Jailed Kurdish politician Demirtaş says he supports disarmament of PKK

Jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtaş has said that he would want the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to lay down arms, but added that the Turkish government’s refusal to negotiate with the group and isolation of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan in prison stood as barriers to this happening.

The former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) made the remarks in an interview published on Monday by news site T24.

Demirtaş denied Ankara’s claim that the HDP is an extension of the PKK, adding that the Turkish government is using the party as a “scapegoat” to stoke fear in the public.

The Turkish government accuses the HDP of harbouring sympathy and acting in the interest of the PKK, an armed group that has been in war in Turkey for almost 40 years and is designated a terrorist organisation by Ankara, the EU and the United States. The HDP denies the charges. 

Thousands of party members and some leaders, including Demirtaş, who has been jailed since 2016, have been prosecuted on terror charges as part of Ankara’s crackdown on the group that has intensified after the July 2016 coup attempt.

The Turkish state and the PKK must remove the Kurdish problem away from the realm of violence, Demirtaş said, adding that he would want the PKK “to fully silence, lay down arms, if possible.”

The PKK conflict in Turkey is estimated to have killed around 30,000-40,000 people, mostly Kurdish civilians, since 1984.

But two issues stand as a hurdle before the PKK laying down arms, the Kurdish politician said, listing Ankara’s insistence of dealing with the group through military operations, and the solitary confinement imposed on jailed PKK Öcalan.

“Öcalan is the person who can persuade the PKK, and they are keeping him in isolation (on İmralı island) for years,” he said.

The PKK leader has been barred from meeting his legal representatives since 2011, and has had only limited family visits since the collapse of a peace process between Ankara and the PKK in 2015. His isolation has sparked protest, including hunger strikes by Kurdish politicians.

“The HDP is not an extension of the PKK, nor its mouthpiece or supporter,’’ Demirtaş told T24. “It has no connection to the PKK. We need to be able to explain this to the Turkish public. A party that runs on democratic policies cannot be connected to an armed organization.”

The former HDP leader did not dismiss his possible presidential candidacy in the next elections scheduled for the summer of 2023.

“If today, (President Recep Tayyip) Erdoğan can be a candidate, then I can easily be one, too,’’ Demirtaş said.

Outside of the HDP, the second largest opposition bloc in Turkey, several elements of mainstream opposition have come together in what is known as the six-party table that make up the vast majority of the remaining opposition to the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which will celebrate its 20th year in power in November.

The six parties that make up the Nation Alliance are expected to put up a single joint candidate to run against Erdoğan in the elections next year, which will coincide with Turkey’s centennial celebrations, but the HDP has not made a definitive declaration yet.

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