Nearly 30,000 Turkish Kurds demonstrated in Frankfurt, Germany on March 18 in protest against the upcoming Turkish constitutional referendum. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party introduced the proposed changes to the constitution, suggested on March 20 that allowing the protests was akin to “supporting terrorists.”
The rally’s slogan “no to dictatorship – yes to democracy and freedom” voices to the concerns of many in Turkey and the West that the April 16 referendum will overextend presidential powers. Turkish officials have called allowing this protest “dangerous” and hypocritical after several German cities canceled rallies in support of the referendum.
Several Turkish cabinet ministers were set to address the “Yes” campaign rallies, making their cancellations all the more controversial. In response, President Erdogan accused the German officials of acting like “Nazis and fascists,” which prompted a strong rebuke from German leaders.
Nearly 1.4 million Turks in Germany are eligible to vote in the coming referendum. Opinion polls from March 22 suggest that the “No” campaign has a narrow lead among registered voters in Turkey.
The Frankfurt rally featured chants of “freedom for Ocalan,” referring to Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Many attendees carried signs in support of PKK, which has been engaged in an armed struggle against Turkey for an independent Kurdistan since 1984. They have been officially designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU, and the United States.
The rising tensions have led to a growing war of words: the German Foreign Minister suggested that “Turkey is further away than ever before from EU membership,” with President Erdogan responding that his “brothers and sisters in Europe… [should have]not just three but five children. The place in which you are living and working is now your homeland and new motherland. Stake a claim to it.”