Turkey orders wave of arrests of Kurdish politicians, activists over 2014 protests

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Co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Mithat Sancar, center, holds a press conference at the party’s headquarters in Ankara, on Friday. (AFP)
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Police were on the hunt for the 82 suspects in the Turkish capital and six other provinces. (File/AFP)
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Updated 26 September 2020

Turkey orders wave of arrests of Kurdish politicians, activists over 2014 protests

  • The warrants relate to October 2014 protests in Turkey sparked by the seizure by Daesh militants of Kobane
  • Cimes committed during the protests included murder, attempted murder, theft, damaging property, looting, and burning the Turkish flag

ANKARA: Turkish authorities on Friday ordered the arrest of 82 dissident politicians, women’s rights defenders, and civil society activists in connection with violent protests six years ago.

Current and former members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), were among those being rounded up over demonstrations in 2014 against the Daesh siege of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.

Individuals arrested included Ayhan Bilgen, the co-mayor of the eastern province of Kars, former deputies Sirri Sureyya Onder, Ayla Akat Ata, and Altan Tan, ex-party spokesperson, Gunay Kubilay, and HDP central executive board member Alp Altinors.

At the time of the protests, in which 37 people died, Ankara blamed the HDP for inciting demonstrators to take to the streets.

The move has met with regional and international criticism with Turkish government opponents claiming the arrests were politically motivated and a follow-up to the jailing four years ago of the party’s former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag.

Emma Sinclair-Webb, the director of Human Rights Watch Turkey, told Arab News that the only pretext Ankara had found for keeping Demirtas locked up was an old investigation file. “It focuses on the Oct. 6 to 8, 2014 violent protests in the southeast and attempts to pin responsibility on Demirtas and the HDP, as if the party could have foreseen the violence that would ensue,” she said.

Chief Public Prosecutor Yuksel Kocaman, who has been accused of deliberately delaying the indictment into Demirtas’ case, recently sparked controversy by visiting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the presidential palace with his new wife shortly after their wedding ceremony.

Kocaman’s meeting with Erdogan led to debate about the independence of the country’s judiciary.

FASTFACT

Out of a total of 65 HDP mayors who won in last year’s local elections, 47 have been detained on terror-related charges and replaced by government-appointed officials.

Sinclair-Webb said one of the aims of Friday’s operation could have been to support the case against Demirtas in advance of an anticipated European Court of Human Rights ruling which was expected to demand his release.

“A second motivation for this operation is of course to intimidate and obstruct the HDP,” she added.

Experts pointed out that the government’s latest action was designed to further weaken the HDP ahead of any snap elections and provoke division among opposition groups over the arrests.

Out of a total of 65 HDP mayors who won in last year’s local elections, 47 have been detained on terror-related charges and replaced by government-appointed officials.

Gursel Tekin, a prominent lawmaker from the main opposition CHP, said the arrests aimed to criminalize the HDP along with the democratic and political space it occupied.

“The Turkish president has further polarized society and expects a benefit in return. Such a turn destroys the peace and welfare of 83 million citizens in this county,” Tekin added.

Amnesty International Turkey campaigner, Milena Buyum, told Arab News: “Detaining individuals who could simply be called to make statements in highly mediatized dawn raids undermines their right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.”

She said the latest wave of arrests raised concerns that Turkish authorities may be seeking to create new reasons to keep Demirtas in prison.

“The ongoing detention of HDP members and civil society actors further signals the growing pressure of the government over political opposition and critical voices.

“Prosecution and detention of politicians, journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, and critical voices notably for terrorism-related offenses constitutes a pattern of repression and threatens the very core human rights principles in the country,” Buyum added.

Separately, an 80-year-old inmate imprisoned for holding a Muslim memorial service in Kurdish, died on Wednesday despite calls for delaying his conviction because of his illness.

