Demirtas: I have been made the ideal scapegoat

In the first part of our interview the former HDP co-chairman pointed out that one cannot sincerely work for peace without rejecting the government's warmongering policies.
The former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, who will complete his sixth year in prison on November 4 in Edirne Prison, manages to make the political agenda with almost every statement he makes. We sent a question from 29 journalists to Demirtas, who has worked hard to communicate Kurdish demands for their rights and the agenda of his party, the HDP, to a wider audience, even under prison conditions.
Where does Demirtas position himself ideologically, how does he formulate his political position and does he really act alone or wish to act alone, independent of his party and movement?
The agenda is hot, the issues are complex. Let's leave the floor already to Demirtas and his 29 answers to our 29 questions and his statements on the Labor and Freedom Alliance to the Six Party Table, from LGBTI+ rights to class struggle, from neoliberal policies to the economic program of the Left, from the period between June 7 and November 1, 2015 to the Imrali negotiations, from Ocalan to the HDP and many other crucial issues.

"First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to Irfan Aktan for making this interview possible. My thanks, greetings and love also go to the precious journalists who sent questions for the interview and the staff of Arti Gercek where the interview is published. My cellmate Dr. Adnan Selcuk Mizrakli also sends his greetings to all.

1- YUCEL GOKTURK (Express magazine,

What do you have to say about the HDP's 12-14 percent in the poll conducted by Metropoll at the end of September? What kind of discourse and policy do you think should be developed in order to increase this rate?

We know that the HDP's vote potential is between 20 and 25 percent. The way to tap this potential is to translate the goals in the declaration of the Labor and Freedom Alliance into a concrete program, discourse and action. As the name implies, an economic program in favor of workers and employees with a clear class perspective can be promulgated within the framework of labor policy. This program must be a simple, understandable, and credible left program. It must convey to the masses in convincing language how unemployment, exploitation and poverty can be ended through a democratic economic approach.

Under the heading of "freedoms," it can also proclaim in the simplest way, article by article, how the individual and collective rights of all will be guaranteed without discrimination. Perhaps the shadow cabinet that will implement this program and its members could also be introduced to the public by their names to reassure public opinion. These are my modest suggestions to my friends who will surely find more and better ways.

2- ALI HAYDAR FIRAT (Politik Yol)

In a September 27 television broadcast, IYI Party Chairperson Meral Aksener raised several obstacles to Mr. Kilicdaroglu's potential candidacy. She also declared that she would not sit at the table with the HDP by any means. Which social and political forces do you think Ms. Aksener intends to rely on in order to win these elections? What would the picture be like if Mr. Kilicdaroglu did not run as a candidate?

To be honest, I did not detect any obstacles in her speech, and it is up to the Table of Six to decide how it will determine its own candidate. It is not a matter that we would involve ourselves in any way. The question of how they plan to win is therefore also their business; so it is they who should address that question.



You are standing trial in a case in which Ahmet Davutoglu was involved and has filed charges. What does Davutoglu's withdrawal of the complaint mean for you? Who do you Who do you think should come forward about the period between June 7 and November 1, 2015?

In legal terms, it would not change much, but in terms of political stance, it would be a positive step. Defending freedoms entails being consistent when it comes to practice as well. We will not know the truth if we wait for someone to tell us what happened between June 7, and November 1, 2015. After the elections, a parliamentary commission of inquiry should be established to investigate this period in all its aspects and submit a report to the Turkish Grand National Assembly. I am ready to make a statement and contribute to such a commission.

This was a period during which there was an extremely insidious, dirty and dark series of operations. It was during this period that the foundation was laid for the dubious coup attempt of July 15. It is important to uncover all that happened. The construction of today's one-man regime was also designed on the basis of the destruction caused during this period. The truth must be revealed, and there must be reckoning and confrontation so that such dirty games are not staged again.


4- NERGIS DEMIRKAYA (Gazete Duvar)

You were co-chair of the HDP during the period between June 7 and November 1, 2015, during which hundreds of people lost their lives. As Turkey moves toward new elections, and with the recent attack in Mersin, there are fears and warnings that a similar process could develop. As a politician who was active during that period, is there any self-critique you have and what suggestions do you have for the opposition, especially for your own party, regarding these days?

I have some self-criticism, Mrs. Nergis. We should have been able to prevent conflicts by employing a more effective peace discourse. On the other hand, for some reason, everyone comes to me asking for self-criticism regarding the terrible events that took place during that period. However, it is not right to blame one person or a few people for the events that took place during that time. That is a simplistic approach, as well as a great injustice. If that solved it all, I would take responsibility despite how unfair it is, but that is not the case.

I have been made the ideal scapegoat, while the actors in that process on both sides have yet to utter a single word of self-criticism.

