The Kurdish political movement is one of the most important driving forces of the democratization process in Turkey. Consequently, CivilNet has been reporting and evaluating the developments taking place in this field with its viewers for quite some time. Within this framework the CivilNet team paid a recent visit to Turkey. One of the most important pillars of the Ankara visit was the interview we conducted with Selahattin Demirtaş, the Co-Chair of the People’s Democratic Party. The pro-Kurdish party is considered to be one of the most significant representatives of the Kurdish political movement on the legal platform.
Selahattin Demirtaş spoke to Alin Ozinian about the role of Kurds in Turkey’s democratization process, his party’s position regarding the Armenian Genocide, as well as the steps his party could take in the context of Armenia-Turkey relations if they come to power. Watch the interview here.
Aline Ozinian: Hello Mr. Demirtaş. I would like to thank you for welcoming us, Civilnet in Ankara.
Selahattin Demirtaş: Thanks to you.
Aline Ozinian: Hrant Dink used to say, ‘If Turkey becomes democratic, it will be much easier for everybody in Turkey to solve both their historical and current problems.’ Today the Kurdish movement and your party are perhaps the most attractive force in terms of democratization in Turkey. What do you think? If there was no Kurdish movement in Turkey today, how would the progress of democratization in Turkey be?
Selahattin Demirtaş: Of course there are many different groups, the Kurds among them, but also groups of different faith, different ethnic groups, different sects who have been experiencing problems in Turkey. Also there have been segments in society undergoing class-based or gender-based problems in the country. Perhaps these groups comprise 90 percent of Turkey. In Turkey, it is only 10 percent of the population that has never been oppressed, that has only enjoyed Turkey as a country.
The rest, whether they be Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Cherkess, Arabs, Laz, Georgians, women, men, Alevis, Sunnis, have all undergone an agonizing and painful process. However the Kurds, in face of all of these developments, have been the segment of society to raise their objections the most. For this reason, they have always been the locomotive force of the struggle for democracy and freedom in Turkey. This has also resulted in a transformation taking place within the Kurds themselves; for example while the Kurds were struggling for democracy, freedoms and human rights, they also underwent a change in terms of commitment to these concepts and their internalization. When you look at it from this perspective yes, as long as democracy does not develop in Turkey, as long as freedoms aren’t improved in Turkey, it will not be possible to solve any of the country’s problems. Firstly, there is a need for freedom of expression, the freedom to openly express thoughts…
As long as this freedom is not provided, how can we talk about, for example, the Kurdish problem, the Armenian Genocide or the Alevi issue? In other words the broadening of all freedoms will facilitate the solution to problems and the initiation of solutions to problems will serve as an instrument in the advancement of freedoms. These are processes which will nurture each other and the Kurdish people, with the struggle they are waging, have always tried to support the struggle of the other people in Turkey for both the solution to its own specific problem, i.e. the resolution of the Kurdish issue and for a resolution to problems experienced by other people, other identities and have developed partnerships and struggle unities to make this possible. And the point we have reached today is not a bad one.
Aline Ozinian: Mr. Demirtaş, in Armenia there seems to be a common belief that your vote base percentage is quite small but in the most recent election, the Presidential election, you received nearly 10 percent of all the votes. For those who follow Turkey, we know that this is not a small percentage at all, especially taking into consideration that this was the first election you participated in. As you have also expressed; on the one hand the Kurdish movement is struggling for democratization and is acting as an opposition to the government while on the other hand you are also negotiating with the government. Don’t you think that this is slightly paradoxical, I mean on the one hand there is a collaboration between you (with the government) but on the other hand you’re also in the opposition… How are you able to achieve this?
Selahattin Demirtaş: Of course this is not easy. As you have also expressed, the recent Presidential election has proven that the principles we have put forward such as democracy, freedom, peace, fraternity, living on an equal and just basis and defending especially the rights of the oppressed, the workers, the women do find a significant social support. Receiving 10 percent of the votes under the current circumstances was a very difficult task and we were able to achieve this result all together. Now, with the strength we have received from this, our party is striving to conduct the negotiations continuing with the government for the resolution of the Kurdish problem but again, with the strength we are taking from this (i.e. the election results), we are also struggling to expose the oppressive and monist policies of the government as well as establishing a strong opposition against these policies.
