From Posting a Tweet to Sleeping Inside the Turkish Parliament: The Case of Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu

Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a Member of the Parliament from the pro-Kurdish party HDP (People’s Democratic Party) was stripped of his MP status last Wednesday in Ankara/Turkey. The court order condemning him to a two and a half year prison sentence was read in the Turkish Parliament while other HDP members banged on their desks in protest. And the reason for the court order? It’s a tweet he shared in 2016.

Gergerlioğlu after the court order has been read in the Parliament (AP)

In his tweet dated 2016, Gergerlioğlu shared a news article by T24. The article is about a PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) statement that says “peace with the Turkish government will be achieved in a month if the government takes a step towards negotiating”. On this news article, Gergerlioğlu  commented “There should be a response to this call because there is no end to this problem”. His tweet was considered “terrorist propaganda” by the courts in 2018 and Gergerlioğlu was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. But why was his sentence approved now in 2021? The answer is clear. It is because he has been making a lot of noise in the Turkish Parliament.

A Short History of PKK and the Peace Negotiations with the Turkish Government

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was formed in 1978 with an emphasis on armed struggle for Kurdish independence in Turkey after the government forced systematic assimilation on Kurds such as banning the use of Kurdish language. The first armed assaults against the Turkish military started in the early 1990s. The attacks later included the killing of the civilian population using tactics like placing bombs in crowded areas or suicide bombings. At the height of the armed conflict between PKK and the Turkish government in 1994, there have been 5000 civilian deaths related to terrorism.

During the peace negotiations between the Turkish government and PKK (2009-2015), the number of deaths decreased drastically to 20-50 per year. Unfortunately, these negotiations started crumbling after the pro-Kurdish political party HDP got 13% of the votes in the 2015 General Elections. The victory of HDP caused the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to lose majority rule after being the leading party for the last 12 years. 

As Turkey got ready for another election due to Erdogan’s inability to form a majority government, the Turkish military intensified its violence in the Eastern regions of Turkey where the majority of the Kurdish population reside. The PKK also started attacking the Turkish forces, and the death of two Turkish policemen in Ceylanpınar created polarization in the population. The peace negotiations officially ended and the number of deaths rose over 500 once again after a long period of peace. As a result, the Justice and Development Party was able to gain the majority of seats in the next election. Since then, Erdogan has expanded his presidential powers in the 2017 referendum and the rule of law has been affected the most. In this political environment, Gergerlioğlu’s tweet calling for peace between the government and PKK posed a threat to the regime and he was charged with spreading “terrorist propaganda”.

Gergerlioğlu as a Human Rights Activist

Gergerlioğlu has been a human rights activist for more than 20 years. In the past, he has advocated for human rights as the President of Mazlumder – an Islamist association found to protect civil rights in Turkey. He has also participated in many other organizations that advocate for peace and minority rights over the years.

In 2016, he was suspended from his role as a medical doctor in a public hospital as part of the government purges against members of the Gulen Movement. Since the attempted coup in 2016, the government has been accusing members of the Gulen Movement of “being a member of a terrorist organization”. This accusation is also being used to oppress others who criticize government policies even when they do not have any ties to the Gulen Movement, which has been the case for Gergerlioglu. The effects of these purges have been drastic. People describe it as being handed a “social death sentence”. Those who have lost their jobs are unable to find any other positions even in the private sector and are excluded from social life in most cases.

After losing his position in the hospital, Gergerlioğlu became a member of the parliament in 2018 and has been bringing forth accusations regarding the human rights violations committed by the Turkish government in the Parliament. He has advocated against torture, arbitrary naked searches, and unsanitary living conditions in Turkish prisons. He is also standing up against the arbitrary jailing of pregnant women and terminally ill patients.

He states that during his election, only 90 thousand people had voted him in, but in these past 2 years, he became someone who represents millions that need representation. People who have been purged from their jobs by unlawful decrees, people with loved ones in prison, others who have been oppressed in many different ways have all found refuge in Gergerlioğlu. He listens to people who have been made to feel worthless in Turkish society and brings forth their problems in the Parliament to make their issues visible. This is why he is being specifically targeted by the media and other members of the Parliament. He is giving people courage to speak up and make change.

What Is Next?

Gergerlioğlu has stated that he does not accept the unlawful court order and that he will not be leaving the Parliament until justice is restored. He has been sleeping in the private room of HDP inside the Parliament and keeps on hosting live broadcasts on Twitter with other human rights advocates and members of the Parliament. I do not know if the government will send police forces into the Parliament to detain Gergerlioğlu or if there will be any kind of resolution without the use of violence. All I know is that he is teaching the people in Turkey and all around the world a valuable lesson on how to resist courageously against injustice and oppression.

Gergerlioğlu (sitting in the middle, wearing a blue mask) with other HDP MPs who are showing their support for him (AP)