HDP: The story behind the photos of Semra Güzel
Photos of HDP politicians with PKK members are used almost daily by pro-government media in Turkey to criminalise the HDP and justify its possible dissolution. What is behind the photos of Semra Güzel?
HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party) Foreign Affairs Co-spokespersons Feleknas Uca and Hişyar Özsoy issued a statement regarding the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of Diyarbakır MP Semra Güzel.
The statement released on Wednesday includes the following:
“The latest attack on parliamentary democracy in Turkey was carried out against HDP deputy Ms. Semra Güzel, a medical doctor by profession, who was elected to the parliament in June 2018. This is just one more link added to the long chain of attacks on the HDP and parliamentary democracy. Thirteen HDP deputies have already lost their parliamentary seats since 2016, dozens of them were arrested, and eleven deputies are still behind bars, including former co-chairs Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ, despite rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
On 1 March 2022, the parliamentary immunity of Ms. Güzel was lifted by a vote taken at the national parliament. The relevant parliamentary joint commission had previously prepared a report on two summaries of proceedings against Ms. Güzel and concluded by a majority of votes that she should be stripped of her immunity.
The main reason for the lifting of her immunity was some photos Ms Güzel had taken with her fiancé in a PKK camp in Iraq in 2014. The photos were leaked to the press from a “confidential” lawsuit, but nobody tells the background – the story behind them. Here it is: During the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Güzel visited a PKK camp in 2014 and took photos with her fiancé, who joined the PKK in 2009, when they were still students at Harran University. During the peace process (in effect between 2013 and 2015), many HDP leaders, including the party’s co-chairs, visited PKK headquarters in Iraq, met and had photographs with PKK leaders. It is important to highlight that these meetings of the HDP with PKK leaders and members took place upon the formal request of the Turkish government as part of peace negotiations. In this same period, the Turkish government encouraged Kurdish families to meet their members in the PKK to convince them to support a peaceful settlement and to return home. In fact, with the encouragement of the government and under the close watch of Turkish security forces, many tents were erected in the Kurdish countryside where Kurdish families met their children, talked with them, and took photos together.
Then there was euphoria among Kurdish people in general because the expectation was that the conflict will end, there will be peace, and their children will not die, but return home from the mountains for a new life. The many photos taken by families and politicians in this process are now criminalized and used against not only Semra Guzel but also against all HDP leaders. HDP leaders are criminalized due to their active roles in the peace process, roles that the government had asked them to fulfill. Photos of HDP leaders with PKK members are used almost everyday by pro-government media to criminalize the HDP and justify its possible closure.
Going back to the story of Semra Guzel. She was engaged with the man in the photos (Volkan Bora). We learned this and the story behind the photos from the statement of Semra Guzel that she issued when the photos were leaked from a “confidential” lawsuit file. In fact, they were schoolmates at Harran University until 2009, when Volkan Bora left the country and joined the PKK. They could not communicate at all for five years. The photos were taken only 5 years later, when the government was trying to settle the Kurdish issue peacefully and in dialogue with the PKK leadership. The peace process broke down in 2015, unfortunately. Volkan Bora was killed in 2017. Turkish authorities found the photos when searching his cellphone and included them as evidence in a confidential lawsuit file. Let us emphasize that Semra Guzel was never investigated or asked any question since 2017 and until these photos were recently leaked to the press. Semra Guzel was elected to the parliament in 2018, while working as a doctor, also serving as the co-chair of Diyarbakir's Chamber of Physicians, and with no criminal record or a legal case or investigation against her regarding the photos.
We view the leaking of these photos and the lifting of Ms Güzel’s immunity as part of a broader effort to further criminalize the HDP and justify its possible closure by the Constitutional Court before the presidential and parliamentary elections that are normally scheduled for June 2023.
The HDP is committed to maintaining its democratic struggle inside and outside prison walls and under any circumstances.”