And it is only when struggle and negotiation go hand in hand that the process can be successful anyway. Negotiating, talking about an issue does not mean surrendering. Or, struggle doesn’t only mean organising the resistance pillars of the struggle and closing all negotiation channels. It is possible for both to be conducted simultaneously and hence reinforce one another. If you enter a negotiation process that doesn’t also include struggle and resistance, include an upright stance then your possibility of failure will become stronger. But if you also enter a resistance process which leaves no room for negotiation, no open door for dialogue then you will be facing difficulties in terms of obtaining the results of that resistance process, in terms of obtaining the political gains of that resistance. Even though it may seem paradoxical, this is the right way, the right attitude in our view.
Aline Ozinian: Mr. Demirtaş, it is often said that the Armenians are trying to explain to the Turks that they have been killed on these lands whereas the Kurds are trying to explain to the Turks that they are living on them. In this direction; does your political stance and the one of your party follow the political line of saying to those in power: ‘We, as Kurds do exist and you have to provide our rights’ or are you saying, ‘We can also run this country?’
Selahattin Demirtaş: We believe that all identities, all the social structures in Turkey should be a part of the running of the country. For this reason exactly, we defend that decentralisation rather than a central administration is a more suitable model, one more befitting Turkey’s reality. For example, we believe that on the basis of the autonomy model, there should be autonomous and local administrations throughout Turkey. I mean we advocate that there should be a vast number of autonomous, local administrations in Turkey and that there should be a quota for the representatives of the people, who live in that particular region especially in the assemblies of these administrations, the local assemblies. Let us say that Kars, Iğdır, Ardahan and Ağrı are going to form an autonomous local administration on their own.
If this administration has its specific assembly, its autonomous assembly then the Azeris, the Turkmens, the Armenians, the Terekemes, the Kurds, the Turks should all have a quota seat in that regional assembly so that they can all participate in the administration together. We also defend that a quota should be identified for the minorities(Armenians, Jews, Greeks) in order for these assemblies, which will also be affiliated to Ankara, to be able to find their broadest representation in the Parliament. So, if this can be achieved, if everybody in Turkey will be able to get themselves represented by participating in the government, by attaining the qualification of being an administrator via their own elected representatives, then a strong bond will be formed between the citizen and the state, between the government and the people. In this way both participation will become possible and living together on the basis of fraternity and equality will be facilitated.
Aline Ozinian: These questions have been posed to you before by other journalists regarding how you evaluate Erdoğan’s policies, how you evaluate AKP’s policies. I would like to ask you something different… You’ve explained your local policy. What about HDP’s general Armenian policy in the future? What could it be or does HDP differentiate between the Diasporan Armenians, Armenians in Armenia or the Armenians in Turkey or does it have a more general outlook or what about the Genocide? Could you tell us what HDP’s approach is?
Selahattin Demirtaş: Naturally the breaking point of the relations between Turkey and Armenia is the issue of the 1915 Genocide. We believe that Turkey should openly confront the issue of the Armenian Genocide at an official level, concede the truth of this matter and for the trauma which has been created by the Genocide to be prevented, not only should an official apology be made but also the relations between the Turks and the Armenians, the Armenians of Turkey, the people of Turkey and the Armenian people in Armenia should be reconstructed on the basis of trust. However in both the societies there exists an anger which has been cultivated and organized. As long as this anger is not reduced to a minimal level then the initiatives of the governments, the governments of Turkey and Armenia remain inconclusive. That’s why my desire would rather be for both the Armenians in Turkey and the Armenians in the Diaspora to support the process of reducing this anger.
