Turkey’s Demirtas Offers to Play a Role in Peace Talks With PKK

  • HDP leader says no peace unless Kurdish grievances addressed
  • ‘The country is more unstable than it’s ever been,’ he says

The leader of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish political party offered to help bring the government and separatist militants back to the negotiating table as the military presses an offensive against the fighters’ allies in neighboring Syria.

At the same time, Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, stood fast against conditions President Recep Tayyip Erdogan set for including the pro-Kurdish faction in the country’s political life, diminishing chances that peace talks might resume any time soon.

Demirtas told Bloomberg on Thursday that he rejected the government’s claim that his party is the “political arm” of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has been battling the military for more than three decades in southeast Turkey. But he also said he wasn’t obligated to view the group, which is classified by the Turkish, U.S. and several EU governments as a terrorist organization, in the same way Erdogan does.

“Erdogan knows as well as we do that there’s no organic link between the HDP and PKK,” Demirtas said. “The HDP is a political party that has rejected violence. But I should add that we aren’t required to define the PKK as Erdogan does, to look at it from the perspective that Erdogan does. The PKK is an armed rebellion and a result of policies of denial, massacre and assimilation.’’

Condemning Violence

Demirtas’s comments suggest the HDP has no intention to call on the PKK to drop its weapons, something the government has demanded the party do if it doesn’t want to be politically marginalized. Despite holding 59 of parliament’s 550 seats, the HDP has already been sidelined almost completely from significant policy debates, including talks on drafting a new constitution, and is mostly absent from the national media as well. Demirtas has been indicted for allegedly disseminating terrorist propaganda after a recent constitutional amendment stripped most HDP lawmakers of their parliamentary immunity so they can face terrorism charges.

If the government would recognize the Kurds’ rights, “we are sure that the PKK will put an end to its armed actions in Turkey completely,” Demirtas said. “That was the aim of the peace process.”

Negotiations with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, announced by Erdogan in late 2012, collapsed and violence reignited after the HDP swept to parliament in June last year on an ethnically inclusive, socially liberal platform that promised to oppose Erdogan’s efforts to centralize more power in the presidency. A blossoming sense of unity between the ruling party and the two other opposition parties following a July 15 coup attempt won’t answer the people’s demands for peace unless it directly addresses Kurdish grievances, Demirtas said.

Syria Spillover

Kurds make up an estimated 15 percent to 25 percent of Turkey’s population of 79 million, and are the majority ethnic group in several major cities in the southeast. In neighboring Syria, Kurdish militias allied with the PKK are fighting Islamist rebels. The spillover has led to intensifying violence in Turkey as sympathizers and fighters from both sides bring that conflict home.

On Wednesday, Turkey launched its first major offensive in Syria, aimed as much at Kurds staking claims near Turkey’s border as at Islamic State jihadists implicated in bombings in Turkey.

“The country is more unstable than it’s ever been,” Demirtas said. If the government sits down again with the PKK, “we’re ready to do our part,” he said.

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