A bipartisan group of 10 US senators has in a letter urged President Joe Biden to “forcefully condemn” his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s escalating efforts to disband the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the second-largest opposition party in the Turkish Parliament, and to work with the EU to prevent further democratic backsliding in Turkey.
The letter, which was led by senators Chris Van Hollen, a Democrat and member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican James Lankford, was also signed by Senators Ron Wyden, Thom Tillis, Jeff Merkley, Jeanne Shaheen, Angus King, Cory Booker, Ed Markey and Sherrod Brown.
Expressing deep concern regarding the Turkish Constitutional Court’s June 2021 decision to accept an indictment against the HDP in an attempt to dissolve it, the senators stated that putting the party on trial on politically motivated charges marked the culmination of Erdoğan’s efforts to “disenfranchise Turkey’s Kurdish population, undercut political pluralism in the country, and tighten his grip on power through anti-democratic means.”
They noted that Erdoğan’s systematic campaign to restrict the rights of the HDP over the past few years included the detention of more than 5,000 HDP lawmakers, executives and party members “on baseless charges,” eliciting international condemnation.
The senators also brought to mind the high-profile case of Selahattin Demirtaş, the former HDP leader who has been in prison since November 2016, emphasizing that he remains behind bars despite two European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings in 2018 and 2020 that are legally binding and said Turkey had violated the rights of Demirtaş, ordering his immediate release. They added that the Council of Europe also called on Turkey to immediately release the Kurdish politician on September 17, 2021.
The senators further said Erdoğan has removed from office, and in many instances detained, dozens of democratically elected HDP mayors, most of them elected in the March 2019 local elections, as part of efforts to “cement his power through anti-democratic means” by moves that overturn the will of millions of voters and undermine Turkey’s multiparty system.
Erdoğan’s attempts to dissolve the HDP and bar hundreds of its members from holding office through the judicial system “represent a clear effort to kneecap the political opposition ahead of Turkey’s next general elections scheduled for 2023 and, if successful, would extinguish the fairness and credibility of such elections and do lasting damage to the country’s political pluralism,” they stressed.
Urging Biden to uphold national values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in relations with Turkey, the senators added that he should, in concert with their EU partners, ensure that Erdoğan understands that any attempt to disband the HDP or detain or bar from office its members will result in serious negative consequences for Turkey.
The letter comes days after Erdoğan stated, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, that he felt relations with his US counterpart had “not gotten off to a good start” since the latter’s arrival in the White House.
Relations between the US and Turkey, two NATO allies, took a nosedive after Turkey’s purchase of a Russian S-400 missile defense system that the US believes can be used to spy on Western defenses. Washington imposed sanctions on Turkey’s military procurement agency for the purchase last year. It also expelled Turkey from the F-35 program under which Western allies produce the next-generation fighter jet’s parts and secure its early purchasing rights.