Turkey’s Crackdown on Kurdish Political Movement: 2021 in Review

Photo: ANF

The Turkish government continued its efforts to criminalize the Kurdish political movement with a view to weakening the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s third largest political party according to the results of the 2018 general election. Turkey’s top court in June accepted an indictment seeking to disband the HDP.

The party’s offices also faced physical attacks, most notably in June in the western province of İzmir where a gunman shot dead party member Deniz Poyraz.

The HDP’s charismatic former leader Selahattin Demirtaş remained behind bars on politically motivated charges despite rulings by Turkey’s Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Scores of former HDP politicians are also in prison either in pre-trial detention or serving sentences after being convicted of terrorism offenses on the basis of non-violent political activities, speeches and social media posts.

According to the Interior Ministry Ankara has ousted a total of 151 elected mayors from office on accusations of terrorism in the last six years, almost all from the HDP, replacing them with government-appointed bureaucrats. Speaking during a session of the Turkish Parliament’s Planning and Budget Committee in Ankara, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said during the last two mayoral terms — 2014-2019 and 2019 onwards — 73 of the 151 mayors removed from office were sentenced to a total of 778 years in prison.

State-appointed trustees now administer nearly all towns and cities in southeastern Turkey.

Here is some of the most important news from 2021 about the ongoing crackdown on the Kurdish political movement:

Turkey’s top court accepted indictment seeking to disband pro-Kurdish party

Turkey’s Constitutional Court on June 21 accepted an indictment by a top prosecutor seeking to disband a pro-Kurdish opposition party on terrorism-related charges.

The court ruled in favor of hearing the case against the HDP, filed by the chief public prosecutor, who is accusing it of allegedly colluding with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and of seeking to “destroy the unity of the state.” More..

Turkish courts continued to target former leaders of HDP

An Ankara court in January accepted an indictment naming 108 people including jailed Kurdish leaders Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, who have been behind bars on politically motivated charges since November 2016, in connection to street protests in the country’s Southeast in 2014 that claimed the lives of 37 people. More..

A court in March sentenced Demirtaş to three years, six months in prison for insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. More..

In April Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld a prison sentence of four years, eight months handed down to Demirtaş due to a speech he delivered during a Nevruz celebration in İstanbul on March 17, 2013. More..

In May an Ankara court sentenced Demirtaş to two years, six months’ imprisonment for “targeting officials who took part in counterterrorism efforts” due to his criticism of former Ankara chief public prosecutor Yüksel Kocaman in his defense statement during a trial. More..

Turkish parliament expelled pro-Kurdish lawmaker known for human rights activism

Turkey’s parliament in March expelled HDP lawmaker and prominent human rights defender Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu after a controversial conviction over a social media post. Gergerlioğlu was later sent to prison and released in July after a ruling by Turkey’s Constitutional Court and returned to parliament. More..

Woman killed in attack on pro-Kurdish party office in Turkey

In June an assailant killed Deniz Poyraz, a party official, in an attack on a provincial office of the HDP in İzmir province. More..

In July a lone gunman staged an attack on the district office of the HDP in Turkey’s holiday resort of Marmaris. The same office was attacked only a couple of weeks later, with a man breaking its windows. More..

Appeals court upheld 22-year sentence given to former Kurdish MP Güven

A Diyarbakır appeals court in June upheld a prison sentence of 22 years, three months on terrorism charges handed down to former Kurdish lawmaker Leyla Güven, who was ousted from the Turkish Parliament in June 2020. She was also the co-chairperson of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), the umbrella group of the Kurdish political movement. More..

Güven was also sentenced to five years by a Hakkari court in November for disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization. More..

Former HDP deputy Aysel Tuğluk sentenced to 20 months for spreading ‘terrorist propaganda’

A court in the province of Van in October sentenced Aysel Tuğluk, the former deputy co-chair of the HDP, to 20 months in prison for disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization. She is currently serving a 10-year sentence on charges of acting as the executive of a terrorist organization and taking orders from Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed secessionist group listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US. More..

Tuğluk, who was denied release in September despite medical reports, suffers from dementia and can’t look after herself, according to her lawyer Reyhan Yalçındağ. More..

European rights court delivered verdicts in Kurdish politicians’ cases

In February the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered its verdict in the case of 10 politicians from the now-closed People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) 14 years after the case was brought before it. The court said Turkey had violated the plaintiffs’ right to freedom of assembly and association. More..

In May the ECtHR fined Turkey for violating the freedom of expression of Filiz Kerestecioğlu, an HDP lawmaker, by lifting her parliamentary immunity based on a constitutional amendment passed in 2016. More..

Turkey’s top court fined gov’t for torture of Kurdish party chairman in police custody

Turkey’s top court in February ruled in favor of İbrahim Halil Baran, chairman of the Kurdish Partiya Kurdistani (PAKURD), who submitted an individual application to the court in 2017 claiming that he was tortured by police in detention in southeastern Şanlıurfa province. More..

Police, not the PKK, killed Tahir Elçi, Forensic Architecture’s investigation revealed

An indictment concerning the killing of prominent human rights lawyer Tahir Elçi that charges a Kurdish militant with murder is not realistic, according to an investigation released by Forensic Architecture, a London-based multidisciplinary research group, in March. More..


Erdoğan did not let PKK lay down arms, jailed Kurdish leader said

Jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş claimed that President Erdoğan did not allow the PKK to lay down their arms after efforts at reconciliation between his government and the group because he thought the end of armed conflict in the country would not politically benefit his government. More..

Pro-Kurdish party member abducted, tortured by men posing as police

Celalettin Yalçın, a member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), was abducted and subjected to torture in August by individuals who introduced themselves as “the police” in İstanbul. More..

German police told former MP he was on hit list targeting gov’t critics in exile

The German Federal Police warned Hasip Kaplan, a former lawmaker from the HDP, of a planned assassination targeting him based on a hit list that includes the names of 55 critics of the Turkish government living in exile. More..

Kurdish leader Demirtaş’s books displayed among criminal ‘evidence’ seized in police raid

Three books authored by Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş — “Leylan,” “Devran” and “Seher” — were displayed among criminal “evidence” seized in a police raid in November. More..

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