Jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş has claimed that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not allow the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to lay down their arms after efforts at reconciliation between his government and the group because he thought the end of armed conflict in the country would not politically benefit his government.
Demirtaş’s remarks came during his first face-to-face interview with a journalist in northern Turkey’s Edirne Prison, where he has been jailed since November 2016 on politically motivated charges.
The former co-chairperson of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the second largest opposition party in the Turkish Parliament, spoke to journalist Beril Eski from the Kısa Dalga news website. The interview took place in a meeting room where lawyers normally meet with their clients.
Demirtaş was asked in the interview about the collapse of efforts at settlement between Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government and the PKK leadership to resolve Turkey’s long-standing Kurdish issue, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 40,000 people since 1984.
The talks began in 2012 and arms were nearly silenced for three years; however, Erdoğan declared that the settlement process had ended after two police officers were executed in southeastern Şanlıurfa province in June 2015.
Turkey, in addition to the US and the EU, designates the PKK as a terrorist organization.
“There were only 10 days left for the PKK to abandon its armed struggle. But Erdoğan did not allow it,” said Demirtaş, explaining that the PKK were to lay down their arms 10 days after the completion of a framework agreement between the AKP and the HDP in February 2015, known as the “Dolmabahçe Agreement.”
The agreement, named after Dolmabahçe Palace in İstanbul where a meeting between AKP government and HDP officials took place, was a key document outlining a 10-item list of priorities for resolution of the Kurdish issue.
The Kurdish issue, a term prevalent in Turkey’s public discourse, refers to the demand for equal rights by the country’s Kurdish population and their struggle for recognition.
Demirtaş said the Wise People Commission, a group of prominent Turkish figures tasked by the AKP government with explaining the settlement process to the public and soliciting their views, would go to İmralı Island where PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan is jailed and get a message from him about the complete abandoning of weapons by the PKK.
“We would take care of the rest through democratic politics and in parliament. But Erdoğan ended the process when he saw that a permanent peace would not bring votes to him and his party. It was Erdoğan who prevented the Wise People Commission from going to İmralı,” said Demirtaş.
Following the end of the settlement process and an election defeat by Erdoğan in June 2015, Turkey fell into a spiral of violence, with deadly terrorist attacks taking place across the country. A repeat general election held later in 2015 brought the AKP to power as a single party government again. Erdoğan, who adopted an increasingly nationalist discourse, later allied with Turkey’s far-right nationalist leader Devlet Bahçeli.
According to Demirtaş, Erdoğan has regrets about ending the settlement process because he has been unable to maintain his popularity and legitimacy since then and had to adopt an increasingly more authoritarian style of governance.
“He tried to compensate for his lost legitimacy by becoming more authoritarian. His mindset is already ‘allergic’ to democracy. He has further lost his bearings in the last five or six years in a way impossible to recover from. His name has gone down in history as an authoritarian leader, and that’s that,” said Demirtaş.
Erdoğan is widely accused of establishing a one-man rule, particularly after the country’s adoption of a presidential system of governance in 2017, which granted Erdoğan vast powers. Turkey has a poor record on press freedom, human rights and democracy.
Turkey has been experiencing a deepening human rights crisis in recent years, and Erdoğan, with the aim of consolidating his one-man rule, has been systematically undermining the fundamental pillars of Turkey’s already imperfect democracy.
Arrested on November 4, 2016, on terrorism-related charges, Demirtaş has since then remained in prison despite two European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings in 2018 and 2020 that said Demirtaş was imprisoned for political, not legal, reasons, ordering his immediate release.
The Council of Europe also called on Turkey to immediately release the Kurdish politician on September 17, 2021.