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Nevruz celebrated in Turkey under shadow of deadly quakes sees detention of hundreds

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This year’s Nevruz celebrations, which lacked the enthusiasm of previous years due to massive earthquakes that claimed the lives of tens of thousands in southeastern Turkey last month, were also marred by the detention of hundreds of participants, Turkish media reported over the weekend.

The 7.8 and 7.5-magnitude earthquakes, which hit 11 Turkish provinces in the country’s south and southeast on Feb. 6, killed nearly 50,000 people, flattened entire cities and displaced millions.

Nevruz is traditionally marked by Kurds in the second half of March as the first day of spring, with colorful celebrations across the country’s predominantly Kurdish southeast. However, Nevruz celebrations, which have a highly symbolic meaning for Kurds, have often been marred by heavy-handed police intervention.

According to local media reports, this year’s celebrations, which took place in various cities across the country, including İstanbul, the capital Ankara and Van, were held under the shadow of February’s major earthquakes.

“… This year’s Nevruz is a bit sad, this year’s Nevruz is heartbreaking, it’s angry [and] … dedicated to those who lost their lives in the earthquake,” Pervin Buldan, co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said during a speech at the event in İstanbul.

Buldan added that the elections slated for May 14 would be a milestone for Turkey and that neither the earthquakes nor the alliance of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) would be the fate of the country.

Voice of America’s Turkish edition also quoted İbrahim Akın, co-spokesperson of the Green Left Party (YSP) who spoke in İstanbul on Sunday, as saying that the government was the cause of “every evil experienced in the earthquake.”

“As long as this regime continues, no problem in this country will be solved, as seen in the earthquake disaster,” he added.

Facing possible closure before the May elections, the HDP recently decided to compete under the banner of the YSP.

Thousands gathered for the event in İstanbul’s Yenikapı Square, despite poor weather, chanting “Government, resign” and holding the AKP responsible for the devastating effects of the recent earthquakes.

Following the earthquakes, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP government were accused of poor performance in coordinating search and rescue efforts, mainly failing to mobilize enough people and a lack of coordination among the teams, which resulted in civilians in some regions trying to pull their loved ones from under the rubble themselves.

Meanwhile, the İstanbul Governor’s Office said on Sunday that a total of 224 people who participated in the celebrations in the city were detained for bringing “illegal banners” to the square and “causing outrage by shouting illegal slogans.”

Last year, police detained at least 298 people, including 74 minors, during Nevruz celebrations in southeastern Diyarbakır province.

In 2017 police officer Yakup Şenocak fatally shot Kurdish university student Kemal Kurkut during Nevruz celebrations in Diyarbakır. Police found poetry books and clothing in Kurkut’s backpack after he was shot on suspicion that he was a “suicide bomber.” A Diyarbakır court acquitted Şenocak in January, saying there were “no grounds for punishment.”

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