Yet there are putschist gangs, there are ISIS gangs, there are gangs affiliated with a private military company as well as gangs working for intelligence involved in those incidents. All of them must be exposed. It would be much sounder if, soon after the elections, a parliamentary commission of inquiry were set up to investigate this period in all its aspects. And yet, what truth are we going to talk about when the fact that dozens of people were burned alive in the basements in Cizre has still not been acknowledged?

The opposition should be more diligent and audacious this time around and not back down in its discourse and demands for peace. This is because the AKP-MHP alliance has been following a path that feeds on the politics of war over the years. We all have to be very diligent. I would also like to ask you, the journalists, to check on who the commanders of the operations in the cities that were under curfew and were razed to the ground at that time were, and what happened to those names. I kept a record of their names during my trials. I attach this list at the end of the interview. Something can be gleaned from it, and we can go from there. 


5- GOKHAN KAZBEK (SoL Newspaper)

As we discuss "whether there is a crisis, if there is a conflict, will they be able to nominate a joint candidate for the presidency" at the Table of Six, it seems that there are some disagreements in the Labor and Freedom Alliance as well. Do you intervene in this alliance by making statements from time to time, by stating what the HDP cannot state? Could we claim that your statements and interventions help Kemal Kilicdaroglu to relax his hand at the Table of Six? The nomination of a candidate by the HDP may lead the elections to a second round. Can you comment on whether the HDP will show willingness for the elections to be concluded in the first round?

I have no knowledge of any crisis in the Labor and Freedom Alliance. Nor have I interfered in the affairs of the Alliance. I learned about the announcement of the Alliance and its latest components from the press. I have, naturally, been informed of the developments. However, I did not interfere directly or indirectly at any stage of the process. I have no right to do so, nor do I have such a mentality. And, of course, my statements are not intended to provide relief to anyone. I am only expressing my own ideas in the way I believe in. The HDP leadership will decide whether or not the HDP will field a candidate in the first round, you should be asking them.



For weeks, women have been taking to the streets against the mullahs' regime in Iran. By cutting your hair, you have also reacted to the assassination of Mahsa Amini and supported these women. The women's uprising has once again demonstrated the importance of secularism in the country and in the region. As a former co-chair, what would you like to say about the criticism and comments that the program of the HDP and the Labor and Freedom Alliance "lacks emphasis on secularism and anti-imperialism"?

All criticisms are valuable and should be weighed with equanimity. However, we should not assume biases based on the priorities of parties or alliances. All alliances have their own shortcomings. It would be better and more beneficial if the left encouraged each other to act in solidarity rather than compete with each other, complementing each other's shortcomings. And it is true that the left should endorse both secularism and anti-imperialism as a matter of principle, we should not hesitate to take a stand on these issues. Yet, identity and collective rights, as well as freedom of belief, are also issues that the left should prioritize. All of these issues must be addressed, and the left alliances must act in solidarity and reinforce each other in areas of struggle, not least in elections.



In the 2014 presidential elections, you were the only candidate advocating for LGBTI+ rights. Since then, repressive state policies against LGBTI+ have increased, and it is as if a war has been declared against them. Nevertheless, this issue is not on the agenda of the opposition, including the HDP. What path do you think the opposition parties should follow in such a situation?

I suspect that because of the historical importance attached to the election, no one wants to upset or alienate conservative voters, and also because no one wants to be lynched by the government's pool media, so the aggression and illegality against LGBTI+ will go unheard. Truth be told, it is not an easy task to explain the human rights of LGBT+ people to such an agitated society in the run-up to a historic election. I do not believe that there is any political party capable of doing this.

However, I can at least say out loud here that: LGBTI+ people are not sick, they are not perverted, they are not immoral, they are just as human as the rest of us. They have the same human dignity and the same rights as all of us. Discrimination is a crime, and the real immorality is to remain silent about discrimination. Indeed, it is immoral to keep silent when it comes to the rape of children in the dormitories of religious sects. It is actually immoral to remain silent and participate in theft and corruption.


8- ORHAN BURSALI (Cumhuriyet)

What do you think the HDP is doing or should do to help the Kurds become independent of religious bigotry and build a more democratic social structure in the regions where they are in the majority? Why has the HDP not developed measures to address such a social problem?

Dear Orhan Bursali, I don't doubt that your question is well-intentioned, but one can still read a subtext in the question, as if religious fanaticism exists only among Kurds in Turkey and the HDP is responsible for addressing it. I'm afraid I disagree on both counts. It would not be the right approach to relate concepts such as fanaticism, conservatism, and fundamentalism to an ethnic identity. 

Moreover, social change and enlightenment is not something that a party could bring about on its own. More precisely, political parties should have neither that role nor that power.

Attributing such a role to parties will lead to Jacobinism and social engineering. What we call enlightenment is only possible and feasible through grassroots social movements led by intellectuals. The leading forces in this process should be circles such as women's and youth organizations, academia and the world of art and literature, university students, environmental movements, trade unions, chambers and professional associations. Political parties can, at best, be supporters and facilitators of this process. The HDP is a party that is trying to do just that and has come a long way in this regard. I wish you could spend a week in Hakkari or Sirnak and observe firsthand the power and sociality of Kurdish women. That might give you an idea.


