Turkey on Monday put 108 Kurdish politicians on trial for their alleged roles in deadly 2014 protests that erupted as militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group overran the Syrian town of Kobane, Agence France-Presse reported.
The case against current and former members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) — including its two former co-leaders — stems from one of the darker episodes of the decade-long Syria war.
Thirty-seven people died in violent demonstrations against the Turkish army’s inaction in the face of an ISIL offensive against the largely Kurdish northern Syrian town.
The fighting was visible from the Turkish side of the border and many in the country’s Kurdish community view the army as complicit in the humanitarian disaster that followed.
The ISIL militants were driven out of Kobane in January 2015 by US-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters that Turkey officially views as terrorists.
“For calling on people to protest, our members are now being accused of terrorism, and also of murder of those who died,” the HDP said in a statement as the mass trial got underway.
“This is a revenge trial,” HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar said.
International solidarity with #HDP in front of the Courthouse in Ankara. #DefendKobani@TheProgressives @ProgIntl@EFAparty @GreensEFA @DFIeurope @ericcoquerel @emiliemPG @LePG @JCSELLIN1 @ehbildu @Esquerra_ERC @cupnacional @RazemInt @mera25_gr @ampazi_eva @F_Alfonsi pic.twitter.com/IbaVplsGNs
— HDP Foreign Affairs (@hdpdiplomacy) April 26, 2021
Turkey views the HDP as the political front of outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging an insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.
Prosecutors accused the 108 defendants of “attacking the integrity of the state” and crimes including looting and murder.
The HDP blames Turkish police for provoking the deaths.
Prosecutors are preparing a separate case against the HDP aimed at dissolving the party and barring nearly 700 of its members from playing a role in politics for five years.
The 108 defendants put on trial in an Ankara criminal court on Monday include the party’s former co-leader Selahattin Demirtaş — a two-time election rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The 48-year-old has been in jail since 2016 facing multiple trials on terror-related charges that Western governments view as part of Erdoğan’s crackdown on political dissent.
In the meantime, the German government’s Human Rights Commissioner Bärbel Kofler called the trial an attack on democracy in a statement on Monday.
“Whoever tries to criminalize political expression, is meddling with the fundamentals of democracy,” she said.
Kofler said she would keep an eye on proceedings and called for the release of HDP co-leader Demirtaş, in accordance with a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.
“The harsh crackdown by Turkish authorities, repeatedly criticized on the international level, on the HDP and its members, fuels doubt that today’s trial in Ankara is a suitable way of addressing the tragic events in relation to the so-called Kobani protests in 2014,” Kofler said.