Millions of people in many places across the world celebrated Newroz (the Kurdish and Persian New Year) on March 19-23 with their families and loved ones. Kurds across Turkey also organized mass celebrations, but that came with a heavy price.
As these celebrations also highlighted the Kurdish national identity and requests, Turkish authorities acted fast to clamp down on them. Police detained hundreds of Kurds across Turkey as part of “Newroz investigations.”
In Diyarbakır alone, police detained 298 people during Newroz celebrations where it was forbidden to join in traditional Kurdish clothes. On April 15 in relation to the Newroz celebrations in six cities, the government issued detention warrants for 105 persons. Mehdi Özdemir, a lawyer and board member of Diyarbakir Bar Association, told Providence:
An application was made to the Governorship of Diyarbakır by the Newroz Organizing Committee to get the governor’s approval for the Newroz celebrations to be held in Diyarbakır on March 21, and necessary notifications were made to the officials.
However, the grounds for detentions were their participation in the Newroz celebration—such as from whom they heard about the celebration, how they went there, whether or not they shouted slogans, and the pushi [a traditional scarf worn by Kurds and other peoples] sold in the area.
Mass detentions have had a deterrent effect on the right of peaceful assembly to celebrate Newroz. The citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms—particularly their right to assembly and demonstration, and their right to freedom and security—have been violated due to the obstructive approach of the law enforcement officers towards the citizens who came to the area to celebrate the Newroz Day, the unlawful and disproportionate police intervention, and the detention of participants without legal justification.
Authorities Even abused children during the Newroz celebrations. Journalist Gülcan Dereli reported on March 28 that police strip-searched Kurdish children during Newroz celebrations in Diyarbakir. Their blood samples and fingerprints were unlawfully taken upon the instruction of the city’s prosecutor. Seventy-four children were detained and released at night or the next day. Criminal investigations were also launched against them. Dereli writes:
Especially in Diyarbakır Newroz [celebrations], intolerance to Kurdish national costumes reached its peak. Some of the racist scandalous practices took place in the Newroz celebration in Diyarbakır’s Bismil district. For instance, five-year-old twin children who wanted to celebrate Newroz with their mother in Bismil were taken into custody because they were wearing the Kurdish national clothes. The scandal did not end there. Fingerprints were taken from five-year-old children, and they were blacklisted.
In the cold, Police took off the traditional Kurdish clothes of two-year-old and two-and-a-half-year-old children. The president of Diyarbakir Bar Association’s Children’s Center, the lawyer Emin Gün, drew attention to the fact that the police committed many unlawful acts during Diyarbakır Newroz celebrations:
Those who wore national clothes were detained. Children without national clothing were also subjected to nude searches. We learned that the clothes of 11 the two-year-old child of our colleagues were taken off. He was searched naked in the cold. The boy was in a horrible condition. This is not just a case of one child. This was done to all children.
Meanwhile, detentions and trials of Kurds for other investigations including “Kobane protests” continue.
In October 2014, protests erupted across Turkey—mainly in the majority-Kurdish southeast—in response to the siege by the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists of the predominantly Kurdish city of Kobani on Syria’s border with Turkey, held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Up to 200,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees fled across the nearby border into Turkey.
Demonstrators protested the Turkish government, which they said was allowing ISIS to advance. They complained that the government was not helping Kurds fight ISIS, which was besieging the town. In some towns, clashes happened between anti-ISIS Kurds and Islamist Hezbollah supporters, known for aiding the Turkish state in the murder and torture of Kurdish activists in the 1990s.
Lawmakers of the HDP submitted in 2019 a proposal of investigation that would reveal all aspects of the Kobane protests to the public. The proposal, said, in part:
In September 2014, a siege and an attack were launched against the Kobani district of Syria’s Aleppo province by the terrorist organization ISIS. As the attacks increased and the risk of a massacre against tens of thousands of people in Kobani emerged, people with conscience living in Turkey used their constitutional right to protest, demanding that the government not remain silent in the face of a possible massacre in Kobani. There were no deaths during the democratic protests that took place in Turkey until October 6, 2014. While the peoples of Turkey were raising their voices against a possible massacre, AKP Chairman Tayyip Erdoğan said in his speech in Gaziantep on October 7 that “Kobani is about to fall.” On the same day, a 25-year-old man named Hakan Buksur in Muş’s Varto district was shot in the head and killed by security forces. The security forces used disproportionate force against the people that participated in the protests that took place as of October 7 after he was shot dead. In the unfolding events, a total of 54 of our citizens, 47 of whom were employees and voters of our party, lost their lives.
