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Turkey: Leftist leader says Erdogan 'should be put on trial' for earthquake response

Ertugrul Kurkcu, honorary president of the pro-Kurdish left-wing HDP, hits out at the Turkish president as Jeremy Corbyn and others call for end to 'legal attacks' on his party
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tours the site of destroyed buildings during his visit to the city of Kahramanmaras in southeast Turkey, two days after the severe earthquake that hit the region on 8 February 2023 (AFP)

A senior figure in Turkey’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has told Middle East Eye that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan should be “put on trial" for his government’s response to the deadly earthquakes that hit the country in February. 

Ertugrul Kurkcu, honorary president of the left-wing pro-Kurdish HDP, Turkey’s third largest party, said the government had “watched the earthquake kill the people”. “I believe that in a democratic country, Erdogan should be put on trial for the deaths of tens of thousands of people," he told MEE.

The veteran socialist activist, who spent 14 years in prison in the 70s and 80s, was speaking on Monday morning as over 50 politicians and intellectuals from 22 countries, including former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and American philosopher Noam Chomsky, called on Erdogan to “end the legal attacks” against the HDP.

'The general inclination among the Kurdish people is to vote for whoever gets rid of Erdogan'

Ertugrul Kurkcu, HDP

Dozens of HDP members and officials, including two former co-leaders, are currently in jail in Turkey, and 108 of its leaders are on trial over a tweet posted in 2014 in solidarity with the mainly Kurdish population of the Syrian town of Kobani.

The party is currently embroiled in a trial that could see it banned before Turkey’s elections in May.  

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On 11 April, the Constitutional Court will hear HDP co-chairs Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar’s arguments against the suspension of the party’s funding and the attempt to dissolve it. The court could make its final ruling at any point before the elections.

The case goes back to 17 March 2021, when Bekir Sahin, the chief public prosecutor of the Court of Cassation, applied to the Constitutional Court for the HDP to be banned, citing the left-wing political party’s alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

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The HDP has always denied any links to the PKK. Kurkcu told MEE that Erdogan “wants to get rid of the presence of the HDP in parliament - he hopes voters will move from us to the AKP,” the president’s party.

Last week, Turkey’s Constitutional Court lifted its block on state aid to the HDP. They had previously been suspended on 5 January in the wake of the case against the party.

The letter in support of the HDP was organised by Progressive International, a global network of progressive parties, movements, unions and campaigns. Other signatories include former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, the co-chair of German party Die Linke Janine Wissler and Spanish European parliament member Idoia Villanueva.

The authors of the letter argue that “if the Erdogan government dissolves the HDP, it will likewise dissolve the foundations of democracy in Turkey”. The possibility that the party “could be permanently banned so close to the upcoming elections places Turkish democracy in dire jeopardy”, the letter reads.

Kurkcu heralded the international support for his party. He said that the “Turkish military and security elite is of the opinion that the HDP’s presence upsets the existence of a one-nation Turkey by giving the Kurdish people the hope of self-determination. This is an imaginary belief but it is a very strong preoccupation.”

Support for Kilicdaroglu

Last week, Turkey’s main opposition parties came together to agree Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu as their joint candidate for the presidential elections in May.

However, the group - named the Table of Six - does not include the HDP, despite it being the third largest party in parliament. Kurkcu said his party was expecting to support Kilicdaroglu, who has said he will “definitely visit” the HDP. 

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“The general inclination among the Kurdish people is to vote for whoever gets rid of Erdogan,” Kurkcu told MEE. “Turkish democracy depends on the Kurdish question because what you have right now is a kind of neo-colonialism for the Kurds and authoritarianism for the rest of the population.”

The HDP’s honorary president said, though, that “the earthquake and the economic crisis are the primary issues of this upcoming election”. “You cannot just blame negligence,” he said, of the response to the earthquake. “Turkey had the resources but the government and army stood still.” 

Erdogan has acknowledged some initial problems with the country's response to the earthquake, but has said that "no other country could act as quickly as Turkey did in this earthquake". Turkey's president has also called those criticising Turkish Red Crescent's response "immoral, dishonourable". 

At least 48,000 people have so far been reported dead in Turkey as a result of the earthquakes. 

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