Giran Ozcan’s article published in Independent includes several factual mistakes
On 8 January 2018, the Independent published an article written by Giran Ozcan, representative to the US of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), and titled Turkey’s Erdogan is one of the biggest threats to peace in the Middle East – the sooner the US realises the better. The article contains several factual mistakes.
Firstly, the author alleged that Turkey’s war on terror during the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) administration (2002 – present) “has always been a war on democratic Kurdish political participation, leaving dozens of elected [HDP] officials jailed.” However, contrary to Giran Ozcan’s claim, the first electoral speech in Kurdish on the state channel TRT was given in 2010 by Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) vice chair Arif Sevinc.
The HDP deputies and mayors have attended the PKK's events, delivered speeches in which they praised the terror-listed organization and even threatened Turkish state officials. For instance, HDP-run Kayapinar Municipality co-mayors Fatma Arsimet and Mehmet Ali Aydin, and Baglar Municipality co-mayors Esref Guler and Birsen Kaya Akat attended the funeral of a suicide bomber on 15 June 2016 who killed 12 people in Istanbul’s Vezneciler district and helped carry the coffin. HDP deputy Tugba Hezer attended the funeral of the suspect behind the Ankara car bombing which killed 28 people and wounded 61. To see more example please click here.
Secondly, Ozcan claimed that Turkey’s war on terror under the ruling AK Party has also left “millions of men, women, and children afraid to speak their first language in public for fear of violence.” However, since the 2000s, AK Party has removed quite a number of political and legal barriers that restricted the use of the Kurdish language.
To give some examples, the usage of names in languages other than Turkish was authorized and regulations for opening private courses in order to learn different languages and dialects were enacted in 2003. In January 2009, the first state channel broadcasting in the Kurdish language was established. The ban on speaking Kurdish for prisoners during the visits was lifted and the opportunity to testify in court in the Kurdish language was introduced. Undergraduate and graduate programs about Kurdish language and the literature were opened at universities in the majority-Kurdish southeast of Turkey, starting from the establishment of the Kurdology Institute within Mardin Artuklu University in 2013. Traffic signs were made bilingual (i.e. Turkish and Kurdish) in the city of Diyarbakir in 2016. For a more detailed report of the improvement of Turkish Kurds' rights and freedoms, please click here.
Thirdly, Ozcan, alleged that “Ten of our elected members of parliament, including former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, are currently jailed on fabricated charges.” Apart from the aforementioned criminal offences committed by elected HDP officials, there are other incidents in which the HDP members provided material support for the PKK.
On 23 March 2016, the head of the PKK’s youth wing was captured in the HDP’s Ankara office. The police raided the office on a tip that a terrorist from a rural area arrived in the city. On 25 October 2015, 14 handmade bombs were found buried in the home garden of Halide Aktay, the co-chair of the HDP’s Varto district organization. Aktay and her husband were arrested afterwards. The co-chair of the HDP’s Edremit office, Recep Gultepe, was arrested after materials used in bomb making found in his car on 19 September 2015.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), in its verdict concerning Demirtas’ being kept in jail, “accepted that he had been arrested and detained on ‘reasonable suspicion’ of having committed a criminal offence.”
A Turkish criminal court, which did not allow the release of Demirtas, said in a statement that Demirtas has defended himself against only nine accusations out of 32 up to now and hence his interrogation with respect to the offenses charged in the indictment could not have been completed.
Here are some of the controversial statements of Selahattin Demirtas in which he seemed either to glorifyor to express support for the PKK:
9 October 2011: “We invite all our people to resist [against the Turkish state]. We will resist no matter what people think, today is the day of resistance. Everyone will know their place.”
13 November 2012: “We’ll erect the statue of our leader Apo [Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed PKK leader],”
7 October 2015: Demirtas threatened party members who do not attend the funerals of PKK members with launching an investigation and even taking disciplinary action. He said: “I’ll be honest here. I’ll get an internal investigation started about a [HDP] deputy on the grounds of party discipline if they don’t share the pain of our people. We receive votes from those people. Of course you’ll be sensitive about their pain. You’ll attend their funeral ceremonies.”
31 December 2015: In an interview, Demirtas encouraged the digging of trenches by the PKK, saying that they would be the “winners," and accused some intellectuals that blamed him for not taking a stance against the PKK’s violence of being “traitors.”
Lastly, Giran Ozcan described the institutions in Syria’s northeastern region as “pluralistic and democratic. Northeastern Syria is currently under the control of PKK’s Syrian affiliate PYD/YPG (to see how the PYD/YPG and the PKK is the selfsame organization please read our related fact-check clicking here).
The reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International underscored that the PYD/YPG has a long track of human rights violations varying from recruiting child soldiers to the forced disappearances of its opponents and forced displacements of masses.
According to the 2015 Amnesty International Report, “by deliberately demolishing civilian homes, in some cases razing and burning entire villages, displacing their inhabitants with no justifiable military grounds, (PYD/YPG) is abusing its authority and brazenly flouting international humanitarian law, in attacks that amount to war crimes.” The report also showed that in some cases, PYD/YPG militants threatened civilians with calling for US airstrikes if they would not leave their villages.
The 2015 Human Rights Watch Report (HRW) in 2015 emphasized that PYD/YPG regularly recruits child soldiers despite its promises to “follow up” such cases. Another HRW report accused the PYD/YPG of arbitrary arrests, unsolved disappearances of its opponents (at least nine of them being prominent figures in the region) and again, recruiting child soldiers.