ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish authorities on Tuesday detained more than 100 suspected Kurdish militants on suspicion of planning illegal demonstrations or plotting attacks for the Newroz spring festival, police, state media and a security source said.
Celebrating Newroz, the Persian New Year holiday which coincides with the spring equinox in late March, is an important marker of identity for members of Turkey’s Kurdish minority.
The Turkish state has been waging a war for decades against the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast, a conflict that has intensified since a ceasefire collapsed in 2015. At the height of the PKK’s insurgency in the 1990s, Newroz celebrations were marked by clashes between protesters and security forces.
Istanbul police said on Tuesday they had detained 16 members of the PKK youth wing in Turkey’s biggest city on suspicion of preparing for “pirate demonstrations” and “attacks”.
Another 11 people were detained in the capital Ankara for “preparing for a provocative attack ahead of Newroz” and police were searching for 14 more, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, describing the detainees as PKK members.
In the southeastern province of Sirnak, police detained 76 people with suspected links to the PKK, a security source said. A small pro-Kurdish party, the Democratic Regions Party, said 27 people, including one of its officials, had been detained in raids in the southern province of Hatay.
The Persian New Year festival, which is celebrated in Iran, Turkey and parts of central Asia, coincides with the spring thaw, a time when PKK fighters have previously entered Turkey from mountain hideouts in northern Iraq and violence escalated.
The PKK is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States, Turkey and the European Union.
Turkey’s military and its rebel allies on Sunday captured the Syrian town of Afrin, the culmination of a two-month campaign to sweep Syrian Kurdish fighters from a pocket of northwest Syria near the Turkish border. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia to be an extension of the PKK.
The military incursion in Syria has been opposed by Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish political party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has called on Kurds to rally in solidarity with the people of Afrin during Newroz.
President Tayyip Erdogan called for Turks to celebrate the festival in peace, during what he said was a “sensitive period”.
Turkey has detained nearly 160,000 people, and some 152,000 state employees have been sacked or suspended, in a sweeping crackdown that followed a 2016 attempted coup, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday.
In a report released on Tuesday – and condemned by Ankara – the world body called on Turkey to end a state of emergency introduced after the coup, which it said has led to widespread human rights abuses.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by David Dolan)