The MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioglu from the Kurdish party HDP is stripped of his mandate by the parliamentary presidium and thrown out of the room. He receives support from MPs from his party. (AFP / Adem Altan)

By Susanne Güsten and Thomas Seibert

In Turkey, the Kurdish party HDP is threatened with extinction: Prohibition proceedings are already in progress, parliamentarians are experiencing harassment, arrests and discrimination. Many observers are convinced: President Erdogan wants to get the political opponent out of the way.

Riots in the Turkish parliament last week: MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioglu from the Kurdish party HDP is stripped of his mandate by the parliamentary presidium and thrown out of the hall; He is said to have gone to jail for a tweet a few years ago - the first of 20 HDP MPs against whom similar proceedings are pending. Almost at the same time, the attorney general applied to the Turkish Constitutional Court to ban the HDP from taking part in political activities against hundreds of its politicians. In two years' time there are elections in Turkey, parliamentary and presidential elections, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is rolling up his sleeves: Once again, he probably doesn't want the HDP to dispute his majorities - as it did six years ago, when it became the third strongest force in the Turkish parliament with 13 percent of the vote and the AKP lost sole power. The action against the Kurdish party serves the electoral goal of the government in two ways, says the political scientist Mesut Yegen:
“Despite the authoritarian and repressive government policy, the HDP has still enjoyed great support from the Kurds since 2016. In polls, to the disappointment of the government, it still comes to eleven to twelve percent of the electorate. That is one reason for the party ban proceedings and the action against their politicians: This is intended to weaken their support among the Kurdish voters. "

Political scientist: Government deliberately defamed HDP

The government is pursuing another goal, says Yegen, who taught as a professor at the renowned Sehir University in Istanbul until it was closed last year; he is also editor-in-chief of the magazine for Kurdish history. Yegen is convinced that the government is not only targeting the HDP itself with its actions:
“The main purpose is to end rapprochement between the HDP and other opposition parties. By portraying the HDP as a party with links to terrorism that must be banned, the government wants to force the other opposition parties to cease their cooperation with the HDP. The government also hopes that the HDP will move away from the other opposition parties if they do not defend them against government repression. "
According to surveys, the government alliance made up of Erdogan's AKP and the nationalist MHP was currently unable to achieve a majority: only around 42 percent would vote for the governing parties. An opposition alliance made up of the left-wing national CHP and the right-wing conservative IYI party would currently have around 40 percent. The HDP with its ten to twelve percent could help this opposition alliance to succeed. The Kurdish party proved that it is capable of this in the local elections two years ago, when it supported the candidates of the other opposition parties in many places. In Istanbul, Ankara and several other large cities, the opposition was able to win - in Istanbul even twice, because Erdogan initially did not recognize the election and had it repeated.

“CHP or HDP, that's no longer a difference! They are all breeding grounds for terrorism. "
Six million voters are to be made politically homeless

Turkish media speculate that the government could call early new elections immediately after an HDP ban, even before the Kurdish movement has repositioned itself. The six million voters of the party are to be made politically homeless in this way, says Mesut Yegen:
“If the HDP is banned and its politicians are excluded from the election, then the Kurdish voters will have to make a different decision. In this case, many HDP voters should not vote or boycott the elections - and that is exactly what the government is trying to do. "

But the calculation is not without risk. There is a catch for Erdogan, says Yegen:
“In the new presidential system, the elections for parliament and for the presidency will be held together. If the HDP is now banned, its voters and some of the Kurds, who otherwise vote for the AKP, could vote for the opposition's presidential candidate in protest. So it would be a risk for Erdogan to have the HDP banned - he could risk his re-election as president. That is why he may prefer not to enforce the ban, but instead to keep the HDP under constant interference until the election, thus throwing it off track. "

