Ankara only place in world where HDP views not heeded, says Demirtas

Speaking to reporters on the last day of a visit to the United States on Friday, Demirtas said the HDP’s calls for a pluralist democracy at a time when the Middle East is beset by conflicts and bloodshed are creating excitement all around the world — with the exception of Ankara.

“I have been traveling across Europe, have visited the US, Canada, Australia… The [ruling Justice and Development Party] AK Party is the only one in the world that does not listen to us. I don’t know what they gain from this but such is the unfortunate situation we are in,” Demirtas told journalists at a press meeting.

Demirtas said Turkey is facing crises in many areas pertaining to rights and freedoms, adding that a country absorbed so deeply in internal problems does not have the power or clout to contribute to solving problems beyond its borders.

While in Washington, Demirtas had talks with Robert Malley, who was newly appointed as a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, on the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The HDP leader said he raised the issue of the deteriorating state of media freedom in Turkey during his talks with Blinken and asked if Obama had discussed the matter with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdocan on the sidelines of a climate summit in Paris.

Peace process

Demirtas is credited with broadening the appeal of the HDP to liberal and leftist segments of society, which helped the party enter Parliament with an unexpected 13.1 percent of the vote in the June 7 parliamentary election. But violence between security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorist group resumed weeks after the election and President Recep Tayyip Erdocan called for a repeat vote on Nov. 1. The HDP was still able to enter Parliament but with a reduced vote of 10.3 percent.

When asked whether he believes he should have made stronger calls on the PKK in the pre-Nov. 1 period to end violence, Demirtas said he repeatedly made such pleas but they were met by ridicule in the pro-government media.

“If you look back, you will see how our calls were met then. They said ‘U-turn from Demirtas,’ that I was scared and taking steps backward. You will see how our peace calls were appreciated,” he said, adding the pleas needed the backing of the government and the media to be effective.

With curfews being announced in southeastern towns and the hostility in the government’s political rhetoric, Demirtas was pessimistic about the prospect of the PKK halting violence and ordering its armed militants to withdraw from Turkey.

“But there is nothing positive today. People like Tahir Elci are being killed. There are countless threats and insults against us. Many young people who survived the Suruc bombing [of July 20] were arrested this morning,” he said. “We need to give them [the PKK leadership] something concrete. The government gives us nothing except operations, threats, killings and arrests.”

Demirtas said the situation in the Southeast was severe, comparable to the repressive security policies of the 1980s when the state was convinced that the best way to handle the “few people who went to the mountains” and took up arms was to hunt them down.

He said the state used harsher force than reported in the media in towns under curfew in what he said amounted to “urban warfare” and claimed many of those killed in the security operations were civilians despite official statements calling them armed terrorists.

The HDP co-chair also said the current policy was a decision agreed upon most probably at the National Security Council (MGK), which he stated was concerned about the HDP’s possible rise to government in the future elections and implemented by all state institutions.

“They said the Turkish homeland is about to be taken over by Kurds. Therefore, this must be prevented. So we are seen as traitors who are trying to seize the Turkish homeland and who must be prevented at all costs. How can you implement democratic politics with such a mentality?” he asked.

Monitoring committee

Demirtas also said any peace talks between imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and state representatives should be monitored by an independent committee of Turkish and foreign observers to ensure transparency of the process and to ensure that both sides stick to the principles agreed during negotiations.

Demirtas proposed respected figures known to be impartial, such as former Finnish President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari, for such a committee.

A monitoring committee was agreed during talks between the state officials and Ocalan, followed by a call by Ocalan on the PKK to convene a congress to discuss laying arms, but it collapsed after Erdocan voiced objections earlier this year.

US ‘imperialism’

During the meeting with journalists, Demirtas also reiterated his view that the US and other major world powers are pursuing “imperialist” goals in the Middle East.

“We don’t see [their policies] as humanitarian-oriented. US or Russian involvement in the Middle East is not aimed at bringing happiness to the people of the region,” he said, adding imperialist goals pertaining to the region’s geostrategic and energy significance are the main drivers behind the major world powers’ Middle East policies.

Demirtas said his criticism against imperialism was a matter of principle as a leftist politician, although this does not mean he will refrain from international diplomacy because of such criticism.

He also insisted the US’s ties with Syrian Kurds are “tactical” and not strategic.

Russian plane

Commenting on the downing of a Russian jet by Turkish warplanes near the Syrian border, Demirtas said the incident could have been avoided. “Turkey did not have to do it. … Stronger warnings could have been made,” he said, adding Ankara knew the Russian aircraft was not attacking Turkey.

He also criticized the response of Turkish leaders to the crisis with Russia, saying their statements were inconsistent — vowing one day to do it again if Russia violates Turkish airspace again and then saying Turkey could have acted differently if it had known it was a Russian aircraft.

He said the government acted intentionally in ordering the downing of the Russian jet to send the message that Turkey cannot be ignored when it comes to shaping the future in Syria. “We now have a new chapter of tension that will not bring Turkey any benefit,” he said.

HDP leadership

Demirtas also revealed he had plans to leave the HDP leadership, although it is not likely to happen in the near future.

“We want to leave the chairmanship but the chairmanship does not let us go,” he said, adding no contestant is likely to emerge. “It seems no there will be no other candidate. We will probably continue for another term,” he said.