Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Sunday slammed human rights defenders in the West and questioned the Kurdishness of Kurdish politicians during a rally in the Kurdish-populated southeastern province of Diyarbakır.
Erdoğan went to Diyarbakır on Sunday for formal openings of a number of public sector projects and for meetings with various groups. His visit had been planned to take place a week earlier, but was postponed after 41 miners died in an explosion in northern Turkey last week.
“We have not left the Diyarbakır Mothers to the chimpanzees of the West,” Erdoğan said in his speech. “Where are those human rights advocates of the West? Have they ever come to visit the Diyarbakır Mothers?” Erdoğan added.
Diyarbakır Mothers is a group affiliated with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that organises sit-ins outside the provincial headquarters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), claiming that their children have been abducted by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and demanding their return. The establishment of the group was an effort to make motherhood a new battleground around issues related to Turkey’s Kurdish question and a clear reference to the Saturday Mothers who have been organising weekly sit-ins for 27 years demanding information about relatives who disappeared in the 1990s.
Erdoğan is expected to meet with the Diyarbakır Mothers, who also met with Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, earlier on Sunday.
“Does the individual who is currently in Edirne prison have any relation to Kurdishness?” Erdoğan asked, referring without using his name to Selahattin Demirtaş, the former co-chair of the HDP. Demirtaş has been imprisoned since 2016 in Turkey’s northwestern province of Edirne on terror-related charges, despite the European Court of Human Rights calling for his release.
“This man is not a Kurd. But he is exploiting my Kurdish siblings,” Erdoğan said before adding that the current co-chair of the HDP is also not Kurdish.
The pro-Kurdish party has two co-chairs, Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar, both of whom are ethnically Kurdish.
Erdoğan told the crowd that the Diyarbakır prison notorious for the cruel torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners after the 1980 military coup, will be turned into a museum, before resuming his attacks of the HDP.
“The HDP, an imperialist operational apparatus masked as a party, is the actor of all perverts that target your morality,” he said.
According to many, Erdoğan’s Diyarbakır visit is another sign that Turkey will hold elections within a short period of time. The presidential and parliamentary elections are currently scheduled for June 2023, but many analysts expect early elections to be announced.
Erdoğan, who came to power in 2002, needs Kurdish votes if he is to be re-elected as president. The support of conservative Kurds has played a critical role in Erdoğan’s 20 years in power, but the president is facing declining support in southeast Turkey.
An AKP politician who wanted to remain anonymous told Artı Gerçek that there is widespread discomfort among Kurds about the ruling party.
“Under normal conditions, no risks should be associated with being seen with the ruling party. But nobody wants to be seen with this party,” the politician said.
According to the source, Kurdish supporters of the AKP have become alienated from the party as nationalist rhetoric has started to dominate AKP policies, and particularly since Erdoğan formed an alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
Artı Gerçek also reported that support for the AKP in Diyarbakır is far below the 21% it achieved in the 2018 elections, according to polls held on the orders of the trustee appointed by the government to the province to replace the elected HDP mayor. According to another poll conducted on behalf of the Diyarbakır governor, AKP votes are at 15%.