Selahattin Demirtaş: 'How Turkish government endangers peace process with Kurds'

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Selahattin Demirtaş (pictured) interviewed by Ezgi Başaran

July 28, 2015 -- Hurriyet Daily News, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The government of Turkey’s refusal to provide legal guarantees for the Kurdistan Workers Party'(PKK), coupled with the construction of military fortresses, effectively ended the ceasefire in Turkey, Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş (pictured) explained.

The resolution process started with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan’s letter that was read out loud during Nevruz in Diyarbakır in 2013, saying, “The era of armed struggle has ended.” This process has now come to a serious standstill. In the last 10 days, the Suruç massacre occurred. Next, the PKK executed policemen in two cities and Turkey organised air operations both against Kandil, the mountainous area across the border where guerilla headquarters are based, and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) targets in Syria. There is a serious state of war in the country. Everybody has a chronology and/or a claim about how we arrived at this stage.

Everyone was waiting for the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş to speak after having remained silent for the last couple of days. What would he say, how would he act? I asked Demirtaş about all the claims; he shared with us some details he had never talked about before. I believe this is a historic interview in many respects and all of Turkey should read it carefully.

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Everybody has a different “resolution process” chronology on how the cease-fire ended and who left the negotiation table first. What is yours?

The period from 2013 until today has been the preparation era for the Dolmabahçe Agreement; it was its prelude. As a matter of fact, one should look into how the Dolmabahçe agreement was prepared.

Before that, there was one of the key parts of the process, the issue of PKK members withdrawing from Turkey. The prime minister has been emphasising that in his statements for the last couple of days. He said the Kurdish side did not withdraw; they did not keep their promises. What happened during the withdrawal period, could you tell and remind us of its details?

At the outset of the İmralı talks which I also participated in, Öcalan thought the withdrawal should be very quick. He said: “This business should not be prolonged. We have made an agreement with the state and they will make the law on the withdrawal. We should make the withdrawal rapidly so that there will not be any provocations. We made a deal with the state delegation. The law will be issued very soon, in no time.”

What was the significance of this law?

Let me explain it this way… There are armed people in the mountains, aren’t there? Withdrawal means that these people will pass through cities, villages and towns to reach other places. Well, what will the security forces that see these people do? What will the judge, prosecutor, district governor or governor do? Will they look the other way; what will happen if they don’t? What if they are questioned in the future, saying, “Armed people passed right in front of you; why did you not intervene?” Exactly for these reasons there should be a law covering the withdrawal. And the state promised that it would make the law.

Who did it promise, Öcalan?

Yes. We also, after returning from İmralı, held a meeting with the state delegation. We told them, “You agreed at İmralı that such a withdrawal law will be passed.” They confirmed it. Upon this, we went to talk with the justice minister of the time, Sadullah Ergin. He told us: “Right now, in the next room, our experts are working on the law.” I told him: “Our experts are also working. Let us submit the prepared texts to the parliament as the withdrawal law.” Note that, at that time, Öcalan did not insist that this armed withdrawal should go all the way to Kandil. He also suggested that all groups would assemble at a place inside Turkey’s borders. The reason for this is that it was designed as such: There would be another law issued in the meantime and those in the mountains would come down [to integrate into society].

Many efforts but no law

Where was the breaking point at this stage?

I am sharing all the details so that our people know. After speaking with Justice Minister Ergin, we went to Kandil. We told them both that both the ministry and ourselves were working [on the law]. Upon this [senior PKK commander] Murat Karayılan said: “We have decided to withdraw. As soon as the law is out, we will start withdrawing and complete it in the fastest way possible.” In the following period, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin worked hard and exerted intense efforts to pass the law, but it was blocked by then-Prime Minister Erdoğan. He said, “There is no law or anything.” Upon this, a crisis erupted. We went back to Kandil; the state delegation went to İmralı. Mr. Öcalan explained the risks of withdrawal without a legal framework, but we later understood that this law would not pass.

Upon this, in the next meeting, Abdullah Öcalan, said: “We could not make them comprehend the significance of this law even though they made a pledge. I, nevertheless, want the withdrawal to happen.” Later, Erdoğan said, “Let them bury their weapons and withdraw.” But there is no law or anything. Who will bury the weapons where? How will they bury them? With this crisis, the withdrawal went on for 45 days. As a matter of fact, according to the agreement, the law would have been out immediately and the entire withdrawal would have been completed within 45 days.

Then, the withdrawal started with the media allowed to witness a portion of it but it was not completed, is that so?

