On February 11, the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DPT) presented its initial defense in the case brought before the Turkish Constitutional Court calling for its closure. In its concluding arguments, the DPT warned that, by regarding the Kurdish issue as one of terrorism and using military means to try to suppress it, the Turkish authorities were dragging the country toward a civil war.
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). Now that the DTP has presented its initial defense, Yalcinkaya will submit his case for the party’s closure. The DTP will have the right to respond, after which a rapporteur will prepare a report that will be distributed to the 11 members of the Constitutional Court. If seven members of the court find in favor of Yalcinkaya, the DTP will be closed down and all of its assets transferred to the Turkish Treasury. The Constitutional Court is not expected to reach a verdict before fall this year.
The case against the DTP is the sixth against a pro-Kurdish political party in the last 15 years. The fifth case is still ongoing. The previous four all resulted in the court ruling to close the party concerned. Traditionally, the members of each outlawed party have simply formed a replacement under a different name. However, in addition to the financial losses resulting from the confiscation of the banned party’s assets, the establishment of a new party is very time-consuming, not least because under Turkish law a party must be registered in each of the country’s 81 provinces before being allowed to participate in nationwide elections.
One of the main charges leveled at all of the pro-Kurdish parties formed over the last 15 years has been that they are affiliated with or are sympathetic toward the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an often brutal insurgency since 1984. Even if there are no organic links between the DTP and the PKK, no one doubts that the charges have at least a degree of justification. Turkish intelligence officials insist that the DTP’s network of branch offices remains one of the main conduits through which young PKK sympathizers are able to join the militants in the mountains of southeast Turkey and northern Iraq. On February 5-6, the DTP staged a series of protests against Turkish military operations against PKK units in Turkey and the organization’s main camps in the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq (see EDM, February 5). The protests culminated in an overnight vigil on Turkey’s border with Iraq where DTP supporters chanted pro-PKK slogans and waved photographs of imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan (Aksam, Hurriyet, February 6).
One of the charges against the DTP is that Ocalan gave orders to establish the party during his weekly meetings in jail with his lawyers. It is an open secret that both the authorities and Ocalan’s lawyers record the meetings. In fact, until relatively recently, sources close to his lawyers posted transcripts of the conversations on the Internet. The transcripts clearly showed that the lawyers were often used by Ocalan to send messages to the PKK in the mountains, albeit expressions of solidarity and broad strategic suggestions rather than detailed instructions. In its initial defense, the DTP called on the Turkish authorities to provide the Constitutional Court with the transcripts of Ocalan’s conversations with his lawyers to prove that he was not controlling the DPT (Radikal, Vatan, Milliyet, February 12).
The DPT also claimed that the application for the party’s closure was politically motivated and that the authorities were using the PKK as a pretext to deny the existence of the Kurdish problem. “The Kurds are the second largest people after the Turks,” said the DPT in its defense. “They number more than 20 million. The Kurdish people are a different community to the Turkish people in terms of their history, language, and geographical location. That is to say, they are an independent people” (Radikal, February 12).
Even more controversially, the DPT’s defense also implicitly challenged the characterization of the PKK as a terrorist organization by noting that there was no internationally accepted definition of terrorism. It attacked those who criticized the party for its refusal to distance itself from the PKK by describing it as a terrorist organization. “No one can force us to express our thoughts and opinions on any subject,” declared the DPT’s defense (Radikal, February 12).
In recent weeks, the DPT has also stepped its calls for lifting of the legal restrictions on a candid discussion of the Kurdish issue, bitterly noting that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly described the government’s efforts to lift the headscarf ban in universities in terms of freedom of expression, while refusing to extend such freedoms to Kurdish nationalists. Many DTP members have been particularly infuriated by Erdogan’s descriptions of the Kurds as “brothers” and his calls for them to live in peace and harmony in a unitary Turkish state with Turkish as the sole official language.
“The prime minister calls us his brothers and sisters. But there is no difference between his notion of us being brothers and sisters and the concept of a single nation with a single language,” complained Aysel Tugluk, a DTP member of parliament from the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. “We don’t want such ‘brotherhood.’ It will only be possible to find a solution to the problem of the Kurds living together [with Turks] within the system if we can also discuss a Kurdish federation or separation. This is the most natural of rights” (Milliyet, February 10).