9- MURAT YETKIN (Yetkin Report)

The day after the founding of the HDP-led Labor and Freedom Alliance, which advocates parliamentary politics, the PKK attacked a police station in Mersin and later claimed responsibility for the attack. How do you evaluate this event, what do you associate the attack with?

I have clearly expressed my point of view, my stance and my thoughts on this issue. One of the basic responsibilities of a politician is to defend his political domain and insist on a stance of principle. We must push for solutions other than war and violence. However, we cannot sincerely advocate for peace without acknowledging and rejecting the warmongering policies that the AKP-MHP governments have carried out for years and continues to carry out with blood on its hands. Yes, neither arms nor violence should be employed, but to remain silent while the AKP-MHP insists on war at home and abroad at its whim is tantamount to endorsing war. It is necessary to stand on principle and consistently oppose any warmongering policies, while presenting a genuine program for peace. In this regard, we will continue to work for the growth and preservation of hope in democratic politics.


10- CAGRI SARI (Evrensel)

You are engaged in a versatile production that frustrates the government's efforts to, among other things, exclude you from politics through imprisonment, and your efforts are recognized even in circles close to the government. In particular, your views on the critical elections in Turkey, which have been at the center of the political agenda for some time, are followed with interest and naturally attract criticism. Among other things, there is criticism that some of your statements on current politics put your party in a difficult situation, that they cast a shadow over the HDP and its corporate stance, and that this creates unease. What would you say to this criticism?

I welcome all criticisms and receive them with respect. I take care to uphold the will of our headquarters by employing more careful language and approaches. Of course, I expect the same respect from everyone for me.


11- SAADET YILDIZ (Gazete Karınca)

How do you keep up with the agenda these days, with the heat of the upcoming elections weighing on it? While tensions in domestic politics are being played out across alliances and at the 'Table,' what lies ahead for us in the Middle East in light of recent developments in Iran, and what resolutions and impasses will they bring?

We first must succeed in pulling a broad democracy out of the ballot box. The struggle afterwards will be more ideological and class-based. The struggle to spread the values and programs of the left against neoliberal policies will become more prominent. There is no other way out of this impasse. What is happening at the regional and national levels is instructive for all who are willing to understand. First and foremost, we recognize how fragile, misguided and distressing are all the nationalist, sectarian and religious options we have, which leave us with building a social unity based on democratic principles. Therefore, all alliances must first and foremost agree on universal democratic principles.


12- ABDURRAHMAN GOK (Mesopotamia News Agency)

You are sometimes discussed and criticized for making statements on certain developments without your party speaking out on them, which contradicts the organizational character and representation of the HDP, as well as their understanding of collective politics. What do you have to say about this?

I respect all criticism. I have shared my controversial articles, messages and interviews with our head office for all these years before they are published. Just as I shared this interview with them, informed them and received their opinions and suggestions, I make sure to do the same with my other statements. In this regard, there is no problem or separation between me and the Party.

13- NEVSİN MENGU (YouTube)

Mr. Demirtas, when you answered Halk TV's questions, you took an important step and said, "There are some phrases that I would not use today or would not express that way. For example, the statement 'we will erect a statue of Chairman Apo' was a phrase that could easily be taken out of context and misinterpreted." I wonder if your party HDP and your voters agree with you on this?

I'm sure they agree, because our concern is to build a democratic society, not to erect statues. At that time, I made this self-critical remark, focusing on the essence but not the content. I know that our masses, the HDP leadership and our party members feel the same way, because this speech was often used against both Ocalan and me. Instead of Ocalan's proposed solutions, this "statue" issue was brought up as an element of dirty propaganda. As a result of the government's dirty propaganda methods, Ocalan's ideas and proposed solutions were not reflected in public opinion in a healthy and complete manner. Instead of focusing on the essentials, people got stuck on the form. That was what I wanted to point out.


14- IRFAN AKTAN (Arti Gercek)

Based on what he wrote, what he said during the resolution process and what he told you during your visits to Imrali, how do you think Ocalan would view Turkish politics right now if the isolation against him were lifted? As a politician who is said to understand Ocalan best, what strategy do you think he would propose for the electoral process?

Please do not take what I am about to say as a superficial compliment, but Ocalan is a master of realpolitik and someone who has offered truly substantial and realistic solutions not only for Turkey but also for the democratic resolution of the fundamental problems in the Middle East. If he was granted direct contact with the outside world, no one should doubt that he would contribute much to both social peace and democratization. I believe that Ocalan would not focus on periodic processes like elections, but instead would have a more strategic approach towards radical democracy. I met Ocalan many times face to face, for days on end. And I myself wrote all the minutes of the meetings I had with him in Imrali. Therefore, I believe that I know Ocalan well. Based on this experience, I can safely say that he has a genuine drive for peace and democratization.

To be continued...

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