Ankara: Turkey tried 108 Kurdish politicians on Monday for allegedly playing a role in the deadly 2014 protests that broke out when Islamic State jihadists overwhelmed the Syrian town of Kobarn.
The case of current and former members of the pro-Kurdish HDP party-including its two former coalition leaders-stems from one of the dark events of the decade-long Syrian war.
In the face of IS attacks on Syrian towns in northern Kurdish, 37 people were killed in violent demonstrations against the inaction of the Turkish army.
The fighting can be seen from the Turkish side of the border, and many in the country’s Kurdish community believe that the army was complicit in the humanitarian disaster that followed.
In January 2015, the jihadists were expelled from Kobarn by Syrian Kurdish militants backed by the United States, and Turkey officially regarded them as terrorists.
“For calling on people to protest, our members are now being accused of terrorism, and also of murder of those who died,” the HDP said in a statement as the mass trial got underway.
“This is a revenge trial,” HDP co-chair Mithat Sancar said.
Turkey sees HDP as a political front for illegal Kurdish militants who have been engaged in insurgent activities since 1984, which claimed thousands of lives.
Prosecutors charged the 108 defendants with “attacking the integrity of the country” and crimes including robbery and murder.
The HDP blames Turkish police for provoking the deaths.
Prosecutors are preparing a separate case against the HDP aimed at dissolving the party and barring nearly 700 of its members from playing a role in politics for five years.
The 108 defendants put on trial in an Ankara criminal court on Monday include the party’s former co-leader Selahattin Demirtas — a two-time election rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The 48-year-old has been in jail since 2016 facing multiple trials on terror-related charges that Western governments view as part of Erdogan’s crackdown on political dissent.