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Turkey's Kurds Say Killing of Party Member Part of Government Crackdown

Demonstrators carry pictures of Deniz Poyraz, who was killed in an attack on a local office of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), during a protest in Istanbul, Turkey, June 18, 2021. Banner reads "Deniz Poyraz is immortal."

Last week, a radical Turkish nationalist entered an office for Turkey's pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) and fatally shot a woman inside.

The police say the man's motive was to kill members of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), considered a terrorist group by Ankara and Washington.

But the Kurdish woman, Deniz Poyraz, was not a PKK member. She was an HDP member, and her death has drawn condemnation nationwide, including from the government.

A senior HDP leader told VOA that Poyraz's killing should not be seen as an isolated hate crime but rather as part of a broader government-led crackdown against her party.

"Deniz Poyraz was not the only one targeted in this murder," said Pakize Sinemillioğlu, co-leader of HDP's Ankara branch. "The government has been talking about our party for a long time."

Turkey's Kurds: Killing of Party Member a Hate Attack
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A statement published on HDP's website linked Poyraz's killing to the arrests of hundreds of members and senior officials of the party, including, most prominently, charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been in prison since 2016 on terrorism-related charges.

On Monday, the Turkish Constitutional Court ordered HDP to be tried over alleged PKK links. Prosecutors hope to ban the party from politics.

"The HDP has been under severe political attack by the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government, especially since the June 7, 2015, general election," read the statement, which refers to the election in which HDP became the first pro-Kurdish party in the country's modern history to win enough votes to pass the necessary electoral threshold to gain seats in Parliament.

"We have faced police operations, detentions and arrest, and also physical attacks that have been perpetrated by ultranationalist mobs, directed or provoked by the government," the statement added.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has repeatedly accused HDP of links to terrorism, condemned the killing.

"We are working to ensure that no citizen of this country, regardless of who they are, is harmed," Erdogan said on June 19.

Rights groups have questioned the independence of Turkey's legal system. Last year, Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, called on Turkey to "restore judicial independence and stop the practice of targeting human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists, and silencing them by using administrative and judicial actions."

The leader of one party, however, showed no sympathy for Poyraz's death.

"Let me tell you who Deniz Poyraz was," said Devlet Bahçeli, head of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), during a parliamentary group meeting on June 22. "She was a militia collaborator who was part of a ring that transferred urban PKK sympathizers to the mountains, to the terror camps."

MHP is part of a parliamentary coalition with Erdogan's ruling AKP.