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We spoke with Berdan Öztürk, HDP Deputy for Ağrı and Co-President of the Congress for a Democratic Society (DTK) on the reasons for the interruption of the peace process in 2015, after more than two years with an absence of conflict, on the operations against the HDP and on the hunger strikes in prisons ongoing for the past three months.

Although in 2013, the AKP government considered the “peace process” as “the most important issue” had been ongoing with talks, was interrupted in 2015.

And as a reminder, the rotating hunger strike begun on November 27 2020 in Turkish prisons continues in protest against “the isolation imposed on Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan and to denounce detention conditions in Turkish gaols”.

Berdan Öztürk HDP

Berdan Öztürk, Diyarbakır, Newroz  2019.

• Dear Berdan Öztürk, how and why did the peace process end in 2015? How do you analyze that period and the tensions that ensued?

As Turkish public opinion confirms, the period of the peace process that began around talks with Abdullah Öcalan was a time when no one was wounded. For a clear and just analysis, it must be understood that by breaking off this short period of talks that had put an end to over 40 years of confrontation and given hope to the peoples of Turkey, the “regime of a single man” opened new conflicts, institutionalized a diktat, and led to oppression and persecutions. I remind you we must understand on what type of system the State of the Republic of Turkey was built. This system base dits existence on negative fundamentals that are always current: discrimination, negation of the other and subordination. This system subsists by imposing allegiance to the Kurdish people, the Armenian people, the Alevi confessional group and all others with other identities by resorting to massacre on a recurring basis.

In the past, as now, a number of parties in power, just like the AKP, have attempted to prolong their existence, not through agreements, but on the blood of the Kurdish people. But they did not succeed.

The leader of the Kurdish people M Abdullah Öcalan often repeated that Turkey’s essential problem was the Kurdish question, and extended a hand. We know this that without the resolution of the Kurdish problem none of the other problems can be resolved – economic, issues affecting women, nor any of the other antidemocratic problems affecting every aspect of daily life.

The period between 2013 and 2015 was indeed one of hope for all of us. And what put an end to this hope was this concept of the “single man” sheltering in dreams of Ottomanism, who sees himself as the grandson of Abdülhamid and who allies himself with the Deep State and its extension the tendency in the National Action Party (MHP°. We also know that this very concept was prepared during a meeting of the National Security Council in October 2014, in a plan titled “Plan for Collapse” (Çökertme Planı). The peace process was ruined after this plan.

During that meeting, estimates were done of the number of people who would die, of how many would be exiled, imprisoned illegally as political hostages and which of our towns would be burned. Thus, starting on April 5 2015, by increasing the isolation in d’Imralı prison and beginning to deprive M; Öcalan of visits from his lawyers and his family, the heaviest blow was struck against the peace process.

Even if the death of two policeman, perpetrated by individuals unknown to this day in July 2015 in Ceylanpınar has always been invoked as the reason for the interruption of the peace process, in fact, the aggravation of the isolation in Imralı prison sheds light on the fact that the process was interrupted much sooner by the AKP, unilaterally and in a deliberate fashion.

Moreover, the suspects arrested immediately after the attack in Ceylanpınar were liberated.

hdp attaques saldiri Berdan Öztürk

Headlines of newspapers under orders, at the beginning of the peace process… “Historic day in the peace process – A call to a ceasefire” – “The PKK calls to put down weapons” – “It is a call” – “History is being re-written” – “Now comes the time of peace” – “The Spring of Peace” – “Historic Appeal – Through Politics, not Weapons” – “Öcalan calls on the PKK to put down their weapons – A huge stride toward peace”, “Hold a congress, put down your weapons”…

• Following the elections of June 7 2015, operations against the HDP increased and a number of your organizers and elected members were arrested. Since when and why is the HDP targeted in this way?

We should specify that if the talks had not begun with M. Öcalan, the HDP would probably not have achieve the institutional limit for recognition during the June 7 elections. The votes we received were in fact votes for the wish for peace. This is how we analyze it.

