On Monday, an event hosted by the local branch of a pro-PKK association occurred in the eastern province of Van. They were offering their condolences to the family of Abdülbaki Sömer, the suicide bomber who claimed 29 innocent lives in Ankara just days ago. The event also had a controversial guest, Tuğba Hezer, a member of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) who was recently elected to Parliament. Hezer's decision to offer her condolences to the family of a suicide bomber, coupled with her party's notable refusal to condemn last week's attack, caused public outrage and caused friction among HDP ranks. While HDP spokesman Ayhan Bilgen publicly supported Hezer's decision, Altan Tan, a senior member of the party, said: "It was wrong to celebrate the attack and it was wrong [for her] to offer her condolences."
The latest controversy, however, is not just about a bad call by an individual politician. It reflects a broader, alarming trend in Kurdish politics. At least since October 2014, when HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş called on his party's supporters to protest the siege of Kobani, which led to the deaths of more than 50 civilians, civilian politics has been losing ground to armed fanatics. Speaking at a public event in Şanlıurfa last year, HDP Co-Chair Figen Yüksekdağ announced that the HDP "relied on the ... YPG [People's Protection Units] and YPJ [Women's Protection Units] who are fighting for humanity." She added that they would continue to rely on them. Having talked a great deal about peace and dialogue, the HDP leadership has failed to distance themselves from PKK militants who, in July 2015, unilaterally ended a two-year cease-fire and started killing civilians and servicemen. At some point we even saw CCTV footage of an HDP representative delivering supplies and weapons to active PKK members.
The Turkish authorities must outlaw the HDP, an institutional supporter of terrorism, prevent public funds from being used to kill Turkish citizens and kick individuals proven guilty out of Parliament.
Over the past decade, Turkey took major steps to recognize the Kurdish community's cultural rights as part of a broader agenda to promote equal citizenship. At this point, people are able to publicly advocate imprisoned PKK founder Abdullah Öcalan's views. Once taboo, yellow, red and green flags appear at annual Nevruz celebrations in Diyarbakır and elsewhere. The government not only lifted the ban on the Kurdish language, but has taken steps to celebrate cultural diversity by launching a Kurdish-language TV channel and introducing elective Kurdish-language courses in public schools. Simply put, none of the problems that gave rise to political violence and extra-parliamentary opposition exist. Turkey has changed, but a handful of Kurdish nationalists would like to watch the country burn.
Until now, the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government has not been tough enough on crime. Although Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and others condemn terrorism in the strongest terms possible, they have been reluctant to lift the immunities of PKK supporters in Parliament or take other actions. At this point, it should be clear that harsh words mean nothing if politicians can openly cooperate with a globally recognized terrorist organization at no cost. It has been frustrating to see that the government is unwilling to act. Supporters of terrorism must no longer escape justice.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, has taken a clear stance against efforts to outlaw political parties regardless of their platforms. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), however, begs to differ. In the past, the ECtHR notably upheld a decision by the Spanish courts to outlaw Batasuna, the political wing of the Basque National Liberation Movement (ETA). The HDP leadership does not even try to distance itself from the PKK or YPG, its Syrian franchise. Let the justice system punish supporters of terrorism in order to clear the path for pro-peace politicians willing to take the risk of being executed by PKK militants.
Being tough on crime does not necessarily entail arbitrary limitations on freedom of speech and political liberties. Politicians and private citizens alike should be able to express their ideas, however controversial, with no fear of persecution. The Constitution, however, does not allow citizens to advocate for terrorism. Nor are Turkish citizens allowed to celebrate acts of terror whether they take place in New York or Ankara.
Kurdish politics is at a crossroads today. Armed militants and their supporters in the political arena had been resisting disarmament since Öcalan's historic call in March 2013. With the Syrian civil war raging on, they seized the opportunity to derail the reconciliation process talks and returned to violence in July. Their rivals, including trailblazers like Leyla Zana, have since been sidelined, silenced or executed. We have thus reached a point of no return.
Daily Sabah calls for launching an investigation to identify and punish supporters of terrorism within the HDP and to outlaw the party, which has lost the privilege of representing their supporters in Parliament. This is not a call for the further securitization of the Kurdish question, but a demand on behalf of the majority of Kurds who would rather choose democracy than being represented by a party acting as an instrument of terrorism. This will prevail for the majority of Kurdish intellectuals and politicians, a breathing new environment and moment. Let us together make way for peace.