Kurdish party in Turkey faces risk of closure: Political trial moves into key chapter
Thomas Seibert reports on the pending trial against the main Kurdish political party in Turkey, the Democratic Society Party (DTP).Â The DTP is the just the latest Kurdish party of several that have had to face the threat of closure by the Turkish Constitutional Court.Â Since 1993, the courts have banned 3 Kurdish parties that have demanded more rights for the Kurdish population in Turkey and have charged their deputies with various sentences.
Now, the DTP possibly faces the same fate since a case was filed against it last November on the grounds that the party has links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).Â DTP members have denied those allegations and there is a lack of any proof that the allegations are true. Â Still, Turkish prosecutors insist that the Kurdish DTP must be shut down. DTP members suggest that the closure would only further alienate the Kurdish population in Turkey subsequently causing more unrest.
The chairman recently commented, “When you close the door to the democratic politics then the people who believe in this will lose all their hope. We are trying to embrace 72 million politically. If a party with 2 million votes is closed then the hopes of those people who believe in it will be shattered.” [Bianet 2008]
Report from The National:
ISTANBUL // A trial that could result in a ban of Turkeyâ€™s main Kurdish party by the countryâ€™s Constitutional Court before the end of the year has entered its final phase with the party presenting its defence before a panel of 11 judges, while intellectuals and EU officials have been calling on the court not to dissolve the party.
Although Turkeyâ€™s judiciary has banned Kurdish parties before, the trial against the Party for a Democratic Society, or DTP, is the first such effort against a Kurdish group represented in parliament since Turkey started negotiations in 2005 to join the European Union. The EU is watching the trial.
Franceâ€™s ambassador in Turkey, Bernard Emie, speaking as representative of the current EU presidency, criticised the procedure. Trials like the one against the DTP were â€œdevelopments contrary to the wishes of the peopleâ€, the ambassador said.
For Turkey, the broader question behind the case against the DTP is if and at what point the peaceful exercise of political rights in a democracy can become a threat to national unity, a core value of the Turkish republic. Bans of three Kurdish parties in the 15 years since 1993 show that the Turkish judiciary has traditionally taken the view that parties demanding more rights for Kurds can constitute a danger for the country. But Turkeyâ€™s EU reform programme has strengthened individual and political rights, fanning a debate about the legitimacy and effectiveness of party bans.
â€œLetâ€™s say they have banned the DTP. Will the Kurdish problem then dissolve?â€ wrote Ahmet Altan, a well-known intellectual and editor of Taraf, a daily newspaper. â€œNo, it will be worse than before. Kurds will rightly think that they are being treated as second-class citizens.â€
More than 30,000 people have died in clashes between the Turkish army and members of the Kurdish rebel group Kurdistan Workersâ€™ Party, or PKK, which has been fighting Ankara since 1984 and is considered a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the European Union and the United States. The PKK originally said it was fighting for a separate Kurdish state but has since said it wants more autonomy for Turkeyâ€™s estimated 12 million Kurds, a general amnesty and a withdrawal of the Turkish army from Kurdish regions. Ankara rejects those demands.
DTP officials as well as members of Turkeyâ€™s pro-European reform camp argue that disbanding the DTP would deal a blow to Turkish democracy and probably exacerbate the Kurdish conflict. â€œA ban of the DTP would dry out hopes for a democratic solution to the Kurdish problem,â€ Zeynep Tanbay, a spokeswoman of an informal alliance of pro-democracy groups said at a meeting in Istanbul. A verdict in the DTP trial is expected soon.
In court last week, DTP leaders stressed that the party had no organic links with the PKK.
â€œOur party is a chance for Turkish democracy,â€ DTPâ€™s leader, Ahmet Turk, told the court in his defence speech, according to newspaper reports. In his presentation, Mr Turk said the existence of the PKK was not the cause of the Kurdish conflict but a consequence of it.
Turkey is under pressure to solve the Kurdish conflict peacefully. The DTPâ€™s success in last yearâ€™s parliamentary elections, when it entered parliament with 21 deputies and formed the first Kurdish parliamentary group in Turkish history, was hailed as a breakthrough. But in November, Abdurrahman Yalcinkaya, the chief prosecutor, asked the Constitutional Court to ban the DTP on the grounds that it had been founded on the orders of the PKKâ€™s jailed leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
The move was met with criticism by the EU. â€œWe prefer to have the DTP in parliament instead of in the mountainsâ€ fighting the Turkish state, Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, said at the time.
The widening of political rights through Turkeyâ€™s EU reforms in recent years offers some hope for the DTP. In January, the Constitutional Court rejected a demand by the prosecution to ban a smaller Kurdish party, the Party for Right and Freedom, or Hak-Par. Five judges voted against a ban, saying the partyâ€™s ideas for a solution of the Kurdish problems were within the limits of free speech. Six judges voted in favour of a ban, but the votes of at least seven judges of the Constitutional Court are necessary to ban a party.
In a separate trial, the court also declined to ban the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, of the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Mr Turk told the court that Turkey had still not developed into a democracy despite the 10 reform packages that have gone through parliament in the past few years and called on judges to reject the demand of the prosecution to close down the DTP.
Mr Turk did not sound optimistic after his day in court. There had not been a single question by any of the 11 judges after his defence speech, he told Hurriyet, a daily newspaper.â€In their eyes we carry some mortal disease.â€