A debate over the arrests of dozens of legislators representing the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) triggered another fist-fight in the Turkish parliament this week, where the atmosphere has become increasingly volatile between the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and minority members.
The debate revolved around blame for a terrorist attack that killed 44 people outside a soccer stadium in Istanbul on Saturday. A Kurdish terrorist group took responsibility for the attack, vowing more if the AKP government does not release Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PPK) Marxist terrorist group.
Translations of reports on the brawl from Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet indicate that the brawl began as AKP members accused HDP members of supporting the PKK’s terrorist activity, a party line among AKP members and the party’s leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Hurriyet adds that “the temperature rose further after the HDP deputies referred to their party’s jailed deputies and asked the AKP group to investigate corruption allegations against its own party members.”
Hurriyet notes that Parliament Speaker İsmail Kahraman called a meeting on Tuesday to discuss the brawl and demand that HDP members remove pictures of arrested legislators who could no longer attend parliament sessions. Nationalist Republican People’s Party (CHP) members supported the HDP’s refusal to remove the images.
This is far from the first physical altercation between Turkish legislators in recent memory. As recently as last May, AKP members attacked their HDP counterparts in a debate over whether legislators should lose their criminal immunity. The AKP won that battle, hence the dozens of arrests of HDP parliamentarians.
These two parties are not the only ones to come to blows. In February 2015, CHP members attacked AKP legislators in an “all-out fist fight” over a national security bill the AKP proposed. One AKP member pushed a CHP lawmaker down a flight of stairs. A year before this fight, judicial appointments triggered another brawl. “One MP leapt on a table and launched a flying kick as others wrestled and punched at each other, with document folders, plastic water bottles and even an iPad flying through the air,” Reuters reported at the time.
The HDP is a relatively new political party, a center-left coalition of Kurds, Christians, and other minority voters who oppose the growing Islamism of the AKP. Erdogan has repeatedly accused the HDP of being apologists for terrorists, particularly the PKK.
The PKK was not responsible for the Istanbul bombing on Saturday however; that was the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), an extremist splinter group that has described the PKK as too “feeble.” TAK published a message on their website demanding Ocalan’s freedom and taking credit for the Istanbul bombing. “AKP-Turkish Republic fascism tortures mothers and humiliates the dead bodies of young girls, and the children are killed. While this is happening, you cannot expect a comfortable life in Turkey,” the message read in part.
Turkish police have arrested 235 people since the attack, most accused of having ties to the PKK, and many local HDP members. The HDP tells Deutsche Welle that 290 party members were arrested on Monday alone, with police raiding the party’s headquarters and spray-painting threats on the office walls.
“States often act like gangs but they need to use violence within the limits of the law, now there is a state of emergency and the rule of law is not really in place, so the Turkish state isn’t using violence within the law and there’s no difference between its methods and those of a Mafia,” Hisyar Ozsoy, HDP’s deputy co-chairman, told the outlet.
The co-chairs of the HDP, Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, were both arrested in November and remain behind bars.