Spinning out of control

Turkey has witnessed another dramatic week, with police raids on an opposition newspaper, mass suspensions of academics and civil servants and the jailing of the leaders of the country′s main pro Kurdish HDP party. The government insists it is fighting to defend democracy against unprecedented threats, critics claim democracy itself is now at risk. Dorian Jones looks at the latest events

By Dorian Jones

In the early hours of Friday morning police took 12 parliamentary deputies of the pro Kurdish HDP Party into custody. Among those taken included the party′s co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag. All were detained on anti-terrorist propaganda charges.

″I won′t be a puppet in this trumped-up judicial theatre,″ Demirtas, a lawyer by training defiantly declared to a Diyarbakir court, while explaining his refusal to co-operate with proceedings. He, along with 9 other deputies, were then subsequently arrested and jailed. Three others were released on probation and banned from leaving the country.

The HDP, with 59 deputies, is the third largest in parliament; in last November′s general election the party secured more than 10% of the electorate with 6 million votes.

The deputies′ arrests, while expected after parliament in May voted to lift their parliamentary immunity, still remains a watershed moment for Turkey. ″Removing the possibility of representation and participation in political life for millions of voters has serious consequences for democracy and human rights,″ warns Emma Sinclair Webb, chief Turkey researcher for the US-based Human Rights Watch.

International reaction to Friday′s arrests was swift and stinging. ″Gravely concerned″ declared EU commissioners Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn in a statement, while John Kirby of the US State Department spokesman warned, ″The United States is deeply concerned by the Turkish Government′s detention of opposition members of parliament.″

International realpolitik

But by Sunday it was business as usual, with General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff flying into Ankara to meet his Turkish counterpart to discuss the forthcoming military operation against Raqqa – Islamic State′s self declared capital. The EU also remains mindful of the need to temper any criticism, being beholden to Ankara in its efforts to stem the flow of migrants into Europe. Yet, according to some in the Turkish administration, this is a deal that could break down by the end of the year.

Turkish police arrest demonstrators protesting the arrest of HDP politicians
Democracy hits rock bottom: "the HDP arrests follow the detention or removal from office of nearly all of their elected mayors. Last month, co-mayors Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli Diyarbakir were also detained and replaced by government-appointed trustees. Like many of her other removed mayoral colleagues, Kisanak was elected with a massive majority," writes Jones

Buoyed by the belief that it is in a strong position when it comes to dealing with its allies, Ankara is going on the offensive. ″I don′t care if they call me a dictator or whatever else. It goes in one ear, out the other,″ President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared on Sunday. Omer Celik, Turkey′s minister for European affairs summoned EU ambassadors to Turkey, where he robustly defended the arrest of the pro-Kurdish deputies, saying ″all citizens are equal under the law and nobody is above the law.″

The government argues that the HDP is linked to the PKK, which is designated as a terrorist organisation by both the EU and the United States. A large car bomb in the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir hours after the arrests was seized upon by authorities as evidence of the danger posed by the PKK. But confusion reigns over who was responsible, with Islamic State and a PKK offshoot TAK, both claiming the attack as their own.

The HDP arrests follow the detention or removal from office of nearly all of their elected mayors. Last month, co-mayors Gultan Kisanak and Firat Anli Diyarbakir were also detained and replaced by government-appointed trustees. Like many of her other removed mayoral colleagues, Kisanak was elected with a massive majority.

Climate of fear

The wave of arrests have drawn protests, but in relatively small numbers, a point seized upon by the ruling AKP: ″There has been no reaction to these (arrests),″ argues Muhammed Akar, leader of the ruling AKP party, in Diyarbakir. ″We all know there are MPs and mayors who praise the terror organisation and there must be judicial process against them in a country subject to the rule of law. Citizens see it as such, not as a political but as a judicial operation.″

But critics argue it has more to do with a climate of fear in Turkey, with increasingly draconian controls introduced under emergency rule since July′s failed coup attempt. The latest HDP arrests were accompanied by a shutdown of social media, including Twitter and Facebook, all used for organising protests. This week over 10,000 civil servants and academics were suspended in anti-terror probes into both the PKK and July′s coup attempt. The latest suspensions brings the total to well over 100,000 since the state of emergency was introduced, along with 30,000 more arrested.

On Monday, Cumhuriyet, the last remaining mainstream newspaper critical of the government was raided and its editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and senior writers arrested again on terrorism charges.

″There is no permission for us to organise any meeting or rally, all our rallies are being banned. No permission for us to make press statements, if 10 people come together in the street there is deadly intervention by the police,″ claims Idris Baluken, parliamentary leader of the HDP. ″There is a state of emergency: just because people attend a press meeting, they are sacked from their jobs. With all this Erdogan thinks he can block Kurdish people′s democratic and political reactions. On the contrary, this is just fomenting anger. What we observe now is that this anger is rapidly reaching boiling point.″ Baluken′s warning came shortly before he too was arrested.

Fears that the democratic process for the pro-Kurdish movement is again coming to an end heightened on Sunday, as the HDP announced a partial withdrawal from the parliamentary process. The statement also warned that ″Turkey is at a turning point″.

That is something with which the government would probably concur. It believes many HDP Kurdish supporters are disillusioned with their leaders and ready for an alternative. But HDP deputy Ertugral Kurkcu warns that the very future of the country could be at stake, ″This is a very, very risky situation. If our party is not granted democratic room for manoeuvre then we could find ourselves plunging into civil war overnight.″

Dorian Jones

© Qantara.de 2016