Co-chair of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Selahattin Demirtas addressed the BDP group meeting on Tuesday with an in-depth discussion on the renewed negotiations between the Turkish state and the PKK. Below is a translated version of the full speech:
Selahattin Demirtaş, co-chair of the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) addresses his party’s parliamentary group meeting on “the Imrali processs” on 8 January 2013
Today, in our group meeting we would like to share our thoughts, suggestions and approaches to the process which has been under intense discussion for about a week now and has been dubbed ‘the Imrali process’ (i.e. negotiations with Abdullah Ocalan in the name of the Kurdish question, translator’s note) Of course, we are talking about 30 ongoing years of blood and tears with a history of almost 100 years of deep-rooted historical, social, political, cultural and economic problems. The Imrali process is not a topic that popped up today and will be gone tomorrow. At the present stage, everyone should evaluate and debate with a cool head. We should foster hope where it exists, we should criticise the weak points where they exist, everyone should sincerely debate how to bring about an honorable peace with dialogue and negotiation as well as a solution that is bloodless, weaponless and nonviolent. This is our basic intention and approach.Every suggestion and criticism that we will share with you today is rooted in this intention and approach.With us today are the constituents of the HDK (English: Peoples Democratic Congress) and the Left Green Party.
I ask you, is it possible for our slogans to come true? The slogans which we have been shouting for so long with all our friends, whether here with us or not, the slogans for peace, negotiation and dialogue? Can we put them into practise? At the same time, we are here as careful observers and followers of this process. Because we’ve been saying for many long years that the only permanent, moral and logical way to solve the Kurdish problem and similar democracy problems is through negotiation and dialogue. If we believe the government is approaching this process with this point of view in mind, we may feel content. Only by looking at our recent history however, can a sound analysis be done.
First of all, it is important for us to have had an official delegation meet with Mr Ocalan on Imrali. That it has been done publically has doubled its importance for us, because this is no ordinary development. In fact, it is a development which has been delayed, which has arrived late. After 14 years despite all these analyses, it is important and valuable that this process has begun with partial transparency and shared with the public with an increase in openness about Imrali. This is how we’re approaching it.
We have struggled hard for many years and have paid a tremendous cost. We never faltered in proclaiming that a permanent peace would only be possible with such an an approach because we sincerely believed it was correct. Nothing could deter us from telling the truth though we were thrown in prisons, insulted, beaten with billy clubs and slandered. Therefore we value this process and the gains we’ve made. Many have been thrown in prison for using the title “Mister” before the name of their leader who has been held on this island for 14 years. Women, young people and children were beaten with billy clubs on the streets because they carried posters of him. People faced heavy sentences because of using his name in slogans. But the people never gave up or got tired; they persisted and stood firm. Because they believed that the path to peace passes through Imrali, they did not take a step back.
They called him a ‘terrorist leader,’ they called him ‘baby killer,’ they tagged him with inappropriate names, but ultimately it is understood that great minds think alike, and an official delegation publically and openly went to Imrali and started negotiating with him. For this reason, we find this valuable. This is a right step, this is a reasonable step taken in such a critical period. Irrespective of who says what, however they evaluate it; they might try to engage in all kinds of provocations, they might try to attack with all kinds of nationalist racist rants, but peace in Turkey, internal peace, can only start with this step. This is very important. That this stage has been passed safely and soundly and that the majority of society is glad of that indicate that the government was late in taking this step.This is a very important development that shows how wrong it has been to hide behind the lie that the society doesn’t want it, that the people doesn’t want it, that the nation doesn’t want it. Independent of everything else, we see this development as a precious and valuable development.The second important development is that that our two members of parliament Mr. Türk and Ms. Ayla Akat Ata went to the island in their political capacity after 14 years of recess. This is also a very significant development. We have been trying to express it for years, and saying it through official petitions to the Ministry of Justice every month in the last two years: It is very important to take this step and this step was finally taken last week. We find this very valuable. Because a political issue can reach the solution stage only if politicians step in. A correct step involves a political approach to a political problem. We value highly the fact that our friends’ visit to the island was made possible and supported. We would like to thank everyone who contributed their efforts to this process and supported us and especially our people who brought this pocess to this stage by carrying out a great struggle and paying the price.
