Presidential candidate Demirtaş: ‘Turkey fanning the flames of the Middle East’
BARÇIN YİNANÇ ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily NewsTurkey is fanning the flames of turmoil in the Middle East, according to Selahattin Demirtaş, the presidential candidate of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which is seeking to expand beyond its Kurdish base in next month’s election.
Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News in an exclusive interview, Demirtaş also criticized the government for halting the European Union accession process, saying the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) “stopped the reform process when it no longer needed the EU.”
What do you think a foreign observer would think about Turkey and the Kurdish question if he or she listened to your presidential program?
I speak in order for people to think of good and correct things about Turkey. We propose a ‘new life.’ A new Turkey can only be possible with a new life that will eliminate all the old habits. In fact, we want to carry the life that is being lived in the street to power, to the presidency. I’m not talking about building a new society, I’m not talking about social engineering. I’m talking about a new system of administering the state. Turkey is a rich and beautiful country as far as its people and society is concerned, but the relationship between the state and the people isn’t good.
Tell us where the Kurdish problem stands today, as it remains one of Turkey’s most pressing matters.
It is Turkey’s most important problem. We are on the brink of solving it. It is a very old and deep-rooted problem. We are now at the dialogue and negotiation phase, and we are therefore at the phase where concrete steps now need to be taken. The government is dragging its feet, but society wants these steps to be taken. We are currently at a critical phase, because if these processes get spread out over too much time, there is a much higher chance of them becoming damaged and rotten. The process will be left open to infection. But just as we are in the middle of taking steps, we are also electing the president and there are very serious developments taking place in the Middle East. So the process is going forward on a knife’s edge.
So you are not in a position to say the process is now at an irreversible stage?
The legal framework has now been prepared and this is very important. The law for the negotiation process was recently passed, but if the government does not build on it then the loss of confidence will be much deeper and bigger. However, this should not be understood as meaning that arms will get the upper hand. I have neither the right nor the authority to say that. Personally, I’m convinced that we should never give up on the political solution.
Some of our readers might wonder what exactly Kurds want. Diyarbakır is now more of Kurdish city than a Turkish one, Kurds speak their language freely, they have their own party, they rule in many local municipalities, etc.
Their demands focus on four points: Kurds want equal treatment from the state, just like any citizen in Turkey.
This means they still don’t think they are treated equally.
They still cannot have education in their own language. There are legal obstructions to developing their own history and culture, which is also true for other identities in Turkey. They want to participate in governance. Instead of drawing new borders, they want to be part of the state’s governance through local administration and regional, municipal assemblies. They want past crimes to be confronted and justice to be served regarding coups, village burnings, and unidentified killings. All of these demands are just part of demands for more general democratization in Turkey.
So you claim that Kurds are not sufficiently part of public administration?
The authority of municipal assemblies is very limited. Turks are not taking part in local administrations either. An elite part of society is ruling Turkey. We want the nation to govern: We want Turks, Kurds, Circassians and Arabs to take part in the administration. This call corresponds to the solution of Kurds’ problems too. We are not proposing a solution particular to the Kurds; we aren’t proposing a solution that doesn’t include other identities.
You mentioned developments in the Middle East. Some are suggesting that this is a historic opportunity for a Kurdish renaissance and it is time for the Kurds, who are among the world’s largest group of people to live divided across a number of different countries, to unite and form a greater Kurdistan. What do you think about these suggestions?
As a presidential candidate for Turkey, we have always supported a solution model within Turkey’s borders. This is also what I say as a presidential candidate. Kurds living outside of Turkey’s borders should decide in line with what the people want, and they should do so in dialogue with neighboring nations, trying to convince neighboring countries. Everyone should respect the decisions that come out.
You are talking about the ideal situation, but how do you see developments unfolding?
Both Syria and Iraq are facing the possibility of disintegration. Obviously, it is not possible to foresee from today the consequences of these divisions. There could be new nation states, or there could be new federal or cantonal models. Whatever administrative model comes out, my wish is to have borders that become meaningless, enabling us to live together in a way similar to the European Union’s flexible border relations model. This is the ideal, but we can’t predict what the future will bring. Turkey will find its solution within its unity.
You criticize the government’s foreign policy, but on Syria it says that Turkey supports an aggrieved nation against a ruthless dictator. It asks, “What’s wrong with this?”
The government should show one single correct thing that it has done in Syria. What has it done that is correct?
It says Turkey sides with the victims and supports an aggrieved nation.
