Julie Ward, MEP for North West England, and Melanie Gingell, Barrister, visited Diyarbakir in South East Turkey between 18th and 20th November 2016 in response to an urgent call from the HDP and facilitated by Peace in Kurdistan Campaign.
Ten HDP deputies (elected members of parliament) have been detained by the Turkish State in the last 3 weeks following the brutal crack down of opposition parties in the wake of the failed coup attempt on 15th July 2016. The HDP had condemned the coup-attempt at the first possible opportunity, describing it as an assault on democracy.
Co-chair of the HDP, Figen Yuksekdag, said : “We have never agreed and will not agree with the pro-coup mindset that bombs the parliament and ignores the people’s will.”
Since 15th July however, the government has unleashed a series of opportunistic assaults on the people’s chosen representatives. They have detained elected politicians at all levels including municipal mayors and MPs thus denying the voice of the millions of people who voted for the HDP across the country.
The delegation met with Sibel Yigitalp HDP MP in Diyarbakir, Emine Ozmen, Deputy Co-Chair of the Democratic Regions Party, Leyla Guven , Co-Chair of the Democratic Society Congress and elected members of the City Council. There were also meetings with journalists and representatives of civil society organisations, which had been shut down in the week before this visit.
Melanie Gingell made the following observations:
“Ms Yigitalp MP described an accelerated descent into authoritarianism over the last three weeks. The Municipal Building in the centre of town is in lock down; the co-mayors have been detained despite an absence of evidence of wrong doing against them. An AKP Trustee has been appointed to run the municipality and all powers have been transferred to him. There is a heavy police presence around the building with checkpoints in operation for workers to reach their offices. She described the building, which should be open to the public, as now having the intimidatory guise of a colonial police station.
Ms Yigitalp is one of the few remaining MPS at liberty. She expects however to be arrested in the coming days. She said the most pressing issue is the extreme isolation of HDP detainees and their consequent vulnerability. They are being held in solitary confinement with few visits allowed from family members. Selahattin Demirtas, Co-Chair of the HDP, for example, at is being held at Edirne, an F-Type Maximum Security Prison, many miles from family members. He is being held in solitary confinement but has to take exercise in the company of prisoners who are known Sunni extremist terrorists. The fear is that prisoners who are deeply opposed to his political views, his pluralism and progressive social policies, will attack him. This appears to be a deliberate policy by the authorities to intimidate, and expose HDP prisoners to serious risk of bodily harm or death.
In the wider community there is a build up of aggressive rhetoric in social media against Kurdish people and their representatives, which is reminiscent of the pre-genocide period in Rwanda when ethnic groups were demonised prior to being subjected to systematic attacks and mass atrocities.
We were told that the next phase in the repression of the Kurdish movement was likely to be pogroms. The mayor of Ankara has openly called for AKP supporters to arm themselves. In Van, on the evening of 17th November, a women was burnt alive in her house by soldiers and police who had informally identified the house as a “terrorist” house, they then fatally shot her husband as he ran from the building.
All of those we met emphasised that their spirit is strong. They may be detained but their hearts and minds will never be broken.
We attended the annual congress of KJA (Free Women’s Congress)on 20th November in Diyarbakir together with representatives from Germany, Serbia, the Basque Country and Sinn Fein in the UK.
KJA was one of the civil society organisations closed down in the preceding week with no warnings or reasons given. It has waged a fearless battle for women’s freedom over the last 40 years, in the face of extreme opposition. It has undoubtedly been instrumental in breaking down the barriers that have traditionally trapped women in the private sphere; it has been at the fore front of the movement to break down these barriers, inspiring women across the region to demand their equal rights and to participate equally in society, to seek equality in political office, for example, with each post being held jointly by a women and a man.
Kurdish women are now visible and participating in society in south-east Turkey, in a way that has rarely been seen before, either in the region, or indeed anywhere. The strength and commitment to the cause, in the face of extreme repression, is inspiring. These achievements are a direct result of women organising autonomously, in civil society organisations, for which KJA provides the umbrella structure and support.
An example of the AKP ideological assault on the women’s movement was announced as we arrived in Diyarbakir: the final voting is due to be held on Tuesday of a bill to allow a suspension of conviction or sentence to those convicted of the rape of minors, where they subsequently marry the victim. This attack on the fundamental dignity and bodily integrity of girl children is shocking to the core and represents a return to the dark ages of gender politics in Turkey.
As yet our government has not felt the need to adequately condemn and challenge this dangerous path to authoritarianism, yet it is clear that this level of extreme repression will have extreme consequences, plunging the region into yet more conflict. Furthermore the crisis will not stay in Turkey; when we fail to confront fascism anywhere we sow the seed for its growth everywhere.”
21 November 2016
For more information and interviews with Julie Ward MEP and Melanie Gingell please contact:
Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie Gingell – Tel: 020 7272 7890
Patrons: Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Kate Osamor MP, Elfyn Llwyd, Dafydd Iwan, Former President Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein MLA Conor Murphy, John Austin, Christine Blower, NUT International Secretary, Simon Dubbins, UNITE International Director, Doug Nicholls, General Secretary, General Federations of Trade Unions, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, James Kelman, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Dr Thomas Jeffrey Miley, Mark Thomas, Nick Hildyard, Stephen Smellie, Derek Wall, Melanie Gingell, Steve Sweeney