The end of democracy in Turkey

More than a dozen leaders of the third-largest political party in Turkey's parliament were detained late last week as the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continues to escalate its crackdown against dissent following a failed coup attempt in July.

The left-wing People's Democratic Party (HDP)--based among the country's oppressed Kurdish population, but with growing support from the radical left and secular moderates--stunned the government in June 2015 when it won an unprecedented 13.1 percent of the vote in general elections, surpassing the undemocratic threshold of 10 percent needed to get representatives in parliament. The HDP's success caused the Islamist AKP to lose its parliamentary majority for the first time coming to power and disrupted Erdoğan's plan to rewrite the constitution to give the presidency more power.

A campaign of deadly violence against the HDP intensified after the election as Erdoğan arranged a second general election in November, in which the AKP regained a majority, but not enough seats to guarantee passage of a new constitution. The AKP continues its war on the Kurdish population--which has included massacres in Kurdish villages, air strikes against positions held by Kurdish rebels and growing numbers of detentions. In July, a botched coup against Erdoğan organized by a section of the military gave the government an excuse to step up its attacks--first mainly against the Gülenist movement accused of fomenting the coup, but now more and more against the Kurds and their political representatives like the HDP, even though the HDP plainly had nothing to do with the plot to topple Erdoğan.

In this statement dated November 4 and published on the party's website, one of the HDP's remaining leaders calls for the release of the detained party leaders and an end to the government's attack on democratic and human rights. On Sunday, the HDP website published statements from some of the detained party leaders.

Co-chairs of the HDP Selahattin Demirtaş (left) and Figen Yüksekdağ celebrate the June 2015 election resultsCo-chairs of the HDP Selahattin Demirtaş (left) and Figen Yüksekdağ celebrate the June 2015 election results

LAST NIGHT, the purge of President Erdoğan against our party has reached another peak: our co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, along with 11 other members of parliament of our party were detained across Turkey last night. More arrests are to be expected. The goal of these measures is to shut down the third largest party in parliament. This is a dark day not only for our party but for all of Turkey and the region as it means the end of democracy in Turkey.

Ever since our party reached a historic victory during the national elections of June 7, 2015 where we succeeded in entering parliament despite the undemocratic 10 percent threshold, President Erdoğan has singled out our party as the main target of his authoritarian policies. The reason is our principled opposition to his goal of introducing a presidential system in Turkey. Our seats in parliament are the biggest obstacle to the necessary constitutional changes. Thus, he simply ordered new elections in November 2015. Despite a series of violent assaults by "unknown perpetrators" on our party members and infrastructure, we managed once again to surpass the threshold on November 5, 2015 and won 59 seats in parliament. Since he could not re-order elections another time, President Erdoğan initiated the lifting of the immunity of our MPs in May 2016. As he could not prevent us from entering parliament, he now orders us to enter prison.

Thousands of members, executives, elected mayors and city council members affiliated with the HDP and/or our sister party DBP have already been sent to prison on groundless charges since our electoral victory in June 2015. Yet the coup attempt on July 15, 2016, and the subsequent declaration of a state of emergency has been the welcome opportunity for President Erdoğan to eliminate all opposition. There is no freedom of expression and no freedom of press, no academic freedom, and no fair and independent judicial system any more. With government decrees gaining the power of law, over 170 media outlets critical of Erdoğan have been banned. More than 130 journalists are in prison, including world-renowned authors and intellectuals. Most recently, two Kurdish news agencies and several Kurdish dailies were closed down, and the chief editor, columnists and journalists of the daily Cumhuriyet have been detained. More than 80,000 people have been detained since July 15, and about half of them are in prison now.

On November 30, Ms. Gültan Kışanak and Mr. Fırat Anlı, elected co-mayors of Diyarbakir from our party, were arrested and sent to prison. A district governor from Ankara was appointed to run the municipality. With this, the number of Kurdish municipalities run by bureaucrats appointed by the central government increased to 28. About 30 democratically elected Kurdish mayors are now in prison, and about 70 of them were dismissed by the central government.

We strongly condemn the detainment of our Co-Chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, as well our Members of Parliament Nihat Akdoğan, Nursel Aydoğan, İdris Baluken, Leyla Birlik, Ferhat Encü, Selma Irmak, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, Ziya Pir, İmam Taşçıer, Gülser Yıldırım and Abdullah ,Zeydan and demand their immediate release. The manufactured charges against them and all other party members must be dropped.

History has shown over and over again that any power based on brute force is outlived by the struggle for justice and freedom. We will not surrender to these dictatorial policies and call upon our friends around the world to stand in solidarity in our struggle to prevent Erdogan to steer the country into a civil war and further despotism.

Hisyar Ozsoy, vice co-chair of the HDP responsible for foreign affairs, deputy for Bingol

First published at the People's Democratic Party website.