Dangerous deja vu on Turkey’s Kurdish issue

Dangerous deja vu on Turkey’s Kurdish issue

Parliament’s Constitution Commission approved a draft bill on May 2 to lift the immunities of more than 130 MPs who are under legal investigation, in order to let the courts try them. The bill was approved with the votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) after two tense commission sessions with a lot of fistfights. In the end, commission members from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) walked out and voting was completed. Parliament’s General Assembly is scheduled to start debating the bill on May 16.

Although there are MPs from all parties who have had their files sent to parliament, the main purpose of the move initiated by the AK Parti seems to be to target the HDP, accusing it of propagandizing for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and assisting its acts of terror in a conflict that has caused more than 40,000 deaths since 1984. 

The move came after President Tayyip Erdoğan gave a speech accusing some HDP deputies of assisting the PKK against the Turkish state under the protection of parliamentary immunity, which they should be stripped of. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu seconded the proposal on behalf of the AK Parti. The move is enthusiastically supported by the MHP. The CHP has also supported it, with CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu - whose party program includes the lifting of all parliamentary immunities other than for political speech - saying in a TV interview that he did not want to be accused of tolerating terrorism. Despite this, speaking after the commission’s approval on May 3, Davutoğlu lumped the CHP in with the HDP, vowing that “all deputies who get involved in terrorism will be affected by the lifting of immunities.”

Vowing that he is not afraid of appearing before court or being sent to prison, Kılıçdaroğlu challenged Davutoğlu to strip himself of his immunity as well. 

But the real essence of the debate is about the Kurdish issue and Turkey’s fight against the PKK. This latest situation is like deja vu after 22 years. Back in 1994, the center-right-led coalition government of the time moved to lift the immunities of the Democratic Labor Party (DEP), which could be regarded as a predecessor of the HDP, because of statements made by its MPs on the Kurdish issue. The immunities of four DEP deputies were duly lifted and they were tried and put in prison. 

That did not help the Kurdish problem settle down. Today, the PKK is still carrying out acts of terrorism of a greater scale against Turkish targets, following a silent period of three years between 2012 and 2015, when there was a dialogue process between the AK Parti government and the PKK through the National Intelligence Agency (MİT) and HDP deputies. 

Since the PKK resumed its attacks in summer 2015, encouraged by the civil war in Syria, relations between the AK Parti and the HDP have deteriorated rapidly, to the point where we the former are now well into the phase of trying to send HDP MPs out of parliament and into jail. Addressing his party group in parliament on May 3, HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, who recently had contacts in a number of EU countries and the U.S., spoke about people “being able to set up more than one parliament.” 

The government has put itself and two of the opposition parties into an impasse that is likely to lead to the lifting of HDP deputies’ immunities and perhaps sending some to jail. It is not clear how that will help the government find a lasting solution to Turkey’s chronic problem.