When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came to power in Turkey in 2002, “reformed” the Turkish constitution in 2010 and won third term election in 2011, many expected his government to step up democratic initiatives in Turkey as his party pledged to further human rights through the policy of “Democratic Opening”. However, the south-eastern Kurdish region home for an estimated 25 million Kurds, has chronicled another story since, one that echoes state racism, discrimination on ethnic grounds and brutal crackdown on dissent.
Mardin, southeastern Turkey, which has a mixed population of Turks, Assyrians, Syriacs, Arabs and Kurds. Flickr/Seneol Demir. Some rights reserved.
The witch-hunt against activists
‘The KCK Dossier’ in Turkey now notoriously defines the AKP government’s witch-hunt against Kurdish politicians and rights activists mainly belonging to the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), a legal democratic-socialist party that struggles for the rights of Kurds and in the 2001 general election won 36 seats in the Turkish parliament.
The witch-hunt is described as ‘The KCK Dossier’ because the incumbent AKP-led Turkish government accuses BDP activists of having links with the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), an outlawed Kurdish umbrella organisation founded in 1990 by Abdulla Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Although Kurds in the Middle East generally perceive KCK as a national liberation movement fighting for their rights in Turkey as well as in Iraq, Iran and Syria, the US, NATO and Turkey recognise it as a ‘terrorist’ organisation. Therefore, the alleged link of BDP activists with KCK is also treated as 'terrorism' in Turkey. .
The European Association of Lawyers for Democracy & World Human Rights (ELDH) reported back in July: “Some 8,000 politicians, trade-unionists, journalists, artists, students, human rights activists as well as their lawyers have been the victims of mass arrests in Turkey since 2009. Most of them have been arrested as part of the KCK operation mounted by the Turkish Government.”
The BDP claims, “6 BDP MPs are currently held in pre-trial detentions along with 37 elected BDP mayors and local councillors.” “We are imprisoned for alleged ‘terrorist’ crimes without any valid evidence to back up the allegations”, said Faysal Sariyildiz, one of the elected BDP MPs who has been imprisoned for three and a half years without being charged, much less tried.
In a very short interview he gave from Mardin prison, he said: “Our situation shows that the AKP’s approach to solving the Kurdish question in Turkey is anything but democratic. In fact, they are taking anti-democratic measures to oppress the Kurds. Mass arrests, military operations in the south-east and instigating sectarian violence through state-racism are all the characteristics of AKP’s so-called democracy.” .
Sariyildiz said he does not see himself getting released any time soon, which he believes could only happen as a result of mass civil disobedience. “But eight thousand Kurdish political activists have been detained in the last three years alone”. He said: “Under these circumstances it is very difficult for people to politically organise, especially when they have been attacked so fiercely by the Turkish state and the AKP throughout the last decade.”
Political activists flee Turkey for Iraqi-Kurdistan
This year alone 200 leading BDP activists have taken refuge in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region of Iraq, fleeing court orders and pre-trial detentions in Turkey.
Kenan Cicek, who was BDP’s leading organiser in the city of Adana until recently, said he had been jailed six times in Turkey throughout the last ten years, which led him finally to flee for Iraqi Kurdistan. “We have left Turkey to escape unfair trails and systematic clampdown on us by the AKP government.” He said, “I have been jailed six times since 2002 and each time spent months behind bars for crimes that I had never committed.”
Cicek’s activities in Adana mainly consisted of organising non-violent protests to demand peace in Turkey and calling on the government to halt its military operations in the Kurdish southeast. However, the Turkish courts he attended had finally decided his activities were acts of “terrorism.” Cicek said: “When you are a Kurdish political activist in Turkey, your actions are twisted in court and everything you do is classed as ‘terrorism’, so they can put you jail. That way they justify the oppression of Kurds.”
He added that the only evidence the court had used against him was “hidden witnesses”, who had testified in emails sent to the judges and only seen by them, in which they claimed to have seen Cicek leading violent rather than peaceful protests in Adana.
“So-called ‘hidden witnesses’ had come forward by email, in which they had apparently said they saw me attacking police during the protest.” And he added: “But anyone can make up such lies in an email which is not even regarded as legitimate evidence to be used officially in court. This happened even when we provided recorded video tapes of the protest, but the courts rejected it and still used the emails as valid evidence.”
As well as Kurdish politicians, there is a systematic onslaught on the Kurdish media. The Turkish government have accused many Kurdish journalists of having links with the outlawed PKK and KCK. It has been widely reported that more than one hundred Kurdish journalists are currently facing “terrorism” charges for having reported the news of causalities in Turkey’s war with the PKK south east of the country. Or simply, for having interviewed Salahadin Damirtas, co-chair of the BDP.
Solidarity Platform for Arrested Journalists recently revealed publicly that “44 Kurdish journalists are now facing trial in Turkey; thirty six of them have been in prison since December while another 46 are in prison pending trial in different cases.”
The Human Rights Watch reported in their 2012 World Report on Turkey:“Overbroad definition of terrorism still allows for arbitrary imposition of the harshest terrorism charges against individuals about whom there is little evidence of logistical or material support for terrorism or of involvement in plotting violent activities.”
“My son was a protestor not a terrorist”
From her home in the Kurdish town of Cizre, 40-year-old Taybet Acet said her youngest son was only 17-year-old when he was arrested by Turkish undercover police “for having participated in a protest which called for the rights of Kurds in Turkey.”
“He left home to see his friends like usual but then suddenly our neighbours told us he was kidnapped.” She said: “I later found out he had been arrested by the Turkish undercover police and has to spend 60 years behind bars.”
She said her son, Mustafa Acet, was arrested last year on May 24 and having just turned 18 on February 24 2012, the Turkish high court has sentenced him to sixty years behind bars for alleged “terrorist activities”.
She added: “My son was found guilty of participating in a protest that had turned violent when police attacked the protest and in return youngsters threw Molotov cocktails at the police, not a ‘bomb’ like the judge claimed.”
Taybet Acet can now visit her son in prison once a month and Mustafa is allowed to call her for ten minutes every Monday.
A Kurdish lawyer in Cizre, who wished to stay anonymous in this report, said that in the last ten years the AKP government “has criminalised Kurdish politics as a strategy.” He claimed the courts treat the use of Molotov cocktails as a ‘bomb plot’, so that Kurdish youngsters can be found guilty of ‘terrorist’ crimes.
“This is the criminalising strategy the AKP has used against Kurds since it was voted into power. Classifying Molotov cocktails as ‘bombs’ is the typical excuse the Turkish state uses to put Kurdish teenagers behind bars for a very long time.” He said: “Thousands of Kurdish children under the age of 15 are in Turkish jails and sentenced to long term imprisonment for political reasons. In other words, the state criminalises the political consciousness of Kurdish youths hoping to halt their activities that way.”
According to The National Judicial Network in Turkey, which is an official informatics system set up by Turkey’s Ministry of Justice; there are 2,221 children, mostly Kurds, imprisoned in Turkish jails for political reasons.
The lawyer added, “This the dark side of Turkish "democracy" which manifests itself in the purge of the Kurds, of course long inherited at the heart of the Turkish state since its foundations in the twentieth century and still carried out by the AKP government in the twenty-first century, for almost a decade now.”