The authorities are investigating whether 11 members of a folk dance team who traveled to Hungary for a festival but failed to return to Turkey have links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Doğan News Agency on Dec. 5 reported that a group of 16 dancers from the Ankara Kent Child and Youth Folk Dances Association participated in a folk dance festival in Budapest, titled “Farewell to Summer,” between Nov. 5 and Nov. 10. However, 11 of the dancers stayed on, reportedly to seek asylum in Hungary, prompting Turkish authorities to investigate the reason for their disappearance.
According to information obtained by daily Hürriyet, the head of the dance company, identified only by the initials Y.K., applied to the association to allow the group of 16 to participate in the Budapest festival.
Y.K. claimed they received a special invitation from the festival and needed help to make sure he and the “folk dancers” were able to travel abroad through the association.
After the association accepted Y.K.’s application, licenses were issued to the group members in October, despite them not actually being dancers. Procedures to travel abroad began soon after.
In order for the group to travel abroad with a permit that states their reason to visit as “official duty,” the association applied to the Folk Dances Federation and received their approval.
The group then obtained grey service passports from Ankara police and headed to Hungary four days before the start of the festival on Nov. 1.
On Nov. 10, only five of those who participated in the festival returned to Turkey, including Y.K., while the rest stayed in Hungary, reportedly to seek asylum.
The Youth and Sports Ministry subsequently launched an investigation into the association and the federation. Authorities obtained the testimonies of a number of individuals, including the association’s head, as well as its founding member.
A complaint was filed by the ministry to the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and another investigation was also launched.
Meanwhile, Ankara police intelligence and anti-terror units have started to examine information regarding the runaway “dancers,” to check for links to terrorism, including links to the PKK.
So far the authorities have determined that the association was officially founded in Jan. 2017, citing its headquarters as an insurance company in the İskitler Industrial Estate. The association traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina in July to attend an event, returning to Turkey without leaving anyone behind.
Speaking about the reasons for why they aided Y.K., the founding member of the association said none of the group’s members had any criminal records.
“A friend of our association owner told us he wanted to take a group to a festival in Hungary, so we helped. Everyone in the group had clean criminal records. We issued licenses for them,” the association official said, adding that the association does not believe the group has any links to any outlawed organization.
“There were no obstacles for them to travel,” he said.
As reports of “folk dancers” seeking asylum in Hungary emerged, a statement released by the Hungarian Immigration and Refugee Office stated that no asylum applications were filed by the group.
The whereabouts of the 11 people remain unknown.