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Arrest of HDP leaders fuels vicious cycle of violence

The controversial arrest of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdagalong along with ten other MPs for alleged links to terrorism ramped up an already tense climate in the predominantly Kurdish south east.

These arrests, as part of a greater crackdown on dissidents and opposition forces in the aftermath of the failed July coup in Turkey under a state of emergency, places a fresh cloud over Turkey while threatening further polarization and fuelling the vicious cycle of violence.

When the Turkish parliament voted to lift the immunity of MPs from prosecution in May, the HDP were key targets of this bill and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made no secret of this. In an apparent reference to the HDP, Erdogan stated “my nation does not want to see guilty lawmakers in this country’s parliament. Above all, it does not want to see those supported by the separatist terror group in parliament.”

With the arrest of HDP MPs, Erdogan has followed up his tough rhetoric with firm action. However, the notion of “guilty” under the framework of punitive terror laws in Turkey is always bound to stir tension.

Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have frequently accused the HDP of been an extension of the PKK, a claim that they have denied.

Demirtas stated after his arrest “in these days where our country is pushed further into darkness, our illegal arrest only served to intensify the darkness.” The HDP announced a boycott of parliament in response to the arrests.

The HDP is not just a small party. It made history by becoming the first Kurdish party to break the 10% parliamentary threshold, and with 59 seats, it is the third largest bloc.

The HDP is not the first Kurdish group to suffer under shadows of the PKK. Many Kurdish parties have been closed for alleged links to the PKK.

But with strong support amongst Kurds, accusing HDP of been an arm of a terrorist group is akin to charging millions of their voters of been terrorists.

The aged—old Kurdish question remains a sensitive topic and too often Kurdish nationalism is intertwined with supporting the PKK. It has been almost impossible for pro-Kurds not to be labelled as separatists or inciting terrorism.

However, such views only serve to strengthen the polarization of the country. The millions of Kurds need a way between the PKK, whom clearly not all Kurds support and harsh government policies.

The HDP could have been a bridge, and as witnessed with its widespread support, many had hoped that the HDP could herald a new era for Kurdish politics in Turkey.

The Kurdish issue needed a political stage in a state of peace. HDP was a vital interlocutor at the height of the peace talks. Though it seemed closer than ever before, the ceasefire collapsed, and violence resumed in 2015.

The end of the ceasefire helped AKP to garner nationalist voters and ultimately helped the AKP win a majority at the snap elections. At the same time, it benefited those in the PKK who did not favor disarmament.

Now these arrest threatens more violence and closes the political platform for Kurds.

Similar moves to remove immunity in the 1990s did not pacify security fears in Turkey led to some of the worst violence at the time.

These latest arrests may strengthen Erdogan’s hands. Firstly, it dilutes opposition voices in parliament with a likely vote on adoption of a presidential system. Secondly, if the HDP fails to achieve 10% threshold in the future, the AKP may secure more seats.

As the snap elections proved, the PKK is a ubiquitous noose around the HDP. As the violence resumed, the HDP lost many seats in parliament compared to their June electing fairing. AKP strives to deal the HDP a further political blow.

The PKK may retaliate to these arrests with an escalation of violence, which will embolden hawks in Ankara and justify the need for strict security and terror laws leading to a continued deadlock.

The European Union and the United States expressed their concern over the arrests. Martin Schulz, European Parliament President, expressed that the arrests “call into question the basis for the sustainable relationship between the EU and Turkey.”

However, Turkish leaders hit back at the criticism. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim vowed that “politics can’t be a shield for committing crimes”, whilst Erdogan brushed off the criticism and accused the EU of “abetting terrorism.”

As the middle ground and diplomatic channels seems to fade in Turkey, the vicious cycle of bloodshed over the last 3 decades that has benefited no side and produced no clear victor will merely.

First Published: Kurdistan 24