EU criticises Turkey’s court ban of Kurdish party

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on 14 December that he was against the closure of parties, after a court ban on a Kurdish party caused angry protests, including by Brussels, and plunged the country into political uncertainty.

The court ruling drew criticism from the European Union, dealing a new blow to Turkey’s faltering hopes of EU membership. 

In Diyarbakir, the largest city in the southeast, thousands of Kurds took to the streets watched by riot police during a fourth day of protests since the court disbanded the only Kurdish party in parliament. 

In the town of Dogubeyazit, angry protesters threw petrol bombs and stones at police, who fired back with tear gas and water cannon. 

Clashes have erupted mainly in villages in the southeast, but also in the heart of Istanbul’s shopping and entertainment district on Sunday, raising ethnic tensions. 

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan spoke out on Monday against the court ban.

“Our position against the closure of the DTP is very clear […] We are against the closure of parties. We think that individuals should be punished, not a [party] identity,” he told parliament.

The European Commission warned on Monday the verdict could deprive a substantial portion of Turkish voters from representation, which it said was essential to Ankara fulfilling its democratic mandate. 

Investors who are hardened to the emerging market’s domestic turmoil were relatively untroubled by the events. 

The Turkish lira and bonds weakened moderately on Monday but shares were in positive territory, boosted by news of Abu Dhabi’s surprise $10 billion bail-out for debt-stricken Dubai. 

Hero’s welcome 

DTP deputies have threatened to quit parliament, a move that could force new elections in Kurdish districts. 

Riding an open top bus, deputies from the DTP received a heroes’ welcome in Diyarbakir after flying in from Ankara, as around 5,000 people flooded the streets in a largely peaceful protest. 

Police later fired water cannon when a group of youths pelted them with rocks and ripped up street signs. 

Protesters also stoned a local office of the AK Party and several people were arrested. 

Some protesters carried portraits of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) rebel group. 

The Constitutional Court ruled the DTP should be closed after it found it guilty of cooperating with PKK, branded a terrorist organisation by Washington, Brussels and Ankara. 

The PKK has fought for 25 years for a Kurdish homeland in southeastern Turkey. 

The Kurds, who make up around 20% of the population, were for decades forbidden to use the Kurdish language, and have long complained of discrimination. 

(EURACTIV with Reuters.) 

Positions

The Swedish Presidency of the European Union expressed its concern in relation to the decision by the Constitutional Court to close the Democratic Society Party (DTP) and ban a number of its democratically elected representatives from political activity. 

"While strongly denouncing violence and terrorism, the Presidency recalls that the dissolution of political parties is an exceptional measure that should be used with utmost restraint," the Swedish Presidency said in a written statement. 

"The EU has called on Turkey, as a negotiating country, to make the necessary constitutional amendments to bring its legislation on political parties in line with the recommendations by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and relevant provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights," the Swedish Presidency further stated. 

The European Commission  warned on 14 December that the ban by Turkey's Constitutional Court of DTP could deprive a substantial proportion of Turkish voters from representation.

But the Commission was also critical of the party's failure to separate itself from the PKK, a militant group seeking Kurdish independence.

"The Commission regrets that the DTP has continuously refused to clearly distance itself from the PKK and to condemn terrorism," a Commission spokesperson stated.

The Party of European Socialists  (PES) condemned the decision taken by the Constitutional Court of Turkey on Friday 11 December 2009 to ban the DTP, one of the main opposition parties in the Parliament. 

PES President Poul Nyrup Rasmussen said: "The Constitutional Court's decision is very troubling. I fear that the banning of a party committed to resolving the Kurdish issue politically may incite a more violent reaction from those who favor Kurdish demands. The banning of this opposition party is a step backwards for the democratic process in Turkey and will undoubtedly constitute a major obstacle to their accession negotiation to the EU, which the PES supports. Democracy and minority rights can only be assured through dialogue and non-violent means, and the DTP should play a key role in this process." 

The Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association  (TÜSIAD) expressed concern over the danger of further social polarisation following the closure of the Democratic Society Party, or the DTP, by the Constitutional Court. 

In a written statement, TÜSIAD underlined that the dissolution of a political party bars political representation for the supporters of that party, and it never solves the problems that led to the dissolution. 

"We have been asserting that democratic parties were indispensable for democratic regimes. In decisions for political prohibitions, the personal responsibility of politicians should be the basis," said TÜSIAD, expressing hope that the decision to ban the party would not obstruct political expression about Turkey's most serious issue. 

It said the duty of politicians was to expand areas for the expression of all kinds of political views while safeguarding the democratic system's ability to protect itself. 

Background

The Kurds are 'a nation without a country'. According to the CIA 'factbook', 18% of Turkey's population of 77 million people are Kurdish. Similarly, 15-20% of Iraq's population of 30 million are Kurds, and so are 7% of Iran's 66 million population. Up to two million Kurds are estimated to live in Syria. 

After the US-led war that brought down the regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Kurds enjoy a high degree of autonomy, parliamentary democracy and the highest living standards in the country. 'Iraqi Kurdistan' is even allowed to have independent foreign relations. 

Turkey's Kurdish problem, which has fuelled separatist conflict in the mainly Kurdish southeast, has long been an obstacle to Ankara's EU membership ambitions. 

According to the Turkish press, the Kurdish conflict in Turkey has cost the lives of about 40,000 people since 1984, resulted in more than 17,000 unsolved murders, wasted billions of dollars in military expenditure and countless billions more in missed opportunities. 

The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which launched a campaign in 1984 for Kurdish self-rule in the southeast, is believed to number 4,000 fighters. It has been weakened recently by Turkish military operations against bases in northern Iraq.

PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was captured in 1998 and was sentenced to death, before the punishment was converted into life imprisonment. 

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