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Kurdish Politicians End Boycott of Turkish Parliament

The supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party wave their flags during the party's congress in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011.
The supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party wave their flags during the party's congress in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011.

Turkey's main legal Kurdish political party has announced that it will end its boycott of parliament. The Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has been boycotting parliament since June's general elections to protest the imprisonment of six of its deputies. The decision comes as fighting between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish state intensifies.

Lives are lost almost daily in the fighting between militant Kurds and the Turkish military. This week, a pregnant mother and her daughter were killed in the cross fire. The co-leader of Turkey's main legal Kurdish political party, Selahattin Demirtas, says the growing violence was the reason to end his party's boycott of parliament.

"The boycott was a correct, justifiable and dignified decision," he says, "but we ended it to defend peace and fight against war more powerfully."

Since Turkish parliamentary elections in June in which the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, won 36 seats, a record for a pro-Kurdish party, the party had boycotted parliament because of the imprisonment of six of its deputies under the country's anti-terror laws, despite having parliamentary immunity.

BDP Deputy, Ertugral Kurkcu says boycott was a failure. "The boycott did not have the expected impact on the government. So it attracted the public attention; it conveyed the message for the unjust attitude of the government and judiciary over our deputies, but staying outside of parliament began to bring more advantages to the government than to our cause," he said.

During the boycott, the government dismissed demands for the release of the jailed deputies and increased its rhetoric against the BDP as well as the outlawed militant Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. Referring to Kurds as "Muslim brothers," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan this week called on Turkey's Kurds to rise up against the PKK.

Meanwhile, the detention of BDP members accused having links with the PKK continues. More than 3,000 party officials, including elected mayors are in jail. But the BDP's boycott began drawing criticism from supporters and those sympathetic to the party.

Political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Istanbul's Bahcesehir University. "They were under pressure from everywhere, including their constituencies. Although at the beginning, when they refused to go to parliament, it was understandable their reaction. But now, what is happening in the country is a genuine terror action by the PKK, unfortunately. It is time is for negotiation and discussion. And the right place is for that is the parliament, and the BDP has its place in this parliament," he said.

Analysts say the decision will boost Mr. Erdogan's ruling party and efforts to introduce a new constitution. Replacing the current military era constitution is widely seen as key to addressing Kurdish demands for greater rights and offering hope for an end to the nearly three decades of conflict with the PKK.

Political columnist Soli Ozel of the Haberturk newspaper says the BDP's participation in parliament is crucial to such hopes. "The central problem is going to be how to redefine citizenship. If its leaves the Kurdish nationalists out, then it will be a lame constitution," he said.

But hopes that a new constitution will resolve the Kurdish issue might be premature. According to BDP Deputy Ertugral Kurkcu, the signals coming from the main parliamentary parties are not promising.

"The Kurdish identity is not recognized, and the whole struggle is for its recognition. And there are no signs that these parties are going to be inclined to recognize any other national identity but Turkish in the forthcoming constitution. It's a real matter of pessimism for all of us. However, we are going to fight for that. Let's see what happens in the end," he said.

The BDP also wants Kurdish education and local autonomy included in the new constitution. The absence of the BDP from parliament had led the government to work more closely with Turkey's main opposition parties to seek a consensus. And analysts say that even with the BDP's return to parliament, it's uncertain that their demands will be met.