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Plans to name forest in Kurdish-majority city after far-right party leader spark criticism

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Plans by the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to establish a forest in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakır and name it after its leader Devlet Bahçeli have triggered criticism from locals, nongovernmental organizations and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Wednesday.

The party’s Diyarbakır provincial branch plans to plant nearly 15,000 trees, mostly walnut and almond, in 210 decares of land in Sur and name it the “Devlet Bahçeli Memorial Forest.” They have already obtained a permit from the General Directorate of Forestry, DW said.

The criticism mainly focused on Bahçeli’s indifference to the city, which he has visited twice in the past 21 years, and his harsh attitude towards the HDP, which garnered 65.98 percent of the votes in the city in the last general election held in 2018.

The MHP has been targeting the HDP with hate speech. Bahçeli once defined the HDP as “poisonous vermin” and repeatedly called for its closure.

The far-right party of Bahçeli, whose last visit to Diyarbakır took place in 2011, garnered as little as 1.34 percent of the votes in the city in the 2018 elections.

One of the locals, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told DW it wasn’t reasonable to establish a forest in Diyarbakır and name it after someone who “pitted one group against another,” referring to Turks and Kurds, while another argued that Bahçeli hadn’t done anything beneficial for the city and thus his name shouldn’t be given to a forest there.

A local who identified himself as a student at Dicle University said it was “normal” for the MHP to take such a step, while another one told DW that he didn’t have a grudge against Bahçeli but that it was wrong to name a forest after him in Diyarbakır.

Representatives from 20 nongovernmental organizations held a protest at forest site, reading a statement in Kurdish. The protesters argued that Diyarbakır had many important figures, including poets, writers and scientists, to name the forest after and that the locals should determine its name, according to DW.

“What did Devlet Bahçeli do for Diyarbakır and its people? What has he done, what is he doing, other than insulting Kurds every day and targeting us … the HDP? For what reason is a forest named after him being established for the people of Diyarbakir?” HDP co-leader Mithat Sancar said during the party’s group meeting.

DW also quoted the MHP’s provincial president in Diyarbakır, Cihan Kayaalp, as saying that their plans to establish a forest in the Kurdish-majority city had no political motives and was only intended to afforest land that had been arid for 100 years.

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