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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.