The following article was originally published in The Wall Street Journal on October 26, 2016.
ISTANBUL—Turkey’s Kurds defied the state of emergency to stage nationwide protests on Wednesday against the detention of a leading Kurdish politician, as the government’s post-coup crackdown increasingly ensnares the restive minority and fuels an insurgency destabilizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization member.
Hundreds of people gathered in Diyarbakir to protest the Tuesday night arrest of Gultan Kisanak, who was elected mayor of the symbolically important Kurdish city with 55% of the votes in 2014, and her co-mayor, Firat Anli. The country’s mainstream pro-Kurdish opposition party also organized marches in Istanbul, Izmir, Mardin, Bursa and other cities.
Diyarbakir’s governor declared the rally illegal, and police deployed water cannons and tear gas to disperse demonstrators, according to Kurdish lawmakers and their advisers in Diyarbakir.
By late afternoon, at least 26 people had been detained, according to local protest organizers. News about the demonstration and the government response was hampered by the fact that the province of 1.6 million was largely cutoff from the internet shortly before the protest was scheduled to begin. Ten other provinces in the largely Kurdish southeast also reported internet disruptions.
Major Turkish news channels largely ignored the demonstrations, and the anger that leading Kurds expressed over what they see as the latest in an escalating crackdown against one of the nation’s largest minority groups.
“The state has taken a decision to target everyone here,” said Muhammet Kaya, adviser to Diyarbakir deputy Ziya Pir from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP. “There’s an active policy to oppress elected officials.”
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus denied Wednesday that the detentions were politically motivated, adding that prosecutors were pursuing terrorism allegations against Diyarbakir’s co-mayors. “We hope that there are no links between the municipality and the terrorist organization,” he said.
Moves against democratically elected officials have stoked among Turkey’s Western allies about the rule of law and exacerbates fears among some Kurds that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government is bent on rolling back their political gains. Parliament stripped almost all HDP lawmakers from their immunity in May, paving the way for them to face terrorism charges.
The European Union’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini and enlargement chief Johannes Hahn said Wednesday that the Diyarbakir arrests are “very worrying.”
Intensifying Kurdish tensions threaten Turkey’s security at a time when the NATO country is bombarded with threats. It is conducting cross-border operations in Syria, as well as fighting Kurdish insurgents at home, all while investigating and purging tens of thousands of alleged coup-plotters—including a third of its top military brass.
Counterterrorism units detained Ms. Kisanak late Tuesday upon her return from the capital on accusations of supporting of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara and its NATO allies.
Ms. Kisanak, who previously served as an HDP lawmaker, is the highest profile Kurdish official detained since the government enacted a state-of-emergency after the failed July putsch against Mr. Erdogan.
Recently, Turkey has widened its clampdown from alleged coup-plotters to what the government considers all terrorist threats, including the PKK, which is fighting for autonomy in the country’s southeast.
In September, the government purged 24 pro-Kurdish mayors and replaced them with state-appointed trustees.
The political deterioration in Turkey’s southeast comes amid resurgent violence. Almost daily clashes cause deaths among security forces, PKK militants and civilians. More than 2,200 people have been killed since three-year-old peace talks collapsed in July 2015, according to the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan organization that tracks conflicts world-wide.
Kurdish lawmakers have repeatedly called for a return to peace talks. However, Mr. Erdogan has ruled out renewed negotiations with the PKK until Kurdish militants lay down their arms. In September, the president said Turkey launched its most sweeping operation by targeting PKK militants on the battlefield and the group’s alleged supporters in a bureaucratic purge.
On Wednesday, the PKK’s political umbrella group reiterated its calls for an uprising against the Turkish state in response to the crackdown in Diyarbakir.
Turkey is also taking increasingly assertive measures across the border, including airstrikes against U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish forces affiliated with the PKK. The government has threatened a ground offensive into northern Iraq to prevent the PKK from establishing a foothold as the U.S.-led collation fights to oust Islamic State from Mosul.
Access the above article in The Wall Street Journal.