MPs taken to hospital after police break up demonstration in Istanbul

Istanbul MP Sebahat Tuncel after being pepper-sprayed by police. Photo from Nûkurd.

Thousands of Kurds were out in the Şişli area of Istanbul earlier today protesting the Turkish Supreme Election Board’s decision to strip independent candidate Hatip Dicle of his win in the 12 June elections. Police violently dispersed the crowds using tear gas and pepper spray.

The group, including the Deputies Sebahat Tuncel, Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Levent Tüzel, gathered around Şişli Mosque and planned to march in Taksim Square but were blocked by anti-riot forces.

Istanbul MPs Sebahat Tuncel and Sırrı Süreyya Önder were taken to hospital suffering from respiratory difficulties. Some protestors took shelter in local stores.

Ten people were wounded and 23 were taken into custody.

Afterwards, police followed some demonstrators into the majority Kurdish Tarlabasi neighbourhood. Squads were posted at the top of streets leading into neighbourhood, along Tarlabasi Boulevard.

Below are some videos from the protests:

More photos can be seen at Nûkurd website here.

Poll: What’s your opinion on the proposed boycott?

36 seats in Parliament. Now what?

Labour, Freedom and Democracy Block

It has been a week since the 12 June elections in Turkey. The dust is settling and a clearer picture is emerging of what’s in store for the new parliament once the next legislative session begins around 01 October. High on the agenda is the drafting of a new, civilian constitution. The current constitution, put into effect in 1982 on the heels of the 1980 military coup, is based on a Kemalist notion of Turkish national identity, which is homogeneous and leaves no room for ethnic and religious difference. It is a ‘straightjacket’ on Turkish democracy, limiting the rights of individuals and privileging the state at the expense of the citizen.

The swearing in ceremony for MPs in the 550-seat Grand National Assembly of Turkey (Turkish Parliament, or simply Meclis in Turkish) will be 24 June. The day before the swearing-in, a newly formed commission from the pro-Kurdish Labour, Democracy and Freedom Block (in Kurdish, Bloka Ked, Azadî û Demokrasî, or KAD), which won 36 seats, will issue a declaration. The statement will clarify the KAD-Block’s standing in the parliament, the way, methods and strategies to be followed for a solution to problems. The KAD-Block was created and supported by the BDP, the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party.

On Sunday evening last, as results were still coming in, Turkish PM Erdoğan said that the nation had not only given his party a mandate to govern, but to draft a new constitution: ‘The people gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation.’ He said that the AKP would discuss the new constitution with opposition parties and parties outside of parliament, in ‘all-encompassing’ negotiations.

With their 36 seats, the KAD-Block will play an important role in any future constitutional debate, and the Kurdish question looks set to move to the top of the political agenda. Said Sebahat Tuncel, Kurdish MP from Istanbul in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Erdoğan ‘now faces a major domestic challenge,’ referring to the writing up a new, inclusive constitution. She also said that the 36-MP strong block ‘will be the most effective check on the AKP’s destructive policy’ of repressing the Kurds.

However, some are expressing caution regarding the KAD-Block’s calls for specific demands. Taha Akyol, for example, a political analyst with CNNTürk and Milliyet newspaper, said that while the BDP has become ‘a force that cannot be ignored’ it ‘must know the limits of its demands.’ While Akyol is a Turkish nationalist, this will certainly be an issue in the constitutional negotiations, as the AKP is not going to want to be seen as caving in to Kurdish demands. After all, Erdoğan ran a very nationalist campaign to garner MHP (far-right, nationalist party) votes. But, after the election, Erdoğan apologised to his rivals for his actions and language during the campaigns. Erdoğan’s words were probably meant more to take votes from the MHP party to keep them from reaching the 10% election threshold. But still, it will be hard now to backpedal.

Ahmet Türk, newly elected KAD MP from Mêrdîn said that the ‘new constitution must be based on democratic autonomy, which must be a topic in the open for discussion and we will work towards this. If these demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

Leyla Zana speaks in Diyarbakır

Leyla Zana, elected from Diyarbakır, speaking in Kurdish to an audience of tens of thousands at a rally last Monday said, ‘The Kurds will be a partner of this state.’ While the logical assumption is that MPs elected from the pro-Kurdish KAD Block will be partners (the AKP needs partners), it is not clear to what extent Kurds will be included in the process of re-writing the country’s constitution.

