ANKARA – Turkey on Friday ordered the arrest of 82 people including members of a pro-Kurdish opposition party over violent protests in 2014 against an attack on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani.
Protesters flooded streets in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast that October, accusing the Turkish army of standing by as the Islamic State militant group besieged Kobani in plain view just across the Syrian border. The protests led to the deaths of 37 people.
Turkish authorities accuse the militant Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought for greater autonomy for the southeast since 1984, of inciting the demonstrations.
They also accuse the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK and supporting the protests. The HDP, the third largest party, denies links to terrorism.
Former HDP leaders Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag have been in jail since 2016 on charges related to the Kobani protests.
In a statement on Friday, the Ankara prosecutor’s Terror Crimes Investigation Bureau said arrest warrants had been issued over “several calls made to invite the public to the streets and carry out terror acts”.
Those detained on Friday included the mayor of the northeasterly Kars province, Ayhan Bilgen, and former lawmaker Sirri Sureyya Onder, both prominent HDP figures, as well as some party executives.
Mithat Sancar, the party’s current co-leader, said the AK Party of President Tayyip Erdogan “wants to intimidate the opposition and spread fear among the public by silencing the HDP”.
He said the HDP’s own requests that the Kobani protests be investigated had been dismissed.
Since local elections in 2019, Ankara has removed dozens of mayors belonging to the HDP, accusing them of links to terrorism, and appointed trustees in their place. Two HDP lawmakers have been ejected from parliament since elections in 2018 after being convicted on terrorism charges.
Eleven others were ejected in the previous term.
The Ankara prosecutor’s office is now preparing proceedings against seven more HDP lawmakers that could lead to their immunity being lifted to allow them to be charged, the state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.
The PKK is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.