Feryal Clark, MP for Enfield North, initiated a debate in the UK Houses of Parliament on 16 March 2021 regarding Turkey’s human right abuses against the Kurds, the continued detention of Selahattin Demirtas and threats against the HDP.
Feryal Clark, who is of Kurdish Alevi origin, explained how Turkey is a NATO member and an ally of Britain, and has been a member of the Council of Europe since 1950. She detailed how Turkey is also a trading partner to Britain but said that this trade should not prevent the UK from speaking out when it is right and timely to do so, adding that the Turkish government’s attacks on free speech and their “complete and utter intolerance of pluralism, in politics and the media and in nearly every walk of life should set off alarm bells for us all.”
Kurds have been a ‘major cause of concern in the west’
The Member of Parliament for Enfield North continued, “Many of us here know that the Kurdish question in Turkey is not new. The treatment of more than 20 million of its Kurdish citizens has been a major cause of concern in the west for many years.
“In 2015, the general election in Turkey saw HDP, a pro-Kurdish party led by a charismatic leader able to form a coalition of progressives, run in the elections. They were successful in breaking through the 10% threshold needed to win seats in the Turkish Parliament and, in doing so, deny the incumbent government a majority. The response of the government was to launch an all-out attack against HDP and the democratically elected opposition politicians who represent it… Selahattin Demirtaş, one of Turkey’s most prominent politicians and the co-leader of HDP, was arrested and has been in prison for over four-and-a-half years. One of the first charges brought against Mr Demirtaş was that of attending an anti-ISIS protest—let us allow that to sink in. President Erdoğan’s purge of opposition politicians that began in August 2019 included MPs, mayors and councillors from both the HDP and the CHP parties.”
‘Coup-like’ replacement of elected officials
Feryal Clark MP continued, “Where these democratically elected officials have been imprisoned, President Erdoğan’s AKP government have implemented a ‘coup-like’ replacement of them. The AKP government have imposed Ministry-appointed trustees in Kurdish majority eastern and south-eastern provinces, as well as in secularist and republican areas in the west, such as Izmir. These are actions that undermine democracy and representation, and will undermine the long-term stability of any democratic system.”
Clark also said, “When we look at the devastation that those actions have done to the plurality of Turkish democracy, we can see that 48 of the 65 municipalities won by HDP in the 2019 local elections have been taken over by the Ministry of the Interior. A total of 122 democratically elected municipal councillors have been detained since August 2019 by an incumbent government for little more than having the nerve to stand against them in an election and win.”
The constant harassment of HDP politicians and members, said Clark, is no longer done in disguise, but with boldness and impunity. “This shocking number alone should spur action on the part of the UK government. A fundamental tenet of a free and democratic system is accepting the right of people to elect their representatives in government. Without this right, there is no democracy; there is just its appearance, in the hope that countries such as ours will continue to turn a blind eye,” she noted.
Will the UK government call on Turkey?
Clark noted that the UK government already knows all of this. As well as knowing that the European Court of Human Rights has ordered the immediate release of Selahattin Demirtaş from his extended pre-trial detention, Turkey is a member of the ECHR and therefore has an obligation to uphold the European convention on human rights, she said. She then asked what action the UK government was taking to encourage Turkey to work towards the full protection of fundamental human rights in areas of minority rights, freedom of religion and freedom of expression?
She went on to ask if the UK government will call on Turkey for the immediate release of democratically elected politicians and how would the UK government work with our NATO, European and global allies to impress on President Erdoğan that he must adhere to the international treaties that he has signed? And what message does the UK government believe that taking no action sends to other international partners, who look to the UK for leadership on human rights issues?
She concluded, “Turkey is fast becoming a one-party, one-religion, one-ideology state, with no distinction between Parliament and the judiciary. It has created a system that allows one man to have an almost absolute monopoly of power, where the constitution is changed to ensure that that man can never be removed from office. It is of no benefit to anyone to repeat worn-out platitudes about Turkey’s important geo-political and strategic role. We must stand up for the people of Turkey, our true allies, to help recover a democracy in decline.”
‘Elected MPs have been arrested’
Kate Osbourne, Labour MP for Jarrow, also contributed to the debate, bringing specific attention to the Turkish government’s repression of the HDP and oppression of the LGBT+ community and women. She detailed how the HDP had suffered continuous harassment, arrests and imprisonment, including over 700 arrests on 15 February this year. She said, “The party’s leaders have all received lengthy prison sentences and elected MPs and local politicians have been arrested and replaced with the government’s appointed trustees.”
Osbourne pointed to Erdogan’s targeting of LGBT+ and women, saying, “Many women politicians and trade union activists have been terrorised for defending basic human rights. Non-governmental organisations, including women’s groups and human rights organisations, have been closed by the authorities in the country. The LGBT+ community has also come under threat from the authoritarian policies of President Erdoğan.”
‘Denial of people’s civil and cultural rights’
Lloyd Russel Moyle, MP for Brighton, said that Kurdish MPs he spoke to have told him that they do not demand their own state but simply want to be able to talk about how Kurdish representation can be recognised.
Moyle quoted a Turkish ambassador who wrote to Moyle saying, “We don’t recognise Kurds in our country. We recognise only Turks.” Moyle said, “To me that is a denial of people’s civil and cultural rights, and it is a real problem with representation.” And concluded saying that the parliamentary group looking at issues in Kurdistan will be preparing a report at the end of this month and urged the government to read it and respond.
Wendey Morton claimed UK is a ‘critical friend’ of Turkey
The government minister Wendy Morton, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, responded to the debate by referring to Erdogan’s recent anouncements of Human Rights reforms, hoping he would implement the reforms in full and talking about the importance of the UK’s trade deals with Turkey. She repeated the allegations of the Turkish regime, namely that HDP MPs were accused of having links to the PKK which was a ‘proscribed’ organisation in the UK. She also referred to the Gare operation and spoke of how the UK ambassador to Turkey offered the condolences of the UK government to the Turkish government. But she could not ignore the allegations regarding the “large number of detentions,” adding that, “Those include the ongoing and lengthy detention without trial of former HDP co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş.”
The UK government minister concluded by saying, “while we seek to strengthen our positive links with Turkey, we make no secret of our concerns and values. We are a critical friend. I can assure colleagues that stronger UK-Turkey relations will not be at the expense of standing up for human rights, a principle that this government hold dear. We do share values with Turkey. We are in the family of NATO and at the Council of Europe. Although these issues continue to be a challenge, we talk to Turkey about them as a friend and with encouragement. We will urge our Turkish counterparts to make swift progress, to deliver the reforms they have promised for this year, and to enact them fully through the human rights action plan.”
Others speakers spoke in the debate which can be found in full here.