Renowned Kurdish politician and former co-chair of People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtas, is in prison in Turkey for over two years now, accused by the Turkish government of supporting “terrorist organizations”, namely the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is designated as a “terrorist organization” by Ankara.
In his first interview with a news outlet from Kurdistan Region, Demirtas responded to several questions from BasNews. He urged the Kurdish leader and former president of Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani, to continue his efforts aiming at unity among Kurds, saying that cracks among the Kurds themselves helped the atrocities against Kurds by oppressive regimes in the region.
Below is the interview which was translated from Kurdish and edited for clarity and length.
BasNews: I would like to start with a question about your wellbeing. How is your health now and how do you spend your time in prison?
Demirtas: My health is good and my morale is high despite restrictive measures in the prison. Due to the fact that security is very tight here, the condition is difficult with limited facilities. However, I and my friend Abdullah Zedan, who is a HDP lawmaker from Hakkari, we spend most of our time reading and writing.
What keeps us strong and makes us continue is the struggle our people lead despite obstacles facing them at every step. We follow the developments outside the prison via newspapers, television and our lawyers. We wake up with politics and we go to bed with politics again. There has not been a single second without thinking about our struggle. We have imposed extra decline on ourselves, reading, talking, writing and some physical exercises. We have the chance to meet our families once a week. They have been strong
throughout this period of hardship, and this makes us even stronger.
BasNews: The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ordered Turkey to release you. On one hand, lawyers explained that striping you of parliamentary immunity and putting you behind the bars is a wrong decision, on the other hand, they noted that Turkish judicial authority has the right to make the final decision on your imprisonment. What is your opinion?
Demirtas: Obviously, the European Court for Human Rights has made a moderate ruling. They actually had to shed light on all the violations that the Turkish government has committed against us. But, the court did not mention many of them, as if they are not aware of it. This obviously has some political motivations because the EU is not willing to take a clear stance against Turkey. Via my lawyer, I brought the ECHR ruling into the discussion on 20 February 2019 to be reviewed by the [Turkish] court again. We will see what will be the result in the upcoming days.
Cases of eleven other HDP lawmakers are now at the European Court of Human Rights, but a ruling is yet to be made on their cases.
Obviously, the European Court for Human Rights has made a moderate ruling.
BasNews: On 12th and 13th December 2018, you told the judge during a session that “if I had bowed for Erdogan, I would have been in his palace now as a minister”. Have there been such proposals for you or your party in general? Did the ruling party offer you a ministerial post?
Demirtas: There has not been such an offer for me from the AKP (Justice and Development Party) because I have never given them the opportunity for such an approach. The leaders of two Turkish parties (Democratic Party and HAS) previously abandoned their parties’ leadership, one became the interior minister, the other deputy prime minister. I was referring to these people during my statement before the judge.
I never thought of entering such a game. We have been determined to distinguish between right and wrong, and never surrender.
BasNews: Which side is to be blamed for the collapse of peace process?
Demirtas: If the peace process was explained to the public transparently, and if it was protected in its ups and downs, if there was a strong commitment to make it succeed, there would have been peace now. All the sides were partially responsible, but everyone witnessed the fact that it was the AKP who ended the peace process not the Kurds. I still believe that we must not give up on our struggle for peace, and I am confident that there we will be successful one day. If there was the possibility for releasing Mr. Abdullah Ocalan, he would be spearheading the efforts towards a lasting peace himself.
Everyone witnessed the fact that it was the AKP who ended the peace process not the Kurds.
BasNews: Almost every Kurd felt proud when you asked to defend yourself in Kurdish during your last trial. What did you feel then? How did you improve your Kurdish language in prison?
Demirtas: I have been tried for many cases that could fill hundreds of pages, but the most significant one was when I defended myself in my mother tongue, Kurdish. The reason is that I am being treated this way solely because I am a Kurd.
My Kurdish is not as good as I wish, but, together with Abdullah Zedan, we are reading novels and fictions, we practice grammar and we are making progress.
BasNews: You are a prominent political figure among the democratic groups in Turkey. There has not been enough voice among these groups to stand against your imprisonment. Did it hurt you?
Demirtas: We will never feel hurt by our people. We sacrifice ourselves for the rights of our people and we expect nothing in return. The only thing that we expect is that our people will never give up on its struggle [for freedom]. Our people lost huge number of lives for freedom during the past 100 years and they never gave up. This is a great honor for us if they have trust in us. We do not feel upset, but we proudly sacrifice our lives to bring out people freedom.
I have been tried for many cases that could fill hundreds of pages, but the most significant one was when I defended myself in my mother tongue, Kurdish.
BasNews: You won France’s prestigious “Montluc Resistance and Liberty Award”. How did you feel about it?
Demirtas: I would say it with full confidence that I am more proud of having the hearts of the people than wining an award. I have been, indeed, awarded by my people, and the rest come from this public trust. Also, I am proud of the public opinion on the international level, as well as the position of our friends. I receive these awards on behalf of the people who struggled for freedom, as well as my family. The awards are not for me, they are for these honorable people who defend [freedom].
BasNews: Have you received any messages from former Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani since you are in prison?
Demirtas: When he visited Turkey and while a HDP delegation traveled to Erbil, they delivered his valuable greetings to me. I have not received any other messages from him. However, I have always felt his sincere brotherhood towards me. I also have a great respect and sense of brotherhood towards Barzani. From the prison and via Bas newspaper, I would like to send him my warmest greetings… There is only one solution to all the conspiracies against Kurds, and that is a national unity. He [Barzani] spared no efforts in this regards, and would like to ask him not to stop so the unity among Kurds will not break down. I wish him health and success.
I also have a great respect and sense of brotherhood towards Barzani.
BasNews: Since your arrest, the people of Kurdistan are concerned. What is your message to them?
Demirtas: They should not be worried or concerned, but it all makes them more committed to their struggle for freedom. Have there ever been a Kurdish intellectual, politician or leader who never been put behind the bars? But this will not be our fate till the end of the world, we will break the fate and we will make it right.
We are not week and doomed, but we are strong and we will succeed via our struggle [for freedom]. From this freezing corner of my cell, I send the people our Kurdistan Region my warmest greetings and gratitude. I would like to ask everyone to stay strong in this struggle, this century is ours and no forces will have the power to stop us.