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.

Tensions between Kurds and the Turkish state escalating rapidly

Continuing on from KB’s article below, it seems that the Turkish state’s conflict with its Kurdish minority will only further escalate over the coming months.

The Kurdistan Freedom Falcons, or in Kurdish, Teyrênbazê Azadîya Kurdistan (TAK), have issued a warning to tourists wanting to travel to Turkey. Firat News Agency reported that TAK are threatening new attacks in touristic areas:

your holidays, entertainments return  guns, bullets, bombs to Kurdish people and cause deaths. All of holiday areas in Turkey are attack and revengeful areas for us. It is the time of action and we will not hesitate to do what is necessary.

TAK (Teyrênbazên Azadîya Kurdistan) warns holiday goers to stay away from from Turkey, a 'terror' country

TAK, emerged in 2004 and have carried out a number of attacks on legal and government institutions, personnel as well as tourist locations. They are considered a hard-line splinter group from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The group was last active in 2006 and has been mostly absent from the Turkish-Kurdish conflict scene since then.

As well as issuing the warning, TAK claimed responsibility for a roadside bomb attack in Istanbul on June 8th 2010 which left 15 Turkish soldiers injured, their first such attack since 2006.

The announcement by TAK indicates a worsening situation in Turkey. As KB has pointed indicated in the previous article, the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) and the Turkish PM Erdogan have recently taken a new harsh approach to the Kurdish minority. The arrest and trial of the peace group that returned from the Kurdistan region of Iraq, the arrest of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) members and the heightened Turkish military activity in the Kurdish regions of Turkey have all led to the end of the so called “Kurdish Opening” aimed at reconciliation with Turkey’s Kurds.

AKP’s harsh approach is most likely because they are trying to please the nationalist extremist elements of Turkish society to win more votes when national elections approach next year. Turkish media has reported that nationalist Turks viewed the return of the peace group from Iraqi Kurdistan as a victory for Kurds in conflict between PKK and the state. In fact Turkish media have also speculated that an early election may be announced sooner, in fall 2010.

But what effect is this having on average Kurds? Erdogan and the AKP have changed their approach towards the Kurdish issue alternating between harsh and reconciliatory attitudes, usually whenever an election is near. It says a lot about the state of Turkey as a country where the interests of nationalist Turks and Kurds, secularists and Islamists, conflict.

The AKP’s almost schizophrenic approach to the Kurdish question may lead to only a more radicalized Kurdish population disillusioned by the policies and discourse of the Turkish state, which one day offers the hand of peace, then the next day shuts down pro-Kurdish parties that many Kurds vote for.

TAK, coming back on the scene, is the product of this radicalization and the further the AKP, as well as Turkish nationalists, continue denying the reality of such groups as the consecutive pro-Kurdish parties, their politicians and even the PKK as real representatives of the Kurdish people in Turkey, the greater the divisions will become between Kurds and Turks.

SOURCES:

Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK) official website – Turkish language.

TAK issues warning to tourists going to Turkey – Firat News Agency, 17 June 2010.

Turkish military says Kurdish rebel attacks increasing – CNN, 18 June 2010.

The Big Question: Who is behind the bombings in Turkey, and what do they want? – The Independent, 30 August 2006.

15 wounded in attack in Turkey – Associated Press, 08 June 2010.

Attacks threaten unusual Turkish outreach to Kurds – Today’s Zaman, 16 June 2010.

AK Party signals snap elections under worst case scenario – Today’s Zaman, 18 June 2010.

‘Kurdish Opening’ now closed; Peace Group on trial

What started out as a gesture of reconciliation has ended in the death of the Kurdish Opening.

In October of last year 26 refugees from Mexmur refugee camp and eight members of the PKK crossed into Turkey at the Habur gate.   The ‘Peace Group’ (Peace and Democratic Solution Group, or Koma Aştî û Çareseriya Demokratîk in Kurdish) as it became known was welcomed enthusiastically by thousands and thousands of well wishers in the area.  The returnees were not prosecuted by the authorities upon their return. Turkish PM Erdoğan said at the time, ‘Good things are happening in Turkey.  This is hope.’

Now, eight months later, all of the returnees, with the exception of four minors, are on trial.  All 30 have been charged with ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’.  The eight PKK members face additional charges of ‘being a member of a terrorist organisation’, while the refugees from Mexmur face charges of ‘committing a crime in the name of a terrorist organization without being a member.’

The 30 are on trial in three groups at two separate Diyarbakır courts. Yesterday morning ten of them were arrested by the court for being a possible flight risk. Those from PKK face up to 20 years in prison.  The returnees from the refugee camp face up to 15 years each.

What has happened in the past eight months that completely reversed the direction of the so-called Kurdish Opening, or as it would later be dubbed, the Democratic Initiative?

