Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to public squares across Turkey on Tuesday to celebrate Nevruz, which was marked by messages calling for a “no” vote in a public referendum to be held in April.
Nevruz is a spring festival traditionally observed in the second half of March and has a highly symbolic meaning for Kurds, with colorful celebrations across the predominantly Kurdish Southeast of Turkey.
The largest Nevruz celebration took place in the Bağlar district of the southeastern province of Diyarbakır with the attendance of thousands of people as well as officials from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and Democratic Regions Party (DBP).
Delivering a speech at the event, former Mardin Mayor Ahmet Türk, who was removed from his post by the government last year and spent 43 days in prison until his release on Feb.3, said: “Following this gorgeous Nevruz, there is a referendum on April 16. Everyone is asking what Kurds will say. Certainly, this referendum is important not only for the future of Kurds but also for that of all people. It has another meaning for Kurds, though. Our co-chairpersons are in jail today. Will we say, ‘yes’ to those who carry out the jail policies? Trustees have been appointed to our 80 municipalities. Will we say ‘yes’? Will we say ‘yes’ to the brutalities in Sur, Cizre, Nusaybin and Şırnak?”
The crowd responded to Türk’s questions by chanting “no.”
In January, Turkey’s Parliament passed the constitutional amendments later approved by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that would transform the political order into an executive-style presidential system, effectively widening the scope of powers of the position.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), backed by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), pushed through the legislation that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says will bring the strong leadership needed to prevent a return of the fragile coalition governments of the past.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) and HDP fear the reform will fuel authoritarianism.
Parliament’s approval paved the way for a nationwide referendum on the amendments on April 16, which would give the president, traditionally a more ceremonial role, the power to dismiss ministers and Parliament, issue decrees, declare emergency rule and appoint figures to key positions, including the judiciary.
Turkey has stepped up political pressure on Kurdish politicians in recent months. In addition to appointment of trustees to the management of scores of municipalities, Turkey has arrested dozens of Kurdish politicians on terror charges including 13 HDP deputies including the party’s co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ.
During the celebrations, messages from Demirtaş and DBP co-chair Sebahat Tuncel, who is also under arrest, were read to the crowd.
HDP deputy and party spokesperson Osman Baydemir also delivered a speech at the event, asking Kurds to reject the constitutional amendments on April 16.
Meanwhile, a man who attempted to enter the square was shot and killed by police for allegedly trying toget in with a knife.
There was also a large Nevruz celebration in İstanbul’s Kartal district on Tuesday where messages from jailed HDP co-chairs Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ were read out.
HDP officials who delivered speeches at the event called for a “no” vote in the referendum.
Nevruz celebrations also took place in many southeastern provinces and other parts of Turkey on Tuesday.