ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – An article in the latest decree signed over the weekend by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan granting civilians who “help in the suppression of terrorist acts” with impunity has prompted widespread concern among opposition parties and the public regarding the potential outbreak of civil unrest and violence against government opponents.
At an Ankara press conference, pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) spokesperson Ayhan Bilgen called for an extraordinary parliamentary convention, urging a unified reaction to what he labeled as a step toward further polarization, chaos, and even civil war.
“Tomorrow can be too late,” he warned.
No guarantee of security was left for government critics or opposition groups in case they come under attack, Bilgen argued.
The article explicitly extends an exemption from criminal responsibility, initially reserved for officers, to civilians who took action against rebel soldiers during last year’s failed military coup against Erdogan’s rule.
However, it also covers activities “that qualify” as a follow-up to the putsch and “terror acts.”
Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Bulent Tezcan said at a presser that the latest decree was meant to militarize the public and lead to “fascism.”
He said Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wanted to create paramilitary “gangs,” as another MP Mahmut Tanal accused the government of inciting violence in the name of “countering terrorism.”
The CHP said it was going to appeal to the Constitutional Court for an annulment of the law.
“This article is the article of civil war,” Tanal tweeted.
Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul of the AKP defended the policy, insisting the immunity strictly covered elected government’s supporters who on July 15 and 16, 2016, fought off coup-plotters, at the behest of an embattled, defiant Erdogan who called for resistance.
Since then, Turkey has been under a repeatedly extended state of emergency that enables Erdogan with authority that circumvents the legislative body while at the same time giving broader powers to security forces, bureaucracy, and judiciary with less regard for check and balances.
Nonetheless, former President Abdullah Gul, a founding member of the AKP and long-time ally of Erdogan, was not convinced.
Gul pointed to the ambiguous language in the phrasing of the decree and called it “worrisome” for the rule of law.
“I hope it will be revised to avoid developments and incidents that could sadden us all in the future,” he tweeted.
Ankara alleges stringent measures are needed to maintain stability and root out sympathizers of the US-based Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen whom Erdogan charges with masterminding the coup that killed about 250 people.
Meral Aksener, the leader of the newly-formed nationalist right-wing Good Party, echoed statements from the HDP and CHP.
“Granting civilians with the right to use arms in the pretext of [countering] a military rebellion is pulling the country into a civil war,” said Aksener, who heads a faction that splintered from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) for allying with Erdogan.
MHP’s leader Devlet Bahceli accused those “taking offense” at the article of being tin soldiers of “FETO,” an acronym the government uses for the Gulenist movement, standing for “Fethullahist Terror Organization.”
Bar associations from over a dozen Kurdish provinces, including Dersim, Diyarbakir, Kars, Sanliurfa, and Van, released a joint statement, calling the regulation unconstitutional and a “heavy blow” to the rule of law.
On social media, tens of thousands of users tweeted under the hashtag “latest decree takes us to civil war” in Turkish, making it the top trending topic in the country.
“Our own Basij is coming,” wrote anchorwoman Nevsin Mengu, reminding of the paramilitary forces the Islamic Republic of Iran keeps in every city to quell protests.
“The next election will be under the shadow of militias holding sticks and cleavers,” Mengu said.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany