In December, Turkish opposition figure Selahattin Demirtaş traveled to Russia to meet Vladimir Putin and inaugurate a Moscow office for his oppositional HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party), of which he is co-chairperson.
This move will firmly align (and has already aligned) the HDP with the anti-democratic bloc, comprising Russia, Iran, the Syrian régime, as well as local militant organizations such as the PKK (with its multiple branches) and Hezbollah, that has taken shape in the Syrian Civil War’s crucible. No member of this alliance has a truly democratic political system or is convincingly committed to the emergence of such a system in Syria. This is what makes the current choices taken by the HDP’s leadership so heart-breaking.
Looking back, it is absolutely devastating to realize that, only eighteen short months ago, Selahattin Demirtaş was poised to become the premier Turkish opposition figure. After the August 2014 Turkish Presidential elections, in which Demirtaş took nearly ten percent of the vote from two candidates backed by Turkey’s most powerful political parties, Demirtaş looked to be the new force in Turkish politics. The international press took to him warmly, labeling him the “Turkish Obama.”
Instead, in the aftermath of that election, Demirtaş went to the U.S., held discussions with unknown parties, came back to Turkey, and, in early October 2014, called on his supporters to take to the streets in numerous acts of violence, including armed attacks on local, religious Kurds opposing the PKK and the HDP, all of whom were indiscriminately and falsely alleged to be IS, so that more than 50 people were killed as a result of this pro-PKK pogrom. Since then, Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish provinces have been subject to nearly constant PKK-incited violence, and hundreds, if not thousands, of lives have been lost. Those of us who had hopes for Demirtaş have been gasping in disbelief: What was he thinking? What on earth can he be thinking now?
Demirtaş, for his part, has engaged in increasingly militant rhetoric since, and has refused to distance the HDP from the PKK’s violence; if anything, he has more and more identified with that violence. At several points he has actually threatened even more violence; that, indeed, is one of the messages that his jaunt to Moscow also offered.
The international press, unfortunately, has been highly reluctant to identify or discuss the real implications of Demirtaş’s actions and statements over the past eighteen months. Part of the reason is the strategy employed by the HDP with the press. When Demirtaş talks to his mass base through the press, he uses a subdued version of the talking points and jargon of revolutionary violence. When he talks to the domestic anti-government press or the international press, his messages are peace and democracy.
The international press has generally swallowed this hook, line, sinker and all. After the June 2015 elections and the HDP’s surprisingly strong showing, international publications tried to cast the result as a victory for their perception of what progressive Turkish political forces would look like. They were, of course, projecting their own desires. The reality was that a segment of the Kurdish vote went to the HDP for nationalistic reasons, and that was part of the seven-point drop in the AKP’s vote from the 2011 parliamentary election. The HDP’s and the PKK’s choices in the immediate aftermath of the election (as the PKK launched a “new people’s revolutionasry war” starting in early July, and the HDP basically went along with it), caused that segment of Kurdish voters to swing back to the AKP in November. The AKP thus regained the percentage of votes it had obtained in the 2011 election.
So if we want to understand what the HDP’s true message is, we have to look at the actual consequences. The main outcome, as the wider world seems to slowly realize, is the state of siege currently instituted by the PKK at a number of towns and cities in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish regions. The PKK is imposing its version of “peace and democracy” through the barrels of its AK-47s, trenches, barricades, IEDs on urban streets, and entire neighborhoods that are essentially taken and held hostage. Demirtaş, now having lost any clear moral compass, continues to blame only and only the Turkish state, and to attribute all incidents of violence or destruction to the security forces.
For the past two weeks, in a last, desperate effort to create an international outcry, the HDP has tried to support a narrative, the entirety of which is under suspicion, asserting that Turkish security forces had surrounded a building in Cizre in which wounded civilians were waiting for help. According to their claims, those security forces are preventing ambulances from reaching the building. Over the past week the HDP has held press conferences aimed at provoking reaction especially from the international community, and several of their MPs even started a hunger strike.
A major problem is that only the most convinced militants — Kurdish and Turkish radical leftists, and activists aligned with them in the international community — still believe anything that the HDP says. In the span of eighteen months Demirtaş has completely destroyed all the credibility he had previously gained with the Turkish public. The HDP’s credibility has evaporated along with Demirtaş’s. Furthermore, the information concerning the situation in Cizre (and other places under siege by the PKK) provided by the government and the Turkish security forces is far more convincing and plausible. The HDP is asking for ambulances, but the PKK is preventing them from reaching the building. Meanwhile, those inside are granting telephone interviews where they assert that “they will resist to the end but never surrender.” (3) How self-contradictory can you get? And what do all these inconsistencies mean? It could be that high-ranking members of the PKK are trapped in the building. Only when those inside the building surrender, or the building is overrun by the security forces, will we have better information on what is really going on.
(1) See: Cengiz Alğan, “Voices from the ‘Basement of Barbarism’”; 31 January 2016 (http://www.serbestiyet.com/Articles-In-Translation/voices-from-the-basement-of-barbarism-659987); Melih Altınok, “What is Happening in the Basement of that Building in Cizre?”; 3 February 2016 (http://www.dailysabah.com/columns/melih-altinok/2016/02/04/what-is-happening-in-the-basement-of-that-building-in-cizre).