“We do not want weapons or war.”
These were the last words of Tahir Elci, 49, head of the Bar Association of Diyarbakir, who was killed Saturday by young male assailants on the edge of a flash mob in the old city of Sur. In the exchange of fire, one policeman was killed and another was wounded, along with a journalist.
A video shows men shooting from inside their car at a police officer. Later, it shows young men escaping from the car in the streets nearby, dodging bullets fired at them from close range. In a subsequent scene, Elci’s body lays prone and lifeless.
Despite an ongoing curfew imposed in Diyarbakir, there had been ongoing demonstrations and clashes with police. The killing of Elci was ostensibly another one of these skirmishes, but many speculate it was in fact a targeted assassination, and the government has all but confirmed this suspicion.
Whatever the case, it was a murder in cold blood in a public place after a demonstration in defense of the rights of Kurds and to denounce the state of siege in the city of Sur, led by a man who claims the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is a terrorist group. To Elci, the PKK is simply an “armed political organization” that happens to be quite popular. He reiterated his views in October on the screens of CNN Turk television.
After that interview, judges from the Court of Bakirkoy sued Elci for his statements. The lawyer faced a sentence of up to seven years and six months in prison on charges of committing “propaganda for a terrorist organization.” For this, Elci was arrested and released on Oct. 19. Upon release, he repeated the legitimacy of his words, adding that “in no way can the truth be a criminal offense.”
Turkey is experiencing a climate of tension caused by terrorist attacks from the Islamic State and by far-left extremist groups, exacerbated by accusations that the government did not in any way help Kurdish Syrians affected by the ISIS rampage. In contrast, the Turkish authorities allowed the jihadists to participate in anti-Assad operations.
Then, when the pro-Kurdish Left Party (HDP) won June 4 elections and entered parliament, Ankara launched an apparently anti-ISIS campaign whose actual target was the PKK. All of this motivated the Kurdish nationalists and Turks to give credence to the neo-Kemalism of the moderate Islamist party.
After his Nov. 1 victory, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has carte blanche to continue the repression of the Kurds. The curfew in the main Kurdish provinces has been in force for more than 10 days, and 30 are dead in shootings between police and citizens.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu acknowledged that Elci was the target of an assassination and said he was “determined to shed light on this incident.” Even Erdoğan condemned the attack, but he assured that the government will go ahead with the fight against terrorism, which for him means repression of the Kurds.
In Istanbul, demonstrators condemned the murder alongside a parallel event on Istiklal Avenue in support of press freedom. That protest follows the arrests on espionage charges of the director and editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet. The newspaper had published evidence of links between the Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and ISIS. Yesterday, a third journalist, Ertugul Ozkok of Hurriyet, was arrested on a charge of insulting Erdoğan.
The police dispersed the demonstrators.
In light of Turkey’s intolerance of free speech, journalists in prison have asked the European Union not to make compromises with Ankara as the parties relaunch negotiations for Turkey’s entry today in Brussels.
Meanwhile, Turkey and Russia remains at odds after Turkey shot down Russia’s fighter jet last Tuesday. Moscow has decided on a series of trade sanctions against Ankara as a warning to prevent further interference with Russian pilots involved in attacks in Syria. Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin may meet on the sidelines of the climate conference in Paris to discuss the political crisis.
To date, the Russian president has repeatedly avoided talks with Erdoğan while awaiting an official apology. Yesterday, Putin received a partial admission when Erdoğan, referring to the attack, said: “We wish it hadn’t happened as such, but unfortunately such a thing has happened. I hope that something like this doesn’t occur again.” He has also said, “Those who violated our airspace are the ones who have to apologize.”
Russian authorities believe the attack was intended to push NATO, of which Turkey is a member, to impose a no-fly zone in Syrian Kurdistan, run by the Kurdish Democratic Party, to enhance Turkish control over the region.