Turkey Kurds mark Nowruz under shadow of Afrin, arrests


Diyarbakir (Turkey) (AFP)

Turkey's Kurds on Wednesday celebrated the annual New Year festival of Nowruz under the shadow of the capture of Afrin in Syria by the Turkish army, arrests of pro-Kurdish politicians and the breakdown of the peace process.

Tens of thousands joined authorised celebrations for the New Year across the country, particularly in Istanbul and the main majority Kurdish city of the southeast, Diyarbakir.

A sea of people crammed into a square outside Diyarbakir traditionally used for the festival and where landmark declarations were made in the past over the peace process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Statements read on behalf of jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan had in 2013 and 2015 voiced support for the peace process and urged a congress to bring an end to the PKK's armed rebellion.

But a ceasefire collapsed later in 2015 and violence resumed, leading to a crackdown against pro-Kurdish political leaders that has seen nine Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) MPs jailed.

Turkish forces at the weekend took the city of Afrin in Syria from a Kurdish militia Ankara sees as a wing of the PKK, dealing a blow to Kurdish hopes of a large autonomous region in postwar Syria.

"They attacked Afrin because they could not tolerate the gains of the Kurds," the HDP's co-leader Pervin Buldan told the rally in Diyarbakir.

"Afrin was a town of peace. We will never accept the attack on the people of Afrin who had formed self government and lived fraternally," she added.

Particpants waved HDP flags but steered clear of using images of Ocalan. Women in traditional dress flashed the victory sign.

One of the participants at the Istanbul rally, Yasar Tanrikulu, said: "Why is mankind deaf to our pleas? Why doesn't Europe hear us? Nobody cares about our situation."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meanwhile sent his own statement of congratulations for the New Year and boasted in a speech in Ankara that "our celebration... is not that of the PKK".

Erdogan has long argued the PKK is a terror group that does not represent Kurds, insisting he has done more than any Turkish leader to help the minority through reforms.