Even though Kandil regarded it as very risky, it started upon Öcalan’s words “start anyway.” There was a timeline estimated for the entire forces in Turkey to collect and withdraw. It was calculated at about three months. We conveyed this timeline to the government. They told us they were pleased. It was only a couple of days into the start of the withdrawal that government spokesman Bülent Arınç, said following a question during a press conference: “They can go to hell. Let them withdraw as far as they want.” This statement had a shocking effect in Kandil. I personally witnessed this because at those times I too was frequenting the mountains.

Were Arınç’s words an issue in Kandil?

I am telling you this with all my sincerity; they were shocked. The reason is that they had started withdrawing, while there was no law in sight, only counting on Öcalan’s words of “We will withdraw anyway; immediately afterward there will be a resolution.” They were already very uneasy and insecure. Even though they reacted very fiercely to this statement, they did not stop the process. But, afterwards, it was this that was always discussed at Kandil and during other regional visits: “In those guerilla areas we vacated, they started building reinforced castle-like police stations called ‘kalekol’ rapidly. Since there is going to be peace, since we are coming down from mountains, why is there a need for kalekols in the middle of these mountains?”

The prime minister on the other hand is saying that it is only natural that the state builds dams and police stations. What is the real issue here?

Yes, the prime minister does not understand this; I want to explain. What they are building is not for the purposes of irrigation or energy. It is a military dam. It is a dam built to obstruct guerillas from passing through mountains and prairies; they fill up the low lands with water. The military roads built at the top of the mountain; they are not double highways.

However, Kandil already knew and was complaining about these dam and kalekol constructions since the start of the process. But despite this the process proceeded. Why was this issue brought up again?

They became an issue once again during the withdrawal. It was brought up like this, particularly with the building of concrete roads on mountain summits for military vehicles to pass through the border zone. Kandil interpreted it as, “We are withdrawing but if the state is building those, then they have no intention of peace. We will withdraw and they will start the war.” These debates prompted “the withdrawal should be slowed down” discussions at Kandil. We conveyed this situation directly to the government. The Gezi Park resistance coincided with this period. The reaction of the government against the youth at the Gezi further increased the distrust on the Kurdish side. They said, “Can such a government acting this way want peace with us?”

‘Erdoğan angry the process decreased AKP votes’

At that time, there was a statement from Öcalan about the need to better understand the Gezi incidents…

Actually, even before Öcalan made that statement, Kandil had already put the brakes on the withdrawal. Then Öcalan strengthened their stance by saying, “Indeed, the withdrawal cannot continue in such a state.” This is the story of the withdrawal. Without examining the details of who pledged what to whom and who did not keep their pledge, highlighting incidents is distortion.

What would have happened if the withdrawal law you mentioned had been issued?

Do you know what Mr. Öcalan was saying? “With trucks and buses, the guerrillas will be transported to a place in a very rapid fashion and we will start negotiations as soon as possible.” This was what he imagined. For this reason, he was saying, “I am angry when Murat Karayılan tells me this business will last three months; because it has to be very quick, because this is how we talked about it with the state.” If the government had kept its pledge, if the PKK guerillas had been transported with buses and trucks, then the withdrawal would have ended, most probably the period of disarmament would have started. It is apparent who did not make the law.

Well, couldn’t the withdrawal process, which started without any legal guarantees, have continued one way or another?

This indeed is not a decision that the HDP could make but such a sensitive process does not tolerate such a breach of an agreement or such distrust.

If the deal broke down at that exact point, what was the agreement you reached at Dolmabahçe?

Now, let us come to that point… We met for that agreement; everything was prepared because actually the major portion of the withdrawal had been completed. Otherwise, would it have been possible? A very small group of PKK members had remained inside Turkey. The government knows this very well. They did not make an issue of the remaining [fighters] because the major portion of the withdrawal was completed. And talks continued. The government, at that point, did not say, “I will not negotiate until the withdrawal is 100 per cent complete.” Delegations went back and forth to İmralı.

What was spoken on İmralı on the days and weeks leading to the Dolmabahçe agreement?

Such pledges were made on İmralı: Large delegations, journalists, other politicians, moreover representatives from Kandil would come to visit Öcalan.

Who says that?

The state delegation that met Öcalan. Meanwhile, we brought everything that we talked about on İmralı to Ankara and always confirmed it. We told them, “You have said such and such. We put them down in the minutes. These minutes were also copied to Kandil. The field team on Kandil would accept that a deal has been made on this matter. Do you confirm?” They said, “Yes, we confirm” – both the ministry and the state delegation.