Kurdish party cannot simply be banned

The Kurdish party cannot be banned that easily anyway. The Turkish state has banned half a dozen Kurdish parties since the 1990s, but they were quickly replaced by newly founded parties - and the popularity of the new parties grew steadily. The HDP, founded in 2012, is the youngest in this chain of Kurdish parties, and it is particularly successful because, in addition to Kurdish voters, it also addresses left-wing liberal citizens in the big cities. The Kurdish question can only be solved by democratizing Turkish society, is their motto - introduced and popularized by their former party leader Selahattin Demirtas. He has now been in prison for the fifth year - wrongly, as the European Court of Human Rights has found.
"In today's judgment of the Grand Chamber in the case of Selahattin Demirtaş v. Turkey, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the defendant state must arrange for the applicant to be released immediately."
This judgment was delivered in Strasbourg on December 22nd last year. With the arrest of the HDP chairman, Turkey violated several articles of the European Convention on Human Rights and violated his rights to freedom of expression, freedom, security and free elections, the human rights court ruled and ordered the politician's release. His wife Basak Demirtas was relieved at first:
“We have been saying since day one that Selahattin was illegally arrested for political reasons. We know Selahattin is being held as a political hostage. Now the European Court of Human Rights has finally stated this in its judgment. With this decision the whole world now knows that Selahattin is a political hostage. "

Erdogan turned off all coalition offers

It was Demirtas who led the HDP as the third strongest party in parliament in the summer 2015 elections and who challenged the AKP for sole power. Until then, the AKP had little objection to the Kurdish party, on the contrary: Representatives of the HDP and the AKP government were still sitting together in the spring of 2015 in a sultan's palace on the Bosporus and negotiating a peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict. But when the AKP lost its majority in parliament, that was the end of it. At that time the HDP tried in vain to save the peace process with an offer to Erdogan, reported Osman Baydemir from the HDP board recently in the Turkish podcast "Kisa Dalga".
“We offered Erdogan that we support a coalition of AKP and CHP, that we tolerate an AKP minority government or that we, as the HDP, form a coalition with the AKP ourselves. Our only condition was that the peace process must continue. Erdogan's answer? You'll see, he said. "
Erdogan rejected all coalition offers and re-elected - this time he got the majority back. A year later, on November 4, 2016, Selahattin Demirtas was taken from his apartment in Diyarbakir by a special police force. With his speeches and writings he had encouraged the terrorist organization PKK and did not distance himself sufficiently from it, was the accusation, legally that meant: terror propaganda, sedition, infiltration of the state unit, membership in a terrorist organization and much more. The Strasbourg judges, however, saw other motives for his arrest:
“The Court found that the applicant's detention, particularly during two crucial election campaigns - the referendum of April 16, 2017 and the presidential elections of June 24, 2018 - had the real purpose of suppressing pluralism and restricting the freedom of political debate that make up the essence of a democratic society. "

Ex-HDP boss Demirtas still in custody

In plain language: The Turkish judiciary has taken Demirtas out of circulation so that he cannot address voters. More than three months after this verdict, Demirtas is still behind bars today. As a member of the Council of Europe, Turkey is bound by the decisions of the Strasbourg court. But President Erdogan quickly made it clear that he would not respect the judgment:
“It's a purely political decision. With this judgment, the European Human Rights Court is defending a terrorist, it should know. Hey human rights court, if you don't understand that, we will explain it to you again and again. "

Turkey's interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, will not implement the judgment:

"Whatever the European Court of Human Rights may have thought of this judgment: It is a worthless judgment and has no meaning."
The Turkish government is openly and unmovedly snubbed the Strasbourg court and the Council of Europe. Why it does this is obvious, says expert Yegen: The AKP fear Demirtas more than the Council of Europe. 
“Demirtas remains popular with the Kurds and HDP voters, even though he has been in prison for years. If he came out, it would further increase his popularity and influence on Turkish politics - and the AKP wants to prevent that. (Above all, it is about the alliance of the HDP with the other opposition parties, which the AKP has already cost the local elections. Demirtas is a staunch supporter of such alliances). If he were free, he would strengthen the opposition alliance, then Erdogan could lose the election. That's why the AKP will keep him behind bars. "