Murat Yetkin, writing for Hürriyet Daily News, says the ‘CHP (centre-left, People’s Republican Party) is always a safer partner for the AKP for major political projects like amending or rewriting the constitution, in order to secure a consensus acceptable for a wider base in society. The BDP, which is focused more on Kurdish rights, might be an easier partner for Erdoğan at first sight, but such a partnership, which might exclude both the CHP and the MHP, might cause new fault lines in Turkey’s political arena. It may cast a shadow, says Yetkin, over the new constitution, creating doubts whether the government sort of bargained for the presidential system in return for group – not individual – rights for Kurds.’

Some of the conditions the Kurds will expect in any new constitution, says KAD MP-elect Hasip Kaplan from southeastern province of Şırnak, are the implementation of democratic autonomy, the use of mother tongues and the granting of constitutional citizenship.’ He also said that it should contain ‘expansion of freedom of thought in its largest sense.’

These are ‘demands’ that may be outside of the ‘limits’ referred to by Akyol. But what then is left? How can the Kurds accept anything less than full equality as Kurdish citizens of the Turkish Republic? In a meeting of Turkish intellectuals, journalists and lawyers earlier last week, Osman Can, one of the lawyers present, called on political parties to abandon what they earlier termed ‘red lines’ and said parties must decide to talk without preconditions. One of the ‘reddest’ of lines is that of mother-tongue education in Kurdish. It is a flashpoint in the debate on Kurdish rights and a key theme of the Kurd’s political agenda. Abandoning red lines may be easier said than done.

Nabi Avcı, a newly elected AKP deputy from Eskişehir and former senior media advisor to Erdoğan, said at a meeting with members of the foreign press that the ‘Kurdish issue’ is also on the government’s agenda ‘not as a problem but as a broader issue.’ He also said that ‘it is not right to highlight any priorities at the moment.’

Some of these comments may not bode well for Kurdish expectations. Ahmet Türk says that ‘the election results mean that the Kurdish people are united and our demands are going to be on the national agenda. If not, there will be more pain and more problems in the future’ and that if their ‘demands are ignored by the state, the people will create their own method to establish the system they are aiming for.’

The threat of ‘more pain and more problems in the future’ that Türk mentioned is real, according to the deputy head of the ruling AKP in Diyarbakır, Mohammed Akar. He says that if there is disappointment, the whole idea of integration will end. Separation and conflict will come to the fore. Akar added that ‘the danger that is lying ahead is a nightmare.’

The AKP may have received the largest percentage of popular votes at 49.95%, but the fact is that in 2002 they had 363 seats in the Meclis, in 2007 they had 341 seats, and now, in 2011, the AKP will seat only 326 parliamentarians. From 2007 to 2011, the overall percentage of votes increased by 3.3%, but their percentage of seats in the Meclis will decline by 4.5%.

Erdoğan’s AKP had been vying for a 2/3’s super majority (367 seats), which would have allowed it to rewrite the constitution single-handedly with no input from any other parties. A 3/5’s majority (330 seats) would have offered the AKP the option of drafting a new constitution on its own and then submitting it to a public referendum. They are only four seats from a 3/5’s majority and could try and look for defectors to make up the gap.

click to enlarge

However, the Kurds are the ones who are really gaining ground. In 2007 they captured 20 seats in parliament. This time round the pro-Kurdish KAD-Block managed to get 6.85% of the national vote, which resulted in 36 of its candidates getting elected. Not all of them are Kurdish, which was a strategy the BDP had to broaden its support base. And 11 of the 36 are women. A list of the 36 and election percentages can be found here.

In an attempt to draw support from religious voters, an alliance was formed with two other pro-Kurdish parties—the Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) and the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR). Former KADEP leader Şerafettin Elçi was picked as a candidate in Diyarbakır.

