No longer can we assume—if anthropologists ever comfortably did—that human rights and formal democracy are mutually constitutive. Worldwide we witness the rise of ostensibly democratically-elected leaders who violate the law and the spirit of both representative democracy and human rights as easily as they invoke these to justify repression or intervention. In this inaugural column of the “Human Rights Monitor,” the Committee for Human Rights (CfHR) responds to the call of our Turkish and Kurdish colleagues to stand in solidarity with the Kurdish-led Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) legislators and mayors who have been dismissed or arrested in Turkey. The ongoing raid on national and local Kurdish representatives is a grave assault on representative democracy, the rule of law, and civil and political rights in Turkey.
HDP is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and progressive umbrella party representing over five million voters across Turkey, including Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, Yazidis, leftists, feminists and LGBTIQ people. After the June 2015 elections, HDP became the third largest party in the Turkish parliament. Failing to win enough votes to form a majority government, the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) abandoned the Kurdish peace process and launched massive military operations in the Kurdish cities that HDP had landslide victories. These operations were accompanied with months-long-military blockades and round-the-clock curfews. In the areas besieged by the Turkish Army, the people’s right to life, food, shelter, property, health and education were blatantly breached. While the death toll soared into the thousands by November 2016, livelihoods and cultural heritages were demolished and hundreds of thousands were forcibly displaced.
The suspension and arrest of democratically elected HDP legislators and mayors is another alarming onslaught on Kurds in Turkey, and on democracy and human rights more broadly. Twelve HDP legislators serving in the Turkish Parliament, including co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, were arrested and sent to prison. Among the Kurdish co-mayors elected by the majority of local electoral votes, 53 have been dismissed and 41 have been arrested. Based on executive decrees issued under the emergency rule, the AKP government appointed trustees to run 35 Kurdish municipalities. Thus, the AKP government deprives the Kurds of rights safeguarded by national and international covenants including the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, and the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.
Anthropology is a profession committed to the promotion and protection of the right of people everywhere to the full realization of their humanity. When any culture or society denies or permits the denial of such opportunity to any of its own members or others, as anthropologists we have an ethical responsibility to protest and oppose such deprivation. The AKP government needs to respect the will of Kurdish people and release and reinstate their elected representatives.
Tricia Redeker Hepner is associate professor of anthropology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, chair of the AAA Committee for Human Rights, and associate editor of the African Conflict and Peacebuilding Review.
Human Rights Monitor is the column of the AAA Committee for Human Rights (AAA CfHR), edited by Alayne Unterberger (email@example.com). We welcome your feedback!