Kurds may abandon Turkey after coup against Erdogan | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.08.2016

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Kurds may abandon Turkey after coup against Erdogan

Turkey's government has wasted no time in going after political opponents in the month since the failed coup. Germany's main Kurdish organization has warned that displaced people could seek asylum in large numbers.

Prosecutors in Istanbul have requested a five-year prison sentence for Selahattin Demirtas (pictured), accusing the 43-year-old former human rights lawyer and co-chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which advocates for Kurds and other minorities, of "terrorist propaganda" for allegedly maintaining ties to Abdullah Ocalan, the detained leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Turkey, the United States and the EU have classified the group as a terrorist organization.

"Again there's risk of conflict between security forces and the PKK," Ali Toprak, the chairperson of Germany's KGD Kurdish advocacy group, told DW, noting that the PKK has threatened attacks if Ocalan is not released. He said any escalation could send Kurds fleeing to Germany: "If the situation doesn't improve, if there's civil war, there could be a massive exodus from Turkey to Europe."

A long-running uprising in Turkey's Kurdish regions was temporarily overshadowed by the July 15 coup attempt. The PKK first took up arms against the government over 30 years ago, and the fighting has led to more than 40,000 deaths. Neither the PKK nor the Turkish government is looking to reconcile following the end of a ceasefire last year. Kurds in eastern Turkey, where most live, are facing a state of emergency, Toprak said. "Entire cities and regions have been razed," he added. "There are 500,000 internally displaced Kurds."

The Turkish government's wide-ranging post-coup crackdown has only worsened the situation. "We've seen the risk of a new refugee crisis in Turkey for months," Toprak said. "No one wanted to listen to us. Now, it's not just Kurds looking to get out - but many democrats and those in the opposition."

Abdullah Öcalan

The PKK has threatened strikes of Ocalan is not released

'Just the beginning'

By the end of June, the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees had received 1,719 applications from citizens of Turkey for 2016, most of them from Kurds. Two hundred and seventy-five more people applied for asylum in July, the month of the coup.

"In my eyes, this is just the beginning," Toprak said.

The prosecution of the HDP's Demirtas hardly comes as a surprise. It is just the Turkish government's most recent move against politicians who are sympathetic to Kurds. In May, the government revoked the immunity of one-third of MPs. As the second largest opposition party, the HDP was most affected most.