Kurdish Opposition Leader Demirtas 'Erdogan Wants a Caliphate'

Kurdish opposition leader Selahattin Demirtas, 43, says that his HDP party wants a cease-fire in the ongoing battle between Turkish troops and Kurds in southeastern Turkey. But, he says, Turkish President Erdogan isn't willing to listen.

A bombed out building in Diyarbakir, a Kurdish city in southeastern Turkey.

A bombed out building in Diyarbakir, a Kurdish city in southeastern Turkey.

Interview Conducted by

SPIEGEL: German Chancellor Angela Merkel is hoping that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be able to solve Europe's refugee crisis. Is he able to?

Demirtas: I wish he could. But I fear he is creating much larger problems. If the Turkish government continues its war against the Kurds, then millions of Turkish citizens could seek asylum in Europe.

SPIEGEL: Would Angela Merkel have been better off not negotiating with Erdogan?

Demirtas: No, but she has to be careful not to disregard European principles. She can't remain silent when a country seeking to join the EU bombs its own towns and cities.

SPIEGEL: Skirmishes between the Turkish military and the PKK, the outlawed Kurdish Workers' Party, have cost thousands of lives since last summer. You claim that Erdogan is solely to blame.

Demirtas: My party, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), has called on both sides to lay down their weapons. The Turkish government and the PKK negotiated for peace for two and half years. Erdogan overturned the negotiating table.

SPIEGEL: The government says it is exclusively pursuing terrorists.

Demirtas: The war is primarily focused on civilians that Erdogan suspects of supporting the PKK. Almost 400,000 people have had to leave their homes. The southeast of Turkey resembles Syria.

Selahattin Demirtas, 43, is head of the Peoples' Democratic Party, a Kurdish opposition party in Turkey.

Selahattin Demirtas, 43, is head of the Peoples' Democratic Party, a Kurdish opposition party in Turkey.

SPIEGEL: A PKK splinter group killed 66 people in February and March in suicide attacks in Ankara. How should the government react?

Demirtas: The PKK is willing to put down its weapons. The government insists on violence. We, the HDP, are calling for a bipartisan parliamentary commission to be established to determine the necessary conditions for a lasting peace. It should include talks with the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK leadership in the Qandil Mountains and also listen to Kurdish civil society.

SPIEGEL: PKK leader Cemil Bayik has announced a military offensive in the spring. That doesn't sound like a readiness to negotiate.

Demirtas: The HDP supports those PKK voices calling for a cease-fire.

SPIEGEL: The EU classifies the PKK as a terrorist organization. Is that justified?

Demirtas: We, the HDP, view the PKK as an armed popular movement. That doesn't mean that we condone violence.

SPIEGEL: The PKK's attacks are focusing increasingly on civilians. Why are you so reluctant to call these acts terrorism?

Demirtas: I have condemned the attacks in Ankara as exactly that. But the Kurdish Freedom Falcons (TAK) claimed responsibility for the attacks. The government has thus far been unable to establish a connection between PKK and TAK.

SPIEGEL: Even HDP supporters are critical and say you should have distanced yourselves from PKK violence earlier and more decisively.

Demirtas: I did. Erdogan and his henchmen in the media didn't want to hear anything about it. They are consciously defaming me as a terrorist.

SPIEGEL: Not long ago, Erdogan was working towards a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish conflict. Why do you think he has changed course?

Demirtas: He's striving for absolute power in Turkey. Erdogan wants a caliphate. We Kurds are in his way. Erdogan can't stop us politically, so he is denouncing us as terrorists.

SPIEGEL: What role will the Kurds have in the new reorganization of the Middle East?

Demirtas: The Kurds are stepping onto the stage of world history. In northern Iraq, they are well on their way to an independent state and in Syria they are successfully fighting for federal rights. In Turkey, the Kurds are pushing for democratization.

SPIEGEL: Last winter you visited Moscow. Are you on the search for new partners?

Demirtas: We're speaking to all relevant actors in the region. We are not dependent on a single partner.

SPIEGEL: Observers accuse the Russian military of bombing Syrian schools and hospitals. Can Russia be a trusted ally for your party?

Demirtas: We cannot accept massacres of civilians under any circumstances. But hardly anyone has remained clean in Syria.

SPIEGEL: You met German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin this week. What was your message to the German government?

Demirtas: We expect Germany to push more strongly for democracy and human rights in Turkey.


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cheekos 04/19/2016
1. The Kurdish People
The Kurds have been living in the area around southern Turkey, and northern Syria and Iran for millennia. That's long before there was a Turkey, Syria or Iraq. Kurds are only fighting to retain their ancient tribal lands. The Kurdish groups in the respective countries show no intentions to join together, if that were even possible. But along the way, it is only natural for some, such as the TAK to rebel against the political strides that the PKK has made, go back to the old ways, and take the fight directly to the Turkish Government
bicester55 04/20/2016
2. HDP should stand unambiguously against terrorism BUT
We are supposed to regard terrorism as always being wrong. However I am depressed to realise that it is really wrong only when benefits are incommensurate with the costs. TAK terrorism in Turkey is wrong but primarily because of Erdogan's willingness to inflict massive revenge on Kurdish towns. (This is in contrast to terrorism against tourists in Egypt and Tunisia which for a minimal cost severely affects the income of the governments that the terrorists are trying to overthrow.) So the HDP needs to stand unambiguously against terrorism. Though not for the reason some might hope.
Juodvalkis 04/22/2016
3. Turks and Kurds
Demitras of Kurdish party HDP makes some poignant comments.Turkish Pres.Erdogan should reach out to a party (HDP) that constitutes a sizeable minority in the Turkish parliament and work on finding solutions to end this increasingly violent war on his minority citizens.
jff.page 04/22/2016
4. Very Foolish.
Any Western politician that places an ounce of trust in Erdogan is very foolish. The truth couldn't be more obvious with this man. He has managed to confuse Frau Merkel and the rest of the EU and has come out of negotiations very well, his bank account boosted enormously! Anyone who thinks Erdogan isn't going to benefit personally from EU cash is crazy! Erdogan does want a Caliphate and he is just pretending to do the right thing! Unfortunately, the fools in the West will discover his treachery when it's too late!
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