Political Science at Istanbul University, Dr Nuray Mert, noted that this was ‘a very successful outcome for the Block but it goes unnoticed that the Block didn’t participate in the elections as a political party. Therefore, the elections already began unfair[ly].’

In Diyarbakır, seven KAD-Block candidates got 429,000 votes and won six seats, whereas the AKP received five seats with only 231,000 votes. Without the 10 percent threshold, says Henri Barkey, KAD-Block candidates would have probably gotten as many as 50 seats. In other words, BDP is stronger than the number of seats it will control in the new parliament.

The Kurdish political group may be stronger than the number of seats, but for now they have to work with their strength in parliament. A change in the 10% election threshold will also be a necessary component in any new constitution to ensure more inclusivity in the future.

For now there is a major battle ahead as political camps scramble to put together their bargaining points and prepare for October. It will be interesting to see too what happens between now and the opening of that new, legislative session.

Since the election, the Turkish government has shut down Kurdish media outlets and has continued its arrest waves of Kurdish politicians. More than 100 have been detained in the past week alone. In spite of this, a PKK ceasefire has been extended to see what will happen with reforms and constitutional change. If the repressive methods continue and Erdoğan fails to take an historic step in partnering with the Kurds in the drafting of the new constitution, all hell will break loose.

Speaking of the failure of the AKP to garner its wished-for super-majority and rewrite the constitution by itself, former US Ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson, said that ‘[g]iven concerns about Erdoğan’s megalomania and authoritarian tendencies that have gained traction in Turkey in recent months, the outcome is good for Turkish democracy.’ Let’s hope it is good too for Kurdish aspirations.

Zana says government fears a solution

Leyla Zana in Silvan

Thousands of Kurds were in the streets today protesting against the ongoing military and political operations carried out by police and army. Close to 900 people have been detained since Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK) barred a group of parliamentary candidates from running in the upcoming election. The YSK reversed its decision a few days later.

Leyla Zana, independent candidate for parliament, spoke to a huge crowd in her hometown of Silvan. Zana is running as a candidate from Diyarbakır in the ‘Labour, Democracy and Freedom’ bloc, an umbrella group for independent candidates in the 12 June general elections. Many are supported by the BDP.

Said Zana to the crowd, ‘This country is witnessing very dark forces trying all they can to prevent the Kurdish Question from being solved. These forces do not want peace, do not want this question to be resolved. Indeed they fear a solution.’

Zana also said of Turkish PM Erdoğan, ‘You are not bigger than these people.’

Twenty years ago Zana used Kurdish in parliament while taking the oath of office. She was later stripped of her parliamentary immunity and sent to prison on terrorism charges, where she remained behind bars for ten years (1994-2004). While in prison, she was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize for her efforts to advance Kurdish minority rights. The European Court of Human Rights later ruled that Turkey had violated Zana’s right to freedom of expression and ordered the government to pay her compensation.

Leyla Zana turns 50 on Tuesday.

Watch video:

YSK REVERSES COURSE!

The Supreme Election Board (YSK) in Turkey just announced that it would reinstate the candidacy of many of the candidates it had barred just three days ago. In the intervening three days, clashes have erupted in several cities in Turkey resulting in the death of one Kurdish protester, Ibrahim Oruç (age 18), whose funeral was held today. An estimated 30,000 people marched through the streets of Bismil where his funeral took place.

Sırrı Sakık, a Kurdish lawmaker and candidate for the upcoming general elections, told HaberTürk television that the YSK decision is a ‘benefit to democracy but the price has been heavy’ and that the decision was ‘tainted with blood.’

The six BDP-supported candidates who were reinstated are:

Gültan Kışanak, BDP party co-chair, who will run from Siirt

Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Bianet Project Coordinator and journalist (Mersin)

Leyla Zana, former MP and political prisoner (Diyarbakır)

Hatip Dicle, former MP & co-chair of banned DTP (Diyarbakır)

Sebahat Tuncel, lawyer and Istanbul deputy (Istanbul)

Salih Yıldız, former mayor of Yüksekova (Hakkari)

