Turkey’s Constitutional Court (AYM) on Friday approved a 2017 disciplinary penalty against then-MP Osman Baydemir for the use of the word “Kurdistan” in parliament. While Baydemir’s appeal was rejected by nine votes against six, the top court’s president voted in the veteran Kurdish politician’s favour, saying his right to free expression had been violated.
AYM President Zühtü Arslan said Baydemir’s 2018 appeal had been “acceptable”, and that his rights had in fact been violated.
Baydemir, former MP from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), had mentioned Kurdistan in a speech, calling himself “a son of the Kurdish people, a representative from Kurdistan”. He also said he had a “mission” to make the parliament “a common room of Turks and Kurds”.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) ranks began protesting the use of the word from the parliament floor. “Where is Kurdistan?” asked the Deputy Speaker at the time, implying that it did not exist. Baydemir’s response was a gesture towards his heart. MPs later took a vote that issued Baydemir a fine and temporary expulsion from the assembly.
HDP MP Nusrettin Maçin was later dismissed from parliament for three sessions in 2021, for calling for “peace and democracy for Turkey, freedom to Kurdistan” in 2021.
The disciplinary sentences given to these MPs were based on Article 161 of the parliamentary bylaws, where contradicting Turkey’s “indivisible integrity” is punishable by temporary suspension from parliament.
While Kurdish MPs faced penalties for using the word, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself has used “Kurdistan” in speeches in the past, particularly during a peace process with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) between 2013 and 2015 in the latest attempt to resolve the Kurdish issue.
Erdoğan, then prime minister, faced backlash from the ultra-nationalist MHP and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 2013 and defended himself by pointing to Turkey’s founding president Mustafa Kemal Atatürk using the word in speeches. He also pointed out that the early days of the Turkish National Assembly used titles the title “Kurdistan deputy” for MPs from Kurdish-majority provinces. “If they ever look back into the Ottomans, they will see that the east and southeast were literally called the Kurdistan Province,” Erdoğan said.