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Attempts to Close Turkey’s Pro-Kurdish Party Gain Pace

Just a few days after the deadly attack on offices of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party, the Constitutional Court accepted an indictment seeking the closure of the party. But what would a closure mean for the role of Kurdish politics in Turkey’s future?
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On June 21, Turkey’s Constitutional Court accepted an indictment submitted by the chief prosecutor that could result in the closure of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

Echoing the rhetoric of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling coalition, the chief prosecutor accused the HDP of having committed crimes against the state, national unity, and the people of the Republic.

HDP officials said that the decision came as “no surprise” but pledged to defend the party. Indeed, an earlier attempt to indict the HDP was shot down by the Constitutional Court last April, but many analysts saw this as the beginning of a legal process with the ultimate aim of shuttering the party.

Pressure on the HDP and other Kurdish groups has intensified in recent years. Dozens of HDP members of parliament, including its former co-leader, Selahattin Demirtas, have been imprisoned on dubious terrorism charges.

Within the context of Erdogan’s growing crackdown on his critics, the HDP is often equated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an internationally recognized terrorist organization that has been fighting the Turkish state for nearly four decades.

Since the last local elections in 2019, 59 of 64 elected mayors from the HDP have been dismissed from office or are currently detained on terrorism charges.

In parliament, the ruling coalition consisting of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its far-right, ultra-nationalist partner, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has meanwhile submitted motions to lift the parliamentary immunity of all remaining HDP lawmakers.

Prominent human rights activist Omer Faruk Gergerlioglu, became the fifth and most recent HDP member of parliament to be stripped of his office. He was arrested in April after being sentenced to two and a half years in prison for “propagandizing for a terrorist organization”.

The US, the EU, numerous human rights groups, and Turkey’s opposition parties have all repeatedly called for the release of Demirtas and other Kurdish politicians arrested for political reasons. However, the Turkish government has dismissed these calls as it insists on branding them terrorists.

The ruling coalition’s smear campaign against the HDP also resulted in a deadly attack on HDP offices in the city of Izmir on June 17, when an armed attacker entered the building and killed a party staffer. The attacker was apparently incited to violence by the nationalist rhetoric of the current government.

The HDP accused the government of instigating the attack and then failing to prevent it. Experts agree that the attack would have resulted in greater bloodshed had a large party meeting not been cancelled at the last minute.

The most recent attempt to push the HDP out of politics can be seen as part of a larger pattern, wherein the AKP seeks to remove the country’s third largest party in an effort to defy polls that suggest an AKP-MHP defeat in the next elections.

This is not the first time a pro-Kurdish party has faced closure. On the contrary, it is routine in Turkish politics. Until now, 23 Kurdish parties have been closed on charges such as terrorism and ethnic separatism. The HDP’s predecessor, the Democratic Society Party (DTP) was shuttered in 2009.

However, with every closure, Kurdish politics gains momentum, coming back with a vengeance. It should be remembered that in 2014 the HDP defied expectations to become the first Kurdish-focused party to successfully pass the 10% electoral threshold, running in the elections as a unitary party instead of a compilation of individual independent candidates. This ultimately forced the AKP to form a coalition with the MHP.

With this in mind, it is certain that regardless of what happens to the HDP, Kurdish voters will once again decide the fate of general elections in 2023, if not earlier.