On the other hand the government and media in Turkey, in terms of the language and tone it uses should be much more careful and should prevent nationalist reflexes and anger escalating against the Armenians in Turkey. It will be easier for official relations to be conducted after this anger is reduced to a minimal level on both sides. We have always supported our government, the President developing relations with the Armenian government and for the borders to be opened and this continues to be our stance because the suffering of the past should not determine the relations between Turkey and Armenia forever. This is a problem which must definitely be solved today and at the stage.
And the government of the Republic of Turkey must support the Armenians in overcoming this trauma, the Armenians who are considered as a people who have not even been able to mourn their losses. By confronting the truth, the reality of the Genocide, the Turkish government should support the Armenian people so that they are able to purify themselves from this pain, it should strive to atone for it. Our party is following a very open and transparent policy regarding this issue and it supports Turkey developing good, right and strong relations with all its neighbours. And within this framework Armenia of course does have a special position and unfortunately relations are not able to develop in any way due to the Armenian Genocide and this is the only way in which this can be solved.
Aline Ozinian: You’ve talked about whether civil society is ready or not, you said that the animosity and hatred on both sides needs to be reduced… Maybe we saw this very clearly during the peace process in Turkey; even when certain things were said by powers that be, problems didn’t emerge among the people, it was easier to reach them. In this sense, we do feel the necessity of questioning AKP’s policies regarding the Armenian issue also; for example the ‘just memory’ approach, the equalisation of the sufferings… Do you think this is a correct starting point for the centenary?
Selahattin Demirtaş: As I have expressed minutes ago, if the government and the media change their language and tone in Turkey, there isn’t an issue within the society of Turkey. What I mean is, the central policies are fueling this animosity, hatred and nationalism; the government’s policy and the language used especially by the media. From the curriculum to the textbooks, from the media’s language to the relations of the non-governmental organisations and the language employed by the ministers, the Prime Minister and representatives of the government; all of these should form the basis of confronting the Armenian Genocide. Yet today it is the opposite, completely opposite to this. As long as a language and tone incriminating the Armenians for the Armenian Genocide, portraying the Armenians as a threat to and an enemy of Turkey is adopted, a consciousness regarding the confrontation of the Armenian Genocide, the confrontation of the truth does not develop.
If the government was to allow this and if the media was to support it, in a very short amount of time in fact, I believe that the people would give immense support on the issue of the Armenian Genocide and the resolution of the Armenian problem. If the trauma, the tragedy experienced by the Armenian people are defined in the correct way, only then the pain suffered by all before and after 1915, the pain suffered by the Turks, the Kurds, the Armenians can be rendered the common suffering for all, then we can move away from the understanding of ‘your suffering – my suffering,’ ‘your deaths – my deaths’ and defining it as ‘our suffering, our deaths, our trauma’ we will be able to cope with it all together.
Aline Ozinian: Mr. Demirtaş. In the 1915 Genocide, as you have also expressed in your former speeches, the Kurds were unfortunately used as a tool in the killings. In this context and setting forth from micro stories rather than a general policy, what can the Kurds do? For example, Mr. Baydemir was in Yerevan last month, İsmail Beşikçi was also in Yerevan and they visited the Genocide Memorial and this is extremely well-received among the society. In this sense, the HDP or you… Can we attribute your discourse, everything that you’re saying to the Kurds in general? Does the HDP represent both Öcalan and Qandil, both the PKK and the general Kurdish movement today, I mean as regards the Armenian issue?
Selahattin Demirtaş: To be honest we do not represent the PKK or Öcalan, we should firstly indicate this openheartedly but neither is it the Kurds we solely represent. Yes we do receive support and the votes of a significant majority of the Kurds but we also have support from the West of Turkey, from the Turks and the Armenians, they also vote for us. All of these are very precious for us, very important. The thoughts I have expressed are the common opinions of everybody who supports our party. However, the Kurds who do not vote for us are, in fact, also aware of the Armenian Genocide and believe that confronting this Genocide is a necessity and they also know that during that period some of the Kurdish tribes, Kurdish families have been used as hitmen during the Genocide and the exile.
