Selahattin Demirtaş, the imprisoned former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), answered the questions of Yeni Yaşam from his prison cell.
You are constantly targeted by president Erdoğan. Do you think this is done out of personal grudge or is it politically motivated? He recently addressed you saying, ‘He can’t even organise a rally’, and you gave him a clear reply. What do you think the reason is for a representative of the political administration to constantly target you in this way?
Erdoğan’s conduct towards me is not totally personal. Although there are some personal reasons, his real problem is our political stance, our path and struggle. I stood against him as presidential candidate twice not only as an individual but as the representative of the HDP. Erdoğan’s real problem is not just me but the HDP as a whole. The political programme of the HDP with its concept of radical democracy, its multi-cultural structure and unyielding stance is the antithesis and antidote of the one-man regime. This is the reason that all nationalist, racist and fundamentalist political movements have been collectively targeting the HDP. I believe they are trying to create polarisation and hostility to attain their ends by especially targeting me, because I’m one of the symbolic figures in the HDP.
You are following the political agenda in difficult conditions with very limited means. What is the main reason the economic situation has arrived at such a negative point? Do you think this crisis can actually be dealt with? How? And what is really behind the current economic, social and cultural problems?
Turkey is a country integrated with global capitalism and administered according to liberal economic rules. Capitalism itself is built on a system of exploitation and subsists through a series of crises. But neoliberalism still has certain consistent rules. In developing countries like Turkey, the market economy can be operational only when accompanied by a certain amount of liberal freedoms, democracy and human rights. The relations of production and consumption are ruptured in the absence of at least partial freedoms. Insecurity and anxiety reign in the markets in the absence of at least a minimum rule of law. The neoliberal system becomes inoperative when decision-making mechanisms are entrusted to a single person and control mechanisms are destroyed. One-man rule can never be successfully adopted in a country like Turkey, and never has been. When the global economic crisis aggravated by the pandemic coincided with a national crisis, a total collapse ensued. We’ve been trying to warn against this for years. This can be stopped only by elections and a change in the political administration.
What is the way out of the crisis?
It is possible through a transition to left-wing policies and a social welfare state. However, the conditions for this are not yet ripe. The only option now is to join efforts to rebuild democracy. We’ve got to fight against the one-man rule and establish a democratic system, to search for ways to enhance the democratic struggle in support of workers, women, the environment, different identities and freedom. I think there’s no other way out.
Where do the Kurds and the HDP stand in the process of building a free and democratic Turkey?
Both the Kurds and the HDP want to take part in rebuilding Turkey in the centennial of the Republic. This was not possible after 1923 for various reasons, and Turkey paid a very high price for this. We’re now trying to prevent the recurrence of the same mistakes. We need to establish domestic peace, and rebuild the state and a great democracy together. None of this can be done by excluding and disregarding the Kurds. A solid ground for cooperation should be created without excluding any social group. With its recent policy declaration the HDP has shown once again that it is ready to undertake its role in this. Now efforts are being made to ensure that others take a firm hold of the hand the HDP has extended. There has been some progress, but there still remains much to be done. This alliance is likely to become stronger as the HDP makes its policies more visible, inclusive and embracing. All elements of the Kurdish political movement should plan urgently for the introduction of peaceful policies to support the HDP. They need to help and support the HDP, because opportunities stand before us for very significant democratic gains. I sincerely wish and hope that all powers analyse this forthcoming process well and take steps for peace with courage.
Erdoğan has clearly said that an early election is unlikely. Do you believe an early election is possible in these conditions? Would the AKP [Justice and Development Party] opt for an early election in the current conditions?
Erdoğan will try to stay in power till the very last moment. However, it’s also possible that he may go for an early or snap election because of the economic crisis, the crisis in international relations and the conflicts within the People’s Alliance. It’s not easy making predictions on this but we must always be prepared for an election.
The situation concerning sick prisoners is constantly highlighted in the media. Why does the political administration remain silent as coffins come out of the prisons? You have recently written on Garibe Gezer’s death. In what particular sense has it been so poignant for you? And there is also the case of Aysel Tuğluk. Why is she not being released? Do you think that this should be the starting-point for confrontation and reconciliation? Do you think the situation regarding sick prisoners is a test for the opposition?
The approach to the situation in prisons is a litmus test for everyone. We expect and hope for sensitivity from all opposition parties in this. I have been closely monitoring the rights violations and oppression in prisons for years with great concern. I deeply regret and mourn all the suffering, but I’m also emotionally disturbed by the incidents. Our friend Garibe Gezer and I never met, and indeed we did not have to know each other personally, but her tragedy influenced me deeply. Some time before her death she sent me a letter and a hand-crafted present for my daughters. I was greatly saddened when I heard about her death. This should not be the fate of our people. We, as politicians, need to focus more on the solution and refuse to allow such tragedies. I personally feel responsible.
Our friend Aysel Tuğluk is living through another tragedy. She is subject to criminal hostile law. We need to organise individual campaigns for our friends with urgent conditions, but for a real, permanent solution I don’t see any option other than focusing more on a democratic administration.
You were one of the actors in the so-called Solution Process [in the past]. President Erdoğan has recently said, “the HDP is a political terrorist.” How would you explain his arriving at this completely opposite interpretation in just seven years?
Erdoğan was trying to get the HDP get in line with him, and when he saw that he couldn’t do this, he terminated the [solution] Process. It is often forgotten that not one positive step was taken during the eighteen months of the process; not one sick prisoner was released in the name of humanity. We ourselves went on fulfilling our mission for peace during the Solution Process with sincerity, but we didn’t let anyone treat us and our people like lesser subjects. The Solution Process wasn’t a process of alliance between the AKP and the HDP. It was a cooperative relationship with the objective of reaching a solution. Yet, Erdoğan expected unconditional submission from us, and we didn’t submit. This is the situation.
While for us the Solution Process meant peace and the development of democracy, Erdoğan had a different agenda. He was trying to have the Kurds and the HDP support his dreams of presidency. As we didn’t do this, he thought, “I’m not benefiting from this”, terminated the process and went on to realise his objectives by entering into a partnership with the MHP [Nationalist Movement Party].