Demirtas: “There needs to be an official, multifaceted reckoning with the tragedy that the Armenian people experienced”

On the anniversary of Hrant Dink’s assassination, Aris Nalci asks former HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtas, who remains imprisoned in Edirne, about his views on the “normalization” process between Turkey and Armenia.

Yet another January 19 has arrived. Us Armenians begin the day in a perplexing sort of mood. Keeping track of the news of the elections on the one hand and the 120 thousand besieged Armenians in Karabakh, with each day, it becomes more and more difficult to look to the future with hope.

Sometimes, with the shame of being on the outside, consulting our imprisoned intellectuals and politicians brings us a little closer to hope.

As we commemorate the anniversary of Hrant Dink’s assassination, I asked former People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtas, who remains imprisoned in Edirne, about the pretense of the “normalization” steps taken between Armenia and Turkey.

From where he is on the inside, Demirtas sees much more in a much clearer fashion than we do on the outside.

Why did I want Selahattin Demirtas’s perspective on this matter? Because now more than ever, we need people like him and like Hrant Dink, people who stand by us with innovative solutions and who pave the way forward.

And besides this is the fact that during his 7 minutes and 14 seconds long speech on April 22, 2014 at a parliamentary group meeting, at a time when none mentioned the massacres experienced by the Armenians or the Assyrians, Demirtas was the first person at that podium to talk of the genocide and of acknowledgement, and who defended our right to exist on these lands as much as anyone else.

We did not yet have a Garo Paylan, but Demirtas has always been, for me, a politician who always defended our rights, understood our sentiments, and whose heart was in the right place.

And even if I did not meet him personally, we have now sent each other our greetings from Edirne to Brussels.

I am sharing our letters, verbatim, with you dear readers:

As Hrant Dink said, Turkey and Armenia are two close peoples, two distant neighbors. Rapprochement between these two countries which had no diplomatic ties has been talked of often in the Republic’s history. The process commences once more. This time, it is not due to the insistence of the people, but a top-down normalization process is being followed. Currently, Turkey does not have good relations with any of its neighbors. Moreover, the relationship trying to be formed with Armenia is one built on fear. The President has made frequent statements directed at its neighbors in support of the slogan, “We might arrive unexpectedly one night.” What do you think on this matter?

I want to start by remembering dear Hrant Dink with longing. I send my sincere greetings and love to the readers and employees of Agos, and to the readers and employees of Arti Gercek.

The lands of Anatolia and Mesopotamia are the homeland to peoples who have been deeply wounded for hundreds of years. Kurds, Armenians, and Anatolian Alevis have been subject to persecution throughout history in various periods. Since Sultan Selim the Resolute, the Alevis; since Sultan Abdul Majid, the Kurds; and since the Red Sultan Abdul Hamid, the Armenians have faced systematic extermination through genocidal policies. The disasters caused by the insistence, stubbornness, and error of the consolidation of a singular religion and language in Anatolia have not yet been officially recognized, and nor has the truth been reconciled with. Moreover, this policy of horror has not been abandoned. In other words, the official policy of the state has not changed one bit even in the year 2023. The policy of assimilation and annihilation has only changed its methods or has taken a step back in the face of the resistance of the peoples to be able to reposition itself.

“There needs to be an official, multifaceted acknowledgement and reconciliation with the tragedy that the Armenian people faced.”

The band of the Justice and Development Party - Nationalist Movement Party is the embodiment of these racist and fascist politics. It is not possible to expect change or transformation from this band, which is why an equitable relationship based on the principles of fraternity with the Armenian people and the Armenian state is impossible under the current administration in Turkey. Erdogan’s administration does not concern itself with matters of peace, justice, equity, freedom, or positive relationships with neighbors. It would be contrary to its nature.

Of course, there needs to be an official, multifaceted acknowledgement and reconciliation with the tragedy that the Armenian people faced. Of course, there needs to be a true neighborly relationship with the Armenian government. And of course, the public enmity towards Armenians, which is an immoral societal attitude, needs to be eradicated, but there is no foundation for any of this right now. As those who are concerned with the future of this country and its people, we are all trying to emerge from the elections with a new Turkey, and if we succeed, we will do our best to deal with all these issues with the most ethical and healthy framework.

