Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has referred to jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been behind bars since November 2016 on politically motivated charges, as a terrorist while denying the existence of a Kurdish problem in Turkey.
Erdoğan’s remarks came at a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Wednesday as he criticized recent remarks from former AKP heavyweight Bülent Arınç, who called for the release from prison of Demirtaş as well as businessman and human rights activist Osman Kavala, saying they are incarcerated based on legally weak indictments.
In televised remarks last week, Arınç also said he read a book written by Demirtaş in jail, titled “Devran,” and that he better understood the agonies experienced by the country’s Kurdish population.
“Perhaps your ideas about Demirtaş will not change, but you will understand what the Kurds have gone through. Your ideas about Kurds might change,” he added.
“I’m offended by the suggestion that everyone read a book written by one of the terrorists,” said Erdoğan, without mentioning Arınç’s name.
Arınç on Tuesday announced his resignation from the Presidential High Advisory Board after his remarks about Demirtaş and Kavala were slammed by Erdoğan.
Responding to Arınç’s statement on Sunday, Erdoğan refused to lend him support, saying his government’s recently announced plans to make fresh economic and judicial reforms had prompted some to set “new fires of evil.”
Demirtaş, who was the co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) when he was arrested, has been behind bars since then despite a decision from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in November 2018 that ruled Demirtaş’s pre-trial detention was a political act and called for his release. Turkish courts refused to implement the European court’s ruling, and a regional appeals court subsequently upheld a prison sentence handed down to Demirtaş for disseminating terrorist propaganda. Demirtaş ran against Erdoğan as a presidential candidate in the 2014 and 2018 elections.
In remarks that will apparently please his party’s election ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Erdoğan also said in his speech that there is no Kurdish problem in Turkey, which came as yet another change of attitude regarding the existence of this problem.
In a sharp deviation from his remarks in a historic speech he gave in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır in 2005 which, for the first time, acknowledged the existence of a Kurdish problem in Turkey, Erdoğan said: “They talk about a Kurdish problem. What kind of a Kurdish problem is it? In my speech in Diyarbakır in 2005, I said there is no Kurdish problem in this country and if there is, I am responsible for it and we will fix it.”
Erdoğan’s remarks were also a misinterpretation of his own words as he had in fact acknowledged the existence of a Kurdish problem in Turkey back then.
In the speech delivered on Aug. 12, 2005, Erdoğan, who was prime minister at the time, had acknowledged for the first time, on behalf of the Turkish state, that Turkey had a problem often referred to as the Kurdish issue. He had pledged that Turkey would seek to resolve the issue through peaceful and democratic means. “The Kurdish issue is the issue of the entire Turkish nation. We will solve it through more democracy and greater welfare,” he said at the time.
Turkey’s Kurdish question has existed since the first years of the republic.
During the 18 years it has been in power, the AKP has taken some steps to expand the rights enjoyed by the Kurds, but they are viewed mostly as symbolic moves, such as the launch of a Kurdish TV station and the restoration of some place names that were originally in Kurdish.
The Kurds are still deprived of the right to receive an education in their mother tongue, and there is no reference to them as equal citizens in the Turkish Constitution, two major demands of the country’s Kurdish population among many others.
In addition dozens of members of Turkey’s largest Kurdish party, the HDP, are in jail on terror charges.