Turkey’s Grand National Assembly became the battleground for fierce debate on Tuesday as pro-Kurdish and right-wing deputies clashed over the continued isolation of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan on Imrali Island.
🔴 Tensions reached a high in the Turkish parliament amid debates on isolation in İmralı prison, as the word "terrorist" starts being bandied around the chamber.#HEDEP | #Isolation | #Ocalan | #TurkishParliament https://t.co/D76d6GBsDI pic.twitter.com/0upsG8FciO
— MedyaNews (@1MedyaNews) November 15, 2023
Ömer Öcalan, a representative of the People’s Equality and Democracy Party (HEDEP) and also a nephew of Abdullah Öcalan, addressed the Assembly during a general meeting of parliament, highlighting the extended incommunicado detention of the PKK leader, which has lasted for two and a half years to date. The MP accused the Turkish government of continuing to discriminate against Kurds and Alevis and vowed to fight against what he described as isolationist policies.
“We will insist on democratic politics. We will not leave this space to anyone; we are in this parliament,” he declared. “If you have an iota of respect for your own law and constitution, you will open the gates of İmralı and we, as his family, will visit him.”
Tensions escalated when Yüksel Arslan, a member of the right-wing Good (İYİ) Party, objected: “You shouldn’t be in this parliament!” Ömer Öcalan replied: “I got into this parliament with the votes of the people. Did I get in thanks to you? Is [parliamentary membership] at your discretion?”
As the tension between Arslan and Öcalan increased, Meral Danış Beştaş, the deputy leader of the HEDEP group, took to the floor and described the İmralı prison as one that is not subject to the law on the execution of sentences.
“Is İmralı Island not a prison in this country?” Beştaş asked, vilifying the ban on family and lawyer visits. She further asked, “Isn’t it bound by the Law of Execution of Sentences?” Beştaş argued that by denying individuals the opportunity to meet with their families and lawyers because they have a conviction suggests a lack of adherence to the rule of law, the state is saying, “I am not a legal state; I am running this country like a tribe. I am running this country using mob rule.”
Tensions reached a boiling point when Beştaş heard İsmail Erdem, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), saying the words “terrorist” and “HEDEP” in one sentence.
In response, Beştaş vehemently retorted, “It’s your father who is a terrorist!” – a Turkish expression that suggests the accusation applies to the entire bloodline, including the person levelling the original application. “Anyone who calls us terrorists is themselves a terrorist,” she added. “You harvest survival through terror.”
Beştaş’s response was widely praised on social media, with many users sharing footage of the exchange and expressing their gratitude to her. The verbal sparring in the Assembly reflects the current state of Turkey’s political scene, where the term ‘terrorist’ has become a common and divisive insult, and the opposition in general such as Kurds and journalists investigating actions of the intelligence services, tend to be victims of this.