Today, we will candidly share our opinions with you in order to clarify some issues, especially those which have been under discussion in the press, media and the public. Of course, the columnists and the news about the subject in the media is written and discussed based on what they understand, what they can read, and the knowledge they have gathered. We respect all these, but it is impossible to accept that all these are correct. These debates will support and help the process but exaggerated approaches or showing things that happened as if they did not or vice versa will of course lead to confusion and uncertainty. First of all, we have to clearly establish that this starting process is not a AKP-BDP collaboration. It is not a case of a process where we sat with the government and planned and discussed matters together beforehand. This is a process initiated by the AKP government with Mr Ocalan on Imrali. Our party and parliamentary block became directly aware of the process after two of our friends went to Imrali island and since then, we have been partially informed about the process. It is not a case of a joint project or cooperation between the the AKP and the BDP. We have to establish this fact. We have to make this clear.
In addition, there is no road map, no plan for a solution and no scheduled programme conveyed to us during the Imrali meeting, nor to the KCK nor to the people and the public. This needs to be stated explicitly. In the face of such an approach and that the debates continue in this manner, maybe we should say that every one expresses themselves the way they hope things work out. Beyond it, at this stage, there is no invitation, no programme, no scheduled solution proposal that is conveyed to the public, to ourselves, to the government, to KCK through us. But this is what we see: there is a determined will and desire for a solution both on the part of the delegation in the negotiations and on the part of Mr. Ocalan.We realize that this has been brought to maturity on both sides. This is what is stated as well. This is the message conveyed to the outside as well. We observe that the will to solve this problem through dialogue, talking, discussion, and negotiating the matter has developed and strengthened. In the light of these observations, we can say this. There is no negotiation that has started and has been initiated at this stage. All can be mentioned is a search for or attempts at a negotiation. But there is no concrete information we have received yet that a negotiation has already started, and/or been initiated. We can at least say that we have the clear knowledge that that stage has not been reached. And again, as far as we can see, whether a step toward negotiations will take place depends on the government’s attitudes, policies and practices. Because one of the parties has fulfilled its responsibility at this stage. It did what it is supposed to do. It demonstrated its will and made the first move on this issue. It demonstrated its commitment and sincerity on this issue. Now it is government’s turn. If the government wants to initiate the negotiation and if the government wants to call the process it will launch ‘a negotiation,’ then all mechanisms of negotiation will need to be completed. First of all, the KCK will need to be included as one of the interlocutors and parties in the process.In order to complete this mechanism, our party, the Democratic Society Congress and the related organizations in the civil arena will need to be included in the process. Only if these are completed and the government calls this process the negotiation process and puts its political will behind this process will we be able to say that this is the stage where the Kurdish question will be solved through negotiations. At this point it needs to be determined that that stage has not been reached and could not have been reached yet.
Now if the statements of the government and the way this issue was handled on the part of the government over the last ten days are evaluated together with what they have done in the practical and political field; we should question either the intention or the seriousness of the government or if it can succeed in solving this issue or not. Because there is a big difference in terms of seriousness between the present situation and the government’s approach. This leads to anxiety and creates distrust in every individual among a people who feel that ‘once burnt twice shy.’ If the government is serious about solving a hundred year old problem, this should spread to its language, style and to everyone’s approach. This seriousness should spread.
If this is what’s being called an ‘integrated project’, when on the one hand these military operations, insults and arrests, these politics-as-usual on the government’s part contiue, while on the other hand they say ‘Let’s have talks’, then let’s not tire ourselves with this.
