Kurdish party in Turkey refuses to drop 'Kurdistan' from name

Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK) called on the Turkish government to stop the war on Afrin in Syrian Kurdistan.

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Kurdistan 24) – Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), a small faction with no parliamentary representation in Turkey, on Saturday once again refused a warning by judicial authorities to drop the word “Kurdistan” from its name.

At a press conference in the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, PAK chairperson Mustafa Ozcelik revealed that he and his colleagues were now facing multiple investigations and arrests for saying “Kurdistan,” despite the fact the very word was officially registered in the party’s name at the Interior Ministry.

Founded in late 2014 after a lengthy process, PAK has been under orders from the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office in Ankara to change its name on the grounds the use of “Kurdistan” is racist.

Ozcelik stated that PAK officials Yuksel Ektiren and Kutbettin Yildiz were recently sentenced to 15 and 18 months of imprisonment respectively for their social media activity that courts deemed “propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

Turkish authorities usually refer to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by that phrase, an outlawed left-wing guerrilla group the more nationalist PAK is ideologically opposed.

“Our party’s name officially includes the name Kurdistan; however, our members are charged with terrorist propaganda for saying Kurdistan. We made a defense at the Constitutional Court. We are not changing our party program or name. You change your undemocratic laws,” a defiant Ozcelik said of Turkish authorities.

At least four other members of the party, one of them already under detention for two weeks now, were the target of probes for expressing their views online, he said.

Theoretically, if the PAK made it to the Turkish government in elections next year, its lawmakers will not be able to utter their party’s name without paying a fine of up to 3,100 USD and being banished for at least two legislative sessions.

That is because the assembly in July 2017 banned MPs from employing certain words and phrases including Kurdistan and applied the new rule two months ago on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) lawmaker Osman Baydemir.

Ozcelik called on the Turkish government to release all political prisoners and stop going after people for merely voicing their opinions.

“The history of the Republic of Turkey is one of oppression and repression. Kurds for the last 95 years have been victims of genocides, massacres, extrajudicial killings, destruction, imprisonment, torture and forced displacement. But, this kind of mindset has neither achieved to destroy the Kurdish people nor its quest for freedom,” he stated.

“The Turkish state has become even more aggressive particularly since it started attacking Afrin,” he explained, drawing attention to the now five-week-long Turkish military offensive on the isolated enclave in Syrian Kurdistan and the ensuing crackdown on dissenting voices.

Almost 800 people have been arrested for opposing the campaign on Afrin that has killed over 170 civilians and wounded more than 400 others. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called it a war.

“Stop waging this war. Stop this policy of violence. End the state of emergency. Stop assaulting Afrin. The solution is clear; sit down with Kurdish parties peacefully and democratically to reach a political consensus,” Ozcelik urged the Ankara government.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany

(Kurdistan 24’s Diyarbakir bureau contributed to this report)