Operations against the HDP were thus not targeting us but the peace process which, following the democratization of Turkey, might become long lasting. Our political conception does not focalize on individuals. For this reason, the fact we are targeted does not hinder the Kurdish people’s struggle. We were nothing but the representatives of that period. The true spokesman is M. Öcalan whom millions consider as their “will” and who is now in total isolation. Consequently, our ex Co-Presidents Selahattin Demirtaş, Figen Yüksekdağ and all our party cadres currently in prison or in exile are “people’s convicts”.

There was a plan, and the political hostages kept in prisons today were part of the plan. The HDP has many components, sheltering as it does all the diverse currents living in Turkey and, with its approach to democracy, to peace, to justice and to human rights, a party that should be supported. It is a democratic party that fully played its role during the peace and democratization process of Turkey, respecting its word, in conformity with its voters’ wishes. For this reason, we say that the target is not the HDP but democracy in Turkey and the peace process.

Hostilities persist against us and will continue because we maintain the position of integrity we adopted to conduct the mission entrusted to us by the voices from the people. We will continue.

• The rotating hunger strike begun in the prisons as a protest against “the isolation imposed on Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan and to denounce conditions of detention in Turkish gaols” is coming into its third month. A previous one, initiated by your Co-President Leyla Güven with similar demands, went on two years ago and stopped on its 200th day. Could you share the news about the current phase with our readers?

Yes, we experienced a previous strike period, initiated by our Co-President Leyla Güven, with similar demands, which was also marked by the consequences of deadly protests.

Our dear Leyla Güven had entered into a hunger strike to the death and young people sacrified their lives in it, in the name of Democracy and Right.

As a jurist, I can affirm that the “practice of total isolation of M. Öcalan” is a legal scandal. As every other person sentenced or in temporary detention, M. Öcalan must be able to speak with his lawyers and with his family. From a legal point of view, this position does not bear any prohibition. As for isolation, it is an arbitrary practice the true target of which are the thoughts and visions of M. Öcalan as they pertain to politics and peace in the Middle East.

In the 21st century, leaving people in the obligation of using their bodies in order to demand the respect of their rights is a shame on humanity.

Two years ago, after M. Öcalan was finally authorized to meet with his lawyers, the hunger strikes ended in the prisons, but the same violations of rights occurring again, the strikes started again. The demand is simply that rights be applied to everyone and this is a legitimate demand. Rights are without exception for everyone and seeing to their application is a responsibility for each and every person living in the country.

Leyla Güven

Leyla Güven, on hunger strike.

• Berdan Öztürk, do you think that the peace process Turkey truly needs and for which you have struggled for years still stands a chance of starting again? What is the roadmap for a lasting peace?

Today in Turkey, the problems facing workers are numerous and serious. Problems concerning women are obvious; hundreds of women are assassinated under the patriarchal mentality and on this topic, the HDP’s Women’s Council with its own way of organizing, carries on its specific work with determination. Problems relative to youth also take up the attention of the councils… But taking into consideration all the problems existing in Turkey, be they economic, social, sexist, political, I would like to say that as long as a durable peace is not established, none of these problems will find a durable solution.

More than ever, we are filled with hope for the future because we are leading a common struggle with our people. This is a strength that is specific to us. Our hope rests on the resistant attitude of our people, its convictions and its desire for peace However, before moving on to the roadmap for a durable peace, the address to visit is an obvious one.

We are men and women leading a democratic policy in this country. We do not have the capability of participating in the peace negotiation because we are not the ones leading the fight. I would therefore like to underline that if one address is required, “the only address for a durable peace is M. Öcalan”.

We thank Berdan Öztürk, HDP deputy for Ağrı and Co-President of the Congress for a Democratic Society (DTK) for his answers.

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Dilek Aykan
Gazeteci, siyasetçi, insan hakları savunucusu. Journaliste, femme politique, défenseure des droits humain. Journalist, political woman, defendor of human rights.