Trial of Kurdish Leaders Sparks Violent Clashes in Diyarbakir

DIYARBAKIR, Turkey (Hurryiet Daily News)–Central Diyarbakir was engulfed in a cloud of white, eye-burning smoke Thursday as police clashed with Kurdish protesters in front of the Diyarbakir municipality building and courthouse, where some 150 defendants were standing trial, accused of links to the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK), the alleged urban wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Defendants in the case at the Diyarbakir courthouse, which has been ongoing since October, include Diyarbakir Mayor Osman Baydemir and 11 other mayors from Southeast Turkey, as well as local politicians. More than 100 defendants have been under arrest for a period of around 1.5 years.

Family members and other demonstrators, a mixed crowd of all ages, from children to grandmothers, originally gathered in Istasyon Square at noon on Thursday to protest the case, which resumed this week after its last hearing in 2010. The gathering in support of the defendants was organized by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), an umbrella organization of pro-Kurdish groups.

The scene at the square was initially peaceful, with people dancing, chanting slogans and listening to speeches before marching to the courthouse. Small-scale tension between police and some groups of protesters during the march heightened after the crowd arrived at the courthouse. Once the tear gas came out, reporters, cameramen, pedestrians and even police without gas masks ran from the scene, taking shelter in the market of a nearby gas station. Amid continuing explosions at an indeterminate distance, protesters hurled stones, fireworks and Molotov cocktails at police, injuring some, the Dogan news agency reported.

Clashes between demonstrators and police also broke out in the Southeast province of Hakkari and its district of Yüksekova. Shops did not open in the cities of Nusaybin, Cizre and Kızıltepe.

The scene had calmed in Diyarbakir by late afternoon, although the area around the courthouse remained crowded with police on guard as protesters sang while waiting for the court hearing to conclude for the day.

“I want my sons to be released,” 70-year-old Nazlihan said while waiting Thursday morning in front of the municipality building near the courthouse. Nazlihan, who spoke in Kurdish and declined to give her surname, said her two sons are among the defendants. Of her nine children, she said, three died in unsolved murders and two died fighting for the PKK.

“I want peace,” she said. “I do not believe that the AKP [ruling Justice and Development Party] will make peace, but I still have hope.”

Another person outside the building, a 70-year-old Kurdish man who declined to give his name, said he has come for every hearing. “I am here because this case is against my language, identity and culture. This is a political case, it has nothing to do with the law,” he said. “Also, my daughter is in the mountains [with the PKK]. She left June 12, 1991; she was in her final year at law school. She saw how I was tortured during the 1980 military coup period.”

Protesters and people gathered outside the courthouse also objected to the accused not being allowed to defend themselves in Kurdish.

“The defendants should not step back from their stance on Kurdish defense,” said an 18-year-old man selling tea outside the courthouse. He said his boss had ordered him to sell tea there, but that he was happy to be working the spot since one of his relatives was inside as a defendant. “I can hear from him in this way,” he said.

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