Visiting an arrested mayor in today’s Turkey
When Deniz Baykal, the former chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), heard that Ahmet Türk, the co-mayor of the Syria border city of Mardin, had been taken into police custody on Nov. 21, he immediately decided to go to Mardin to talk to Türk in solidarity.
Baykal and Türk have totally different political views. Türk was elected as mayor of Mardin and is a member of the Democratic Regions Party (DBP), a reserve party in line with the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Türk was taken from his office on Nov. 17, accused of helping the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been waging an armed campaign against the Turkish government since 1984, during which more than 40,000 people have been killed so far.
Baykal let the local authorities know that he wanted to visit Türk in custody in Mardin on the evening of Nov. 22. “They knew I was due to arrive in Mardin at around 11 p.m.,” Baykal told me on the phone on Nov. 25.
“The police transferred Türk to the prosecutor’s office at around midnight, quite unusually. They knew it would not be possible for me or anyone else to see him during his testimony process, but it would have been possible for me to get permission to see him if he was in a police station or jail. It became clear that his interrogation would continue for as long as I was in town.”
Indeed, Türk was arrested by the court on charges of “helping PKK propaganda” as soon as Baykal left Mardin to return to Ankara on Nov. 23.
Baykal then visited Mülkiye Türk, Ahmet Türk’s wife, at their home to ask whether there was anything he could do to help. There was one thing: The 74-year-old arrested mayor’s health is not good, and his wife wishes he could be kept in Mardin jail, rather than being moved elsewhere.
“I passed this message on to Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ,” Baykal said. “He told me that he would convey the request to the related officials. Now I have learned that Türk was due to be transferred to Silivri Prison [near Istanbul]. Clearly there are certain mechanisms at work that the minister cannot do anything about.”
Baykal and Türk are old friends.
They were both arrested by the military regime after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’etat. Baykal was jailed and barred from politics for 10 years. Türk was put in the notorious Diyarbakır Prison, where he suffered inhumane torture.
Türk later told me in 2009 about a visit by Baykal in 1983, after his release from prison. “On the roof of my house in Mardin, we opened a bottle of rakı [an alcoholic drink] and under the stars we shed tears together over the suffering of both us and Turkey,” he said.
This week, Baykal returned to once again to Türk’s house when he was in need. “The arrest is hard to understand,” Baykal told me on the phone. “Ahmet is one of few opinion holders in the region who dares to raise his voice against terrorism. He could not have done more to stand against the PKK’s policy of digging ditches and barricades, which caused a lot of bloodshed, after it abandoned dialogue with the government in July 2015. The country needs people like Ahmet to keep the dialogue channels open. There is now an anti-terrorism sentiment in the region, and people have started to see that the PKK has brought nothing but blood and tears to them. By prosecuting people like Ahmet, the system falls into the [PKK’s] trap.”
“The PKK,” Baykal added. “Did not let the HDP continue on the democratic line with the support of Turkish voters as well as Kurdish voters. It enslaved the HDP to its line of terror. Unfortunately, the HDP was unable to resist this and was unable to draw a clear line between itself and the actions of the PKK. That is why we need people like Ahmet Türk, who can praise democracy against terror. I am deeply saddened that he is in jail now.”
Baykal also underlined that the PKK must at once stop its acts of terror in Turkey, both to end the tragic loss of lives and also to take terrorism out of the country’s political agenda. If it does so, a struggle for law and democracy may be able to gain momentum.