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Turkey: Main suspect arrested in killing of Kurdish family in Konya

A man was apprehended over the killing of seven family members in an attack that provoked a public outcry and has been denounced as racist
Demonstrators in Istanbul hold a placard that reads "No Racism for Common Life" in a solidarity protest one day after seven members of a Kurdish family were shot dead by armed assailants in their home in Konya (AFP)

Turkish officials have announced the arrest of a suspect in the murder of a Kurdish family in the city of Konya last month, an attack that sparked an outcry and has been denounced as "entirely racist" by the family's lawyer.

The Chief Public Prosecutor's Office in Konya said on Wednesday that police had arrested Mehmet Altun, the main suspect in the 30 July killing of all seven members of the Dedeoglu family.

In a statement, the office said Altun had been "caught alive" in a rural area of Konya province's Bozkir district, where he had reportedly been hiding in a graveyard.

Video footage from a security camera released to Turkish media outlets appeared to show Altun being welcomed into the Dedeoglu family's home before pulling a gun and shooting them dead. The suspect is then seen setting fire to the house before fleeing.

Altun was caught a day after the prosecutor's office announced that 10 people had been arrested as part of an investigation into the killing.

Among those arrested were Altun's wife, parents and a sibling, according to Duvar news website, adding that they were held on charges of "wilful killing", while another four people were released from police custody under judiciary control.

'An entirely racist attack'

The murder of the Dedeoglu family sparked an outcry in Turkey, with relatives, legal representatives and activists labelling the murders a racist anti-Kurdish attack.

The family had previously survived an attack in May, when a crowd of assailants injured several of the Dedeoglu relatives. Seven of the alleged attackers - who reportedly told the Dedeoglus they were Turkish nationalists who "would not let Kurds live here" - were detained at the time, but five were later released from custody.

It remains unclear whether Altun and his family were directly involved in the May attack - but a statement the suspect gave to the police tied the incident to the killing in July.

According to Turkish media, Altun told police on Thursday that he had originally gone to the Dedeoglu family home with the intention of defusing tensions between the Dedeoglus and his own family, claiming self-defence. He told police that he initially wore a mask to hide his identity and claimed he was a municipal officer, but was recognised after removing the mask.

"I asked the Dedeoglu family to abandon their complaint because of the fight between the two families in May, in which six people (sic) were arrested, and an argument broke out," he reportedly said. "I committed the murders when family members advanced on me. My family has nothing to do with the incident."

Following the Dedeoglus' killing on Friday, their lawyer Abdurrahman Karabulut accused the "judiciary and the authorities" of bearing responsibility for their deaths by allowing the perpetrators of the previous attack to go free.

'This rhetoric and policy does not consider the Kurds as citizens, but rather as a danger'

- Devris Cimen, European representative for the HDP

"This was an entirely racist attack," he told Arti TV.

Turkish officials have repeatedly described attributing a racist angle to the attacks as a "provocation", however.

The prosecutor's office said the killings stemmed from a more than ten-year feud between two families and was not racially motivated.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu also said in a statement that the killings were "not connected to the Turkish-Kurdish issue".

"Making a link to this is as dangerous as the attack," he said.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), however, has said the killings were a natural result of long embedded anti-Kurdish sentiment and rhetoric from both the state and wider Turkish society.

"This rhetoric has been ongoing since [the republic's] establishment. It not only causes hatred and attacks on the Kurds or other numerous peoples living in Turkey, but it foments a potential society in which racism and nationalism become everyday life," Devris Cimen, European representative for the HDP, told Middle East Eye.

"This rhetoric and policy does not consider the Kurds as citizens, but rather as a danger... it has created a paranoid society that is ready to attack anything that is not Turkish or Muslim."

Public outcry

Following reports of the Dedeoglu massacre, human rights and pro-Kurdish groups staged protests across Turkey.

Demonstrators gathered in Istanbul and in the southeastern provinces of Mersin, Diyarbakir and Adiyaman to condemn the attacks and call for unity between Kurds and Turks.

Activists in Istanbul carried placards reading "struggle shoulder to shoulder", while one group of protesters in the Beyoglu district were met by counter-protesters, who attacked them with sticks and projectiles.

Translation: A racist group attacked the citizens who participated in the action in Sishane against the racist attack in which seven people were killed in Konya, and the journalists who followed the action.

Kurds make up around a fifth of Turkey's population, with the largest number living in the southeast and in Istanbul.

Since the founding of the Turkish republic in 1923, Kurdish identity has been heavily repressed and attacked as "separatism", with the Kurdish language effectively banned at various points in the country's history and pro-Kurdish organisations and parties regularly closed down.

Though the 2000s saw improvements in Kurdish rights, in recent years pro-Kurdish organisations have come under heavy pressure again.

The HDP, which is the third-largest party in the Turkish parliament, has been targeted by mass arrests since 2015, with local mayors and councillors routinely dismissed and imprisoned. A number of senior politicians, including former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, are currently in prison.

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The party is accused of being linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), an armed organisation that has been involved in a guerilla war with the Turkish state since 1984. At least 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict, with human rights abuses committed by both sides.

Last month, the Turkish Constitutional Court put the HDP on trial over its PKK links, which could eventually lead to its closure.

MP Hisyar Ozsoy told MEE in March that the party's central board was examining a number of options for the upcoming parliamentary elections - set for 2023, but possibly occurring earlier - should the court rule against them.

"It may be another political party, it may be independents, using the list of an already existing party," he said, via phone.

"These are all options, but they may even try to prevent the HDP from running as a different political party."

Noting the repeated obstacles that have been thrown in the way of progressive political parties in Turkey in the past, he said that regardless of what happened, the HDP as a movement would not disappear.

"The HDP is not just some headquarters, some building, some people. We do have a powerful historical tradition of diverse struggles in Turkey."