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Cablegate: Nevruz 2008: Big Turnout, Isolated Violence

Barbara J Miles 03/26/2008 01:22:17 PM From DB/Inbox: Barbara J Miles

Cable
Text:


UNCLAS SENSITIVE ADANA 00012

SIPDIS
CX:
ACTION: POL
INFO: TSR RAO PMA ECON FCS PA DCM MGT DAO AMB CONS

DISSEMINATION: POL /1
CHARGE: PROG

VZCZCAYO793
RR RUEHAK
DE RUEHDA #0012/01 0860842
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 260842Z MAR 08
FM AMCONSUL ADANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4645
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 1187
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL 1016
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEUITH/ODC ANKARA TU
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEHAK/USDAO ANKARA TU
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUEHDA/AMCONSUL ADANA 1248

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADANA 000012

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PTER TU IZ
SUBJECT: NEVRUZ 2008: BIG TURNOUT, ISOLATED VIOLENCE

Summary and Comment
-----------------------------

1. (SBU) The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP)
regards the large turnout as proof of its growing popularity -
and sympathy for the PKK, which has been under attack from the
Turkish military. Violence erupted in a number of cities where
the authorities refused to grant permission for celebrations.
In Van, one protester was killed and over 150 injured in clashes
with the police. While it is unlikely that either the
government or the DTP wanted Nevruz marred by violence, the lack
of trust between the two parties resulted in poor coordination
and the misguided attempt to cancel celebrations in a number of
cities produced chaos that is being exploited by pro-PKK
militants. In the cities where celebrations were allowed to
proceed as the organizers planned, violence and property damage
were avoided. Contrary to the hopes of some DTPers, Nevruz 2008
is not a foundation on which to build political progress on the
Kurdish issue in coming months. End summary and comment.

Spring Fling
---------------

2. (SBU) Nevruz, which takes place on the spring equinox,
March 21, is the traditional Kurdish new year's celebration,
though the holiday's origins stretch back to ancient the Persian
and Zoroastrian cultures. Its Zoroastrian roots are reflected
in its rituals, which include jumping over fires and dancing to
traditional music. The GOT banned Nevruz altogether until the
1990s and it now tolerates celebrations, but there is frequent
tension as the militant Kurds often use the holiday as a
platform to display support for the PKK and its imprisoned
leader, Abdullah Ocalan.

DTP: We're Getting Stronger
-----------------------------------

3. (SBU) At least a half-million Kurds nation-wide
participated in Nevruz celebrations during the last several
days. DTP officials claim that about twice as many people
turned out for celebrations this year compared with 2007. They
cite a number of factors for increased activism. The recent
ground operation - and the widespread perception in the
southeast that the PKK had successfully repulsed the Turkish
offensive - fueled enthusiasm for the holiday among militant
nationalists. DTP leaders also claim that they are receiving
increased support in the southeast at the expense of the AKP,
which is less popular now due to its support for the anti-PKK
operations in Northern Iraq.

4. (SBU) In Diyarbakir, the DTP and the governor's office
initially disagreed about the venue for the event, but an
agreement was reached and the DTP provided about 5,000
volunteers to help with security. About 350,000 people joined
the celebration and despite a lot of pro-PKK, pro-Ocalan
chanting and displays, there were no serious clashes with the
police and only a few arrests. While the DTP is touting the
large turnout as a measure of partisan support, a journalist who
attended said that about 30% of those participating were there
to celebrate their Kurdish heritage and enjoy the music rather
than as a political statement.

Lack of Agreement Results in Violence
--------------------------------------------- --

5. (SBU) In Van, the organizers applied to hold the
celebration on March 22, so that participants would not have to
miss work to attend. Despite submitting their application 20
days prior to the event, the governor's office responded on
March 20 that the celebration could only be held on the 21st.
On the 22nd, about 1,500 protesters converged on the DTP offices
to express opposition to the governor's decision. According to
local contacts, the police warned the crowd to disperse and then
violence broke out, with protesters throwing stones and the
police using firearms. A total of 155 people were injured and
one protester was killed. The following day, about 10,000
protesters turned out to mourn the man who was killed, leading
to additional confrontations with the police. Local contacts,
including the Bar Association president and members of HakPar, a
Kurdish party, told us the violence would not have erupted if
the governor's office had allowed the celebrations to proceed as
proposed. The governor, according to one contact, deliberately
delayed the decision in order to put the organizers in a
difficult position.
6. (U) In Yuksekova, in the far southeastern corner of Turkey
near the Iranian border, the authorities also refused permission
for a weekend celebration, triggering the same reaction, which
has led to one death and four days of violent protests.

Politics, Conspiracy Theories, Harassment
--------------------------------------------- ------

7. (SBU) In a sign of posturing in advance of the 2009
municipal elections, the DTP is blaming the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP), its principal rival for votes in the
southeast, of sanctioning the attempts to ban the holiday in
certain cities and the subsequent violence. One DTP statement
accused PM Erdogan of trying to buy off Turkey's Kurds with a
"box of candies", i.e. the much-discussed economic package for
southeastern Turkey. And a DTP contact in Diyarbakir told us
that elements of the state wanted violence to spread the myth
that all Kurds are violent terrorists.

8. (SBU) Not unusually, the government also found petty ways
to disrupt the celebrations. The government barred the DTP from
displaying posters with its new slogan "Enough is enough"
(referring to continued violence). The authorities originally
forbade the party from displaying the slogan in Kurdish, so the
organizers printed it in Zaza (another Kurdish dialect), Spanish
and English, but the court banned that poster as well. In
Adana, the DTP relied on open-air trucks to transport many of
its supporters in from the rural areas to participate. Despite
Turkey's notoriously blasi attention to traffic safety, the
police fined all those riding on the trucks, mostly poor migrant
families, about $1.30 per person for violating the rules. In
Diyarbakir, Turkish Air Force F-16s and helicopters buzzed the
crowd repeatedly.
GREEN

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