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Turkey: Erdogan demands legal probe into calls for release of Kurdish leader

Angry president attacked former ally Bulent Arinc, who resigned after asking that political prisoners, including Selahattin Demirtas, be freed
Erdogan addressed his ruling AK Party group at the Turkish parliament on 25 November 2020 (Turkish Presidency)
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In a fiery speech on Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that there was "no Kurdish question in this country", and called on the judiciary to investigate those seeking the release of Kurdish political leader Selahattin Demirtas from prison, calling him a "terrorist". 

Erdogan’s remarks came as one of his longstanding allies, Bulent Arinc, on Tuesday resigned from his post at the presidential advisory council due to disagreement over the release of two political prisoners, including Demirtas.

Arinc’s position caused particular anger with Erdogan's ally Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the ultranationalist MHP party.

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“There is no Kurdish question in this country,” Erdogan said, during an address to his parliamentary group. "As I said before, if there was one, we already have resolved it. We cannot ignore the fact that the biggest enemy of our Kurdish brethren is the separatist terror group with its armed and political representatives.”

In an apparent shot at Arinc, Erdogan said that he was astonished by calls for the release of Demirtas, who led the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) from prison.

“That person, who wears the mask of a politician, is a defender of a separatist terror group whose hands are covered by the blood of thousands of Kurds,” the president said.

Erdogan, in the same speech, called on the judiciary to act against those who made calls regarding the fate of Demirtas and imprisoned philanthropist Osman Kavala.

“They are violating the constitution’s article 138, which bans citizens from issuing orders to the courts,” he claimed. "I had to make this statement because the judiciary is ignoring them.”

'Assuaging ultranationalists'

Erdogan’s remarks overshadowed his promises of judicial and economic reforms in recent weeks, in order to gain the trust of foreign investors amid a currency crisis.

In the same speech, Erdogan said that a comprehensive legal package to improve human rights in Turkey was in the pipeline and that his party would continue to be cheerleaders for reform.

But social media users seemed unconvinced by these vows in light of his strong comments targeting critics and Kurdish movements.

'Erdogan walks back on days of reform talk from AKP elders like Bulent Arinc, stressing commitment to the alliance with the nationalist MHP and its policies'

- Asli Aydintasbas, 

One Turkish commentator, Asli Aydintasbas, said that Erdogan was aiming to assuage ultranationalists with his rhetoric.

“Erdogan walks back on days of reform talk from AKP elders like Bulent Arinc, stressing commitment to the alliance with the nationalist MHP and its policies,” she said.

Turkish officials have accused Demirtas, as then-HDP chairman, of calling for unrest in October 2014 in southern Turkey in response to an Islamic State (IS) attack on the Syrian border town of Kobani. Demirtas had accused Ankara of turning a blind eye to the siege of the Kurdish-majority city.

More than 46 individuals died during the protests, which quickly turned into violent clashes between police and pro-Kurdish protesters, as well as skirmishes between rival Kurdish and Turkish political groups.

However, the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled last June that Demirtas's imprisonment was unconstitutional and ordered compensation to be paid. Demirtas has yet to be released from prison due to a separate charge.