Pro-Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk, former mayor of Mardin, pictured during an interview in Mardin, southeastern Turkey. Photo:AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Despite five years spent in Turkish prisons, the well-known Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk hopes for a peaceful reconciliation with Ankara, though he fears the consequences of an upcoming referendum next month that aims to increase the powers of the president in Turkey.
"Whether it is a 'yes' or a 'no' result, of course, it is important for Turkey... but especially regarding the Kurds, I see this as a test," the former mayor told AFP at his home in the city of Mardin, of which he was formerly the mayor.
A senior member of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), Türk was jailed by the junta after Turkey's 1980 military coup and again after last July's failed putsch. In November, Türk was detained on charges of links to Turkey’s militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)—considered a terrorist organization by Ankara.
He was arrested a few days after being dismissed from his office as mayor of Mardin. The arrest caused outrage across Turkey.
In an editorial for the Hurriyet daily, mainstream columnist Ahmet Hakan described him as the "most peaceful, most opposed to violence, the wisest" politician within the Kurdish movement.
Türk was released from prison in early February for health reasons, though he remains under a travel ban while his trial is pending.
He was just one of the 43,000 people arrested in the wake of the failed coup of July 15.
In the days following the putsch, the government imposed a state of emergency which has been extended twice and is likely to be renewed again when it expires on April 19.
The Turkish government has staged a major crackdown, which has seen more than 100,000 people suspected of links to the coup-plotters, as well as to Kurdish militants detained, suspended or sacked from their public sector roles.
Such actions from the government did not surprise Turk.
"In fact, as Turkey was heading towards a referendum, we predicted there would be intense pressure against Kurdish politicians, against the Kurdish people, that politicians would be thrown in prison," he said with evident fatigue.
Whichever way the referendum goes is likely to spell further trouble for the Kurds, he said.
"If it is the 'yes' that wins in the referendum, they (the Turkish leaders) will be convinced that the policy they are conducting is the right one, and they will adopt a policy of even stronger pressure," he said . "If it is the 'no' that prevails, we could witness a policy aimed at making democratic forces pay the price, starting with the Kurds," he added.
To protest against these policies, Türk calls for a "no" vote in the referendum on the powers of Mr. Erdogan.
Türk urged a return to the peace process between Turkish authorities and Kurdish groups: "At the end of the day, there is no other way but peace, there is no other choice but peace."
However, he cautioned against being naive about a hard line government.
"This period is not easy, we must not be daydreamers. Because today's mentality is to... silence Kurds, to asphyxiate them."
Waiting for such policies to change would be "unrealistic", he said.
"But we hope that when they see (these policies) are ineffective, a new debate and a new dialogue will begin, and we will act together."