Erdogan’s regime targets the HDP and the Kurds

A summary by Devriş Çimen, Representative of the HDP in Europe

  • On 4 November, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chairs, Figen Yüksekdag and Selahattin Demirtaş, alongside other parliamentarians, will mark the 5th anniversary of their arrest
  • Over 4,000 HDP members are currently in prison
  • Dozens of journalists have been detained and the media is censored
  • The HDP is facing a potential ban by the Constitutional Court
  • In the “Kobanê case”, 108 politicians are on trial. Among them are numerous HDP members, 20 of whom are in prison.
  • The Turkish parliament had extended their mandate for Turkish troops in Iraq and Syria
  • Turkey has shown disregard for international law and human rights, including ignoring the decisions of several international institutions, such as the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the European Court of Human Rights
  • Turkey continues to be an “occupying power” in northern Syria (Rojava) and Northern Iraq (South Kurdistan), and to commit human rights abuses in the areas it occupies
  • There have been numerous reports of Turkey’s use of chemical weapons in Northern Iraq (South Kurdistan)

With these points, we want to draw your attention to the arbitrary procedures of the Erdoğan regime and its authoritarian methods in fighting the Kurds in and around Turkey. Below, we look at some of these points in more detail.

4 November marks the anniversary of the imprisonment of HDP co-chairs Figen Yüksekdag and Selahattin Demirtaş, who have been in prison since 2016. The party continues to resist arbitrary and systematic repression. Trials are taking place in Turkish courts against our imprisoned former co-chairs, against HDP parliamentarians, against our dismissed co-mayors, against many other party members, and against the party itself. Most notable are the ‘Kobanê Case’ and the attempt to ban the HDP. If the ban is agreed by the court, this would also mean a 5-year ban on active politics for 451 HDP politicians.

Arbitrary trials and thousands of imprisonments

The HDP sees these trials as politically motivated. There is no other way to understand these arbitrary proceedings. In Turkey, we have seen Erdoğan’s regime take control of all state institutions. The HDP is the second largest opposition party in Turkey, and has been oppressed systematically for years by the Islamic nationalist regime. Since 2016, over 10,000 HDP members have been imprisoned. More than 4,000 are still in prison. Thousands of other political prisoners are also currently in jail in Turkey. Today, 95% of the Turkish media is controlled by the regime, and the remaining 5% faces constant censorship. Dozens of journalists have been imprisoned for years because of their critical reporting.

All these political prisoners are subject to human rights abuses. including isolation, lack of medical treatment, and psychological and physical torture. These have been the subject of reports by many human rights organisations. 

Former co-chair of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtaş, is the subject of numerous trials in the Turkish courts. The Turkish Constitutional Court had ruled that his detention was unlawful. The European Court of Human Rights has condemned his imprisonment and repeatedly demanded his release. However, all detentions of HDP members are politically motivated, and Demirtaş continues to be held as a political hostage by Erdoğan’s regime.

Why is the HDP being prosecuted for the Kobanê protests?

Selahattin Demirtaş is on trial in the so-called Kobanê Case, together with 107 other defendants. Among many accusations, they are accused of ‘destroying the unity of the state and integrity of the country‘, in connection with the Kobanê protests in 2014.

When the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS) attacked the Kurdish town of Kobanê in Syria, close to the Turkish border, there were large demonstrations and solidarity actions in support of Kobanê by thousands of people in Turkey and worldwide. In Turkey, there were violent clashes and escalations with Turkish security forces during the protests at the beginning of October 2014. The HDP are being held responsible for these clashes by the Erdoğan regime. With this trial, the regime wants to criminalise these demonstrations and also the worldwide solidarity with the resistance in Kobanê.

Erdoğan perceives Kurdish resistance and Kurdish victory against ISIS as threats. At that time, people in Turkey expected the Turkish government to support the resistance against ISIS. However, for Erdoğan, ISIS provided a welcome opportunity to destroy Kurdish gains in Rojava (North and East Syria) without much intervention.

In the background to these events, the so-called ‘peace process’ between the Erdoğan regime and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was still going on. It aimed to expand democratic conditions in Turkey and to solve the ‘Kurdish Issue’ through a democratic and peaceful framework. However, these peace talks were broken off as a result of Erdoğan’s anti-Kurdish stance.

In the parliamentary elections in June 2015, the HDP was able to increase its vote share to 13.1%, with more than 6 million votes. They surpassed the 10% election threshold to enter parliament with 80 seats. This prevented Erdoğan’s AKP from achieving a parliamentary majority that would enable him to amend the constitution. After this, Erdoğan began a systematic campaign of revenge against the HDP. Cities in south-eastern Turkey with a high proportion of votes for the HDP were besieged by the Turkish military and security forces, resulting in hundreds of people losing their lives. The state of emergency imposed on these cities became a daily routine for the inhabitants. Instead of democratising the country, the Erdoğan regime used war as a political instrument.

Extension of the parliamentary mandate for Turkish troops in Iraq and Syria

On 26 October 2021, a resolution was passed in the Turkish Parliament to allow more troops to be sent to Iraq and Syria – in other words, to allow continued military invasion and occupation there. This was a further extension of resolutions first passed in the parliament in 2007 for Iraq and in 2012 for Syria. In Both countries, the Turkish military is creating its own military bases. Last week, the mandate was extended for two more years, until October 2023.

The HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), the CHP (Republican People’s Party), the TIP (Workers’ Party of Turkey) and the DBP (Democratic Regions Party) all rejected the motion in parliament. Political parties outside parliament and non-governmental organisations also opposed the military mandate. However, MPs from the AKP (Justice and Development Party), MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) and IYI Party (Good Party) voted in favour of the motion. HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan called the mandate an ‘extension of war and occupation’.

Turkey’s presence and actions in Syria and Iraq violate international law and human rights. Turkey is committing massive crimes against humanity. Recently, Turkey was described by the EU Commission as an “occupying power” in northern Syria (Rojava). In northern Iraq (South Kurdistan), Turkey has been waging a war against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for years, and is extending its own network of military bases.

Use of banned chemical weapons

As part of the ongoing invasion of northern Iraq, several reports have accused Turkey of using chemical weapons. The use of chemical weapons is a war crime and a violation of international law. Calls for an investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are becoming more numerous and louder – including from international women’s organisations, and from Kurdish and  Arab intellectuals, both from northern Iraq  and the rest of Iraq.

Protests have been taking place for weeks, and there have been numerous appeals to the OPCW and the UN from different bodies. The issue has been raised in the EU and European parliaments, and the Kurdish Friendship Group in the European Parliament has called for an investigation into the attacks.

Turkey has a duty to abide by human rights law and international laws and norms. So far, they have not done so. If this continues, then it is the duty of international bodies to hold Turkey to account and impose legal measures.

Since its founding, the HDP has always stood up for human rights and values. This has resulted in its systematic repression. The HDP will pursue its struggle for democratisation, and will do its best to ensure Turkey maintains human rights, and international laws and norms. If international bodies are interested in a democratic Turkey, then they must support the HDP and not leave it on its own. Indeed, as is often said, the HDP is the only real opposition to the Erdoğan regime. The HDP is the bridge to a democratic Turkey.

Photo: HDP MPs wanted to make a press statement in Diyarbakir on 20/10/2019. The police had surrounded them and prevented them from doing so.