Let their be talks, let their be debates, let everything be bloodless and weaponless and painless, but let nobody think that there is a serious program on the part of the government. If this is the ‘integrated project’ then let’s put an end to this nonsense. It won’t work.. Such a serious problem and process as this cannot be approached in this flippant manner.You cannot explain anything to anyone with this attitude of ‘We have beat them, we have finished them, we have crushed them, and now we have come to accept their surrender.’ In any case, this clearly says that your delegation to Imrali did not come with this purpose in mind. No one said ‘we beat them, we crushed them, that’s why we’re here.’ If you did not say this there, then don’t say it on the outside either. Because a dialogue built on winning and losing will be full of headaches, troubles and doubts from the start. After all, why are you even starting talks if you gave ‘beaten’ and ‘finished’ them?’Take their weapons, finish this!’No. If this is not the case, if you really want to bring forth a lasting peace in a nonviolent manner, then you have to put a political will behind all of this.Speeches and politics about beating and being beaten, about crushing and finishing and purging will only create a deep skepticism in everyone from the start.
If practical and reassuring moves are made in this initiative, the most important step and the most critical is the elimination of the Imrali system. Since you have accepted Ocalan as an interlocutor of negotiation, since you’ve started having publicly known meetings, since you’ve seen him as an important parameter for the solution, further steps should also comply with these requirements. There is a huge gap between the position and conditions of a prime minister, the state, the government or the delegation which holds the meetings on behalf of them and the other actor of negotiation. Your delegation has hundreds, thousands of consultants, your government has limitless opportunities like freedom of movement or an environment where all matters may be freely discussed while the other party is in a 14 square meter concrete pit on an isolated island.Those who started negotiations like that must know very well that negotiations cannot continue under those circumstances Even though one-to-one correspondence is not possible at this stage, at least, right before the negotiations start, the conditions should be more equal.I assume we do not mean placing the Prime Minister on Imrali island. It means the quality of conditions of Mr Ocalan’s condition should be brought to a level where he can hold the negotiation. To put a stop to this discussion at the beginning might be perceieved as not having the intention to negotiate. We must be careful of this. If we want to move on to the negotiation stage and if we want to be in this process and support it, if all together we are to bring the peace with all the actors and components, we will be closely watching and following this first step. Is there such an intention? Will there be such a development? All sides would like to see this development in one week or ten days.
The way to Imrali should be made easier for other civilian delegations and MPs of different parties. These could mean the change or correction of the condition of Imrali or completely shutting down the system and the prison as well. The method and path might be discussed but whichever is the most reasonable and most realistic at this stage and whichever would make more contribution can be discussed and put in to action now.
Conditions must be created which allow Mr. Ocalan to have direct contact with both the people and the KCK. This is very important. We have been telling them this for years. This is hardly the first time. But since we have entered this critical stage, since some have stuck out their necks and taken great risks, and if we say they will continue to do so, then these conditions should have a clear place in the formulas and debates. Many of Mr. Ocalan’s lawyers are in prison. This was the very reason for their arrests. Namely, their meetings with their client and before that, their serving as witnesses, in a way, to the process of dialogue and talks. Now, in consideration of the public openness in this attempt at talks and dialogs, the case against them has been rendered groundless. The case must be dropped, the lawyers set free. Conditions must be created that will quickly enable the attorneys of the Century Law Firm to comfortably meet with their clients.
Again, in regard to the stages of this process, it is imperative that the government keep groups in Parliament, the public, and parties outside of Parliament informed. For our part, we in the Peace and Democracy Party are ready to share all the information we have as well as our thoughts regarding the stage we have reached with all political parties. But we do not bear the full responsibility for this. The chief responsibility lies with the Government. The government should do this, should correctly inform all parties involved, starting with us first and foremost. This is the responsibility of the government. Only then does responsibilty fall to the other parties as to who supports the process or not and what kind of politics they wish to create.
However, the government must not expect anyone to blindly support a process that is unknown, undefined, open-ended, and unclear about what will happen. Therefore, at this stage and at stages further down the road, the issue of transparency will be critical. At a time such as this, the offer of support from the main opposition party is a valuable addition at the very beginning of the initiative. This was a responsibility that fell to them.. We are pleased that they have fulfuilled that responsibility. If we follow this process all together as a society and as an opposition, if everyone of us makes a contribution to success from our respective corners, then this same sensitivity must continue during the dialog stage and stages further on. This support must continue to be offered.
