HDP deputies, like every other citizen who supports terrorism, must answer for their apparent pro-terror statements and actions before the law and be brought to justice within the scope of the Turkish Constitution
Things are tough in Turkey. In July 2015, the PKK leadership unilaterally ended a two-and-a-half-year cease-fire to derail disarmament talks and return to violence. The government responded to the organization's new game plan, which involves engaging the security forces in urban areas, by launching comprehensive counterterrorism operations. Enraged by PKK attacks on civilians and service personnel, the Turkish public is mounting pressure on politicians to lift the immunities of certain members of Parliament from the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which has sought to legitimize terror attacks instead of distancing itself from the armed militants.
Faced with the unpleasant realities on the ground, some observers ask whether Turkey is going back to the 1990s, which is an indirect way of claiming that the country is moving away from democracy. In truth, any reference to the 1990s brings back memories of a dark chapter in Turkish history filled with unsolved murders, terror attacks and the state's extra-judicial response to the worsening security conditions. The military's arbitrary meddling in the political process, imprisoned politicians and attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments are indeed just some aspects of the period many people would like to forget.
A large number of Turkish citizens were unable to speak their native languages in public in the 1990s. Politicians were imprisoned for merely demanding to take the parliamentary oath in Kurdish and Kurdish artists chose to live in self-imposed exile. Talk of autonomy was not only a criminal offense, it was effectively unimaginable. State oppression provided ammunition to PKK militants trying to raise money and recruit new fighters. At a time when the authorities turned their backs on human rights and individual liberties for the sake of public order, misguided policies did more damage to Turkish democracy than its enemies.
Since 2002, Turkey implemented a series of democratic reforms to promote a culture of freedom, scrutiny and public debate. Convinced that the country was moving in the right direction, many Kurdish artists and intellectuals returned to Turkey where the government took steps to acknowledge the Kurdish community's cultural rights and initiated disarmament talks with the PKK leadership in 2013. Although dialogue made the two-and-a-half-year cease-fire possible, the armed militants ended up returning to violence.
Although the disarmament talks represented a major accomplishment for Turkey, the authorities, in retrospect, made certain mistakes. Fearing that the PKK leadership was looking for an excuse to back out of negotiations, the authorities were willing to jeopardize public order for the sake of maintaining peace. The HDP's failure to challenge the military wing, furthermore, blurred the line between terrorism and liberty. Today, Turkey is paying the price for such mistakes.
To put things in perspective, no European government would allow an armed group to block roads, tax citizens or assault civilians and officials. There would be no room for a politician promoting a terrorist organization - DAESH, for example - or attending the funeral of a suicide bomber. European authorities would bring an elected representative to justice for letting an armed militant hide in their vehicle or delivering weapons to a globally recognized terrorist organization. Political parties such as the Basque Batasuna in Spain were shut down for promoting terrorism and assisting members of an armed group.
This is not a statement in Turkey's defense, but a quick reality check for HDP supporters trying to invent a Turkish exception.
Unfortunately, certain members of the HDP have engaged in activities deemed illegal across Europe. There is a thick line between feeling sympathy for a terrorist organization and providing logistical support to militants. Instead of promoting civilian politics at the expense of violence, certain politicians have been desperately trying to justify terror attacks and legitimize violations of the law.
The problem with Turkey in the 1990s was an exclusive focus on public order. In recent years, the authorities proved too lenient. Currently, the country is trying to strike a healthy balance between individual liberties and public order. Having forcibly removed local communities from the conflict zone in the 1990s, the Turkish authorities now cover the lodging expenses of individuals victimized by terrorism. This is the new normal and a much better way to address security challenges.
Trying to strike a healthy balance between individual liberties and public order, Turkish authorities have no choice but to lift the immunities of HDP deputies and ensure a fair trial for those charged with supporting terrorism. To build a better future and ensure the safety of all citizens, Turkey must prosecute transgressors and generously reward advocates of civilian politics.