“It’s as if they had bombed the Parliament again,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu, a representative of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s main opposition party, a few hours after the announcement of the arrest of 14 parliamentarians of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the pro-Kurdish and libertarian leftist party led by Selahattin Demirtas. Afterward, in Diyarbakir on Friday, a car bomb struck the building housing the anti-terrorism unit, causing at least eight deaths. The night before, the authorities had blocked access to social networks and limited the WhatsApp and Instagram services.
What happened Saturday in Turkey was expected since June 7, 2015, after the electoral success of the pro-Kurdish political party that, for the first time, managed to field its own parliamentary group and became the third political force in the country. In these 16 months, The AKP government and President Erdogan have severely criminalized this important political party and accused it of being the political arm of the armed organization PKK.
The outcome of that vote, which caused the AKP to lose the parliamentary majority it had enjoyed until then, did not lead to the formation of any government and therefore, the Turks returned to vote a few months later, on Nov. 1. In the last election, the ruling party regained a majority of seats in Parliament, but the presence in parliament of 59 representatives of the pro-Kurdish party blocked the ambitions of President Erdogan, who had aimed at establishing a presidential system without the necessary counterweights.
This has also led to the electoral success of the HDP, which won 13.5 percent of the vote and a parliamentary representation of 80 representatives. With this result, the PKK lost the leading role it had representing the Kurdish community. It also upset the plans of the Turkish president, who had hoped to get a two-thirds majority in parliament to fulfill his constitutional reform. This did not happen because of the entry People’s Democratic Party into the field.
So Erdogan sought to delegitimize the party led by the young lawyer and human rights activist Selahattin Demirtas, who had positioned himself during the elections as a barrier to the president gaining overwhelming power. His party’s agenda focused on the defense and promotion of human rights and the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities. He had sent a clear signal to the European Union to request its support in the democratic rebirth of the country in the hope that it would open a new and decisive phase in relations between Ankara and Brussels.
In recent months, he HDP leader has not let up his requests urging Kurdish fighters to lay down their weapons. But so far, his pleas have fallen on deaf ears because the armed party wants to regain its political centrality by force.
The parliamentarians arrested Friday told the prosecutor who signed the warrant that they answer only to the citizens who elected them. They stated during the interrogation that only the citizens “may question our political activities. We do not recognize in you impartial judiciary power and therefore we refrain from responding to your accusations.” This standard defense text had been prepared by the HDP legislators after the constitutional amendment on parliamentary immunity, which was issued on May 20.
The lawyer Ramazan Demir confirmed that Demirtas is among those who have used such a joint declaration for the defense. He also added other personal statements: “I will not answer your questions. I do not believe that any legal proceedings initiated by you are legitimate. Even my detention is illegal. Since the dignity of justice is compromised by these circumstances, I will not accept being subject to such a process. I do not want to be part of a judicial farce, which was staged by orders of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”
With these arrests, Turkey moves further from any serious effort to pacify social unrest. It’s regressing back to a systematic division between Turks and Kurds, like in the 1980s and ‘90s, and raising the risk of violence.
Along with Demirtas, other historical leaders of the Kurdish movement were among the parliamentarians arrested Saturday night, the founders of HDP Figen Yüksekdas, Idris Baluken, Gülser Yıldırım, Leyla Birlik, Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Ziya Pir. The latter two were subsequently released.