Kurdish party in Turkey refuses to drop ‘Kurdistan’ from name

Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), a small faction with no parliamentary representation in Turkey, on Saturday once again refused a warning by Turkish judicial authorities to drop the word “Kurdistan” from its name, according to a report by Kurdistan24.

PAK chairperson Mustafa Özçelik has revealed that he and his colleagues were now facing multiple investigations and arrests for saying “Kurdistan,” despite the fact the very word was officially registered in the party’s name at the Interior Ministry at a press conference in Diyarbakır province.

Founded in late 2014 after a lengthy process, PAK has been under orders from the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara to change its name on the grounds that the use of “Kurdistan” is racist. Özcelik stated that PAK officials Yüksel Ektiren and Kutbettin Yıldız were recently sentenced to 15 and 18 months of imprisonment respectively for their social media posts that courts deemed “propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

“Our party’s name officially includes the name Kurdistan; however, our members are charged with terrorist propaganda for saying Kurdistan. We made a defense at the Constitutional Court. We are not changing our party program or name. You change your undemocratic laws,” a defiant Özcelik said of Turkish authorities.

At least four other members of the party, one of them already under detention for two weeks now, were the target of probes for expressing their views online, he said.

If the PAK made it to the Parliament in elections next year, its deputies will not be able to utter their party’s name without paying a fine of up to 3,100 USD and being banished for at least two legislative sessions. That is because the Turkish Parliament in July 2017 banned deputies from employing certain words and phrases including Kurdistan and applied the new rule two months ago on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Osman Baydemir.

Özcelik called on the Turkish government to release all political prisoners and stop going after people for merely voicing their opinions. “The history of the Republic of Turkey is one of oppression and repression. Kurds for the last 95 years have been victims of genocides, massacres, extrajudicial killings, destruction, imprisonment, torture and forced displacement. But, this kind of mindset has neither achieved to destroy the Kurdish people nor its quest for freedom,” he stated.

“The Turkish state has become even more aggressive particularly since it started attacking Afrin,” he explained, drawing attention to the now five-week-long Turkish military operation in Afrin province of northern Syria and the ensuing crackdown on dissenting voices.

Meanwhile, two musicians were arrested for singing Kurdish songs at a wedding celebration in İstanbul on Saturday. They were accused the wedding singers and the wedding host for promoting a terrorist organisation.

Musicians İhsan Acet and İnayet Şarkıç and the host of the wedding Hikmet Akyol were arrested in İstanbul for singing Kurdish language songs at a wedding hall. The judge who oversaw the case determined the threesome to be a flight risk and ruled for their arrest, according to a report by Ahval.

Mezopotamya News Agency reported that the police questioned Acet about the music they played at the wedding but later based the arrest report on the accused suspects’ social media shares.

During their interrogation, they were reportedly questioned for their social media posts about the besieged enclave of Afrin in northern Syria.

Kurdish language, culture, and symbols face increasing criminalization in Turkey once again, with Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s administration cracking down on large segments of society in the aftermath of the peace talks’ breakdown with outlawed Kurdistan Workers’s Party (PKK) in 2015 and the military coup attempt the following year.

Earlier this week, a court in Diyarbakir received an indictment presented against a dozen students for singing in Kurdish during the Newroz (New Year) celebrations in 2017. Privately-owned pro-government Doğan news agency reported that they were facing up to 28 years of imprisonment for “disseminating propaganda and committing terror crimes on behalf of a terrorist organization” while singing at Diyarbakır’s Dicle Universiy campus.

One of the defendants, Suat Mustafa, a student of law at the university said he was merely whistling to the tune of a song when at least four police officers who refused to show their IDs grabbed him.

Almost 800 people have been arrested for opposing the campaign on Afrin that has killed over 170 civilians and wounded more than 400 others.  “Stop waging this war. Stop this policy of violence. End the state of emergency. Stop assaulting Afrin. The solution is clear; sit down with Kurdish parties peacefully and democratically to reach a political consensus,” Özcelik urged the Ankara government, according to Kurdistan24’s report.

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