We have grown up knowing all this from the stories we were told. However, if everybody is going to undertake whatever falls to their responsibility in terms of a just confrontation, a confrontation with the truth then of course the Kurds are going to do their share, the Armenians are going to do their share and the Turks are going to do their share. Anyway it is not possible for any society to establish a just and equal relationship with another society through any other method, by covering the crimes and sins that have been committed. There are wrongs which were committed by the Armenian gangs during that period, wrongs committed by the Kurdish gangs and wrongs committed by the Turkish people but beyond all this there is the hugely defective official policy of the Ottoman Empire. If this last element becomes the starting point of the confrontation then I believe that the people will draw closer to one another.
Aline Ozinian: Is it going to be possible for us to see the HDP in Yerevan in April, during the centenary?
Selahattin Demirtaş: Totally possible, we would very much like to be there. We are already planning a visit to Armenia, we want to visit all the neighbours of this country but if we can especially plan the visit to Armenia in April, we would be very pleased with such a situation.
Aline Ozinian: Thank you very much Mr. Demirtaş.
Who is Selahattin Demirtaş?
Selahattin Demirtaş is one of the most important actors of the Kurdish movement in Turkey. Demirtaş was born in the district of Palu, the province of Elazig in 1973. The Demirtaş family who are Zazas, migrated from Palu to Diyarbakir. In an interview, Demirtaş recalls those days by saying, “My mother and my father would speak in Zaza between themselves but they didn’t teach it to us. They spoke in Turkish to us so that we wouldn’t go through the same difficulties they did. I only found out in high school that Kurdish was an ethnic identity.”
After high school Demirtaş was at the threshold of a difficult decision. Demirtaş talks about how the environment of conflict predominant in the region during that period left him indecisive as to whether he should become a guerrilla and join the PKK or whether he should attend university. Demirtaş opted for university rather than ‘’the mountains.’’ He graduated from Ankara University‘s Faculty of Law.
In a speech he gave in 2006 Demirtaş said; “Abdullah Ocalan’s role as regarding the solution of the Kurdish issue should be evaluated.” In a court case filed against him in 2010, these words were considered as ‘propaganda for the terror organisation.’ Demirtaş was convicted to 10 months of imprisonment on the basis of this accusation.
He was elected as a Deputy from Diyarbakir in the 2007 general election representing the Democratic Society Party. However due to the 10 percent election quota in Turkey he had to enter the election as an independent candidate. Due to a lawsuit filed against the DTP a group of party members resigned from the party and established the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).
In January 2010, together with Kurdish politician Gulten Kisanak, Demirtaş became the Co-Chair of the BDP. Once again, he is elected as a deputy in the 2011 general election, this time from Hakkari. Demirtaş’s words of this period stating that; “We will build Ocalan’s statue” created a huge discussion.
Within the framework of the ‘Peace Process,’ the Turkish government started negotiations with Ocalan at the end of 2012. Ocalan, who was not permitted to see his lawyers at the time, was given permission to receive visits from the BDP delegations as of January 2013. For a time Demirtaş was also a part of these delegations. He carried the messages he received from Imrali to the PKK leadership in the Qandil Mountains. Known for his calm and yet sarcastic style Demirtaş is also one of the most effective names of the peace process negotiations which have been continuing since January 2013.
In March 2014, during the local elections In Turkey, HDP had nominated also Armenian candidates in the largely Armenian-populated districts of Istanbul. During the election campaign, in addition to Turkish and Kurdish songs, Armenian songs were heard in those districts.
Demirtaş ran as a candidate in the 10 August Presidential election. Receiving almost 10 percent of the whole votes, he achieved a significant success. Demirtaş is one of the most prominent representatives of the new generation Kurdish movement… A movement which has been struggling to survive within the political sphere of Turkey for over 30 years.
During the local government elections in 2014, Selahattin Demirtaş’ party nominated Armenian candidates in Istanbul’s largely Armenian populated districts. During the election campaign, Armenian music was being played along with Kurdish and Turkish in these neighborhoods.
Երեքշաբթի, 23 դեկտեմբեր,