Pro-Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) supporters held Nevruz celebrations on Tuesday, reacting to a circular issued by the Interior Ministry to all the governors’ offices ordering that Nevruz events not be allowed before March 21. In Batman, demonstrators attempting to march to the city's Tırmıl Square were stopped by police. Clashes erupted between police and demonstrators. The Batman Municipality said police arrested 148 protesters, while 31 police officers and two civilians were injured in clashes.
There were also claims that police threw a tear gas canister into a BDP bus carrying independent deputies Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk, and BDP Diyarbakır deputy Nursel Aydoğan. There were also claims that police officers punched Türk. No details were available, but Türk was taken to the private Dünya Hospital after the incident.
Police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. BDP Mersin deputy Ertuğrul Kürkçü and BDP İstanbul deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder were allowed to enter the square along with a small group of protestors. Önder and Kürkçü made a statement at Tırmıl, condemning the police’s treatment of the protestors.
Protesters who weren’t allowed into the square were in the back alleys, stoning police officers behind barricades they had made out of garbage containers. Police intervened using water canons and tear gas. About 10 of the protestors were detained.
Similar incidents occurred at other early Nevruz celebrations in the cities of Mersin, Şırnak and Hakkari. Reinforcement squads were deployed from the Ankara, Gaziantep, Kilis and Osmaniye Police Departments to Mersin. A police helicopter patrolled the demonstration site from the air.
Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's office released a statement on Tuesday to mark the holiday amid escalating tensions in the streets. Erdoğan particularly stressed the fact that Nevruz is a “shared value and holiday of all,” from the Balkans to Central Asia. He added, “We are part of the same nation regardless of language, religion, sect, belief, ethnicity or political attachment.”
In Şırnak’s Cizre district, unknown individuals opened fire on the police during a demonstration, seriously injuring two police officers who were later hospitalized at Cizre State Hospital, where doctors said both officers were in critical condition. Tuesday’s violence was a continuation of incidents that took place on Sunday, which resulted in the death of a BDP official.
Three police officers were also shot by unknown assailants in Hakkari's Yüksekova district on Tuesday during Nevruz demonstrations. Hakkari Governor Mustafa Toprak told the state-run Anatolia news agency that situation of one police officer remains life-threatening.
Understanding the anger of the demonstrators is important, according to Maya Arakon, an academic specializing in terrorism and minority issues. “The violence at the Nevruz celebrations was a reaction to political pressure,” she told Today’s Zaman in an email interview.
Intelligence reports had suggested the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was planning to stage bloody attacks during Nevruz. This was the reason authorities did not grant permission for demonstrations to be held on Sunday, rather than on March 21, which is usually when Nevruz is celebrated. The protestors’ anger regarding the ban might have played a role in Sunday’s violence.
Arakon noted that Turkey’s Kurdish community attaches a symbolic meaning to Nevruz, and the ban created major disappointment. She noted that as recently as 2010, Nevruz was celebrated officially as a week-long affair, starting on March 20. “Coming from that to this oppressive atmosphere has been perceived as a provocation by Kurds and the segment that attaches significance to Nevruz. What is more, there is no logic or reason behind this ban.”
She said that if the authorities had permitted celebrations, the violence could have been avoided. Mehmet Yegin, a terrorism and strategy expert with the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), doesn’t agree. According to Yegin, the violence can in no way be justified.
“They are confusing [what is happening today] with the bans of the past. But they are wrong. We see that the state has positively tolerated many issues, including the celebration of the birthday of [PKK leader Abdullah] Öcalan. As long as security forces could secure an area, demonstrations have been allowed. There is intelligence suggesting that violence or provocations were planned.” He noted: “[The authorities] said celebrations could be organized on another date. Couldn’t the other side take a positive step to meet that? This [the violence] is completely without any reason or basis.”
But could the reaction of the demonstrators, and the backlash it caused among area residents, be signaling a further rift between Kurds and Turks? “Nevruz is an important festival for Kurds,” Arakon says. “And from the statements of BDP officials, we know that it is important for them to celebrate it with Turks, that they see it as a means of [enhancing] brotherhood. The banning of the celebrations might have seemed to the Kurdish collective memory as a return to the darkness of the ‘90s, when oppression and violence peaked. As you know, in that era, the Kurdish identity and reality were ignored. The Justice and Development Party [AK Party], which promised a solution to the Kurdish question, by repeating the mistakes of the ‘90s, creates huge disillusionment in the Kurds and might have caused feelings of exclusion.”