Crackdown on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party raises concerns among opposition

Crackdown on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party raises concerns among opposition
Supporters of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) at a rally. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 10 October 2020

Crackdown on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party raises concerns among opposition

Crackdown on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party raises concerns among opposition
  • Four members of the HDP were arrested on Oct. 8 in relation to protests in 2014

ANKARA: The latest crackdown on Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has raised concerns about the government’s underlying motives and the risk posed to opposition parties.

Four members of the HDP — including Sevin Alaca, the co-mayor of the eastern province of Kars — were arrested on Oct. 8 in relation to protests in 2014, bringing the number of recent arrests over the incident to 16.

Those arrested are accused of encouraging anti-government protests in southeastern provinces in October 2014 in reaction to the Daesh siege of Syria’s mainly Kurdish border town of Kobane. Demonstrators allegedly claimed that the Turkish government failed to protect Kobane against Daesh.

Some view the recent arrests as an attempt by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to weaken the HDP, which gained 13 percent of the votes in the last general elections.

Talking to Halk TV on Oct. 7, HDP’s co-chairman Mithat Sancar claimed that the political cost to the government of shutting down the HDP would be too great, but that it is trying to ensure the party cannot function properly.

“The Constitutional Court has been under more and more pressure in recent days and it is being threatened,” he said. “Thus, we would not be surprised by the closure of the HDP. But the government does not want to take this path for now because this would have a political cost and would trigger reactions from both global and domestic spheres. That is why the government can adopt a less costly method by making the party a de facto ineffective one.”

Berk Esen, a political analyst from Sabanci University in Istanbul, told Arab News there are several reasons why the government would not simply close down the HDP, the main one being that it does not want to create a precedent for party bans, which have hurt the Islamist movement in the past. In 2008, the AKP was on trial and threatened with closure, and its leaders have always promised to oppose banning political parties.

Banning a party would likely incur a severe backlash against the Turkish government from the European Union, Esen added. A committee from Sweden’s Left Party, including its chairman, paid a visit to the HDP headquarters in Ankara on Oct. 6 and expressed concerns about the silencing of the HDP, which they considered “a big loss” for the country.

“Keeping the HDP open but severely weakened allows the government to retain the image of a democratic regime in Turkey, even though the political system no longer satisfies even the minimal democratic requirements,” Esen said.

Esen added that the HDP also serves as a rallying point for the alliance of the ruling party and its partner, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and helps to keep ultra-nationalist voters behind President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s administration.

“Moreover, the government does not need to close down the party to limit its operations. It has already appointed caretaker administrators to most HDP-controlled municipalities and arrested hundreds of party officials, including its former leader,” he said.

In the 2019 local elections, the HDP — Turkey’s third-largest party — won 65 municipalities throughout the country, but only six of its 65 mayors remain in office, with the rest removed under terror-related charges and their positions taken up by government-appointed bureaucrats.

“The HDP has taken a huge hit from the government’s crackdown and faces enormous organizational challenges in the months ahead. At this point, its resistance remains primarily at the ballot box, where its loyal voters continue to support it,” Esen said.

For Sinem Adar, an associate at the Center for Applied Turkey Studies (CATS) in the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, the latest crackdown on the HDP matches a general trend that has been apparent since Turkey’s June 2015 elections: A systematic attack on Kurdish political representation by Erdogan’s party and the MHP.

“This trend has included a variety of methods, such as the removal of parliamentary immunity from Kurdish MPs, their criminalization and systematic exclusion from political processes, and — last but not least — the replacement of elected mayors by government-appointed trustees,” she told Arab News.

“Nationalist factions within the security apparatus became a part of this trend after the failed coup attempt in 2016. In light of the developments in Northern Syria, with Turkish military interventions, the ruling class is determined to suppress Kurdish political representation and participation,” she continued.

There are widespread concerns among other opposition parties, too, that what happened to the HDP might also happen to them.

“We need to stand up against all injustices, regardless of which party, who is experiencing them,” Hasan Subasi, a lawmaker from IYI (Good) Party said on Oct. 6 during a televised speech, adding that a Turkish parliament without the HDP would not represent Turkey and would be “anti-democratic.”

According to Adar, violating the political rights of the members of the HDP is a tactic that the government has been using to drive a wedge between the HDP and the opposition parties, particularly the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP). “After all, the March 2019 elections have clearly shown that the Kurds have become king-makers,” she said.

Adar said the crackdown could also be part of the government’s divide-and-conquer tactics when it comes to the CHP itself.

“The CHP is known to include various factions that might not necessarily agree with one another on how the Kurdish question should be addressed. The systematic suppression of the HDP can also be a means to (stoke) existing differences within the CHP,” she said.

Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom

Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom
Updated 24 min 41 sec ago

Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom

Bahrainis detained by Qatar return to kingdom
  • The 3 were released by Qatari authorities on Thursday and arrived in Bahrain via Oman
  • They were arrested while fishing, Bahrain says they were in territorial waters

DUBAI: Three Bahrainis detained by Qatar have arrived back in the kingdom after Manama helped to extradite their release, the Bahrain News Agency reported on Friday.
Bodybuilding champion Sami Al-Haddad, his friend Mohammed Al-Dossari and fisherman Habib Abbas were released by Qatari authorities on Thursday after they were arrested by Qatari coast and border security while fishing at sea, in two separate incidents. Bahrain said that the three citizens were in the country’s territorial waters.
The three men thanked Bahrain’s King Hamad and Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad for the attention and care that they had received, which they said had a great impact on their release and return.
They also thanked the interior ministry, headed by Lt. Gen. Sheikh Rashid bin Abdullah, and the foreign ministry, headed by Abdullatif Al-Zayani, for their efforts and the measures that contributed to their safe return.
The men said that they were proud to see the “patriotic interest they received for their cause,” both from the government and the Bahraini people.
Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its “profound thanks and gratitude to Oman for the efforts made by the authorities in the sultanate to coordinate and follow up on the release of Bahraini citizens detained in Qatar and to facilitate their return to Bahrain.”
The three arrived in Oman on Thursday following their release, the kingdom’s embassy in Muscat confirmed.
The ministry said that the release of the citizens by Qatar was “a step that reflects the spirit required toward resolving the outstanding issues between the two countries in order to enhance the process of cooperation between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.”
The statement also said that Bahrain hoped that Qatar would release Asian sailors who work on Bahraini fishing vessels, and take into account their humanitarian situation.
Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, ended a three-year rift with Qatar on Jan. 5 following a GCC summit in the historic city of AlUla, formally restoring diplomatic relations and opening their land, sea and air borders.