Texts of the Dolmabahçe declaration

Meanwhile, all during this dialogue period, it was said that Öcalan had told the HDP delegation many times that he trusted the state delegation and the solution-finding efforts of the National Intelligence Organisation (MİT) undersecretary [Hakan Fidan]. Is that true?

Affirmative. The state delegation which also included MİT said, “We have made a deal but the politicians have other concerns, we were not able to convince them.” But on every matter, Öcalan said they had agreed upon on İmralı; we confirmed that with Ankara afterward. We informed Kandil of them. The HDP delegation exerted countless efforts to build confidence in Ankara, Kandil and İmralı.

In the monitoring delegation that was announced at Dolmabahçe, there were mostly pro-government journalists and politicians. They were to visit İmralı. Why was the president angry at this formation?

You are of course asking about what was seen, but when you look at the development of events, you would understand that what he was angry at was not the monitoring delegation or the words in the agreements.

Didn’t the president say, following the Dolmabahçe agreement meeting, that he did not approve of it? He also said there was no point in forming a monitoring delegation.

The chronology here and the process that we experienced leading to that meeting are very important. I will need to go into details for the public to understand.

While I was in Canada – it was at the beginning of February – our İmralı delegation called me to say a text that had been agreed upon had been prepared for submission to the government. They sent it to me as well. I approved it. Then this text went to the government; they reviewed it. They told us it was unacceptable and suggested another text. However, in that text, there were only the government’s wishes and expectations. And it was not the text discussed on İmralı.

Was it very different?

It was very different. The text we prepared contained the chapters needed for talks as well as a call for disarmament. In theirs, there was only a call for disarmament; no talks. I told them exactly this: “We also want the PKK to lay down their arms, but it won’t happen with this method. It should not happen by deceiving the PKK or Öcalan. Let us not build distrust. Kandil would say where did this come from? Then the entire process would be shattered. Upon this, we sent our delegation to Kandil to convey the government’s text. Kandil said, “No, this is not what was discussed on İmralı. We also have the minutes. If such a call is made, we would not abide by it.” Our delegation told all of this to the government. We said: “Let us prepare a text which everybody would accept.” Upon this, our delegation and the state delegation went to İmralı together.

To provide information on the two different texts?

Of course. We showed both texts. Upon this, Öcalan suggested the agreement text announced at Dolmabahçe on February 28. Upon this, government authorities met with the president.

Are you sure of this?

Of course. “This is the text,” they told the president and received his approval. It was decided that the publicisation of the event would be done at Dolmabahçe. All of this prolonged the announcement for 22 days. Because this text crisis took that long. Now the president or the prime minister are saying, “Öcalan made a call to lay down arms, but the HDP prevented it.” They base their argument on references to this text crisis.

‘They wanted us to deceive PKK and İmralı’

Could you elaborate on this?

They refer to the part where we did not accept their text. As a matter of fact, actually, at that point, it was essentially demanded that we deceive Öcalan and the PKK. We told them, “If we do that, the process will be damaged to a huge extent, and we will have to start all over again.” This is what really angered the AKP.

Despite all this, the Dolmabahçe announcement was made anyway.

At every step, including the seating chart – everything was approved by the president. The president solved the seating crisis. He was so involved in the process. Then he said the following anyway: “This is an announcement we have been waiting for for a long time. It is late but a reason to rejoice.” In other words, his initial statement was not like “I do not accept this.” This always went unnoticed. What he did not like in the initial statement was the statement I made; otherwise, he did not express any problems with the agreement. He did not say the picture was wrong or that the agreement was wrong.

What happened afterward that he did not approve of?

He saw during the time between this initial statement and the “I do not approve” statement that the votes of the AKP had not increased, actually they dropped but HDP’s votes were increasing. Survey companies provided this information.

How do you know that?

We learned it from inside, from inside the AKP. The president said exactly this: “Why are we engaged in this if there is no benefit in it for us?” And growls started to be heard inside the AKP, but they are centered on the president. It is not reflected much outside, but our delegations are in contact with each other. The deal was that the agreement would go into effect and then a convention on laying down arms would be held. Their expectation, on the other hand, evolved into ideas that Kandil would hold the convention immediately and announce disarmament.

What was the original deal?

