In announcing the decision, Chief Justice Haşim Kılıç stated that the court had reached the verdict also in consideration of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of the Batasuna party in Spain, which did not find the closure of a party implicated in violence a violation of European Convention on Human Rights.
Besides closing down the DTP, the Constitutional Court banned 37 members of the party from participating in politics for 5 years, including two members of parliament, party chief Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk. One of the most debated aspects of the list of party members banned from politics was that while the main representative of the moderate wing of the party, Mr. Ahmet Türk was included, the main representative of the radical wing, Ms. Emine Ayna was not.
What the closure of the DTP implies for judicial order in Turkey is that the regulations on political parties, which form a vital element of the kind of democracy under bureaucratic guardianship established by the military regime in power between 1980 and 1983, fall seriously short of standards of freedom of association in a liberal democratic regime. These highly restrictive regulations have turned the country into what has been termed “a cemetery of political parties,” the DTP being the 25th party closed down by the Constitutional Court so far.
With such regulations, the Constitutional Court almost closed down last year, and may still close down, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has undeniably done more to broaden democratic rights and freedoms in Turkey than any other previous government. For the consolidation of a liberal democratic regime it is imperative that the constitutional and legal rules on political parties are revised in accordance with the standards put forward by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which stipulate that in a democratic regime only parties which advocate the use of violence or use violence against the constitutional order can be banned. It is a major failure of the AKP government not to have taken the initiative to reform the rules on political parties to conform to democratic standards.
The closure of the DTP is surely a serious blow to efforts towards Turkey’s democratization in general, and to efforts towards finding a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Kurdish problem in Turkey. The DTP, as the first pro-Kurdish party to do so, succeeded in the elections of July 2007, in winning parliamentary representation. Twenty-one of its candidates won on independent tickets and formed a group in Parliament. It was hoped that the party would increasingly pursue a policy independent of the PKK, and contribute strongly towards a peaceful and democratic resolution of Turkey’s gravest problem. Such hopes, unfortunately, did not materialize. The DTP surely did not advocate or use violence, and contributed to an increased awareness of the Kurdish problem. It remained, however, divided between factions who favored a policy independent of the directives of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, and those who did not. The division within the ranks of the DTP has been partly due to the fact that Turkey has for long suppressed the free expression of Kurdish identity. A liberal-minded Kurdish friend of mine made the following comment on the the party’s fate: “There appears to be a tacit agreement between the Turkish state and the PKK not to allow the DTP to develop an independent political identity and policy.”
It is now hoped that the closure of the DTP does not lead to the radicalization of its followers, and thus further impede the government’s initiative towards a peaceful and democratic resolution of the Kurdish problem. It does not seem clear at the time of writing, what line of policy the members of the DTP, aside from the 37 banned from politics, will choose to pursue. A possibility is that they will join the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), established last year in preparation for an eventual closure. In this case, the BDP would even be able to form a parliamentary group, if Ufuk Uras, an independent MP who was elected by DTP support, would join the party.
It is a well-known fact, on the other hand, that there are pro-Kurdish parties in Turkey, namely the Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) and the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR), and a growing number of Kurdish former politicians, activists and intellectuals who have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the performance of the DTP. It would surely be most welcome if they were able to unite in a single party, and help the country solve its most burning problem.