Selahattin Demirtaş, the imprisoned former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said he was prepared to fight for the presidential post in the upcoming elections if the HDP decided to nominate him. Responding to the questions of Irfan Aktan from Gazete Duvar. Demirtaş commented on various issues including recent attacks on refugees in the capital city of Ankara, the HDP’s approach to the opposition alliance, his possible nomination in the upcoming elections, and the worsening prison conditions.
Demirtaş has been imprisoned in Turkey’s western city of Edirne since November 2016, and is kept incarcerated despite a binding ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in December 2020 that he must be released immediately. The Court had said in its ruling that the Turkish state’s justification for his imprisonment was actually a cover for limiting pluralism and debate.
It is apparent that there is little conflict among different social and political groups regarding an anti-refugee stand. How do you think things will evolve with the refugee population in Turkey exceeding four million, and growing antipathy to the refugees, as the recent incident in Ankara shows?
The incident in Altundağ in Ankara has shown us the level of anti-refugee sentiment. The role that political rhetoric has played in this is already known. For this reason, it is of primary importance that all politicians must be careful with the language they use, and stay away from tactics that may fuel discrimination or racism.
While the People’s Republican Party (CHP) tries to get the support of anti-refugee sectors of the society, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) seems to be trying to turn the sentiment into a drive for new disturbances. Supporting refugee rights is increasingly reflected as a crime; even a crime of “treason”. What could be the solution to all this?
We have to make short-term, medium-term and long-term plans. Turkey’s capacity to host refugees must be calculated and an infrastructure prepared for the housing, health services, education, sustenance and security of these people. It is not possible to succeed in this without the support of the community. This is something that requires particular attention. Co-operation with the countries of origin and the adoption of effective policies to end the conflicts and chaos, and even the exploitation in those countries, is necessary. Co-operation with western countries on a basis of principles instead of a cheap labour market must be insisted upon. They have to share some of the responsibility for the refugees.
Looking at the rise in attacks against the refugees and Kurds, what do you see? A dark phase like the one that followed the elections on 7 June 2015, or a situation in which things have got out of hand for the government?
I don’t think the recent tensions are the result of a systematic plan. They’re more like separate incidents which have been fuelled by the government’s rhetoric. Still, we have to be very careful and try to avoid the flare-ups starting a fire.
Mithat Sancar, a current co-chair of the HDP, said they were going to announce a road map by the end of September. On the one hand there is the Nation’s Alliance [an alliance of opposition parties] who are afraid to appear in the same frame with you, and on the other, the People’s Alliance [the government coalition] that seems intent on dissolving the HDP. What strategy do you suggest the HDP should adopt for the upcoming elections?
The HDP will make a public statement on this in September and clarify our strategy. We will have the answers to your question then.
A while ago, Sırrı Süreyya Önder [a former HDP MP] said: “What do we have to hope for while the current government is about to go but the next one seems to be waiting with a blunt knife in hand?” How would you comment on that?
I partially agree with him; this is unfortunately true for a part of the opposition, though not all of it. This is why we insist, for the sake of eliminating that risk, on meeting on the principles of and the demand for democracy.
Some of the tribal leaders in Kurdistan have recently been expressing support for the CHP. Rüstem Zeydan in Yüksekova, İskender Ertuş in Başkale… What does this tell you, considering these moves are made by those who from past experience can foresee a shift in power? Has your cellmate Abdullah Zeydan commented on it?
Everyone is free in their political choices. We can’t blame anyone for their choice or force them to make a choice. We are focussed on what we are doing ourselves, and trying to expand our sphere of influence. As far as we’re concerned, Abdullah Zeydan is still an MP for Hakkari, and a person much loved and appraised by our people. It’s not easy to earn the love of the people. Having the family name Zeydan or Ertuş isn’t enough for this.
Would you consider running for president again if there was a request or suggestion from HDP?
It is an honour and a pleasure to do anything the HDP or our people ask, and I’m ready to do it. This includes running for president.
Sebahat Tuncel [imprisoned former co-chair of the Democratic Regions Party and a former MP] recently told her lawyers that she and her colleagues were faced with serious agression from the prison administration [in Ankara’s Sincan Prison]. Have you had similar experiences?
We consider abuse of Sebahat Tuncel to be abuse against ourselves. I condemn it and I am know that the lawyers will take the necessary action to bring the perpetrators before the law… There are serious restrictions and a profusion of threats in the prison we are in. The prisons have turned into centres of oppression. My lawyers have lodged an application with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) relating to our prison conditions last week.