The ‘4th November’ marks the 5th anniversary of the Turkish government’s crackdown against the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), a pro-Kurdish party currently represented in Turkey’s National Assembly with the third largest parliamentary group. The HDP has also been subjected to threats whereby, amongst other targeting actions, it is facing the threat of a ban.
The HDP’s predecessor Democratic Society Party (DTP) was banned in December 2009, four years after it had been founded, while its predecessor, the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) was banned in March 2003, following on from the closure of its predecessor, the Democracy Party (DEP) in June 1994.
The line of bans linked to the Kurdish question in Turkey may be extended to the banning of the Workers’ Party of Turkey (the only socialist party with a parliamentary group in the entire political history of Turkey) in 1972, over accusations of ‘supporting separatism’ and recognition of the Kurdish people as a distinct ethnic and cultural group.
On 4 November 2016, the HDP co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş, Figen Yüksekdağ and nine other MPs were detained in house raids after their MP’s status granting them immunity from prosecution was revoked in the Turkish parliament, with the support of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
The other MPs detained on 4 November were Ferhat Encü, Leyla Birlik, Selma Irmak, Abdullah Zeydan, İdris Baluken, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, Ziya Pir, Nursel Aydoğan and Gülser Yıldırım.
Civilian coup on local governments
While thousands of HDP officials and members have been arrested over the past couple of years, a ‘civilian coup’ on local governments took place on 19 August 2019, replacing elected mayors from Kurdish-majority cities and districts with ‘trustees’ appointed by the Ankara administration.
The cities included three large metropolitan areas with a total of 2,200,000 voters: Diyarbakır (Amed), where the HDP received 63% of the vote in 2019, Mardin (Mêrdin) where it received 56% of the vote, and Van (Wan) where it received 54% of the vote.
The final phase of the crackdown has been the legal case for the dissolution of the HDP, as an indictment was filed with Turkey’s Constitutional Court in June 2021 alleging that the HDP has become ‘central for activites against the unity of the state and nation.’
As there are similarities between the indictments against the HDP and its predecessor DTP, the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in the case of DTP against Turkey is of particular relevance.
The DTP Case
In January 2016, the ECHR decided, seven years after the banning of the DTP, that Turkey had violated the rights to free association and free election, indicating that the DTP was a ‘major political representative in the context of the peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question.’ The Turkish administration was directed to pay compensation to the co-chairs of the party, Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk.
Ahmet Türk was detained about a year later on 21 November 2016 while he was serving as the mayor of Mardin. He was re-elected in 2019, only to be replaced by a government-appointed trustee.
Aysel Tuğluk, a lawyer by profession, had been elected as an MP in 2007, only to be stripped of her status in 2009 when the DTP was banned. She was re-elected in 2011. She was arrested in December 2016 during the latest crackdown on the pro-Kurdish political movement and has been imprisoned for nearly five years.
She had to witness, in September 2017, a mob protesting against the burial of her mother in a graveyard in the capital city Ankara, and her body needing to be removed from the grave, to be sent to her hometown Dersim. Although Tuğluk has been reported to be suffering from serious health problems, the Turkish Forensic Medicine Institution concluded in a report that she could stay in prison.