In the previous column I described the extremely disturbing decisions and activities of HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş since he hit the peak of his popularity in August 2014. The consequences of such decisions and actions have been street violence, deaths, the devastation of various (mostly working-class) neighborhoods of several Kurdish cities, and a near-total collapse in the prestige and credibility of Demirtaş and the HDP. All this has been topped off by Demirtaş’s late December visit to Moscow, and still more recently, the HDP’s malevolent charade about a Cizre building supposedly harboring wounded civilians (whom the government is supposedly refusing to evacuate by supposedly not sending ambulances).
The international press, in its rush to maintain a negative narrative about Turkey’s governing AK Party and President Tayyip Erdoğan has, in the most unethical manner possible, chosen to ignore Demirtaş’s militant exhortations and incitements to violence by neglecting to translate any of it into English. So let’s take a look at some of the international press’s recent coverage of Demirtaş and the HDP:
One of the reasons why Demirtaş has caused Erdoğan much anxiety is that he is more than simply a Kurdish nationalist. He is pushing for a wider liberalisation of the country that would change conditions for all Turkish citizens, empowering minorities and ending the monolithic “national” identity on which Erdoğan and his Justice and Development party (AKP), have built 13 years of electoral success.
Nothing less than the future of Erdoğan and his conception of Turkey are up for consideration when more than 50 million voters go to the polls, and Selahattin Demirtaş is a big reason why. (1)
By the time that the Guardian published these lines, they should have known better, but pleasant illusions are not easily forsaken. The ideas the Guardian attributes to Demirtaş are exactly the platitudes that he and the HDP have been feeding to appropriate media outlets, while at the same time calling on their HDP mass base to prepare for “the resistance” and refusing to condemn PKK violence. Readers can now ask the Guardian whether Vladimir Putin might be a good partner with whom Demirtaş can “empower minorities” and achieve “wider liberalization of the country.”
Demirtas’ platform is liberal and pro-European. He is the alternative to Erdogan — the rumbling, provocative autocrat — and to the boring Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). (2)
Apparently Demirtaş does have a preference for autocrats — but real ones who like to annex pieces of nearby countries, such as Putin does. Maybe Putin will be friendlier to the PKK’s project of annexing pieces of Turkey and Syria for itself? The “liberal and pro-European” Demirtaş and his party will now have a Russian anchor. Donald Trump, too, could provide support for Demirtaş in the U.S., since Trump and Putin seem to like each other so much. And Trump’s not boring, either.
Possibly the U.S. government has woken up to the real face of the HDP. At the beginning of December, Demirtaş was in Washington D.C. to speak at a conference organized by the Middle East Institute. While he was there, he took the opportunity to complain to the press about the “imperialists” meddling in the Middle East, which he named as the U.S. and Russia. Oops. That’s probably the single best explanation for his trip to Russia since Putin doesn’t seem bothered by such monikers. (3) Or maybe it was that shout out to Hezbollah that Demirtaş provided to the Lebanese militant group’s TV channel, Al-Manar? (4)
The situation has recently gotten so bad that Demirtaş has declined into what would just be silliness — if human lives weren’t at stake. Before heading to Russia in December he told the press that the Turkish government was to blame for the trenches in the streets of Kurdish-majority towns and cities in Turkey’s Southeast. (5) Then, after a meeting in Moscow with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Demirtaş disingenuously told the press that the militants manning the barricades in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority provinces are only using “light weapons” while the Turkish military has tanks and artillery. (6) So should there be a rule for both sides to use the same types and quantities of weapons? Or better, should everyone just drop their arms and slug it out in a fair man-to-man fight?
In reality, Demirtaş has never openly, definitively rejected the use of violence in politics when addressing his political mass base. Previously he had tried to make the right noises for the right publications. In August 2015, for example, he told the NYT’s Ceylan Yeğinsu that “The PKK uses arms as a method, and we reject that approach… We believe a solution should be reached through dialogue and negotiations” (7), but now even that has been replaced by direct support to the “Kurdish people’s heroic resistance behind the ditches and the barricades,” as well as by bleating about how the PKK doesn’t have heavy weaponry. Even on that last count, the PKK doesn’t really seem to be “under-equipped,” since the Turkish security forces, during their current operations against the PKK’s urban forces, have uncovered and seized more than eleven tons of explosives, 76 RPG launchers, more than nine thousand infantry firearms and 220 thousand rounds of ammunition. (8) Maybe, since the PKK’s inter-urban couriers have already been found to be smuggling Russian-made explosives into Istanbul (9), we should expect the PKK to also possess heavier versions of Russia’s finest military hardware in the near future.
(*) Research for this article was contributed by co-editors of the Kebab and Camel fact-check website, Beybin Somuk and Enes Çallı.