A political storm has erupted in Turkey following a significant increase in the number of casualties in Turkey’s cross-border military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
After a reported 12 Turkish soldiers were killed in violent clashes with Kurdish militants in Iraq’s Kurdistan region, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) joined forces with other right-wing parties in parliament to issue a joint statement condemning the PKK. However, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) abstained from signing the declaration, as did the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Equality and Democracy (DEM) Party.
CHP leader Özgür Özel criticised the AKP’s reaction, pointing out that the number of soldiers killed under its rule had increased. Özel stressed the need for genuine mourning and reflection. The CHP’s refusal to sign the joint statement drew sharp criticism from the AKP, with spokesman Ömer Çelik denouncing it as ‘shameful’.
As the political rift deepened, the CHP issued its own statement to commemorate the fallen soldiers, rejecting the joint effort with the ruling party. The CHP’s criticism extends to the government’s handling of military operations and the wider impact on national sentiment.
Özel strongly denounced the politicisation of martyrs’ funerals and expressed frustration with the repetitive cycle of symbolic gestures. He criticised the routine of signing declarations, followed by President Erdoğan’s political manoeuvres, leading to a temporary grief until the next tragic episode. Underlining the futility of such declarations, Özel said he would sign thousands of them if it would prevent the deaths of soldiers. The CHP leader emphasised his party’s rejection of this pattern and its aim to move away from empty gestures and political posturing.
“From now on, those who expect the CHP to oppose by rote, to support the government whenever it wants to, shouldn’t wait at all,” Özel said.
Özel went on to criticise the failure of the government to declare a period of national mourning. He remarked: “Those who declared national mourning when the king of Saudi Arabia died have somehow failed to make a similar declaration this time”.
The controversy escalated when CHP leader Özel attended the funeral of one of the recently deceased soldiers in the western province of Manisa. Some participants, including the mayor of Manisa, Cengiz Ergün of the AKP’s far-right ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), protested against Özel’s presence at the funeral.
Members of the CHP consider the protest during the funeral to be a provocation. In a statement on his social media account, CHP deputy chairman Ensar Aytekin referred to former interior minister Suleyman Soylu’s claim that Turkish forces’ operations had reduced the number of PKK militants in the mountains to a handful. He blamed “those who have been in power for the past 21 years” for the soldiers’ deaths.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on the other hand, singled out Özel in a speech after the incident, accusing the CHP leader of trying to “play to the gallery” by attending the soldier’s funeral. In support of the funeral protests, he added: “But now this nation knows very well who is who.”
The soldier’s family, however, disapproved of the protests against Özel, 10Haber reported. Kenan Budak, the soldier’s uncle, said: “The protests have nothing to do with our family. Some people wrote that ‘the father of the martyr reacted to the presence of Özel’. These are all lies. As far as we are concerned, Mr Özel is a child of our family and a child of Manisa. We are proud of him as well.”