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Europe

Turkey's opposition HDP leader Demirtas calls on Europe for support

Turkey's opposition People’s Democratic Party co-chair Selahattin Demirtas spoke to DW in Strasbourg about the subjects discussed during his meetings at the Council of Europe.

After meetings in Brussels, HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtas met in Strasbourg with Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland (pictured above) and Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muiznieks (pictured below). In the meetings, Demirtas urged Europe not to stay silent on human rights violations, and to take the initiative regarding the failed peace process between the Turkish military and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

DW: For the past couple of days you have been meeting with officials from the EU and the Council of Europe. What messages did you send?

Selahattin Demirtas: Turkey is a country engaging in membership negotiations with the EU. It is also a founding member of the Council of Europe and one of its most important members. For this reason, the situation regarding democracy and human rights in our country is a matter of particular concern for both institutions. Turkey cannot be dealt with as an isolated country disconnected from Europe. Turkey's problems and conflicts and peace efforts in the Middle East, that are not improving, directly affect all of Europe, most notably the refugee crisis. These are issues that are connected to one another.

I shared my party's views with the European institutions regarding the Kurdish problem and the conflicts resulting from its lack of a solution, the heavy attacks on Kurdish-populated residential areas, the destroyed cities, the human rights violations, [the stripping of] parliamentary immunity, how the peace process in Turkey can be resumed, and what we can do together regarding these issues.

What message did you get from Europe? What were the reactions to what you said?

Selahaddin Demirtas und Nils Muižnieks

Selahattin Demirtas (l.) with Nils Muiznieks

In my meetings with the Euopean institutions and at the national level, I observed that Turkey is being perceived as a dark country closed from the outside, deviated towards an ISIS-esque radicalism and headed toward some kind of dictatorship. Although [President] Erdogan’s image is not quite that of ISIS leader Baghdadi, it’s on a slightly less severe scale. For years I have been coming to Europe, and I don’t remember a time when Turkey was seen as this dark of a country. When people talk about Turkey, it’s as if they are seeing it as a country worse than Syria. Our country does not deserve this at all. Erdogan’s role in this is very large. All of the efforts he carried out in the name of promoting Islam in the world and eradicating Islamophobia became the greatest enemy of Islam, and I think that he will go down in history as being the worst leader promoting Islam after ISIS.

What are your expectations from Europe?

As the forces of democracy in Turkey we are exerting great efforts regarding the peace process, but it's not enough. Europe needs to take a more interventionalist and initiative-taking position. Including acting as an observer in mediation for both sides to be able to declare a ceasefire, it needs to try everything. It must not remain silent on issues of human rights. If it remains silent to these violations, it will not strengthen but actually weaken its relationship with Turkey. The burned and destroyed cities, the journalists arrested, the journalists fired from their jobs, the murdered journalists, the closing down of newspapers and TV channels, the things happening to academics and artists, the heavy police violence against demonstrators...when Europe stays silent in the face of all of these, is it doing good? No. Maybe it is saving itself this week, maybe it is sustaining meetings with Erdogan, but in the middle and long term, it is doing a great disservice to Turkey.

What needs to be done regarding the peace process?

To return to the negotiation table and start a healthy dialogue, the pressure needs to be increased. We have the power to engage in these campaigns but we are continually facing barriers. The media is closed to us, our rallies are attacked or forbidden, demonstrations are forbidden. People are being arrested. We are giving interviews to newspapers and they are not being published. Social media is already in a situation where it has been seized by AK Party trolls. While things are in this state, the international community, and Europe in particular, needs to take the initiative. For peace, we need support from everyone who can offer it. Our country needs peace, tranquility, and security. Erdogan doesn’t want this. However, in spite of Erdogan we are determined to boost the struggle for peace. Turks and Kurds need to be hand in hand against Erdogan and need to raise their voices for peace - otherwise we will not achieve peace.

This interview was conducted by Kayhan Karaca.

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