Monday, December 14, 2009
Turkey's constitutional court has banned the Democratic Society Party (DTP), the country's largest pro-Kurdish political party. The court found it guilty on Friday of supporting violence and being linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party, a Kurdish rebel group better known as the PKK.
The move has sparked violent protests across the country and caused the DTP to announce a boycott of parliament.
The party's two leaders, Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk, were banned from politics for five years and expelled from the Turkish parliament. On Saturday, Türk announced that the remainder of DTP's parliament members would also pull out. They had held 21 seats out of a total of 550.
The verdict comes as the government is attempting to bring an end to 25 years of fighting with the Kurdish rebels, and follows weeks of intensified ethnic violence.
The judges of Turkey's constitutional court took only three days of deliberating over the evidence to unanimously rule that the DTP was guilty of inciting hatred and violence and was linked to the PKK. Haşim Kılıç, the head of the court, explained their decision.
"No party has the right to utilize discourse and activities that contain terror, violence and pressure. A party should separate activities and discourses that contain violence and terror from the peaceful ones", he said.
Speaking shortly after the ruling, Türk condemned the court's decision.
"This deepens the desperation", he says. "This is a reality. But we are hopeful that Turkey will find its peace one day. But by closing a political party you can't solve the problem. Turkey can only solve its problems through reason and dialog."
Kılıç acknowledged the ramifications of his decision:
"Some people will say this verdict will sabotage the peace process, but this case is two years old, and we are judges not politicians." He says no country in Europe would allow such a party to exist.
In justifying the ruling Kılıç also said they had studied similar cases in the European Union – in particular the closure by Spanish courts of the pro-Basque Batasuna party. But the EU later issued a statement that "while strongly denouncing violence and terrorism, the presidency recalls that the dissolution of political parties is an exceptional measure that should be used with utmost restraint."
Such concerns will likely affect Turkey's relations with the EU, which it is currently seeking to join. This is the 27th time a Turkish political party has been shut down since 1968.
Turkish president Abdullah Gül expressed his approval of the decision. Speaking during his visit to Montenegro, he asked: "What else can the court do when there are party administrators who declare the terrorist organization to be their reason of existence?"
The PKK are listed as a terrorist organisation by Turkish authorities, the EU and the United States. They have been engaged in an armed struggle against the government since 1984. An estimated 40,000 people have been killed in the fighting.
The verdict comes after weeks of ethnic violence, in which Kurdish youths have been clashing with security forces across cities in Turkey's predominately Kurdish southeast. The demonstrations were in response to alleged mistreatment of Abdullah Öcalan, founder of the PKK, whilst in prison. A pro-Kurdish protester was shot dead in Diyarbakır last weekend, sparking further unrest. Turkish nationalists have also been demonstrating, following the killing of seven Turkish soldiers by the PKK in central Turkey on Monday.
Almost immediately following the verdict, violence erupted in the predominantly Kurdish south-east of the country between advocates of the party and Turkish riot police.
== Sources ==
Dorian Jones. "Turkey Bans Pro-Kurdish Party" — VOA News, December 11, 2009
"Banned Turkey party vows boycott" — Al Jazeera, December 12, 2009
Selcan Hacaoglu. "Kurds fight running battles with Turkish police" — Associated Press, December 12, 2009
"Pro-Kurd party MPs to withdraw from Turkey's parliament" — BBC News Online, December 12, 2009