canceling a planned trip to the World Economic Forum summit meeting in Davos last week in order to try to broker a deal with the opposition National Action Party (MHP) to amend the Turkish constitution and lift the headscarf ban. However, he has yet to display a similar enthusiasm for extending freedom of expression to opinions that he does not hold himself (see EDM, January 25).

On January 27, during a speech to a party congress in Diyarbakir, Emine Ayna, a DTP member of parliament from the southeastern city of Mardin, bluntly accused Erdogan of double standards:

“If you are talking of freedom then it should be for everybody, not just for the headscarf,” she said, noting that Turkey’s many ethnic and religious minorities still faced restrictions on the expression of a distinct identity. “Freedom should not just be given to Muslims but to Alevis, Christians, Kurds, Turks, Circassians, and Laz,” she said (DHA, January 28).

More controversially, she called for the right to refer to imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan as “Mr. Ocalan,” a form of address that is regarded by the Turkish courts as implicitly supporting the PKK by being excessively polite about its leader.

On the same day as Ayna made her speech in Diyarbakir, in an address to a party congress in Adana, her DTP colleague Murat Avci also referred to the PKK leader as “Mr. Ocalan.” On the following day, the public prosecutor initiated a formal judicial inquiry into Avci’s speech on the grounds that his use of the phrase “Mr. Ocalan” amounted to separatist propaganda (NTV, January 28).

However, the rest of Avni’s speech did little to refute his opponents’ accusations that the DTP is an extension of the PKK. In a reference to the case for the closure of the DTP, Avni declared:

“If the doors to parliament are closed to the Kurdish people, they we shall continue our political struggle in the mountains. Don’t try our patience” (Radikal, Hurriyet, Milliyet, January 28).

Avni also repeated previous calls by the DTP for the Turkish military to halt to its operations against the PKK, targeting both the organization’s winter hideouts inside Turkey and its main camps in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq. Since the beginning of December, the Turkish military has launched four major air raids and several smaller operations against the PKK presence in northern Iraq and claims to have inflicted high casualties and to have done considerable damage to the organization’s infrastructure. Sources close to the PKK told Jamestown that they have suffered only minimal damage and that almost all of the 60 or so people killed in the Turkish air raids were civilians rather than PKK militants. However, since Turkey launched its first air raid in early December, PKK supporters both in Turkey and in Europe have been devoting considerable time, energy, and resources to campaigning for an end to the military operations, which would make little sense if the Turkish military operations were as ineffectual as the PKK claims.

However, even if the raids are damaging the PKK militarily, there are signs that they might be strengthening the organization politically, particularly in the Kurdish community. In the past, large-scale Turkish military operations against the PKK have almost always triggered an increase in recruitment to the organization; and there has been a similar decline in recruitment during a lull in the violence.

Although it is still too early to assess whether it will have any practical impact, the Turkish raids also appear to have resulted in an increase in sympathy for the PKK among other Kurdish organizations. Sources close to rival Kurdish organizations told Jamestown that, however much they disliked the PKK and its methods, it was ultimately a Kurdish organization; and, as long as it was under attack from the Turkish military, they were prepared to put aside their differences and give the PKK whatever support they could.