Turkey’s Post-Coup Crackdown Targets Kurdish Politicians

ISTANBUL — As dozens of counterterrorism police officers circled his home, the co-leader of Turkey’s main Kurdish opposition party calmly sent a Twitter posting about his impending arrest. Pajama-clad neighbors came running in the middle of the night to stop it but they were too late.

The opposition leader, Selhattin Demirtas, was one of 11 Kurdish members of Parliament seized early Friday by security forces in raids carried out in the southeast city of Diyarbakir, where he lives, and in the capital, Ankara.

The arrests of democratically elected lawmakers widened the scope of political targets in a crackdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the four months since a failed coup attempt against him.

“Police officers are at my gate in my house in Diyarbakir, with an arrest warrant,” wrote Mr. Demirtas, co-leader of the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party.

Scores of neighbors, many barefoot and wearing sleeping clothes, poured into the street hoping to thwart the police. But Mr. Demirtas had already been detained in a police van and his lawyers pushed aside, said Meral Danis Bestas, a party official who had witnessed the episode.

In simultaneous actions in Ankara, the police detained Figen Yuksekdag, the other co-chairman of the party, known as the H.D.P., along with nine other parliamentarians.

Since declaring a state of emergency after the failed coup attempt in July, Mr. Erdogan has dismissed tens of thousands of teachers and civil servants, purged the armed forces, detained journalists and shut more than a dozen media outlets.

As the crackdown has expanded, Western critics have accused Mr. Erdogan of carrying out a coup of his own, using the failed plot to depose him as a pretext for eliminating all opponents, not just those with a suspected connection to the uprising, and cementing his increasingly authoritarian rule.

Over the past month, acting under emergency powers that allow the state to bypass Parliament and rule by decree, the Turkish government has extended the crackdown to the Kurds, who have no known link to the coup attempt.

The government has removed 30 Kurdish mayors from office, suspended more than 11,000 teachers from Kurdish regions and shut at least 20 Kurdish media outlets, including a children’s television station that dubbed cartoons such as “The Smurfs” into Kurdish.

The pro-Kurdish station IMC TV was also shut down for what the government called the spreading of terrorist propaganda. Employees said the government had decided to close the station well before the July coup attempt because of its reporting from the country’s Kurdish region, despite curfews on districts where the Turkish military was fighting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, known as the P.K.K.

“The government was saying, ‘I am killing terrorists in this war.’ But IMC TV showed that they were also killing civilians,” said Serpil Savumlu Agaya, a former editor at the station. “They did not want this. They did not want us, because we were not the station of the government, we did not participate in the single voice.”

Turkish officials defended their actions on Friday, saying the Kurdish officials had violated Turkish law by refusing to testify in a terrorism investigation.

H.D.P. officials rejected that explanation, saying the crackdown was politically motivated and had no legal basis. “The detentions are aimed at achieving what the ruling party failed to do at the ballot box in two general elections last year, when the H.D.P. won more than five million votes,” Ayhan Bilgen, a spokesman for the party, said in a statement.

Mr. Demirtas, who emerged as a political star after having carried his party into Parliament, denies having any links to the P.K.K., saying that his party is committed to a peaceful political solution to the decades-long conflict while working to increase rights for Kurds, women, gays and workers.

In his years as prime minister, Mr. Erdogan was seen as an ally of the Kurds, breaking taboos to advance Kurdish rights and vowing to drink “hemlock poison” if it would help end the Kurdish conflict. But now, he says a peace process is impossible, and his critics say he has used the conflict to improve his political standing.

Last year, the H.D.P. became the first Kurdish party in Turkey’s history to enter Parliament, as it surpassed a 10 percent threshold. Its triumph came at the expense of the governing party, which lost its majority, handing Mr. Erdogan the biggest political setback in his 13 years in power.

Analysts say that the crackdown and the consequent radicalization of the Kurdish political movement serves Mr. Erdogan’s domestic political agenda.

“With the worsening of the Kurdish conflict, Erdogan will have legitimate reasons to extend the emergency law indefinitely,” said Omer Taspinar, an expert on Turkey at the Brookings Institution. This will allow for the continuation of ongoing purges with impunity and no room for legal recourse.”

“The Kurdish crackdown also strengthens Erdogan’s alliance with the nationalists in the Parliament and helps him secure the parliamentary majority he needs for constitutional changes in the direction of a presidential system,” he added.

Many Kurds fear that the exclusion of Kurdish politicians from Parliament will exacerbate tensions in the country’s restive southeast region and spur more violent attacks from Kurdish militants.

“This is a huge political crisis and very dangerous for Turkey’s future,” said İdris Baluken, an H.D.P. lawmaker who was among those detained later on Friday.

On Friday, hours after the Kurdish lawmakers were arrested, a suicide attack in the city of Diyarbakir killed eight people and wounded at least 100. The government blamed the P.K.K. But the Islamic State later claimed responsibility for the blast, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, citing the Amaq News Agency, which acts as a news service for the Islamic State.

The commander of the P.K.K., Murat Karayilan, released a statement saying that the group would “intensify its struggle” against Turkey in response to the arrests. Kurdish families in Istanbul are increasingly concerned that the disenfranchisement of Kurdish youths and the crackdown on the political movement will lead their children to join the fight against the Turkish state in southeastern Turkey.

Last month, after the Turkish government announced that it would be extending the state of emergency by 90 days, Hatice Oncel’s son, a Kurdish activist, deleted his social media accounts and disappeared from his family home in Istanbul.

“My hope is that my son went into hiding for a short while to protect himself from this witch hunt,” Ms. Oncel said. “But my fear is that the collapse of the political solution and the violence in the southeast has pushed him toward the armed struggle.” Sobbing, she said, “There’s nothing I can do.”

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