However, in terms of contribution to this process, in terms of beginning the process of real negotiations and moving on to a healthier stage and every possible stage thereafter, the support of the media and of civil society is crucial. The support of other Kurdish movements, parties, and figures is also very important. All of this support will help a people move together to a point of resolution, a resolution which is the fruit of a years long struggle for freedom, democracy, and an honorable peace. All of this support and solidarity should be able to come together as one. The most important role of civil society organizations in this regard is to closely follow, offer suggestions to, and criticize the policies put into practice, the empty political talk of, and the steps taken by the government. The public is prepared for this. It’s support is at the ready. Here is the roll these organizations can play; in an atmosphere where this vast of a majority wants peace, if they can just prevent the more racist and nationalist voices from having a stronger and harsher voice then they will have done their part.
The support of the media is crucial in this period as well.But just as long as what we call support does not just refer to support for the process or for the government. For this process to proceed in a healthy manner and obtain results, it is important to move with justice and equity. Because the central problem is the Kurdish problem. The problem is one of the tradegy the Kurds have endured. The problem is one of rights and freedoms.
Most likely, the conciliatory language of the media does not mean unquestioned support for the government. At the center is the problem of a people’s freedom and their expectations. A language of peace that passes over these expectations and ignores their quest for freedom will not do.Such a thing cannot be called peace. Such a way would be one quickly blocked within a very short time. None of us would call taking the risk of embarking on such a way courage. If the the support of the media at this stage is on the side of rights and freedom, then I believe it will end up as the greatest support of all.It is important that the media embargo on our party and our blogs is lifted. Channels to express ourselves to all of Turkish society must remain open. We know that for the last few years there has been a media embargo on us imposed through government direction and pressure, through government coordination. I know there are dozens of TV producers who want to put us on air but don’t because of these threats.
If we establish the language of peace, if the solution is explained to Turkey’s society, the embargo on all of the opponents, especially on our party and on the block of which our party is a component should be lifted. In this way we can openly explain the problems and the solutions to the whole society.
In this process, if what the government calls an integrated project means continuing police operations while holding negotiations at the same time this will end in disaster. I would like to draw your attention to what happened on the day of the meetings on İmralı and to what happened the day before and the day after. On one hand, the government announces the meeting in Imrali, on the same day in Lice, during a military operation, 10 PKK guerilas were killed and in Dogubeyazit under the name of the KCK operations, our mayor and several party members were taken into custody. Within three days, tens of people were detained and arrested in several cities. On the same day in Diyarbakir, in the Sirnak KCK trial, 417 years of total sentences were given. This must be what they call integrated. They mean the judiciary pressure will continue, military operations will continue, political operations will continue. So if these are going to continue, how can we call it negotiation, how can we say peaceful solution? This road is dangerous and it should definitely be abandoned. People who called the government to end the solution process because of the tragic incident that happened in Silvan on July 14, 2011.. Those people should not stay silent when the government says it restarted the process and kills 10 PKK guerrillas. If they remain silent and say this process will continue like that than they are fooling both themselves and the government. The process can not go on like that. We, as a party at least, do not accept such an approach, we can not.
While talking about a change in language, if there is not any change in practice, not even a change in our daily lives, what kind of a negotiation process can we talk about and how can people trust it? By drawing the attention of all sides to these kinds of rules, principals and approaches, we would like to emphasize from the beginning that everyone should be careful.
If the approach continues like this, if this is their ‘integrated program’ where we are concerned and if these practices persist in the coming days, it will not be possible for us to offer our contribution. The insecure situation the government has already created would rise to surface. To make distinctions among those addressed in the negotiations and provoke them against each other is a very cheap approach. This has been tried so many times before and no result has been obtained and it is unnecassary to try to get a result from that.
We’re talking about a 100 year old historical problem and here we are saying we will solve it. But someone shows up and uses the word show off. It is not clear if you are a political consultant or a graffiti artist or a truck driver (he is talking about Yalçın Akdoğan, senior advisor of the Prime Minister). You need to be serious. This issue can only be solved by serious approaches. Is this the language you would use while talking about one of the most deeply rooted and severe problems in the Middle East? Do you have hope in that? All of these steps create a suspicion about the intention of the government for a solution. This AKP, which we are familiar with, is the AKP whose policies and the practices we face everyday on the streets. We know you. You don’t need to introduce yourself every day. We know you very well. We say “accept the solution”. We want you to abandon the other approaches.
