The prominent Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş has pointed to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as an alternative to Turkey’s ruling and mainstream opposition parties, who he said were powerless to solve the real problems facing the country.
In a piece he penned from prison for the left-wing Diken news portal, the former HDP co-chair said a political party is forced to ignore major issues if it wants to be accepted as one that represents the entire country – “Turkey’s party”. Ironically, he said, the HDP has been marginalised for attempting to tackle these same national issues.
The debate around whether or not the HDP could be “Turkey’s party” has been ongoing since the party’s foundation in 2012, mainly due to the party’s inclusion of prominent figures from earlier Kurdish issue-focused parties.
While the HDP has vowed to tackle crucial issues that affect the entire country, the Turkish authorities have virtually criminalised the party by calling it the “political wing” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The HDP denies being any such thing.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s long-running efforts to marginalise the HDP saw the arrests of many of the party’s politicians, including Demirtaş and a long list of its MPs. The AKP has also launched a court case which aims to add the HDP to Turkey’s long list of parties shut down over alleged links to terrorism.
Demirtaş once served as the HDP’s co-chair, and even stood as the party’s candidate in the 2014 presidential election. But he has been imprisoned since his arrest in November 2016 over an ever-growing list of charges, including inciting public disorder, links with terrorism, and insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Despite his imprisonment, Demirtaş has remained an influential opposition figure in Turkey.
Writing for Diken, Demirtaş listed various issues that should have been on the agenda of parties that claim to represent Turkey as a whole, including the oppression suffered by Kurds, Armenians, and Alevis; historic crimes committed by the state and the army; and official recognition of the country’s numerous minority cultures and languages.
“A party is not accepted as one that represents Turkey if it seeks to solve problems by talking and without the deaths of people,” he said, referring to the Kurdish issue.
Turkey’s decades-long conflict over the Kurdish struggle for self-rule was interrupted by a two-year spell of negotiations when the AKP began talks with the PKK in 2013. But since the peace talks broke down in 2015, the Turkish military has ramped up its military operations against Kurdish targets in Turkey, Syria and Iraq.
At the same time, the AKP has ratcheted up pressure on politicians linked to the Kurdish movement. Hundreds of Kurdish municipalities were taken over by government appointees after the 2014 and 2019 local elections, and many Kurdish politicians and activists have been arrested since 2015.
Demirtaş said political parties in Turkey face being marginalised for not supporting the government’s “foreign policy failures”, in an apparent reference to the opposition’s many years of support of the AKP in its military incursions in Syria and Libya.
In a biting list of criticisms, the former HDP co-chair went on to chastise the AKP and its supporters for “stealing people’s money,” denying the Kurdish identity, selling Turkey’s resources to Western and Arab companies, “cooperating with the mafia and gangs” and destroying the environment.
“We’re not a party of that Turkey and we won’t be. That’s why we call ourselves the third way,” he said.