Popular protests erupt after brutal assassination

Death of an activist

The campaign to outlaw the Kurdish opposition involves all sorts of dirty tricks. Esen Uslu looks behind the most recent killing

Deniz Poyraz was murdered by a gunman associated with the far-right Grey Wolves back on January 17. A Kurdish activist, Deniz, was working as a volunteer for the soft-left Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) in İzmir, the third largest city in Turkey. She was brutally gunned down at the party’s office in broad daylight. This despite the fact that it is situated in a business centre and has a regular police presence.

She came from a village in Mardin province, which has a majority-Kurdish population. The villagers were burnt out of their homes in early 90s. One of her uncles was crippled following torture he suffered under detention, while another uncle was killed.

The family migrated to the Kadifekale district of İzmir, which had become a refuge for displaced Kurds. They are poor, and her father has been working as a street peddler, while her mother was recently employed by the HDP. Deniz herself was named after Deniz Gezmiş - the Turkish revolutionary who was hanged in 1972. Her two brothers have been detained for several years and she herself had spent months in jail after taking part in a protest. Deniz was to appear in court on the very day she was killed.

In 2008, when she was quite young, Deniz was attacked while at home alone, by anti-Kurdish neighbours, who attempted to throw her from the balcony. Her father has also been attacked more than once within the last couple of months.

Deniz Poyraz was by herself in the HDP office when she was killed. She was just about to eat breakfast when the office was attacked. She managed to call an HDP member of parliament to report that someone had broken in before she was shot in the head. When she was lying on the floor, the gunman took a photo of her and shared it on WhatsApp with the remark, “the carrion”. He then tried to gain access to other rooms by shooting off the locks, and attempted to set the premises on fire. Finally he kicked her in the face and emptied his magazine into her body. There were more than 30 bullets fired.

The gunman was arrested in the HDP office, although it seems the police did not check whether or not he had any accomplices. They subsequently released the gunman’s statement saying he had acted alone because of a personal grudge against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The press was quick to echo this ‘lone wolf’ story. The police collected the CCTV footage from the premises overlooking the office, and then formatted the hard drives to delete all evidence - a trick they learned from the 2007 assassination of Hrant Dink, editor of a Turkish-Armenian newspaper. Dink’s friends used independent CCTV footage to refute the story the state services had tried to sell to the public.

Just glancing at the social media footprint of Poyraz’s murderer shows he had previously been employed by the ministry of health, which sent him to occupied Syria for a time. There he received military training from jihadists to improve the firearm skills he had acquired at shooting ranges. He claims he quit his employment by the time he joined the Grey Wolves, but his association with them is all too apparent. He received a provisional firearms licence from the İzmir authorities a few months ago and claims he purchased the gun and 10 bullets from a friend. It seems that nobody in the media has bothered to query the inconsistencies of his story.

HDP has reported its initial findings. The assailant, it says, had at least two armed accomplices, who had then disappeared. They had been sent to attack a meeting of around 40 HDP activists, which was due to take place that day (but, unknown to them, had been cancelled). They were going to kill as many as possible. The massacre was to be reported as an intra-party fratricide, and to be used as one of many excuses for closing HDP down.

The similarity of the Deniz’s killing to the killing of three Kurdish women activists in Paris in 2013 is striking. They were shot by an MIT (national intelligence organisation) agent who had infiltrated local Kurdish groups. This too was portrayed as an intra-organisational feud. But the French security forces arrested the gunman and unmasked him as an MIT agent.

For days neither president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan nor his minister for internal affairs, Süleyman Soylu, commented on Deniz’s assassination and the subsequent cover-up operation. That despite growing public condemnation. But eventually Erdoğan was forced to utter a few words of condolence and warned against “provocation”. Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), also spoke about the killing. The MHP is a junior but important partner in Erdoğan’s ruling coalition and the gunman allegedly has links to the party. But, as you might expect, Bahçeli’s condemnations were reserved for the victim: “Let me tell you who the slain Deniz Poyraz was. She was a collaborator of militia who dispatched those who wished to join the PKK to the mountains. A collaborator of militia means a terrorist!”

While the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main parliamentary opposition, condemned the killing, the mayor of İzmir, who was supposed to be one of the leaders of CHP’s ‘left’, spoke about an “exchange of fire” in the HDP’s office!

Dirty war

So summer has arrived with more bloodshed - at the same time as the bill of indictment to close down HDP was beefed up, reshaped and resubmitted to the constitutional court (the original version had been found wanting in March), This time the rapporteur of the court has advised the presiding justices that the revised bill now has the necessary procedural requirements and should be accepted.

Meanwhile, the dirty war against the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Syria is continuing, with airborne raids, aerial bombings and long-range artillery fire. The invasion and occupation of Syrian territories is being promoted as a regular and acceptable state of affairs, while the protection of jihadists in Idlib from Syrian and Russian forces continues.

The well-documented deployment of multinational jihadists from Syria to Libya and to Karabakh is apparently now just a part of a larger picture. They have been sent to the southern borders of Libya, and especially into the Sahel region, to the chagrin of France. They are also in other African countries where there is a Turkish military presence - or a Turkish ‘vital interest’.

Nowadays, following the meeting between Joe Biden and Erdoğan during the Nato summit in Brussels, a new role for Turkey is being discussed in the international arena. It is proposed that Turkey could provide ‘security’ and ‘management’ for Kabul international airport - the gateway of the west into Afghanistan. Previously Turkey had shown an interest in providing training for the Afghan security forces and army, but now the withdrawal of Nato forces has provided an opportunity for it to win brownie points within the Nato countries (which also means business opportunities for Erdoğan’s cronies). While the Taliban has refused to accept that any Nato force should remain in Afghanistan, their arm could be twisted by the US, as well as by the Islamists of the Gulf countries, to accept a compromise which includes the role of Turkey.

Erdoğan’s participation in the Nato summit, as well as bilateral meetings with his counterparts, has produced other benefits too. When he was asked if Biden had followed up his recognition of the Armenian genocide, Erdoğan replied: “Thank god, that issue was not mentioned at all.” And it seems that many other disputes were put into the freezer so as not to scupper Nato plans in Afghanistan. However, Erdoğan was forced to toe the line in Ukraine, from where the withdrawal of Turkish forces and mercenaries will be required as a prerequisite for any peaceful solution.

Meanwhile, the recent easing of precautionary measures against the Covid pandemic, following the success of the long period of strict lockdown (not to mention the start of the much-delayed vaccination programme), has produced a degree of optimism amongst the middle class. However, the rising living costs and high unemployment remains unabated, and any hopes of election success for Erdoğan remain dim.

Those in power are unable to maintain their grip, but the opposition is not ready to push them out. In this situation, it seems that the fascist gunmen of the Grey Wolves, along with paramilitary jihadis, can be employed as useful tools to keep the opposition at bay. As for the left, it seems totally unable to respond with a meaningful programme and plan of action.

Actually, the speech of Deniz’s father after her death provides clues as to the line of action those who listen may take:

Come together and unite! My Deniz was not mine alone - she is the Deniz of Kurdistan. We owe a lot to those lions who are resisting in the mountains. They are resisting against the enemy’s tanks and artillery. Despite the heavy toll we have paid, we still owe them a lot.