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Turkey detains hundreds of Kurds for wearing ‘forbidden’ colors at Nowruz rallies

The government's actions come ahead of nationwide elections in which the pro-Kurdish DEM Party is fielding its own candidates.
Kurdish communities in Turkey gathered in Sirnak, Cizre, to commemorate Nowruz, March 20, 2024.

Turkish authorities detained more than 200 people, including 38 children, for wearing Kurdish colors, in the run-up to and during March 21 Kurdish New Year celebrations, according to Turkish and Kurdish media reports. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation, which documents abuses and treats torture victims, said that at least 70 of them were detained on March 17 during a Nowruz rally in Istanbul’s Yenikapi district. Nine of the detainees were children and were subjected to police violence, the watchdog said.

In many cases, authorities cited their garments of red, green and yellow — the colors of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) banner. Police said some of the detainees carried posters of the PKK’s imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, at a mass Nowruz rally on Thursday in Diyarbakir, the unofficial capital of Turkey’s estimated 14 million Kurds and a bastion of Kurdish nationalism. Estimates vary, but based on drone footage, several hundred thousand people are thought to have attended the rally.

Ceylan Akca Cupolo is a DEM Party lawmaker for Diyarbakir who took part in Thursday’s rally in the ancient city. She said she had not seen any posters of Ocalan and described scenes of “arbitrary” police harassment to Al-Monitor. “I saw them undress Kurdish babies wearing Kurdish clothes, that’s how low they stooped,” Cupolo said. Moreover, authorities had told organizers that the Kurdish tricolor would not be a problem Cupolo added. 

The crackdown comes ahead of nationwide local elections scheduled for March 31. Kurdish voters helped Ekrem Imamoglu, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) mayor of Istanbul, dethrone the ruling Justice and Development Party incumbent in the last elections, in 2019. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is determined to wrest back Istanbul, where Kurds account for 11% of the vote.

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