A big table was to be set up on İmralı. Our delegation, the state delegation and observers were to talk and discuss and, on the same day, Öcalan was going to call for disarmament. İmralı said OK to this. All of this was going to be conducted exactly one week after the Dolmabahçe agreement. We filed our applications to go to İmralı, for the observers to go to İmralı, but the government side started telling us that there was a problem. What problem? We met and talked publicly; there are expectations. What was happening? We later understood that Erdoğan had said there could not be a monitoring delegation or something. As a matter of fact, even the names had been clarified. Immediately after this, anyway, the president answered a planted question, saying, “I do not approve of the Dolmabahçe agreement.”

What kind of a contribution did Hakan Fidan and MİT do at this point? Did you ever talk to them?

As part of the state delegation, we were holding constant talks with the Office of the Undersecretary of MİT and the Undersecretariat of Public Order and Security. They made pledges as the state delegation, and the government made confirmations, but everything was rejected all of a sudden. This is exactly what happened. They should answer for themselves what the exact reason is. I am explaining all of this with no addition or subtraction. The events occurred exactly like this.

‘There are disputes with Kandil’

Let us come to a different angle of the issue. After the HDP’s serious election success, there were several statements from Kandil. First, they did not like your “entrusted votes” expression, then they regarded the HDP as passive. Later, about your pointing to Öcalan as the address of the peace process, they used the argument “it is apolitical.” At no moment did they mention your success as Demirtaş. What is the position of Kandil with regards to the HDP or Demirtaş?

There are no personal problems between Kandil and me. But we do not think the same on every matter. We do not have to. I am the co-chair of the HDP, they are the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) co-chairs. Of course, the KCK is a huge effective movement in the Middle East, Iran, Iraq and Syria. It is natural for them to interpret political developments in Turkey. They are their ideas; not orders for us.

Where do you disagree?

For instance, the HDP has opened a significant political field. This political area is an incomplete walk. Thus, Turkish society has given the HDP a huge opportunity. What we will do with this opportunity will determine whether the HDP will shrink or grow. Hence, HDP process is not complete; its potential is beyond this. It has the spirit of a ruling party.

Well, how will you reach this real potential of yours?

By establishing peace, by maintaining the state of “free from combat;” by being consistent in our stance on this matter and by giving principled messages, by continuing to defend the messages we conveyed before the elections. The HDP is not an election party; it is a permanent movement. Its long walk will have its stamp on Turkish politics. Thus, the HDP’s peace calls, disarmament calls, suggestions about methods are part of its mission and role. This is not apolitical; it is the core of politics. These are my thoughts on the subject.

What do you think Öcalan’s role should be?

He should conduct the negotiations. This is not a pressure or burden on Öcalan. It is up to Kandil anyway to make the final disarmament decision. Öcalan is the only one at the position to make the call. He is saying the same thing anyway. However, disarmament calls during a negotiation process not including Öcalan will not be functional. Kandil should be approaching issues more from Turkey’s democratic politics. This is what I think.

Internal logic of war

Why were policemen murdered at Diyarbakır and Adıyaman?

War and combat have a domestic logic that we civilians do not grasp. If we do not interfere with the domestic logic of war, which looks painful and meaningless to us, then we will not be able to stop the deaths. As a person involved in civilian politics, I cannot answers the question why they were killed. They should not have been killed. Nobody should be killed. In our domestic logic, in our civilian political world, you cannot explain such a thing. I do not find a motive or justification.

What are we going to say then? That we cannot understand?

No, I am not saying we cannot understand. Within the logic of war, there is a consistency in what the state is doing and what the PKK is doing. It looks meaningless to us, but we should take that reality into consideration.

Before the policemen were killed in Diyarbakır, Kandil had not been bombed yet…

I have expressed that we do not accept it in any way. I have conveyed my condolences; I have said those policemen killed were the poor sons of this people. We have no hesitation on this matter. How can we act like [Deputy Prime Minister] Bülent Arınç in the face of which death? For us, the uniform the slain person is wearing is not their political identity; there is no meaning to it. If I was sure there would not be provocations, I would have attended that policeman’s funeral. I would have visited his family, would have paid my respects to these people. I mean, what difference is there from my mother? Look at the pictures, look at the images. They are the same. His brothers are like my brothers. His children are like my children. How can you discriminate the people of this land? But the way to stop this is not to condemn, damn and then sit back in your seat. The only way is a serious negotiation. Otherwise, this business will not come to an end. We will live these pains over and over again. We are suffocating.

If I tell you that the position you will adopt as the HDP is as important as it never has been before, would you agree with me?