Not all convictions are created equal

YSK (Election Board) office

Just as it looked as though the momentum was building for Kurdish politicians, the Turkish government has once again stepped in to block their efforts to become part of the political landscape. Yesterday, Turkey’s senior election board (Yüksek Seçim Kurulu, YSK) disqualified 12 independent candidates from running for parliament in the upcoming June election on the grounds that they are legally unfit to be candidates. Most of them were Kurds or supported by the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

YSK’s action could effectively block the prospects for any additional Kurdish representatives to be elected when the parliamentary voting is held in mid-June. Turkey’s Kurdish minority has only 20 representatives in parliament and wants to cross the 10% threshold to be represented as a party in the new parliament. The party had planned to back 61 candidates in 39 provinces who wanted to run as independents under the ‘Labour, Democracy and Freedom’ block in order to overcome that threshold for political parties.

Some of the Kurdish politicians declared ineligible had previously been approved by YSK when they ran for office in the 2007 election. YSK attributed the discrepancy to its lack of complete information about them four years ago, including the unlikely excuse that they were unaware that some had criminal records. The YSK’s action is widely viewed among Kurds as an underhanded tactic to disenfranchise them.

‘This is a political decision that prevents participation of Kurds in democratic politics,’ said Ahmet Türk, a banned Kurdish politician and former member of the DTP, a Kurdish political party closed down by the Constitutional Court in 2009. ‘Despite all our democratic efforts, politics has been blocked for Kurds.’

Now the BDP is pondering whether to withdraw from the June elections in response to the YSK’s decision to bar some of its candidates. Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the BDP described the upcoming poll as undemocratic and called on the Parliament to postpone the 12 June vote.

Many of independent candidates were blocked due to past convictions. Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan too has a past conviction and has spent time in prison. He served four months in 1998 for reading a poem that was deemed anti-Kemalist. But not all convictions are created equal. When a Kurd reads a poem, or sings, or dances, or marches, the charges are almost always tied to terrorism. And it is those candidates with terrorism-related convictions who were barred.

Leyla Zana (left)

One of those barred candidates is Leyla Zana. Twenty years ago Zana used Kurdish in parliament while taking the oath of office. She was later stripped of her parliamentary immunity and sent to prison on terrorism charges, where she remained behind bars for ten years (1994-2004). While in prison, she was awarded the European Parliament’s human rights prize for her efforts to advance Kurdish minority rights. The European Court of Human Rights later ruled that Turkey had violated Zana’s right to freedom of expression and ordered the government to pay her compensation. Zana would have run as a candidate from Diyarbakır.

The other BDP-supported candidates who were barred from running are BDP party co-chair Gültan Kışanak who would have run from Siirt, Hatip Dicle, a current KCK suspect (Diyarbakır), Bianet Project Coordinator and journalist Ertuğrul Kürkçü (Mersin), Isa Gürbüz (Elazığ), Salih Yıldız (Hakkari), Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) leader Şerafettin Elçi (Diyarbakır) and Istanbul DTP deputy Sebahat Tuncel (Istanbul).

Aysel Tuğluk, former DTP Member of Parliament and current candidate, warned the situation could possibly lead to ‘new clashes’ in the country’s southeast. Turkish officials frequently allege that pro-Kurdish political parties act as the political wing for PKK rebels. Tuğluk was sentenced in 2009 for violating anti-terrorism laws when she referred to PKK fighters as ‘heroes to some’ but was not barred this round by the YSK.

Selahattin Demirtaş called the election board’s decision ‘a political operation; a political purge’ that would benefit the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the elections. ‘The state has decided to hand over [Turkey’s south-eastern] region to the AKP,’ Demirtaş told broadcaster CNNTürk.

Demirtaş was clear in underlining that ‘we are in the presence of a clear conspiracy against our block. The candidates YSK has banned were absolutely entitled to run as candidates. We have legal papers in our hands. There is no lawful reason to ban them. This is why we have to look at this decision as the political planned will to prevent our block to contest the elections.’ Commenting on the excluded candidates, Demirtaş underlined that ‘Sebahat Tuncel and Gültan Kışanak are deputies and at the last elections the YSK did not find any problem in them contesting the elections.’ He went so far as to say that this ‘is nothing short of a declaration of war.’

