Hopes that the presence of the Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) in Turkey’s new parliament would facilitate dialogue and the formulation of a solution to Turkey’s long-running Kurdish problem appear to be receding. On Tuesday (September 4) an Istanbul judge ruled that the prosecution of two Kurdish politicians could continue even though they had won seats in parliament in the July 22 elections and had been expected to be able to benefit from parliamentary immunity.
Ayla Akat Ata and Aysel Tugluk of the DTP, which currently holds 20 seats in Turkey’s unicameral 550-member parliament, face charges of “conducting propaganda for an outlawed organization” and “aiding and abetting a terrorist organization,” both of which are related to their alleged supported for the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) (Milliyet, Hurriyet, September 5).
Under the Turkish Constitution, MPs receive parliamentary immunity against all civil and criminal charges. Traditionally, legal proceedings have been suspended whenever the accused enters parliament. At the time when they were elected, several government ministers were facing charges of corruption and tax evasion. None have been prosecuted. In his ruling, the judge claimed that Ata and Tugluk could not benefit from the same immunity, as Article 14 of the Turkish Constitutions rules that none of the freedoms and rights it guarantees can be used to “divide the indivisible unity of the country” (Radikal, September 5). Nevertheless, if found guilty, Ata and Tugluk will be able to avoid imprisonment until they are no longer members of parliament.
The decision comes four days after the public prosecutor in Ankara initiated a judicial investigation into another DTP MP, Ahmet Turk, on charges of defaming a state institution after he claimed that the Turkish security forces had used unspecified chemical weapons in military operations against the PKK (Milliyet, September 1).
The public prosecutor in the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir has also initiated a judicial investigation into Osman Baydemir, the DTP mayor of the city, on charges of insulting state authorities after he accused the central government of starving the municipality of funds. Baydemir claimed the central government had even blocked eight major projects to improve services in Diyarbakir for which the municipality had secured foreign funding. They included two urban renewal projects that were going to be financed by the EU (Radikal, September 5).
Members of DTP-controlled municipalities in southeast Turkey have long accused the state authorities of trying to undermine their popular support by restricting funding and preventing them from providing services. The latest charges were dismissed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who claimed that the state had recently invested $5.5 billion in the region (Radikal, September 5).
The DTP was founded in 2005 as the latest in a long line of pro-Kurdish political parties. All of the DTP’s predecessors have been closed down by the Turkish courts on charges of links to the PKK. The accusations have been consistently denied by the politicians themselves. However, they have also refrained from characterizing the PKK as a “terrorist organization.” Privately, members of the Turkish security forces are adamant that, even if not all of the DTP members are active supporters of the organization, the party is still being used by the PKK for recruitment and propaganda.
Traditionally, all members of parliament are invited to a reception hosted by the Turkish military on August 30 to commemorate Turkey’s victory in its 1919-1922 war against Greece. However, after the DTP entered parliament in the July 22 elections, the Turkish General Staff refused to invite any of the party’s MPs to the reception.
“What do you expect us to do?” asked General Ilker Basbug, the commander of the Turkish Land Forces. “They refuse to describe the PKK as a terrorist organization. What would happen if we invited them and then five minutes later one of our soldiers was killed by the PKK? What could we say to the soldier’s family?” (CNNTurk, August 29).
After a lull during the run-up to the July 22 elections, the fighting between PKK units and members of the Turkish security forces began to intensify again in August. According to figures released by the Turkish Interior Ministry, the Turkish security forces recovered the corpses of 159 PKK militants during the first eight months of 2007 (Anadolu Ajans, September 3). When those who later died from their wounds and those whose bodies were recovered and buried by other members of the PKK are included, the total number of PKK dead is believed to be in excess of 300. Although no official figures have been released, approximately 100 members of the Turkish security forces are believed to have lost their lives in clashes with the PKK since the beginning of 2007.