Pro-Kurdish Party in Turkey threatened


From The National by Thomas Seibert, (Foreign Correspondent):

Turkish Kurdish party threatened

ISTANBUL // As Turkey awaits the outcome of a court case aimed at banning the country’s ruling party, the main pro-Kurdish party has also been fighting for survival before the same court in a case that highlights Turkey’s continued problems to deal with the Kurdish question and that could lead to new setbacks for the country’s troubled EU bid, observers say.

Representatives of the Democratic Society Party, or DTP, last week handed in the party’s written defence to the constitutional court in Ankara. Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, Turkey’s chief prosecutor, accuses the DTP of being a “centre for separatist activities” and wants the party banned. In a separate trial, Mr Yalcinkaya has also called for a ban of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, accusing it of Islamist tendencies.

The Democratic Society is the latest incarnation of pro-Kurdish parties in Turkey and was set up after several other parties had been banned in recent years. Turkey’s judiciary and security forces see the DTP, which entered parliament last year with 20 deputies and formed the first Kurdish parliamentary group in Turkish history, as the political arm of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a banned rebel group that has been fighting the Turkish army since 1984 in a war that has cost almost 40,000 lives.

When Mr Yalcinkaya started procedures against the Democratic Society last November, he accused it of supporting the PKK. He claimed the party had been set up on orders of the PKK’s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan. Besides calling for the party’s dissolution, the prosecutor wants the court to bar eight DTP deputies from politics for five years.

In its defence, the Democratic Society rejected Mr Yalcinkaya’s accusations of separatism and stated it aimed for a solution of the Kurdish question in the framework of Turkey’s unified state. According to newspaper reports, the party pointed out that the internet search engine, Google, showed 129,000 results for the words “DTP unitary state”.

Despite the Democratic Society’s 173 pages of defence, most observers expect the court to ban the party, a decision that is likely to have consequences for the country’s EU bid.

“Turkey is about to shoot itself in the foot,” said Beril Dedeoglu, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Galatasaray University. She said that under EU standards, political parties could only be banned if they use or advocate violence.

The entry of the DTP into parliament after last July’s elections had raised hopes that the Kurdish question could be addressed in non-violent ways. In a gesture widely praised as a sign of hope and a new beginning, the DTP’s leader at the time, Ahmet Turk, shook hands with Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, a right-wing group strictly opposed to any idea of Kurdish autonomy.

But as the PKK stepped up its attacks in Turkey and killed dozens of soldiers last autumn, pressure on the Democratic Society rose. Mr Erdogan and other politicians as well as the mainstream media called on the party to distance itself from the PKK and define members of the rebel group as terrorists, which the DTP has refused to do.

“Will terror end if the DTP calls them terrorists?” the party asked in its defence to the constitutional court last week. “The PKK is a consequence. Let us talk about the reasons” for its existence, the party added.

Ms Dedeoglu said Turks are growing to accept that the Kurdish problem could no longer be ignored. In a speech seen as a radical departure from past practices, Mr Erdogan three years ago admitted that the state had made “mistakes” in dealing with the Kurdish minority. He also spoke of a “Kurdish problem”, the first Turkish prime minister to do so.

Also, Mr Erdogan’s government has overseen a series of reforms that have widened cultural rights for the Kurds. Only last week, parliament passed a bill that allows Turkey’s state-run television company, TRT, to establish a channel that broadcasts programmes in Kurdish and other minority languages 24 hours a day.

Still, a party like the DTP that openly campaigns for a minority group runs contrary to Turkey’s official state ideology that is held high by the judiciary and the military and that places the principle of national unity above all else. Turkey’s unusually high threshold of 10 per cent for parties that want to enter parliament was established after the last military coup in 1980 to keep Kurdish parties out. The Democratic Society was able to enter parliament last year by having its politicians run as nominally independent candidates, who do not have to cross the 10 per cent mark to win a seat.

A recent study commissioned by Ankara’s National Security Council, which comprises the president, leading ministers and the army leadership, showed that 12.6 million people in Turkey are Kurds, newspapers reported. But in a decision typical for a state that is reluctant to openly discuss ethnic differences for fear of undermining national unity, the results of the report were kept secret, the reports said.

That ideology has shown little sign of changing, despite causing problems for Turkey’s EU application. “Turkey has made no progress on ensuring cultural diversity and promoting respect for and protection of minorities in accordance with European standards,” the European Union said in its latest progress report on Turkey, published last November.

The likely outcome of the DTP trial will add to Turkey’s problems in Brussels, Ms Dedeoglu said. “The DTP will be banned, they will go to [the European Court of Human Rights in] Strasbourg and they will probably win there,” she said. Meanwhile, Kurdish politicians in Turkey will either create a new party or return to parliament as independent candidates, Ms Dedeoglu predicted.

She said nationalists in Turkey’s judiciary are perfectly aware that this is the most likely consequence of the case against the DTP and that a ban of the party will not mean the end of political representation of the Kurds. “But they go on with it anyway.”

The National ( – Thomas Seibert, Foreign Correspondent