Thousands of pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) supporters gathered for a “Conscience, Justice and Democracy” rally in Diyarbakır’s Station Square on Sunday, according to the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF).
The meeting was organized by the HDP to raise awareness about its imprisoned deputies, including Co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş and former Co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ.
The Turkish government arrested Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ in November 2016, accusing them of “terror-related” crimes. Charges prosecutors have brought against the two politicians range from insulting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and collaborating with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to working to divide the Turkish state with their speeches and political rallies. Both face more than a combined 150 years’ imprisonment.
According to local media reports, despite police blockades, thousands of HPD supporters filled the square and chanted “Down with fascism!”
At the beginning of the rally, the crowd observed one minute of silence to commemorate victims of a bomb attack in 2015 on the same spot. The HDP’s provincial co-chair, Gülsen Özer, gave a speech and said: “We are demanding freedom, peace and justice. You can’t silence us. … We will bring peace and freedom to this country. You can’t stand in the way of that.”
The HDP’s Diyarbakir Co-chair Cabbar Laygara also made a speech at the gathering and said that “the torch of resistance against fascism was lit here in Diyarbakır. The HDP is the only party that will hold fascism to account. The HDP is the strongest barricade against fascism. … We will not bow down.”
The HDP’s imprisoned former co-chair, Yüksekdağ, also sent a written message to the meeting, read out loud by the HDP’s Diyarbakır deputy Sibel Yiğitalp. Yüksekdağ stated in her message that “the antidote of fascism is courage. […] On behalf of all imprisoned elected representatives, I salute all women, youths and our people who hold their head high and resist despite all the pain and atrocities.” Yüksekdağ also condemned an attack on the funeral of Hatun Tuğluk, mother of pro-Kurdish politician Aysel Tuğluk, and called on everyone to struggle against a regime that is afraid of a dead person.
The body of Hatun Tuğluk, who passed away on Tuesday, was taken to İncek Cemetery in Ankara’s Batıkent district on Wednesday but was removed from the grave after an attack by an ultranationalist group during the funeral in Ankara. The HDP’s Aysel Tuğluk attended the funeral with special permission from Kandıra Prison in Kocaeli province, where she is incarcerated. Some 50 ultranationalists who had gathered in the cemetery attacked the funeral, saying: “We have martyrs in this cemetery. We will not allow terrorists to be buried here.” Following the attack, the body of Hatun Tuğluk was removed from the grave and later buried in Tunceli province.
HPD Co-chair Serpil Kemalbay also addressed the crowd and underlined the need for peace in Turkey. “We struggled at the time of the September 12, 1980 coup; we struggled in the ’90s; and we are struggling now. Today we are closer to victory. To build a new life, to end the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan; for a democratic solution, we need to elevate our struggle,” she said.
Kemalbay called on the Turkish government to end the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed PKK, and said it is not possible to erase him from people’s hearts. She also called all “democratic powers” to stand with the HDP against the one-man regime in Turkey.
There are currently 10 HDP deputies behind bars in Turkey after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government stepped up a crackdown on Kurdish politicians last fall. Trustees have been appointed to dozens of municipalities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish Southeast, while hundreds of local Kurdish politicians have been arrested on terror charges.