By Michael Hornsby, BerlinAndrej Hunko, a member of the joint OSCE-PACE referendum observation team in Turkey, has criticised the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoğlu for questioning the German politician’s ability to report objectively on the April 16 vote.
On Sunday, the Turkish government won a narrow majority in the referendum on constitutional changes to increase the power of the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The OSCE-PACE statement on the referendum criticised what it called an ‘unlevel playing field’ in the run-up to the referendum and last-minute changes which were made to ballot validity criteria, “undermining an important safeguard and contradicting the law.”
Opposition parties have not yet recognised the referendum result, and there have been protests in several cities over apparent instances of electoral fraud.
On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Çavusoğlu tweeted a photograph of Hunko holding a flag bearing the symbol of the outlawed PKK terrorist organisation and asked “How can one expect objectivity?” from the delegation member. He also shared a photograph which appears to show Hunko at a No campaign event.
Mustafa Yeneroğlu, the head of the Turkish parliament’s Human Rights Commission said that the Council of Europe should apologise for including Hunko in the delegation, and that the report should be rejected, Turkey’s state-run Anatolia News Agency reported.
Hunko claims that these are merely attempts to distract from questions about the referendum’s fairness.
According to a statement released on Wednesday, the photograph was taken at a rally in Cologne in October 2014. Explaining his appearance with the PKK symbol, Hunko writes:
“The rally in Cologne was not an expression of sympathy with the PKK, but instead of protest against the ban of the symbols of various Kurdish organisations, including the PKK… At the time, I made a statement to the following effect: “Irrespective of the political assessment of individual organisations, we are against the criminalisation of Kurdish organisation symbols. We support the symbols banned today being shown again, for example this flag.” “
That explanation is unlikely to satisfy Ankara. Turkey, along with the USA and the EU, considers the PKK a terrorist organisation, and has been fighting against the separatist militants since the 1980s.
The stance of Hunko and other members of the Left (Die Linke) Party in Germany regarding the PKK and other Kurdish groups in the region will come as no surprise to their colleagues in Europe. It is the party’s policy that the ban on the PKK in Germany be lifted, and that the organisation be removed from the EU’s list of terror organisations. Politicians from Die Linke recently opposed the German government’s decision to extend a ban on Kurdish organisations’ symbols to groups in Iraq and Syria.
In his statement, Hunko insisted that the political stance of individual members of the delegation should not distract from the conclusions reached.
“These delegations are composed of members from all political camps. This is what makes the delegations politically balanced. Individual observers are never “neutral”, but always bound by basic democratic values,” he wrote.