Turkish government takes action against other HDP politicians

Instead of implementing the verdict and releasing Demirtas, the Turkish government and its subordinate judiciary are taking action against other HDP politicians. Since the local elections two years ago, Ankara has deposed the elected HDP mayors in more than 50 cities; many were jailed and sentenced to nearly 700 years in prison. So now it is the turn of the parliamentary group. The MP Ömer Faruk Gergerlioglu, who was now the first to be kicked out of parliament for alleged terrorist propaganda, is a declared pacifist, human rights activist and animal rights activist and not even a Kurd himself; The 56-year-old doctor embodies the opening of the HDP beyond the Kurdish movement to liberal and green-minded Turks.
"Yes, since I was elected to the Turkish parliament, new motions for the lifting of immunity have been running against me again and again. We must always expect that we will be arrested and that we will also be sent to prison. "
Uca wonders why Germany and the European Union stand by and watch as elected members of the Turkish parliament are taken and imprisoned.
“We expect from Europe that you don't always just say you are upset or horrified about what is happening in this country, but that you have to take concrete steps. You have to name the problem by its name and not just negotiate behind closed doors with Turkey or criticize Turkey. It is unacceptable what happens to people who think differently in this country. "

"We expect Europe to put political pressure on Turkey"

The other victims of the repression against the Kurdish movement are also looking to Europe - first and foremost Selahattin Demirtas, who is still in prison a quarter of a year after the Strasbourg verdict. His lawyer Mahsuni Karaman on the Turkish exile broadcaster Panorama:
“The judgment of the European court is a binding decision. This judgment is not only binding for Turkey, it is also binding for Europe, because Europe is obliged to ensure that it is implemented. We expect Europe to put political pressure on Turkey to implement this judgment - we clearly expect that. "
The opposition in Turkey complains that there has been no sign of political pressure from Europe for a long time. Political scientist Yegen also says that interest in Turkish democracy has waned in Europe:
“In Turkey, the European Union has been more interested in refugees and the Eastern Mediterranean in recent years; the state of Turkish democracy was not so important to her. If the EU continues to content itself with occasionally expressing its concern about the authoritarian development of Turkey, Demirtas is likely to remain behind bars and the HDP will be banned. "
Of course, the European Union has few instruments with which it could influence Turkey, since it is not a member of the EU - apart from political appeals, these would primarily be economic sanctions. The situation is different with the Council of Europe, to which Turkey actually belongs, says Frank Schwabe, SPD member of the Bundestag, parliamentary group leader in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
“With the Council of Europe it is very clear: there are basic rules. And if these basic rules are not adhered to, and in any case this includes the implementation of the judgments of the Human Rights Court, if these basic rules are not adhered to, then in the end the membership of a country is at issue. And the Council of Europe has mechanisms to ultimately exclude a country like Turkey from the Council of Europe. " 

Exclusion proceedings against Turkey likely

Schwabe expects that the Council of Europe will initiate a process of elimination against Turkey this year if Demirtas is not released. Once initiated, an exclusion procedure inevitably leads to the exclusion of the affected state if it does not give in, says Schwabe.
"That is why it is definitely a powerful instrument and I assume that Turkey does not want that, because then Erdoğan would basically lose all connection with Europe - at least as a member of an organization."
Exclusion from the Council of Europe would mean international ostracism. But the European Union could also make a difference in Turkey, believes expert Yegen - if only it wanted to.
“Turkey is in a tight spot in terms of foreign policy and economics, and that is why it is in a weaker position than before with respect to the West and especially with respect to the EU. The international climate has not been so favorable for Ankara since Trump left, and the country is threatened with an economic crisis. That could make Turkey more sensitive to pressure and sanctions from the West than before. "
Of course, the EU would have to do more than just express its concern, says Yegen. Europe must decide:
“The question is: Is it for the West, is it important to the EU that Turkey is governed democratically - or isn't it? Are the quality and standards of Turkish democracy of interest to the EU as long as Turkey belongs to the western camp? That has to be clarified first, because that is not at all clear at the moment. But if it is important to the West and if the West is ready to exert pressure, then this pressure could make a difference this time for the reasons mentioned. The time would be right now. "

Source from: Deutschlandfunk / Translation: Geo-strategic-english