Medyascope’s exclusive interview with Selahattin Demirtaş: “Turkey’s opposition should not fight one another like members of the same football team”

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by Leo Kendrick

Former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş answered the questions from Medyascope reporter Ferit Aslan from the Edirne Prison, where he has been incarcerated since November 4, 2016. Demirtaş, stating that the HDP and the Kurds are in favor of democracy, answered the question about whether the HDP would sit at the table with Erdoğan: “Our co-chairs have already given the answer whether the HDP will sit at the table with Erdoğan. On the one hand, thousands of HDP members are improsoned and in prison there is no table to sit at. For those in democratic politics, the table cannot be in prison. The table can only be in free conditions. For us, prisons can only be areas of resistance, not bargaining chips.”

Former HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş is imprisoned despite the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) High Chamber and the Constitutional Court. Demirtaş’s answers to the questions of Medyascope reporter Ferit Aslan, through his lawyers, are as follows:

First of all, how is your health, have you been vaccinated? I was also going to ask about the state of the epidemic in prison.

Unfortunately, it is not possible to control chronic disorders in prison conditions. Despite all of the negatives, I try to take care of my health. My cellmate Abdullah Zeydan and I are in good spirits as always. We have both received two vaccine doses. On this occasion, I call on all our people who have not been vaccinated yet to be vaccinated: We have been vaccinated here, so should you. I think everyone who wanted to be vaccinated in Edirne Prison was vaccinated. We have not heard of any positive cases in prison so far. If there had been, they probably wouldn’t have been announced though.

“Prisons have generally turned into torture houses”

Are pandemic precautions continuing? How are the conditions?

Since March 2020 when the pandemic started, all the restrictions in prisons continue as they are, without being relaxed. There are serious restrictions on all social activities as well as family and lawyer opinions. The fact that everything is supposedly normalized outside and most measures are lifted shows pure opportunism and a clear usurpatiuon of rights given that strict measures are continuing in prisions. Prisons have generally turned into places of torture. But despite everything, we do not worry about the prison conditions, but the suffering of the people. We continue to stand and resist here.

“Let them start a new process, is there anyone blocking it?”

President Erdogan appeared in Diyarbakir followıng a long hiatus, and talked about the solution process, which he had not mentioned for five years. Erdogan said that he was on the ground in 2005 and that they did not disrupt the process, but that the HDP’s secret agenda disrupted the peace process. What would you like to say about this subject?

As far as I could follow, the people of Diyarbakir did not care much about Erdogan’s visit to the city. Many Diyarbakir residents were not even aware of Erdogan’s arrival. I think it was forgotten by the people of Diyarbakir within a half a day. He didn’t have anything serious to say anyway, but as far as I can see, it was a trip that created zero excitement. The people of Diyarbakir have nothing to learn from Erdogan’s trip, but Erdogan has a lot to learn from his trip to Diyarbakir. Will it come out? I do not think so. It is officially and de facto impossible for the HDP to finish the peace process*. Because the parties to the peace process* are the AKP and the PKK. HDP has not only helped, it has been a facilitator. The HDP did not start the process, but the HDP should have the power and authority to finish it. Is it not the HDP that says “I do not find the explanation in Dolmabahçe correct” or “We put the solution process on the fridge”? Of course not. These are all Erdogan’s words. Those who say that “HDP has disrupted the resolution process” are openly lying or distorting the truth. If the AKP cares and embraces the solution process that much, they still have the power, they still have the power. Let them start a new process. Is there anyone blocking it?

It is a moral and principled attitude for us to support every serious and sincere initiative that will ensure the silence of the guns, the cessation of conflict and deaths, and contribution to peace. As long as the conflict zone disappears, we have the opportunity to solve our problems by talking on a democratic basis. Protecting the solution process on the one hand, while continuing the party closure case, arrests, pressure, and maintaining the isolation ward on Imrali Island** is a contradiction for the AKP. But unfortunately, everything is driven by elections. Even small political calculations and thin vote calculations are made on the issue of peace. The reason why the AKP ended the peace process was not the HDP, it was because they lost votes in the polls. However, neither Kurds nor Turks should worry. HDP has the power and will to bring lasting peace, equality and brotherhood to these lands. As long as we join hands as a society and do not surrender to the politics of enmity and polarization.

“HDP and democratic politics are the antidote to violence and an important actor in the solution”

It musn’t be forgotten that HDP and democratic politics are the antidote to violence and are important actors in the solution. The Turkish society should not give credit or believe to the discourses and policies that demonize the HDP. HDP is a Turkish party. Turkey is ours too. Protecting the republic, eliminating its deficiencies and mistakes, facing its mistakes, bringing it to the new century and bringing the republic together with democracy is the common way out for all of us. We have to make the State of the Republic of Turkey a joint state of 85 million Kurds and Turks alike. I hope the next election will open the door to democracy and we will all be able to live in peace and harmony. It is to bring to the Turkish society together and to win together. No problem is solved by fighting, insulting, arresting, excluding. The only way is dialogue. In line with our principles, we will always keep the door of dialogue open with everyone.

