International, domestic groups condemn new crackdown on HDP officials

The Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP) and left-wing political parties in other countries on Saturday condemned Turkey’s operation to arrest 82 people, including HDP officials, as part of an investigation into the 2014 Kobani protests.

Among those the Ankara’s Chief Public Prosecutor issued arrest warrants for were members of the pro-Kurdish HDP, including former parliamentary deputies, mayors and former party chairs. At least 18 people have so far been arrested in an operation conducted by counterterrorism units simultaneously covering seven provinces.

HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan said the operation was politically motivated and revenge for the June 7, 2015 elections, where the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its super majority in parliament and HDP grew to be the third largest party in the country, with 80 deputies.

“This operation against HDP is a continuation of previous operations, it is a coup attempt,” she told reporters on Saturday. “The HDP did not bow down, it will not bow down. It did not bend a knee, it will not bend a knee, let that bother you.”

Buldan criticised Turkish authorities for investigating the deaths during widespread violent protests in Turkey in 2014. She said 47 HDP members had been killed, although their names were not made public.

In Oct. 2014, demonstrators flooded the streets in Turkey's majority-Kurdish southeast, accusing the Turkish military of standing by as the Islamic State (ISIS) besieged Kobani, a Kurdish town just across the border in Syria. The subsequent clashes between protesters, fundamentalist groups and Turkish security forces led to the deaths of at least 37 people.

“The main reason behind the HDP people being taken away in reverse handcuffs … is because they supported the struggle against ISIS in Kobani, which (President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) said was ‘about to fall’,” exiled Turkish journalist Can Dündar said on Twitter on Saturday.

In an interview with pro-Kurdish Mesopotamia Agency, HDP Group Deputy Chairwoman Meral Danış Beştaş said the Turkish government was using the legal system as “tool of punishment that they can use at their will.”

“The protests took place in 2014. We are now in 2020,” she said. “They are using the Kobani incidents to create legitimate grounds for their attacks.”

At the same interview, Garo Paylan, HDP deputy co-chair for economy, said the governing AKP was “unable to create a narrative” for the latest arrest operation.

“They need to polarise the people and create common enemies in order to cover up their political and economic failure,” he said “I think the peoples of Turkey know that there is a conspiracy here.”

Timur Kuran, a politico-economic professor at Duke University, said the mass arrests by Turkish authorities was “another step toward shutting down” the HDP.

Since local elections in 2019, Ankara has dismissed mayors from at least 51 out of the 65 municipalities the HDP won, accusing them of links to terrorism, and replaced them with government-appointed proxies. Two former HDP co-chairs, Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, remain in prison over terrorism charges since 2016. Yüksekdağ’s deputy status was revoked in 2017, while Demirtaş’s ended with the 2018 elections.

“Reducing Kurdish alienation through dialogue and compromise just got even harder. Democracy got buried deeper,” Kuran said on Twitter.

Mesut Yeğen, a sociology professor from the Istanbul Şehir University, said it was not a coincidence the arrests came at the time when the Turkish government stopped its “aggressive politics abroad.”

“The issue has no legal aspect to it. I consider it to be part of a political calculation about today,” he told Bianet on Friday.

After over a month of political and military tensions between Turkey and Greece over a territorial dispute in the eastern Mediterranean, the two countries have signalled their willingness to de-escalate the situation, preventing a direct confrontation and potential European Union sanctions.

In Libya, the Turkey-backed Tripoli government and its rival Libyan National Army agreed last week to resume national oil production and exports. Both sides have fought in a bloodied civil war, the latest stage of which was a failed 14-month LNA offensive to take the capital.

“(The AKP government) needs to start a fire under nationalist masses so that it can keep them around itself in domestic politics. It wants to start this much-needed fire around the Peoples' Democratic Party,” Yeğen said.

The news of the extensive raid drew condemnation from international institutions and groups, including from deputies from European Parliament.

Left-wing parties from various countries released statements denouncing the arrests and called on their respective governments to demand the release of political prisoners in Turkey.

Susan Price from Australia’s Socialist Alliance called on Canberra to protest the arrests and summon the country’s Turkish ambassador to demand Turkey to halt the crackdown, in a video posted on Twitter.

In a video posted on pro-Kurdish Fırat News Agency’s website, fellow Socialist Alliance member Alex Bainbridge labelled the raids a “barbaric, anti-democratic action by the Turkish regime”.

“We should call on all countries to distance themselves diplomatically from this hard right regime in Turkey," Bainbridge said.

The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) in Malaysia said in a written statement on Saturday: “The continuous attack by the Erdoğan regime against HDP is an attempt to deny the Turkish people an alternative for a democratic future that will bring meaningful change to the Middle East and Europe.”