Armenia is the nation state of Armenians who have a population of 11 million across the world. Armenians are diaspora nation. There is always a prejudice when it comes to relations with Turkey. These prejudices existed among the Kurdish people as well. However, in the last 10 years, this has begun to be overcome. The self-criticism of Kurdish politicians has a large share in this. Do you think it is possible for people to heal a 100-year-old wound together? How?

These wounds were not directly opened by our peoples. Rather, the mentalities that ruled the state poisoned all these peoples. But the state is not the one who will remove this poison from our body. As peoples, we will fight for this. First, we will make peace with one another and forgive each other. First, we will try to heal each other's wounds.

For example, we need to organize joint cultural festivals, joint sports events, mutual intensive trips, and visits with Armenia. We must build bridges of true brotherhood between Yerevan and Ankara, Istanbul, Van, Diyarbakir. The Municipality of Yerevan and the municipalities here should sign fraternity agreements, there should be many reciprocal flights from Van, Diyarbakir, Ankara, and Istanbul to Yerevan every day. There should be tourism projects, campaigns, and joint concerts with the participation of hundreds of thousands between the two countries. We should be guests at each other's homes, we should run to attend one another’s weddings and funerals. Before anyone else, we must start all this at the level of the presidency, ministers, and mayors before tens of millions adopt the same attitude. For this, this system of fascism needs to be changed. It is precisely for these reasons that I point to the election.

“I would be ashamed to talk of my own troubles as a Kurd who faces discrimination and hate speech when sitting across from my Armenian sibling.”

With the last war in the South Caucasus, many young Armenians and Azerbaijanis died. We are always losing young generations to war. And what remains for future generations are textbooks and narratives filled with hate speech. We are among those who are most frequently exposed to hate speech in Turkey. You and us. All of us. In these days leading up to January 19, when we most feel a need for Hrant Dink's ideas, has the Turkish public started to forget his discourse? How can we refresh collective memory?

The emotional closeness of societies to one other has always left the door to mutual understanding ajar. Is this forgotten during election periods?

I would be ashamed to talk of my own troubles as a Kurd who faces discrimination and hate speech when sitting across from my Armenian sibling. I am so sorry, brother Aris, for the things that have been done to you and to the Armenian people on these lands, for the vile hate crimes that persist, I am so sorry.

The Armenian people and the Turkish people are our brothers as much as the Azeri people are our brothers. But unfortunately, those who rule the states poison their own people with chauvinism, racism, and hatred. Millions of people adopt this hatred without questioning it. In the end, it is the people that suffer and it is the youth that pay the price as the rulers add wealth to their wealth and power to their power.

Believe me, dear brother, not much longer now. We will create a new life together. We will live together, in liberty and equality… Soon now, in this country.

If I may turn to the topic of normalization between Turkey and Armenia, the words “peace,” “normalization,” and “process” have been quite exploited politically in the last ten years in Turkey. Now, when we say “normalization” once more, do you think further exploitation is in question?

Currently, the search for "normalization" in the relations between Turkey and Armenia is a relative reflection of a realpolitik and pragmatic process for both sides. For both sides, the current conditions and infrastructure are not hospitable for a concise, genuine, and sincere peace. There is no intention of peace or reconciliation anyway. There is not the slightest effort to go beyond a superficial dialogue due to Putin's imposition and urgent political needs. Peace is not possible with this mentality. First, fascism must dissipate, then the dark clouds fill follow.

In case of normalization between the countries, the cities in the eastern Turkey stand to benefit first. At the same time, considering the closeness of the two peoples, I think that the provinces where the Kurdish population is denser will adapt to the Turkey-Armenia normalization process much faster, but how will the presence of trustees in the region affect this progress?

Do not view the trustees as if they will sit in their positions indefinitely. Their term in office is only as long as that of fascism. Of course, our mayors, who will return to their duty with the will of the people, and our peoples who live close to the border, will do their best for the development of peace and fraternity in the region. Let no one doubt this.

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