Of all of these processes, of all of these experiences, of all these fundamental attitudes, the most important is the one of the mothers and fathers who have lost those close to them in this 30 year war. I would like to address all of the fathers and the mothers of the fallen soldiers. The price you have paid for this war is perhaps the most painful and dear. One way or the other, this part is the most painful of the share that falls to you. We have have always felt this. We have always understood and supported this. From here, through these means, I pray God grant patience to all the families. Those who have lived this know, I’m sure. The loss of a child is the most bitter. Only those burned feel the true pain of a fire. Those who have lived these things know, and I pray that God gives that pain to no one else ever again. We felt pain every day and every moment that one of your children, in other words, one of our brothers and sisters, was lost in this process and we share it from the heart with all our sincerity. At this point to which we have come, the support that you have offered is the most valuable, the most treasured. Every family, every mother, every father who, despite the pain in their hearts, has taken a great risk so that no other mother or father feel this sorrow will have performed a sacred duty at the end No matter who says what, no matter which fascist provacoteur attacks, as long as you have this dignified and righteous stance, it will be enough to open all the doors in this process. And by kissing the hands of the parents of the fallen soldiers, I would like to tell them: This process could be an opportunity to bring freedom and democracy to this country on behalf of all those values we have lost.
I hope to God that this support you have offered will be a means by which your children and your brothers may rest peacefully in their graves. Only with freedom and democracy can an honorable peace be possible. You should be a follower of this process, you should be a means of pressuring the government to bring forth an honorable, permanent solution and not just more games, distractions, and political skulduggery. If you support this process, you must be on the side of peace. No one deserves peace as much as you. You mothers deserve it, you fathers deserve it. Giving this as a gift to these families, giving a gift to every mother or father who has lost someone close to them in this 30 year war is a heavy obligation we carry on our backs, and so, we want it to be known that we will not hold back from doing whatever our share may be in securing and bringing freedom and peace to this society and to this country and to her people.
The Prime Minister, too, must desist from turning the rudder toward the smallest nationalist voices as he has in previous times and with previous experiences. He must desist from reacting upon remembering those nationalist feelings and who they come from, from ‘coming to his senses’ and with a trembling hand reversing course. The worth of a captain is seen in rough seas, and we will see his worth in this process. All together we will see what he does and what he will do. We will all see together if he will be able to sincerely start to process of negotiations and stand behind it or else, as in previous instances, turn and try to run at the slightest sign of difficulty. We don’t have a lot of time ahead of us, but we also are not in a great hurry. We must launch a sound process. And if it is sound, if we enter a process of steady negotiations, if we are able to secure all of these conditions, then we have succeeded in our role, our mission as a party. That is why we are here.
In these times boiling over with bloodshed, when Syria, Iraq and Iran are experiencing such violent tumult and turmoil, we must create a new law that will determine the relations of Kurds and Turks in this coming century. The issue is that dire, that important. We live in the days where we decide what will the law be that determines how the 40 million Kurds of the Middle East will live with Turks and the Turkish Republic in the century ahead.
We are on the side of a life together, free and equal under the law; we will defend these principles, we will struggle to secure them. If the other parties approach feeling the same responsibility and taking it as seriously, I believe that the progress will be faster. We know that Mr Ocalan is ready to support and contribute to the process. We realize that the message he has conveyed is a strong one. It is our duty to make sure that this message and these efforts will be for nothing. We are aware that the government alone cannot solve this problem. We know that they can’t move forward without support (from us and the others) and without being open to innovative ideas. Our party has been supporting the process until now, but if the government wants the progress to continue in the upcoming stages too -which is what we desire–then it needs to have a policy realizing our idealogy, we need to see this happening. We wait for a serious approach in regards to our party and our block, we want to be addressed at this level and we expect practical steps to be taken in this context. We want to say that hopefully the coming days will bring permanent negotiations and will be followed by an honourable peace.
I salute all of you with all my heart.