The Turkish judiciary, however, did not provide justice and reparations for the victims and instead started targeting them. In April 2021, a Turkish court began a trial against 108 individuals, some of whom are lawmakers from the HDP, including former co-leader Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yüksekdag. The defendants are facing 29 different criminal charges, including “attempted murder, spreading terrorist propaganda and instigating violence against the Turkish state.” The prosecutors are seeking a total of 19,680 years in jail—they are seeking life sentences for 38 of the accused.
The trial is ongoing. So are the arrests of other Kurds within the same investigation. On April 12, detention warrants were issued for 91 Kurds in 13 cities, primarily in Diyarbakır, Van, Adana, Istanbul, and Urfa. Forty-eight of them were arrested for “taking part in the financial structuring of the Kobane incidents and providing financial assistance to the families of dead or injured PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] members.” An injunction was imposed on the assets of those 91 people.
The government blocked detainees’ access to a lawyer for 24 hours in many cities. A confidentiality order was placed on the files of the detainees.
Kobane arrests are only part of the wider detention campaigns by the Turkish government targeting Kurds. According to the data shared on February 25 with the Gatestone Institute by the press office of the HDP, following the 2014 local elections, 93 co-mayors, and deputy mayors were arrested, and the government appointed trustees to 95 municipalities that Kurdish mayors had democratically won. Following the 2019 elections, police arrested 38 co-mayors from the HDP, and the state appointed trustees to 48 HDP-run municipalities.
The number of detentions of HDP members by Turkish police has exceeded 16,000 since 2015. The total number of arrestees behind bars (including those that HDP have not been able to reach) is estimated to be over 4,000. The number of jailed HDP members includes six parliamentarians. In addition, 23 co-mayors from the pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) are currently in jail.
Meanwhile, the HDP faces a closure case. Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals Chief Prosecutor Bekir Şahin demanded that the HDP be permanently dissolved and that 687 members, including the party’s co-chairs Mithat Sancar and Pervin Buldan, be banned from politics on the grounds that “the party aims to disrupt and destroy the indivisible integrity of the state.” The Constitutional Court accepted the indictment last year, which paved the way for the official start of the court case.
Deadly violence against Kurds also continues. In 2021, a Turkish nationalist murdered Deniz Poyraz, 38, a member of the HDP party, in her party’s office in Izmir. Poyraz’s family lawyer, Arslan Agac, stated that the prosecutor did not carry out an effective investigation to shed light on the murder. Agac added the prosecutor had obscured evidence and prevented the identities of those perpetrators behind the shooter from being revealed.
Instead, Deniz’s father, Abdülilah Poyraz, is facing charges for allegedly “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” in his statements to the press concerning his daughter’s death.
Meanwhile, Mehmet Ipek, 58, a teacher of Turkish language and literature for 34 years, was arrested on April 14 for his social media posts about Kurdish people and Kurdish political movement. In one of his posts, he writes in both Kurdish and Turkish, “Good morning, Kurdistan. Good morning, Turkey. Good morning to us.”
Ipek is in jail now. His daughter, Elif Tirenç Ipek, a lawyer based in Diyarbakir, told Providence:
My dad is accused of “making propaganda.” The only reason given for his imprisonment is his social media account. And for that, he is being kept alone in jail under quarantine. He has no access to books or a TV. The prosecutor is on leave so the indictment has not been written yet and no lawsuit has been filed. We were told that the prosecutor would come back to office after the Ramadan feast. So we keep waiting. My dad has a heart problem and allergies. But we were only able to give him his medication last Wednesday.
Ipek’s and so many other cases once again demonstrate that Kurds in Turkey are unjustly arrested for their Kurdish identity, political views, and requests for national rights.
The Kurdish political movement, however, has repeatedly stated that they are ready and willing to resolve the Kurdish issue through dialogue and negotiations. A civilized government would choose to resolve this issue through peaceful means based on political equality and mutual respect. It would listen to its Kurdish citizens and recognize their political rights—particularly their right to self-determination.
A second way to deal with this issue is by arresting, murdering, torturing, and abusing Kurds and turning their lives into a living hell.
Sadly, the Turkish government has for decades chosen this second path.