The lawyers of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş held an online press conference on April 18 over the “Kobani incidents case” that will start to be heard in Ankara on April 26. In the case to be held in Ankara’s 22nd High Criminal Court, 108 defendants will be tried together with Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, a previous co-chair.
The 2014 Kobani incidents subject to this case have both internal and external dimensions. The Kobani incidents were the beginning of the end in the process of dialogue with the outlawed PKK, carried out by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government through the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) and HDP, which left behind 46 people killed and 682 injured. In the international level, the içindents marked the separation of the U.S. and Turkey in the Syian war.
Another dimension of the matter that concerns both internal and external developments is the arrest of then-HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş since Nov. 4, 2016 despite a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling of violation. The case is closely linked to an attempt to shut down the HDP, a demand returned by the Constitutional Court, and the strip of HDP lawmakers from their parliamentary immunity.
In other words, it is a case that has both legal and political dimensions. This is why Başak Demirtaş, Selahattin Demirtaş’s wife who attended the April 18 press conference, said the case would “not be only a struggle of law but also truth.”
The YPG, the armed wing of the PKK’s Syrian branch PYD, had taken the advantage of the power vacuum due to the Syria civil war, seizing the control of Ayn al-Arab, or Kobani, across the Turkish border. At that time, the dialogue process was continuing and PYD leader Salih Muslim was visiting Ankara and to hold talks with the Turkish authorities. ISIL had taken control of Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq in 2014, and on Sept. 13 it attacked Koboni to move on to hold the control of the Mürşitpınar border gate with Turkey.
On September 27, Demirtaş called on the Turkish government to open a corridor through the Turkish soil for deplomyent of aid and arms to the YPG (from the Kurdish residents in Syria an Iraq) against ISIL. It was only one month after Tayyip Erdogan was elected president, and a week after the rescue of 49 Turkish hostages in Mosul from ISIL.
Müslim conveyed the same request to Ankara on Oct. 4, but could not receive a response. Meanwhile, HDP MPs were organizing symbolic marches to Suruç to go to Kobani. The HDP administration made a call on Oct. 6 “to protest the AKP’s embargo” and “to hit the streets and support those who do so” to back Kobani.
The ongoing friction between the PKK and the Kurdish Hizbullah broke out that night.
Stopped with Öcalan’s letter
A fire, not seen since the dialogue process started in 2012, flared up. Moreover, cooperation with NATO in Syria was being discussed, and Ankara was preparing to discuss cooperation in the fight against ISIL with a U.S. delegation that would arrive on Oct. 9. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu decided to play a risky trump card. With the approval of Erdoğan, MİT Undersecretary Hakan Fidan stepped in. A letter was received from the jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan, demanding an end to the clashes. The letter (with the help of Demirtaş and Sırrı Süreyya Önder) was delivered to the HDP and the PKK seniors on Qandil mountains and the clashes could be stopped on Oct. 9.
However, ISIL attacks continued and Erdoğan refused to support the YPG. The situation changed with the phone call from then-U.S. President Barack Obama on the night of Oct. 19. Obama said the U.S. would deploy aid from the air to Kobani and he wanted this not to be prevented.
If Erdoğan had helped Kobani against ISIL with the Turkish army, our recent history could have gone in a different path. But the aid way was opened upon Obama’s compelling demand, and roads were parted with the U.S. And this led the U.S. to pick PYD/YPG, not Turkey, as a partner in fight against ISIL.
Davutoğlu, who would later leave the AKP and found the Future Party in the following years, would say that a phone call between him and Demirtaş in those days was of key importance, and he could tell in court if he was called as a witness. Mahsuni Karaman, one of Demirtaş’s lawyers, told this to the 19th Court of Heavy Criminal, which was previously responsible of the case. Now, a further demand is required to call on Davutoğlu as a witess. However, Ümit Dede, the HDP’s co-deputy chair responsible of judicial affairs of the party, says they will prioritize the thesis that this case should have never been opened, and then move on to political defense to counter the indictment. Still, the fact that the prime minister of the time says he is ready to testify should be an opportunity not to be missed in terms of defense.
But the whole case and the indictment are full of oddities.
The investigation about Demirtaş, Yüksekdağ and the HDP administration of the time started in 2015, it took Prosecutor Ahmet Altun five years to prepare the indictment, but the court managed to examine and accept the 3530-page document in a week.
Lawyers: Indictment is inconsistent
The arrests of Demirtaş and Yüksekdağ came on Nov. 4, 2016, under the state of emergency conditions following the 15 July 2016 military coup attempt. Since then, they have been under arrest despite violation decisions from the ECHR.
Lawyer Karaman says although the defendants were charged with instigating 37 deaths, there is not a single autopsy report in the indictment. Deputy Ayla Akat Ata was included in the indictment as a defendant, not a complaint, although she complained that she was abducted and threatened in those days. Attorney Dede said Gültan Kışanak, who was the Mayor of Diyarbakır at that time (now he is also in prison), went to Governor Hüseyin Aksoy and asked for permission to speak in order to calm down the incidents, she was told “not to leave your house” for security reasons. According to the indictment, she is accused of instigating the murders.
Among the murder victims, 15-year-old Yasin Börü, who was killed while distributing meat from religious sacrifices to his neighbors, became one of the symbols of the 6-8 October incidents.
On the other hand, Dede says, “27 of those killed were HDP affiliates, HDP members will be prosecuted for causing the deaths of HDP members.”
HDP closure case and immunities
The HDP lawyers say the 3530-page indictment consists of 250-300 pages of the allegations, and the remainder consists of press reports, mostly from Fırat News Agency, two witness statements that emerged in 2019 and 2020, and a fake Twitter account.
Once the trial begins, it will likely affect the political agenda as well. Because the indictment contains accusations about some lawmakers who face the lifting of their immunity today.
Turkey will require a by-election if 14 more HDP seats in parliament are emptied and this could change the number of parliamentary seats from the eastern and southeastern provinces in disadvantage of the HDP against the AKP.
On the other hand, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli is insistent on the HDP’s closure. He even asked the Constitutional Court to be closed because it rejected the closure case, saying that the demand “needs tobe rearranged” in response to the reactions. The indictment not only prosecutes HDP executives, but also PKK executives in Iraq and Europe, creating a situation that supports the political perception that these two identities are the same.
And Demirtaş will attend the hearing on April 26, not in person, but through the online video system SEGBİS.