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Opposition leader stirs debate for saying democracy only possible by settlement of Kurdish issue

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Recent remarks of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), that real democracy can only be established in the country by settling the Kurdish issue, have sparked debate among opposition parties, Deutsche Welle Turkish service reported on Tuesday.

“If democracy is to be [really] established in this country … the way to do it is through Diyarbakır,” Kılıçdaroğlu said on Monday, days before his visit to the Kurdish-majority city in southeastern Turkey, signaling new efforts to settle the country’s long-standing 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.

Speaking to DW regarding the CHP leader’s comments, Meral Danış Beştaş, parliamentary group deputy chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said they weren’t rejecting the statement but think it’s “not enough” to solve the Kurdish issue.

“Yes, it’s true that the way of democracy is through Diyarbakır and the way of Turkey’s democratization is through solution of the Kurdish issue. … [However], the Kurdish people have known for decades that this problem can’t be solved with such messages. … Kurds expect Kılıçdaroğlu to fulfill his promise. This shouldn’t be another statement of goodwill that remains unfulfilled,” she added.

Yavuz Ağıralioğlu, deputy chair of the CHP’s election ally, the nationalist opposition İYİ (Good) Party, also told DW that Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks reminded them of comments made by then-prime minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the start of Turkey’s peace talks with Kurdish militants.

Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)’s reconciliation process with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was declared in an effort to resolve the ongoing conflict in 2012 and only lasted until July 2015.

Turkish authorities had conducted direct talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU, 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 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.

“The place to [come up with] a solution [for the Kurdish issue] … is the parliament. … Many attempts have been made, and a heavy price has been paid,” Ağıralioğlu said.

Reminding that similar statements were also voiced by other politicians in the past, Bülent Kaya, vice-chair of the Islamist opposition Felicity Party (SP), another CHP election ally, told DW he hoped that this time the country embarks on a process in which the Kurdish issue is resolved with a common agreement that would “please the Kurds and not disturb the Turks.”

Opposition Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) Deputy Chairman Mustafa Yeneroğlu also spoke to DW, saying Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks regarding the Kurdish issue were “very important,” since real democratization will only be achieved through equal citizenship.

“We will be able to advance our democratization in a country where there is no ethnic discrimination and where every idea can be expressed under the guarantee of the rule of law. I wholeheartedly believe in that,” he added.

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