Demirtaş from prison: “Opposition coact if not alliance”

Former HDP co-chair Demirtaş pens a letter from prison calling opposition to break the vicious cycle that they get into.

“I am aware of the threat posed by the insensate power that the tyranny we face holds and does not hesitate to use.” These are the words of the imprisoned former co-chairman of the Kurdish issue-focused People’s Democracy Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtaş from a long letter he sent from Edirne prison where he has been held for over 5 years.

Delivered to a group of writers, journalists and opinion leaders via his wife Başak Demirtaş, the letter wrote, “The only way our country can get out of the current state of chaos and destruction is to act together in a shared wisdom acknowledging our differences.”

“The opposition’s attempts to come together in different ways have not yet caused enough social excitement, a collective hope, and have not yet satisfied the majority of the society. (…) As such, the opposition seems to be in a vicious circle,” he added.

Demirtaş was detained with a number of HDP lawmakers including HDP co-chair Figen Yüksekdağ in November 2016. Not having been stood for a trial for over a year, Demirtaş was accused of “being a member of a terrorist organization,” and spreading terrorist propaganda of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). He hasn’t been sentenced for the crime he was held in prison for, as the first conviction arrived in September 2018 for “terrorist propaganda” for a speech he made in 2013. Despite the ECHR ruling that the prolonged pre-trial detention was a violation of his constitutional rights, the local court resisted his imprisonment. In December 2020, ECHR issued another ruling stating that Demirtaş was wrongfully detained and should be released. He is still in prison.

Demirtaş: “I mean unity of heart and words”

As Turkey’s six opposition parties formed an unprecedented cooperation against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) alliance to topple President Tayyip Erdoğan in the next election, Demirtaş’s assessment of the “vicious cycle” of the opposition might be interpreted as if he is suggesting HDP to be included in the table.

He must have felt that this question will be asked to him, he wrote the following explanation that HDP does not wish for such inclusion:

“To avoid any possible misunderstanding, I must state that what I mean is not the meeting of the opposition under a single alliance. What I mean is the unity of heart and unanimity of the social and political opposition on the denominator of democracy.”

Election, ballot box security, and the Second Century

Demirtaş emphasizes that the issue of election and ballot box security is of “vital importance” in “this extraordinary period when it is not clear what kind of election we will have, or even whether we will have an election or not”. According to Demirtaş, the 2023 elections are important not only in terms of winning the election but also in terms of a more inclusive and democratic rebuilding process “based on equal citizenship” in the second century of the Republic.

“After 1923, to ignore Kurds, Alevis and other groups in 2023 will make it impossible to establish democracy,” he says.

What is attention-worthy here is that Demirtaş emphasized “second century” four times in his letter. “Second Century” brings to mind the “Call to the Second Century” declaration, which was accepted at the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) 2020 Congress held under the conditions of the Covid-19 epidemic and opened by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. In this declaration, there was also a call for a solution to all problems, especially the Kurdish problem, under the Turkish Grand National Assembly ceiling.

Demirtaş the dream of Turkey and HDP

In Demirtaş’s “dream” of Turkey in the second century, there is “multiculturalism, multilingualism, not unity”. What else is there? “Rightful share against the brutal exploitation of labour”, “equality and freedom for women”, “the state as the servant of the people, not the home of gangs” and “every citizen has a say and decision with the decentralization model”, “freedom of belief and respect for religions through secularism” and respect for nature. “There is no marginalization,” he wrote.

Most of these are commonly agreed terms. Apart from “decentralization”, there is no comment that other parties would openly oppose. The problem is that the ruling and opposition parties accuse the HDP of failing to draw a line with the PKK’s terrorist acts. For this reason, suggestions that would be applauded when voiced by other political actors are viewed with prejudice when offered by HDP members. Although Demirtaş also says “We are aware of our shortcomings and mistakes”, I think a little more is needed and expected.

On the other hand, it is seen that Demirtaş’s call goes beyond the borders of HDP. As a result, the closure case against HDP is in the Constitutional Court and Demirtaş’s influence on society is more than HDP’s vote potential.

Call for the “Delegation of Intellectuals”

Another important element in the letter is Demirtaş’s proposal to his interlocutors to establish formations like the “Committee of Intellectuals” to force ruling and opposition parties to work for inclusive democracy in the second century.

The proposal sounds good, but it also carries the risk of being criticized for being labelled as being made with the initiative of Demirtaş and HDP from the very beginning. Exactly as Demirtaş said, it may become the target of the government in their effort to “make an uninterrupted dirty propaganda to criminalize all opposition groups, especially the HDP, and turn them into enemies”.

Still, the most important part of the letter is that it calls on the opposition parties for cooperation and agreement on a concrete issue such as election security, at minimum democratic commons, without “meeting under a single alliance”.

In fact, this should be considered as a call made to the six-party table parties, especially the CHP and IYI Party, that would facilitate their future steps. Maybe this is a way out for the opposition to get rid of the vicious circle image.

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