Our peace policy is not atonement-oriented, it is result-oriented. We did not deceive the people; we do not have such an intention. We do not want to give cute messages and then do other stuff behind. We did not and we will not. We want to be permanent and effective. The way to this is reconciling the conflicting sides, making them sit at the table. If the public is expecting the HDP to play a peaceful role, they should understand our position. It is a valuable position for everyone. We are the only party on earth that can talk with Ankara, Kandil and İmralı. Turkey’s public should see how functional this role of the HDP is. We are doing a practical job. Otherwise, if the HDP issues popular statements morning, noon and evening, we would not get practical results. We want to do things to stop the deaths. Mothers of those at the mountain and mothers of the soldiers both want this from us.

Kurdish mother’s vote for peace

Davutoğlu said, “They will no longer go to İmralı anymore. They can talk to whoever they want to talk and make them lay down arms.” How do you plan to proceed?

What will the HDP say to whom at this moment? If we go to Kandil, what will we say? Are we going to tell them to surrender?

Could it be that somethings such as “Leave the arms; now it is time for civilian politics,” as Öcalan has said, is expected from you?

Öcalan has already said he was ready to make such a call. It is the government that has left the talks unfinished. These were supposed to be done in return for negotiations. All of these matters were agreed upon; why were they given up? Why is Dolmabahçe wrong? There was no illegal, unmoral deed done there. We did not bargain state tenders. We did a sacred business for the peace of the society. Why did they not proceed? Even the cabinet ministers in the Dolmabahçe photo did not defend it. Why? Everybody is silent. When the situation is like this, how can we proceed as the HDP? We do not have arms; they are not under our control.

The president says you have an inorganic tie…

I do not know what he means. We are a different organisation; the PKK is a different one. We have no superior-inferior relationship with the PKK nor do we have any ties to act together. We have become a facilitator during the reconciliation process. We became mediators from time to time; sometimes we have become crisis solvers.

At several stages of the reconciliation process, the government said Öcalan had correct perception of incidents but was not able to influence Kandil or because of your harsh statements, he was having troubles. What is the truth?

Yes, Öcalan’s political analyses and will are very powerful. There are many things he can do in terms of peace. But now, meetings with Öcalan have been ended. Why is he in isolation for four months? I think they want to treat Öcalan as a hostage and Kandil and Öcalan do not accept this. I can see this.

Taking into consideration the killings of the policemen, should we say that there is a change in the PKK’s Turkey strategy? Because Duran Kalkan [senior commander of the PKK] spoke of a “new struggle” three days ago…

The points Öcalan revealed in 2013 during Nevruz was a strategic breaking point. According to these points, what needed to be done was the setting up of an alliance with Turkey. I do not think this strategy has changed because it contains an ideological reference at its core. It is not a strategy that protects conjuncture or seasonal interests. Since 1997, before he was brought to İmralı, Öcalan was systematically saying this. The 2013 Nevruz call was not made overnight and it will not change these days. That is why he told all of us not to waste it for electoral seasonal interests. For Kandil, their strategic position will not change.

What are your plans as the HDP now?

The entire Turkey pays for the price for war; whichever side the dead comes from. We should make an immediate call to both combatting sides. We want to force both sides because the right of peace is a human right. The media should not go back to its factory settings of war. They should criticise our shortcomings but they should not give up on the language of peace. Our statements should not be interpreted as protecting the PKK or slamming the government. We need support. We know that many people inside the AKP also want peace. They should raise their voices also.

You increased HDP votes at the presidential elections and then in general elections, you even exceeded that rate. Do you think the latest developments created disappointment in the people who voted for you?

It is the manipulations of AKP that did it. None of the deaths are the HDP’s responsibility. A chaotic atmosphere was desired while early elections were approaching so that the people would say it is only the AKP that is able to provide stability and security.

But life of the overwhelming majority has a straight forward logic: “The PKK killed the policemen. The HDP meets with the PKK. Thus it should fix this.” There could be mistakes but do you think this is irrational that this logic is becoming more widespread?

It is very logical and correct. Of course we need to work to correct this. The PKK acts should stop. The state’s operations should stop. A Kurdish mother voted for us and also for peace. She will ask me, “We voted for you. My child is on the mountain. Bombs should not be dropped on them at midnight. You are able to talk to Ankara. Go and fix this.” Is she right? She is.

As a last question, is there a particular discontent against you in the party and in Kandil?

I do not want to personalise this interview but I will answer shortly. I have a different style in politics, different than others. Actually when you raise the bar, the lower level of the bar for others stands out and this creates uneasiness. But this is not a huge portion; there is a big segment supporting me. I have no attachment to my seat. I can leave it any time. I am unique in the country’s political tradition. I am nobody’s man; I have no clique, nor international or intelligence attachments. I am the peoples’ man.