Watch: Turkey’s Parliament Erupts into Another Fistfight

Pro-Kurdish lawmakers are fighting to stay in Parliament.

epa04628494 A picture made avaliable on 20 February 2015 of members of Turkey's ruling party Justice and Development Party (AKP) and members of opposition parties throwing punches at each other during a debate at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, Turkey, late 19 February 2015. At least five members of the parliament were injured in the scuffles during the parliament session about an Internal Security resolution in last two days, according to local media reports.  EPA/STR
epa04628494 A picture made avaliable on 20 February 2015 of members of Turkey's ruling party Justice and Development Party (AKP) and members of opposition parties throwing punches at each other during a debate at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, Turkey, late 19 February 2015. At least five members of the parliament were injured in the scuffles during the parliament session about an Internal Security resolution in last two days, according to local media reports. EPA/STR
epa04628494 A picture made avaliable on 20 February 2015 of members of Turkey's ruling party Justice and Development Party (AKP) and members of opposition parties throwing punches at each other during a debate at the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, Turkey, late 19 February 2015. At least five members of the parliament were injured in the scuffles during the parliament session about an Internal Security resolution in last two days, according to local media reports. EPA/STR

These days, Turkish parliamentarians are fighting their legislative battles with fists rather than words.

On Monday night, for the second time over the last week, debate about a proposal to strip pro-Kurdish lawmakers of their legal immunity dissolved into chaos. In a scene more befitting a mosh pit than a chamber of Parliament, legislators leaped over desks, slammed into one another, exchanged hard punches, and hurled water bottles. The scrap left one person with a dislocated shoulder and another with a bloody nose.

After the brawl, lawmakers from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which advocates for Kurdish and other minority rights, walked out of the committee room, effectively boycotting the proposed constitutional amendment. Their opponents in the ruling AK Party then passed it; a floor vote is expected to take place in mid-May.

These days, Turkish parliamentarians are fighting their legislative battles with fists rather than words.

On Monday night, for the second time over the last week, debate about a proposal to strip pro-Kurdish lawmakers of their legal immunity dissolved into chaos. In a scene more befitting a mosh pit than a chamber of Parliament, legislators leaped over desks, slammed into one another, exchanged hard punches, and hurled water bottles. The scrap left one person with a dislocated shoulder and another with a bloody nose.

After the brawl, lawmakers from the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which advocates for Kurdish and other minority rights, walked out of the committee room, effectively boycotting the proposed constitutional amendment. Their opponents in the ruling AK Party then passed it; a floor vote is expected to take place in mid-May.

Soon after the HDP made history last June as the first pro-Kurdish party to enter Parliament, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan began accusing it of following the bidding of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a secessionist group that has waged war against the state intermittently since the 1980s. Erdogan’s proposed amendment would pave the way for prosecuting members of the party as terrorist supporters.

The brawling in Parliament reflects to a lesser degree the violence that has roiled Turkey’s southeast since the collapse of a cease-fire with the PKK. Security operations there have led to the destruction of towns and the deaths of close to 400 military personnel and more than 5,000 Kurds.

One of the HDP’s co-leaders, Selahattin Demirtas, suggested that if the amendment is approved, and Erdogan succeeds in winnowing the party, he would consider setting up a parallel parliament.

“If our colleagues are arrested, their terms as legislators are ended, then all options are open for discussion,” Demirtas said Tuesday. “It’s not the parties that create parliaments, it’s the people, and if the people want it they can create more than one parliament.”

Turkey isn’t the only country to see a lapse in parliamentary decorum in recent months. On Saturday, Iraqi protesters fed up with Baghdad’s political elite mobbed one lawmaker’s motorcade and slapped around another as he attempted to flee the crowd; in Kosovo, parliamentarians have screeched into whistles, fired tear gas, and thrown water bottles to disrupt debates; and in Ukraine, fistfights have regularly interrupted legislative sessions since the Maidan revolution in early 2014.

Photo credit: STR/EPA

Henry Johnson is a fellow at Foreign Policy. He graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in history and previously wrote for LobeLog. Twitter: @HenryJohnsoon

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.