[Opinion] Pro-Kurdish HDP at center of Erdoğan’s crackdown and world of hate

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Alin Ozinian

A gunman stormed a local office of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the western city of Izmir and shot dead a 38-year-old woman last week. The victim, Deniz Poyraz, was a party official covering a janitorial shift for her mother at the office.

HDP co-leader Mithat Sancar said a planned meeting of 40 officials at the office had been called off for unrelated reasons moments before the attack. “The plan here was clear, what they wanted was a massacre,” Sancar told reporters.

The HDP, the second-largest opposition party in the Turkish parliament, has faced a widespread government crackdown, with party members accused of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group.

It is important to add that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its election partner, the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and their party members have frequently labeled HDP leaders, members and supporters as terrorists.

Hundreds of HDP politicians, including the party’s former co-chairs, are behind bars on terrorism charges, while most of the 65 HDP mayors elected in the predominantly Kurdish Southeast in 2019 have been replaced by government-appointed trustees.

Ali Duran Topuz, editor-in-chief of the Duvar daily, thinks what is happening in Turkey right now is a result of the hate speech directed at the HDP and its members.

According to Topuz the hateful rhetoric employed by Turkey’s ruling AKP and its partner the MHP targeting the HDP laid the groundwork for the fatal attack.

“Some people in Turkey see the PKK and HDP as one and the same, the main reason for which is this discourse constantly expressed at all levels of government. Ultranationalist MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli sings the same song day and night. This is why HDP buildings are frequently the subjects of physical attacks,” said Topuz, in an interview with Turkish Minute.

HDP Istanbul MP Hüda Kaya thinks the government is the main party responsible for the murder of Poyraz.

“The attack is an effort to cover up the AKP’s own disgrace and criminal relations with gangs and the mafia. If the opposition really wants to oppose, they must expose the state’s dirty relations. If they want to save the country from the AKP, all opposition parties, regardless of ideology, should stand with the HDP to learn the real facts behind Deniz’s murder,” Kaya told Turkish Minute.

Topuz thinks HDP offices are under constant surveillance and that such an attack is not an easy job, so some people necessarily think this attack and murder are too complicated to solve.

“In any attack against the HDP, the state routine includes stories about ‘the reaction to terrorism’ and ‘the individual has no relations with any group,’ but these approaches are never adequate for the reality. Those attacks were always carefully planned,” said Topuz.

The ruling AKP’s official spokesman called the incident a provocation aimed at disrupting Turkey’s peace and security. “We condemn the attack and the murder that occurred at the HDP Izmir office,” AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik said.

While the opposition parties and AKP condemned the attack, MHP leader Bahçeli claimed the murdered woman was responsible for recruiting militants for the PKK. “I’ll tell you who Poyraz was. She was a militia collaborator,” Bahçeli told MHP members during a parliamentary group meeting on June 22.

The ultranationalist politician claimed that Poyraz was in the circle that sent those who wanted to join the PKK to militant camps. “A militia collaborator is a terrorist that aids the organization’s treacherous attacks,” Bahçeli said and also claimed that the murder was carried out to “make the HDP seem innocent” and blame the Turkish state.

According to Kaya, HDP members do not know where and when the attacks will come, but they always assume they will know who the perpetrators are.

“What happened was not a surprise. Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has transformed the Interior Ministry into a center of organized crime. Haters, including him, are responsible for Deniz’s murder. Haters are the main shooters, the main perpetrators. It’s just that clear,” she said.

“Don’t pay any attention to the fact that the police arrested the alleged shooter. They are shamelessly protecting him, and they will continue to do so. Tomorrow they will say the assailant was drunk, mad, insane or sick. Those who are backing the perpetrator today are the ones who encouraged him yesterday.”

Turkish media reported that the suspect claimed to have been sent to Syria by the Turkish state, sharing pictures on social media of him posing with Kalashnikov rifles and Turkish flags. Meanwhile, the Izmir Governor’s Office said the alleged assailant had “resigned as a health worker” in Turkey.

Kaya is warning the opposition parties that what happened to the HDP today could happen to other opposition parties in the future.

“Something is very clear; the attack was aimed at suppressing all opposition parties through the HDP. If we all don’t say ‘stop’ to these attacks, they will continue,” said Kaya.

Turkey’s Constitutional Court on June 21, soon after the attack, accepted an indictment filed by a senior prosecutor seeking the closure of the HDP for alleged ties to the PKK.

Immediately after the decision was announced, HDP Co-Chairs Sancar and Pervin Buldan held a press conference and said, “The indictment filed against the HDP does not have any ‘legal value’.”

Sancar reminded that the top court had the opportunity to reject the indictment, adding: “There were sufficient legal and ethical reasons to do so. The closure case was filed following a months-long political campaign.”

“The government, and especially its partner the MHP, and pro-government groups as a whole have targeted the HDP for months. They made statements on various platforms, portraying the HDP as an enemy; they issued threats, and ultimately a senior prosecutor asked the Constitutional Court to close down the HDP,” said Sancar.

According to Topuz, after the attack and murder at the HDP office in Izmir, the government immediately began signaling its strategy to absolve itself of any responsibility. Topuz thinks it’s obvious that they want people to think this was not an organized political act but a hate crime.

“The attacker said he has no connection to anyone. He entered the building because he hated the PKK and fired at random. His ‘emotional motivation’ was made public by the pro-government media,” Topuz said, and added: “Pay attention – he did not say he hates the HDP or the Kurds, he said he hates the PKK. Before the prosecution begins, even before the investigation, these are clear indications of how the murder is going to be approached from a legal perspective.”

Topuz thinks official statements and developments such as the leaking of the suspect’s statements during police interrogation remind him of a wave of violence that occurred after the June 7, 2015 elections, when the AKP lost its majority, including the Suruç and Ankara train station attacks, when dozens of people lost their lives.

“Political leaders and opinion leaders are coming to a parting of the ways. They can choose to raise a collective voice against the government and its dirty policies and demand democracy and transparency, or accept it and go along with the hostile, cheap and bloody acts of the ‘murderous front.’ There’s no other way…”

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