It did not support the nation, it supported just one sect. Its policies excluded other identities. In fact, [Syrian President Bashar] al–Assad benefited from that policy. It is this mistaken sectarian policy that has enabled al-Assad to continue his dictatorship for so long. Turkey provided arms to some groups, money to others, as well as logistical support.
Including the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)?
Of course, those mistaken policies strengthened ISIL.
So you believe Turkey contributed to the fire in the region?
I believe that many countries in the Middle East, including Turkey, contributed to the fire.
Some say the division of Iraq would be the best option, as its current situation only breeds more instability. Others, however, believe Iraq’s disintegration would be a much more dangerous option. What’s your view?
It’s important that nations decide with their own will and that the process of referendums takes place in a democratic manner.
You must admit that the AKP government has taken relations with Kurds in northern Iraq to a very good level.
If by “good level” you mean economic relations, then yes that is correct. There is an annual trade of $10 billion. Turkey gains a lot from that and this is good. It needs to continue and I support it. But we need to improve relations with all nations in the region, not just Kurds.
The government has also broken some taboos, as Iraq’s division is no longer seen as a taboo. I guess you are also noting this as a positive point on behalf of the government.
My job is not to praise the government’s positive points. People can do that in the ballot box. As an opposition leader and presidential candidate, my mission is to show the government’s shortcomings. I am not so naïve as to say that the government has done good things whileturning a blind eye that it left Turkey in an ineffectual position in this bloodbath.
Who is responsible for the stall in the EU accession process? The AKP government puts the blame on Europe.
The EU has some deficiencies as well. The reform process has stopped in Parliament and the government has suspended legal amendments. The EU has used this as an opportunity to question Turkey’s membership, and this has hurt the motivation in Turkey. So the mistaken policies of both Turkey and the EU have fed each other.
But why do you think the government has stopped the reform process?
It has gotten the political benefit it wanted to extract from the EU process. The EU’s criteria and principles are not at a level that the government can endorse ideologically. It has already consolidated its power in Turkey and it chose to stop as it no longer needed the EU process.
You claim that democratization will facilitate a solution to the Kurdish problem, but your interlocutor in the negotiation process is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Many claim he is the antithesis of democracy. If he was to be elected president, would that not constitute an obstruction to democratization and therefore to the peace process?
This is precisely why I say my election would solve all these things.
Everyone keeps coming back to the issue of the second round in the presidential elections.
Those with concerns about the second round should also vote for me in the second round in order to avoid these concerns.
Let’s say there is some miracle and you are not elected. Some are asking, “Will the Kurds sell us out in the second round by demanding autonomy for themselves in exchange for giving the presidency to Erdoğan?”
The Kurds have never sold anyone out up to now and they won’t do so in the future either. Turkey’s democratic forces have grown because they act in a principled manner. Politicians and struggles without principles go into the trash bin of history. This principled struggle for justice with Turks and Kurds is the only strong movement that has survived. We will always stick to our principles in both the first round and the second round of elections. The answer to the question can never be given before Aug. 11, but I can say there won’t be any support from us given to either of the two candidates. But the exact stance will be discussed after Aug. 11.
But isn’t it normal for the Kurdish electorate to vote for Erdoğan since it was he who started the peace process and took steps for reforms.
Why should they prefer him when I’m a candidate?
I’m asking for the possible case of there being a miracle and you are not elected in the first round.
Ask me this question if that miracle takes place.
You said yourself that we are at a critical stage in the negotiation process. If the government doesn’t keep its promises, does the Kurdish political movement have a Plan B?
All of this will be discussed after the presidential election. Right now, we are promoting our project for a ‘new life.’ The answers to all of these questions are there. The more we increase our votes, the more the concerns of the circles that you mention will disappear.
Do you think the proposal for democratic autonomy has been understood well in Turkey?
There is a better understanding with each passing day. The perception that increasing the authority of local administrations is good for all is growing.
Do you think Turkey has gotten rid of its historical fear of disintegration?
I believe so. There is no fear in the streets about being divided. This fear is being fueled by politicians who get fed by it.
Who is Selahattin Demirtaş ?
Selahattin Demirtaş was born in Diyarbakır in 1973. He graduated from the Faculty of Law at Ankara University, after which he started working at the Human Rights Association’s Diyarbakır branch. He was later elected as the head of the branch and also became one of the founders of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey and Amnesty International’s Diyarbakır office.
He started his active political career at the Democratic Society Party (DTP) in 2007, when he was also elected to Parliament. He became the DTP’s deputy parliamentary group leader at the age of 34. In 2010, he became co-head of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and was reelected to Parliament in 2011.
He is currently the co-head of the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and its presidential candidate.