Jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş has denounced the killing of 13 Turkish nationals held hostage by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), blaming the government for using military methods instead of diplomacy to retrieve the hostages.
Demirtaş, former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has been imprisoned on terror charges since November 2016. His statement was posted on Twitter.
“I denounce the massacring of 13 of our people who were in the hands of the PKK. I share the pain of their families and extend my condolences. I am very saddened by what happened,” Demirtaş tweeted.
On Sunday the Turkish government accused the PKK of executing 13 Turkish nationals — mainly members of the security forces — whom they had held captive in northern Iraq.
The bodies of the 13 hostages were discovered by Turkish soldiers in a cave in the Gara region of northern Iraq, where Ankara had launched an operation against PKK militants on Feb. 10, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said.
“It is irresponsible to put the blame on the HDP or the opposition for a tragedy that came out of an operation aimed at [creating] a political parade rather than using diplomacy. It is the government that must account for [the killings] to the public,” Demirtaş said.
A video shared on the HDP’s official Twitter account on Monday shows seven different times when the party’s lawmakers had brought the issue of Turks held captive by PKK militants to the public agenda through parliamentary inquiry requests, parliamentary questions, and press conferences and speeches in parliament since December 2015.
“Our party and MPs have repeatedly voiced the demands of the families of the hostages in parliament and at press conferences, calling [on the AKP government] to ensure their safe return. If the ruling party is looking for someone to hold responsible [for the death of the 13 hostages], the answer is in the video below,” the HDP said in the tweet.
“What really matters is opposing violence and war in all circumstances and making peace,” Demirtaş said.
In December 2020 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) called for the immediate release of Demirtaş, finding Turkey guilty of violating his rights on five counts.
Despite a decision from the ECtHR in November 2018 that ruled Demirtaş’s pre-trial detention was a political act and ordering his release, Turkish courts refused to implement the European court’s ruling, and a regional appeals court subsequently upheld a prison sentence given to Demirtaş for disseminating terrorist propaganda.
Demirtaş was an outspoken critic of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, before he was jailed. He ran in the presidential elections of 2014 and 2018 as a rival to Erdoğan. Demirtaş conducted his election campaign from jail for the 2018 election.