Turkey's pro-Kurdish party to survive probe into terror links -analysts

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has played crucial roles in recent elections, leading to key losses for the Turkish president’s party.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 14, 2020 (photo credit: PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 14, 2020
There are fears a court investigation into Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party will lead to it being banned, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is unlikely to shut it down, analysts said.
The U.S. representative for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Giran Ozcan, told The Media Line his party fears it could be banned after the current investigation into its alleged links to militants, saying that a possible ban will depend on whether Erdogan sees it as beneficial.
“It will all come down to whether he believes this will give him an edge in an election,” Ozcan said of the Turkish president.
Ozcan said his party is preparing to fight a potential court case using any democratic means possible.
The leading opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), said that the current investigation is an attempt to punish HDP voters for not supporting the government.
The Turkish government did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
Erdogan’s ultranationalist coalition partner, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and some in his own Justice and Development Party (AKP) want the HDP shut down over accusations it supports the militant Kurdish nationalist organization, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
The HDP denies it has links to the PKK.
The call to ban the party intensified after the deaths of Turkish hostages held by the PKK in Iraq last month. Ankara accused the PKK of killing them during a Turkish military operation, but the PKK said it did not harm them.
Ozcan believes the recent crackdown on the HDP could be a sign that Erdogan is considering holding an early election and is trying to strengthen the nationalist base amid waning support for his party. The next regular general election in Turkey is scheduled for 2023.  
“He needs a target,” Ozcan said. “The domestic enemy for him to portray to his own base is the HDP.”
In the past, the HDP has acted as a spoiler for the opposition, splitting votes among those who do not support the government.
That changed in 2018 when the party did not run a candidate in the mayoral election in Istanbul, helping the leading opposition party grab victory and serve Erdogan his greatest defeat since coming to power.
Deniz Yuksel, a Turkey researcher for Amnesty International, told The Media Line that the crackdown on the party follows years of oppression of dissidents, especially since the failed coup attempt in 2016.
Yuksel said that the country’s allies, including the United States, need to increase diplomatic pressure on Ankara to stop the prosecution of dissidents and that the Biden administration has failed to speak for the HDP’s democratic rights.
She said the Kurdish minority has faced an oversize burden from that crackdown.
“There is a history of anti-Kurdish sentiment from the government and Turkish nationalists in general,” she said.
Can Selcuki, the managing director of the polling company Istanbul Economics Research, said Erdogan is unlikely to ban the HDP because of the impact it could have on him in an election.
“It will hurt him because he’s likely to lose the Kurdish support,” he told The Media Line.
Erdogan understands how crucial that support is.
In 2015, his party lost its parliamentary majority when the HDP entered parliament for the first time. Afterward, the president turned to the ultranationalist MHP to win back the majority, increasing his reliance on a stronger nationalist base.
“He’s had to really backtrack on all the promises that he made before, in terms of advancing the rights of the Kurds,” said Kristian Brakel, an Istanbul-based analyst with the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
Brakel said that the HDP is unlikely to be banned because Erdogan would not want to be seen as similar to previous leaders who banned a party in the 90s of which he was a member.
Brakel believes there is also a strategic reason for keeping the HDP on the national scene.
“It’s good to maintain the HDP as a sort of …  object where you can direct a lot of the blame,” he told The Media Line.