Selahattin Demirtas is an ex-member of the Turkish parliament and a former co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party of Turkey. He is imprisoned in Edirne High Security Prison.
Turkey’s recent local elections on March 31 sent several important messages to the country’s ruling elite — and above all to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan, who rightly viewed the elections as a referendum on his rule, suffered a humiliating defeat. His party lost control of five of the largest cities in the country, including his home city of Istanbul, where he launched his political career.
In recent years, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has moved further away not only from democracy but also from true Islamic values and morality. The president has brushed away criticism of the corruption, injustice and tyranny that have become associated with his party. He is now facing a heavy political price for his arrogance.
Thousands of members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who should currently be participating in politics — including me — are in prison on political grounds. The security forces continue to harass and obstruct those members of our party who remain free. Many of us have been criminalized and deemed “terrorists” by government officials. And yet my party, which I co-chaired for many years, still showed its strength in these latest elections.
The HDP’s electoral success, despite all the obstacles confronting it, is remarkable. This shows that the HDP and its many Kurdish supporters remain unbowed by the repressive measures of the state. Once again, HDP voters have expressed their determination to live together in a free, equal, democratic and peaceful Turkey.
Current developments in the Middle East (and especially Syria) show clearly what course Turkey must follow: We must strive for unity and social cohesion. We can achieve this end only by rallying around the principles of peace and democracy.
The only way to avoid the looming economic crisis — especially soaring unemployment and rising inflation — is to urgently implement democratic political reform. The past record of the political establishment, centered around Erdogan, suggests that it does not have the will, capacity or courage to do so.
Erdogan’s divisive policies toward the opposition, and especially the Kurdish people, are worsening the polarization of society. The vast majority of Turkey’s Kurds want to live in peace with their fellow citizens; they have had enough of violence and war. Yes, it is true that the Kurds have a range of political, societal and cultural demands, all of which require greater democracy. We in the opposition have pledged to work for the fulfillment of these aims. It is, however, the president and the ruling party who bear primary responsibility for the failure to deliver on them.
Many activists, both inside and outside prison (including Leyla Guven, one of our party’s members of parliament), are on a hunger strike. The sole demand of the strikers is an end to the absolute isolation of Abdullah Ocalan. Ocalan has been held in a prison on the island of Imrali for 20 years, under harsh conditions that do not even allow him visits from his lawyers or family members. The hunger-strikers know that Ocalan has a decisive role to play in the peaceful and democratic solution of the Kurdish question in Turkey.
It is well known that Ocalan has considerable influence among the Kurds in Turkey and Syria. It is also widely accepted that, in any potential peace process, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) will listen to no one but Ocalan himself. It is safe to say that no peace process can be ultimately successful without Ocalan’s participation — which is why, several years ago, Erdogan himself explored options for peace with the PKK leader. A significant portion of the Kurdish people regard Ocalan as a vital interlocutor.
Moreover, the results of the elections confirm that all the people of Turkey, not just those of our party, want to live together, peacefully and democratically. They are opposed to authoritarianism and one-man rule. We hope that Erdogan understands this. If he does not, the next elections could deal him a final blow.
All members of our party — including those in prison — will continue to work without losing our belief in democratic and peaceful resistance. We believe in a bright and democratic future for Turkey. We believe that these elections have shown the way forward. If the government continues its authoritarian course, however, I worry that deeper political and economic crises are on the way.
We urge the international community to encourage Turkey to choose the path of democracy and peace. We, the people of Turkey, should be able to show that we can solve our problems through discussion, despite our many differences. The history of Anatolia and Mesopotamia shows us many examples of unity amid diversity.
The members of the HDP and the Kurds of Turkey will always be ready for peace. I believe we will be successful. We will create a country with a strong democracy and economy by bringing together all factions of our society. The March 31 elections have shown us the way.