The Turkish government has taken an increasingly hard-line approach towards the Kurds. At the same time, the PKK has increased its activities in the region causing further backlash from Ankara.

In November the government held a parliamentary debate on the initiative. Interior Minister Beşir Atalay announced to the parliament that he intended to permanently end the conflict with the PKK in an open-ended process that would end terrorism and raise Turkey’s level of democracy.  Head of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Deniz Baykal accused Erdoğan of instituting a ‘plan to destroy and split Turkey.’ Then-leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, said the AKP’s initiative was a ‘PKK initiative’ and charged that the government was negotiating and making deals with terrorists.

Ahmet Türk, former head of the now-banned DTP strongly criticised both the CHP and the MHP saying that they were ‘trying very hard to reverse the process because they have nothing to offer society apart from conflict, bloodshed and tears.’  He called their approach to the democratisation process racist, separatist, and dangerous.

The next month, December, saw the closure of the DTP and widespread arrests of local and national Kurdish politicians, activists, and students.  Those arrested were from the DTP and its successor, the BDP. Who can forget the now iconic photograph of BDP politicians lined up outside a courthouse in Diyarbakir in handcuffs? The purge lasted for months and more than 1,500 people were arrested.

Though there was intense opposition, Svante Cornell, a Swedish academic now at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said that while the AKP had good intentions, the whole process ‘failed not mainly because of the opposition, but because it mismanaged the process, had unclear goals, and did not succeed in controlling the flow of information.’

In recent months the PKK has expanded its attacks on Turkish military targets.  Thirty-five soldiers have died.  Earlier this month PKK spokesperson Ahmed Danees told Reuters: ‘Two days ago, we started waging attacks against the Turkish army in response to their repeated military attacks against the party and political attacks facing Kurds in Turkey’.  He also announced that they decided to break the unilateral ceasefire that had been in place since April 2009.

Now, some say, the AKP may adopt a more nationalist rhetoric and harsher tactics in order not to lose votes to the rightwing MHP.  In fact on Tuesday Erdoğan launched into strong attacks against the BDP, the country’s pro-Kurdish party.  Said Erdoğan,  ‘…saying peace won’t bring peace. Those who are in direct or indirect contact with the PKK are accomplices to murder.’ This could be interpreted as a prelude to a possible ban of the party.  After all, the general election is just over a year away.

Under the Peace Watch Tent

Meanwhile, in Diyarbakır, demonstrations and meetings against the Peace Group members’ trials are continuing.  The Diyarbakır Initiative for Peace group, supported by the Human Rights Association (IHD), and Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) have organised gatherings in the Peace Watch Tent.  The tent serves as a centre for speeches and rallies. BDP parliamentarians, Green Party co-chair, chair and former chair of the Human Rights Association (IHD), members of Kurdish Writers Association, regional mayors and many NGO representatives are there showing their support for the returnees. The peace watch tent, erected in a nearby park, is decorated with banners reading, ‘Peace is on trial, bear witness.’

sources

10 arrested as trial begins in Turkey for Habur returnees. Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, 17 June 2010.

Support for arrested peace delegates spreads.  DiHA/Dicle News Agency, 17 June 2010.

Jones, Dorian. Friction Between Turkey, Kurdish Rebels Increasing. VOA News, 17 June 2010

Head, Jonathan. PKK returnees on trial in Turkey. BBC, 17 June 2010.

Stephens, Philip. Turkey puts Kurd activists on trial. Financial Times, 18 June 2010.

PKK rebels say scrap ceasefire on Turkish forces. Reuters, 03 June 2010.

BDP takes arbitrary arrests of Kurdish politicians into EU Court. Rojhelat, 18 May 2010.

Dewleta Tirk ‘açilim’ a xwe qedand; Endamên Koma Aştiyê hatin girtin. HawarNet, 17 June 2010.

Hacaoğlu, Selcan. Attacks threaten unusual Turkish Outreach to Kurds. The Huffington Post, 16 June 2010.

Endamên Koma Aştiyê parêznameya hevpar dan. Firat News, 17 June 2010.

From Kurdistan Commentary:

PKK Peace Caravan, 21 October 2009.

AKP’s Kurdish Initiative, 15 November 2009.

Arrests of Peace Caravan Members, 11 January 2010.

Counting begins

With celebratory fire already in the air, Gorran is poised to make huge inroads in Kurdish areas in this parliamentary election in Iraq.  Sbeiy reports that Gorran is ahead in most polling centres where they’ve done the counting.  Gorran is claiming 10 seats in Slemani—more than 50% of the total.  Gorran is running even with Kurdish Alliance in Chamchamal.  Kurdish Alliance is ahead in many of the rural areas.  Waiting on results from Hewler.