On Tuesday, Germany’s Der Spiegel published a lengthy interview with Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Kurd-aligned HDP Party of Turkey. Demirtas leveled some serious allegations against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saying the Kurds stood in the way of Erdogan’s creating an Islamic State-style (ISIS/ISIL) “Caliphate” of his own, and warning that Erdogan’s war against the Kurds could make the already-fearsome refugee crisis in Europe even worse.
Much of Demirtas’ interview was devoted to the activities of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), the outlawed group of Kurdish separatists at war with the Turkish government. Demirtas said that his mainstream HDP party has “called on both sides to lay down their weapons.”
However, he pinned the blame for breaking an uneasy truce between the PKK and Turkey squarely on Erdogan, whom he accused of “overturning the negotiating table” after two and a half years of negotiations.
“The PKK is willing to put down its weapons. The government insists on violence. We, the HDP, are calling for a bipartisan parliamentary commission to be established to determine the necessary conditions for a lasting peace,” said Demirtas.
When Der Spiegel pointed out that PKK leader Cemil Bayik has announced his group is planning a new military offensive in the spring, which “doesn’t sound like a readiness to negotiate,” Demirtas clarified that his party “supports those PKK voices calling for a cease-fire.”
There was a little more hair-splitting when Demirtas claimed the HDP sees the PKK as an “armed popular movement,” not the terrorists Erdogan’s (and America’s) government describes, but also insisted, “That doesn’t mean we condone violence.” He said the devastating Ankara bombing was a clear example of terrorism, but insisted it was the work of a splinter group called the Kurdish Freedom Falcons, which the government could not decisively link to the PKK.
Dermirtas’ most provocative statements claim when he accused Erdogan of being at war with the Kurds, pursuing a campaign of destruction against civilian PKK supporters. “Almost 400,000 people have had to leave their homes,” said Demirtas. “The southeast of Turkey resembles Syria.”
As for why the Turkish president was pursuing this course, Demirtas said, “He’s striving for absolute power in Turkey. Erdogan wants a Caliphate. We Kurds are in his way. Erdogan can’t stop us politically, so he is denouncing us as terrorists.”
Last week, Demirtas published an op-ed in The New York Times, where he pounced on the rough treatment suffered by American reporters at the hands of Erdogan’s bodyguards during the Turkish president’s recent visit to Washington.
“Many American policy makers are horrified by Mr. Erdogan’s efforts to kill off what is left of free speech in Turkey. Even President Obama admitted that he was ‘troubled’ by the direction of the country, a NATO ally,” Demirtas wrote.
He went on to say he was “saddened” that criticism of Erdogan in the West largely ended with his repression of the press.
“There has been hardly any real mention of the government’s abuses in the fight against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., the deportations of civilians, the destruction of Kurdish towns and the imprisonment of Kurdish politicians in Turkey,” said Demirtas, claiming that both Europe and the U.S. have “turned a blind eye to the human rights violations in Turkey’s Kurdish towns over the past year.”
As in his Der Spiegel interview, Demirtas wrote at The New York Times that Erdogan’s war on Kurdish towns in southern Turkey resembled the Syrian civil war. He accused Erdogan of “stoking nationalist sentiment with an eye to a possible referendum this summer that would expand his constitutional powers,” and said the Turkish leader had grown more “intransigent about the peace process” as the HDP party flourished at the polls.
“The HDP is a progressive coalition of Turks, Kurds, socialists, democratic Islamists, liberals and minorities dedicated to democratic reforms, gender equality, diversity and Kurdish rights,” Demirtas declared. “All of this is anathema to the despotic, male-dominated nationalism fueled by Mr. Erdogan.”