“The HDP and predominantly the Kurds will determine the fate of the election”

Almost everyone, especially those close to the government, agrees that the presidential election cannot be won without the support of the Kurds. Some interpretations say that Erdogan will either win or neutralize the Kurds. Is this possible? After what has happened, will HDP sit at the table with Erdogan?

The fate of the election will be determined by HDP and predominantly Kurdish voters. This is a reality and thankfully the HDP and the Kurds are in favor of democracy. This is a chance for Turkey to democratize the republic. The Kurds are not the property of any party, including the HDP, so to speak. Every party that wants to win the Kurds presents its own political program, and if it convinces, it wins. But it should not be forgotten that the Kurds are very political. Moreover, most of Turkey’s voters are very informed.

“For those in democratic politics, the table cannot be in prison”

Our co-chairs have already given the answer as to whether the HDP will sit at the table with Erdogan. On the one hand, there are thousands of HDP members in prison and there is no table to sit at. For those in democratic politics, the table cannot be in prison. The table can only be in free conditions. For us, prisons can only be areas of resistance, not bargaining chips.

“The opposition has not yet created hope and become a concrete alternative to those in power”

When you look at the developments, where do you think the country is heading? Will the government lead the country to the elections, or is it just ‘running down the clock’?

Unfortunately, disasters came one after another and almost destroyed the already devastated people. Like the whole society, we are very sad about what happened. There is also an economic disaster in the country. Everyone, whether from the Black Sea, from the East or from the West, experiences this. Inflation is sky high. House prices, car prices, prices in the markets have skyrocketed. Rental house prices are still in the middle. Pensioners and employees are given salary increases below the official inflation. People are getting poorer day by day. Pensioners receive salaries below the poverty line. Teachers, civil servants, workers are paid below the poverty line. The government does nothing but throw tea at people. However, tea does not fill the stomach. In this picture, there is hopelessness besides sadness among the people because while the apocalypse breaks out with natural and economic disasters, the government does not worry about anything but its own seat. This leads the people to anger and despair. The opposition, on the other hand, has not yet created enough hope and turned into a concrete alternative to power. Efforts are made, but they cannot create a new break in politics.

“Doing politics by criticizing the AKP is like throwing a stone into a swamp”

Today, doing politics by criticizing the AKP is like throwing a stone into a swamp. Because they don’t care about criticism. In my opinion, a serious, determined and uninterrupted political move that will drain the swamp should be initiated. Concrete solution should be put forth together with comprehensive criticisms of the system. Then the people will be excited about it, the hope of the people will blossom and they will stand up. Early elections can only be possible when the social demand becomes more visible. Otherwise, if it were up to the AKP, they would want to hold the election in 2073.

“We have nothing to lose anymore, let those who have a lot to lose worry about that.”

How do you evaluate the course of the Kobani case, which you are detained for, and the closure case brought against the HDP?

Our case and the closure case have nothing to do with the legal system or the law. All of these cases are political. Therefore, the outcome of the cases will be determined by the political developments. If there are hostages, punishments, or party closure in these cases, the results of the cases will shape the political developments. To put it bluntly, if this situation of arrested and convicted politicians from the Kobani case and other cases is continued a little longer and/or the HDP is closed, the situation in the political spectrum will become clear. In such a case, it will be one hundred percent certain that the AKP will lose. We don’t have much to lose anymore. We are in the strong and advantageous position because we resisted, we were not crushed, we were not defeated, and we won. Let those who have a lot to lose worry about that.

The opposition should not do what Marcao did to his teammate Kerem”

When you look at the situation in Turkey, how do you find the attitude of the opposition?

They work, they run, they sweat, they try, but they can’t play as a team and most importantly, they can’t score any goals. First they have to be a team, then they have to find a striker and gradually bring him forward, give him lots of passes and of course score goals. Also, the opposition should not commit fouls against one another, like Marcao did to his teammate Kerem***. These are my tactical suggestions. I hope they take heed because the match is almost over. Together with my cellmate Abdullah Zeydan, we send our warmest greetings to everyone from Edirne Prison; we hope to meet in freer times.

Editor’s notes:

*Demirtaş refers to ongoing peace negotiations between the Justice & Development Party (AKP) and Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK).

**The “isolation ward on Imrali Island” refers to the incarceration of Abdullah Ocalan, former leader of the PKK, on a small island in the Marmara Sea.

***In a recent match, teammates Marcao and Kerem Aktürkoğlu, both members of Turkey’s Galatasaray football club, got into an on-field fight in which Marcao attempted to punch and head-butt Aktürkoğlu. Demirtaş’s comments about Turkey’s opposition makes reference to this incident, which was widely discussed in the Turkish media and public.

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