Demonstrations in Diyarbakır

Thousands of people took to the streets to protest against YSK’s decision to bar these candidates. They marched to the ruling AKP office in Diyarbakır, chanting slogans against PM Erdoğan, who is seen as one of the plotters against Kurdish politicians. Demonstrations were also held in Batman, Mersin and Van.

The BDP had announced on Sunday its independent nominees, including six candidates who are suspects in the ongoing trial of the illegal Kurdish Communities Union, or KCK, which resumes today. One of those candidates, Hatip Dicle, was banned by the YSK. The other five KCK suspects include Faysal Sarı from Şırnak; Ibrahim Ayhan from Şanlıurfa; Kemal Aktaş from Van; Selma Irmak from Şırnak and Gülseren Yıldırım from Mardin.

Emine Ayna, Nursel Aydoğan, and journalist Altan Tan will be independent candidates from Diyarbakır. Former deputies of the now-closed Democratic Society Party, or DTP, Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk will run from Mardin.

In Istanbul the BDP is running director and writer Sırrı Süreyya Önder and former BDP Istanbul provincial chairman Mustafa Avcı. Labour Party (EMEP) leader Levent Tüzel is another independent deputy supported by the BDP in Istanbul. Tüzel was an independent candidate from Izmir in the 2007 parliamentary elections but was not elected.

Hakkari and Şırnak are also among the provinces where the BDP seeks to have more than one deputy. These two provinces, which lent strong support to the BDP in its call for a boycott of the 12 September referendum with more than 90 percent of the voters refusing to cast a vote, are regarded as a ‘liberated zone’ by the BDP. The aim of the BDP in Hakkari is to have all of three independent candidates elected. BDP party co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş is one of the candidates who will run from Hakkari. Another BDP-sponsored candidate from Hakkari is Esat Canan, an ethnic Kurd and former CHP deputy for Hakkari. The third Hakkari candidate is Kurdish writer and journalist Adil Kurt.

As for the BDP’s Şırnak deputy candidates, current Şırnak deputy Hasip Kaplan and former DTP Deputy Chairman Selma Irmak will run as independent deputies in the elections from there. Irmak, as mentioned above, is also currently under arrest as part of the KCK investigation.

Erol Dora, a lawyer of Assyrian origin, will run from Mardin, which has the largest Assyrian population in Turkey. In Dersim (Tunceli), which is predominantly Alevi, Alevi folk music singer Ferhat Tunç will run.

Other candidates on the list include Bengi Yıldız, Ayla Akat, Sırrı Sakık, Akın Birdal and Hasip Kaplan. Yüksel Avşar, a relative of the artist Hülya Avşar, will run for Ardahan.

Speaking at a meeting in Diyarbakır where the candidates were announced, Demirtaş said the candidates were elected from among 400 nominees and that the party had held primary elections in 11 provinces. He added that 13 of the party’s 61 candidates are women and 36 of them are university graduates.

The BDP has defined its deputy candidate list as a ‘picture of Turkey’ and Demirtaş said that ‘every single colleague nominated for the elections should be embraced by our people [Kurds] in every region. They should work for the elections hand-in-hand without causing controversy.’

AlJazeera gets it wrong on political party ban reform

Was just reading an article in AlJazeera that stated the following:

And Turkey’s Kurds, who arguably benefit most from the proposed changes that make it more difficult to ban political parties, having seen judges repeatedly throw their own representatives out of parliament, are boycotting the entire referendum.

This is not true!! The original provision to change the law on banning political parties was removed from the final reform package. It is not part of tomorrow’s referendum.

When voting took place on individual articles of the reform package in early May, this particular provision was rejected.

The AKP had wanted to make bans conditional on the approval of a parliamentary committee comprised of five members from each of the three biggest parties, moving the decision-making process from the courts to the parliament.

This proposal was rejected by three votes after a number of AKP legislators voted against it. The pro-Kurdish BDP also voted against it because the proposed article would have excluded the BDP from the 5-member committee.

Under current law, the chief prosecutor can file a case with the Constitutional Court to have a party closed, fined or its members banned from politics.

AlJazeera says that confusion shrouds Turkey’s reform package.  AlJazeera, too, is confused.