 


Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

Turkish Cypriot politician Ersin Tatar celebrates his election victory in Turkish-controlled northern Nicosia, Cyprus October 18, 2020. (REUTERS)
Updated 20 October 2020

Turkish Cypriots elect Erdogan’s candidate amid east Med tensions

  • The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations”
  • Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

NICOSIA: Turkish Cypriots in breakaway northern Cyprus on Sunday narrowly elected right-wing nationalist Ersin Tatar, backed by Ankara, in a run-off poll, at a time of heightened tensions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Tatar, 60, clinched his surprise victory in a second round of presidential elections, winning 51.7 percent of the vote, official results showed.
He edged out incumbent Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, 72, a supporter of reunification with the Greek Cypriot south of the divided island, leaving attempts to relaunch long-stalled UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.
Tatar is an advocate of a two-state solution and held the post of premier in the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognized only by Ankara.
He controversially received the open backing of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during the election campaign.
In a victory speech to hundreds of cheering and Turkish flag-waving supporters, Tatar thanked Turkey’s head of state and said: “We deserve our sovereignty — we are the voice of Turkish Cypriots.
“We are fighting to exist within the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, therefore our neighbors in the south and the world community should respect our fight for freedom.”
There was no immediate official reaction from the Greek Cypriot government or ruling party in the south of the island, which is a European Union member state, although opposition parties were quick to lament the outcome.
Erdogan was swift to celebrate the victory, which followed a high 67-percent turnout at the polls.
“I congratulate Ersin Tatar who has been elected president ... Turkey will continue to provide all types of efforts to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” he wrote on Twitter.

HIGHLIGHT

Ersin Tatar edged out incumbent Mustafa Akinc, leaving attempts to relaunch UN-brokered talks hanging in the balance.

In a telephone call the same night, Erdogan said he was confident the two leaders would maintain close cooperation in all areas, “starting with the hydrocarbon linked activities in the eastern Mediterranean,” his office said.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has become an increasingly assertive regional power that is now engaged in a bitter dispute with Greece and Cyprus over oil and gas reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters.
The European Union has deplored Turkey’s drilling for hydrocarbons in disputed waters and warned Ankara against further “provocations,” while multiple countries have staged military drills in the region in recent months.
The second-round ballot was triggered after Tatar won 32 percent of the vote on Oct. 11 ahead of Akinci, who garnered just under 30 percent.
Akinci was tipped to secure a second term, having won the backing of Tufan Erhurman, a fellow social democrat who came third last time around.
After his defeat, Akinci, who had accused Ankara of meddling in the polls, thanked his supporters and said: “You know what happened ... I am not going to do politics on this.”
The TRNC, with a population of about 300,000, was established after the north was occupied by Turkey in 1974 in reaction to a coup that aimed to annex Cyprus to Greece.
Earlier in October, Turkish troops angered the Republic of Cyprus by reopening public access to the fenced-off seaside ghost town of Varosha for the first time since Turkish forces invaded the north.
The reopening was announced jointly by Erdogan and Tatar at a meeting in Ankara just days before the first round of polling.
It drew EU and UN criticism and sparked demonstrations in the Republic of Cyprus, which exercises its authority over the island’s south, separated from the TRNC by a UN-patrolled buffer zone.
On the eve of Sunday’s vote, Greek Cypriot demonstrators massed at a checkpoint along the so-called “Green Line,” holding signs that read “Cyprus is Greek,” in protest at the reopening of nearby Varosha to the Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey has repeatedly said it seeks to defend Turkish and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the eastern Mediterranean.
Akinci’s relationship with Ankara had come under strain, especially after he described the prospect of the north’s annexation by Turkey as “horrible” in February.
When Akinci took office in 2015, he was hailed as the leader best placed to revive peace talks.
But hopes were dashed in July 2017 after UN-mediated negotiations collapsed in Switzerland, notably over Greek Cypriot demands for the withdrawal of the tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers still stationed in the TRNC.