Jailed Kurdish leader urges Erdoğan to end Öcalan’s ‘isolation’ amid claims of rift

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Jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş has called on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to end the “isolation” imposed on Abdullah Öcalan, jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and let him speak in the wake of Erdoğan’s recent claims about a rift between the two Kurdish figures, Turkish media outlets reported.

Erdoğan surprised many when he said at a party meeting last week that Demirtaş will have to “give an accounting” to Öcalan, using the names of the prisons where they’re incarcerated, Edirne and İmralı, respectively, and hinting at a rift between the two.

Demirtaş responded to Erdoğan from prison through his lawyers and said he would only give an accounting to an independent judiciary.

Speaking to the Yeni Yaşam daily about Erdoğan’s remarks, again through his lawyers, Demirtaş suggested that Erdoğan should end Öcalan’s “isolation,” which refers to his inability to speak with his lawyers for years, and let him make a statement regarding the recent allegations.

“How do you know what Mr. Öcalan, whom you have kept in isolation for years, said? Then, end the isolation, let Öcalan meet with his lawyers and his family regularly, [and] let’s find out together what he has to say,” Demirtaş said, adding that it wasn’t “moral” for Erdoğan to impose severe isolation on Öcalan and at the same time speak on his behalf.

The former HDP leader said Erdoğan’s claims were aimed at creating confusion among the country’s Kurdish population before the June 2023 general election and that nobody should believe or take seriously such “nonsense rhetoric.”

When asked his thoughts on whether Erdoğan’s statements were just comments or if they were based on information received during a recent meeting with Öcalan, Demirtaş said he had no concrete information that there had been a meeting with Öcalan. “The only thing we know is that the isolation has been going on for years in its most extreme form,” he said.

Demirtaş further said there must be a meeting between government representatives and Öcalan, who has been jailed in a high-security prison on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara since 1999, because there were some issues that couldn’t be resolved without his participation in such talks.

Demirtaş added that it was “wrong and dangerous” for Erdoğan to build his intentions to have a meeting on İmralı, if he has them, on such cheap remarks aimed at causing a rift between him and Öcalan and that they would make everyone think that Erdoğan has no intention of ending the fight between the PKK and the Turkish government but is only aiming at garnering more votes in the upcoming elections.

The president also claimed two days before the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality elections, which were repeated on June 23, 2019, that there was a leadership struggle between Öcalan and Demirtaş.

However, Erdoğan’s remarks weren’t enough to change the minds of Kurdish voters, who cast strategic votes after the HDP urged them to, for the candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ekrem İmamoğlu, contributing to his victory against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) candidate.

Turkish authorities had conducted direct talks with Öcalan for over two years until the summer of 2015, when the death of two police officers near the Syrian border became the official reason for their collapse.

Since then, there have been continuing clashes between the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, and Turkish security forces. More than 40,000 people, including 5,500 security force members, have been killed in four decades of fighting between the Turkish state and the PKK.

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