Kurdish Issue

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A Kurdish Political Star in Turkey Confronts Escalating Violence- By CEYLAN YEGINSU

27DEMIRTAS

New York Times- ANKARA, Turkey — Emerging from a daylong meeting with party officials, Selahattin Demirtas was anything but the dynamic Kurdish politician whose coolness and rhetorical skill have evoked comparisons to President Obama. He was frazzled as he paced back and forth, addressing his advisers before charging into his next meeting, vowing to bring an end to the reignited war between the Turkish state and Kurdish militants.

A day later, Mr. Demirtas dashed off to Brussels to meet with representatives of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K., which has renewed its insurgency amid airstrikes and raids by Turkish security forces. Despite his efforts to calm tensions and encourage new peace talks after discussions broke down last month, he returned to Turkey only to see the violence escalate.

Two months ago, Mr. Demirtas, a former human rights lawyer, was basking in the afterglow of a historic Turkish election performance in which his Kurdish-centered party exceeded the legal threshold to enter Parliament for the first time, a singular achievement for Turkey’s long-suppressed Kurdish minority.

Mr. Demirtas, 42, was a bright new star on Turkey’s political scene, having widened his party’s appeal by attracting liberals and secular voters — constituencies that flooded the streets during antigovernment protests two summers ago.

The performance of Mr. Demirtas and his Peoples’ Democratic Party, or H.D.P., upended Turkish politics and was largely responsible fordenying a parliamentary majority to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, the Islamist party that has governed Turkey for more than a decade.

Now, Mr. Demirtas and the Peoples’ Democratic Party will have to face the voters again, even as the headlines are dominated by news of more arrests and airstrikes against people the government identifies as Kurdish terrorists. With Turkey’s political parties unable to agree on a coalition, Mr. Erdogan has called for a snap election in November.

“For Mr. Erdogan, this is all about his own interests and politics,” Mr. Demirtas said, echoing the widespread view among analysts that Mr. Erdogan is using the crackdown on the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is widely listed as a terrorist group, as a strategy to win nationalist votes in a new election for the Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P. “He wants his party to regain its majority so he can have a firmer grip on power.”

At the moment, polls suggest that the Peoples’ Democratic Party will retain most of its voters, and that Mr. Erdogan will have difficulty reversing his party’s defeat. But with more than two months until the election, some H.D.P. members are worried.

“It’s back to square one,” said Zahida Melek, a party volunteer.

In the last election, Mr. Demirtas led a campaign that was as much personal as it was political. He allowed the news media into his home while he scrambled eggs for his wife and daughters, and conducted interviews while driving and singing along to Kurdish folk songs. Some weekends, he posted pictures of himself on Twitter wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt.

“My identity at home and in my personal life is at one with my political persona,” he said.

But in his party headquarters in Ankara, he takes on a more formal role, donning a suit and tie in the sweltering August heat as he rushes to meetings from one un-air-conditioned room to another. During the day, he barely steps outside, cautious at the security threats that surged after his campaign was marred by bombings.

Raised in a ramshackle neighborhood in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir among children of different backgrounds and ethnicities, including Christians and Armenians, Mr. Demirtas said the stakes of the Kurdish struggle within Turkey became clear to him as a boy when he attended the funerals of Kurdish politicians.

“When I go back to that neighborhood now, I realize how those lively, colorful streets played a big role in my character development,” he said.

As a teenager, he faced the same choice as many young Kurds who wanted to participate in their people’s struggle: politics or violence.

Mr. Demirtas first chose violence.

As a 19-year-old, he said, he sneaked out of his home one night and joined a convoy of Kurdish insurgents headed toward a mountain hide-out where young recruits trained to fight against the Turkish state.

Like many of the disenfranchised Kurdish youth of the 1990s, Mr. Demirtas believed that the most effective way to gain greater rights and autonomy was through war.

But shortly after he set out, the Turkish authorities intercepted his vehicle and detained him for trying to join the Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

The episode was a turning point in Mr. Demirtas’s life, and he began reconsidering his approach to Kurdish activism. After a brief detention, he decided to attend law school.

“I realized then that a political and legal approach would be far more effective than an armed struggle, which is why I decided against joining the P.K.K.,” he said.

His older brother, Nurettin, spent years in jail for his involvement with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and Mr. Erdogan’s party has used that fact to try to tarnish Mr. Demirtas and link him to terrorism.

Asked about his brother, Mr. Demirtas appeared uncomfortable. “I am not in contact with my brother anymore, and I’m not sure exactly which Kurdish group he is fighting for,” he said. “The last I heard, he was in Syria or Iraq, fighting against the Islamic State.”

Mr. Demirtas maintains that his party has no informal ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, and he makes a point of emphasizing the distinctions between the two.

“The P.K.K. uses arms as a method, and we reject that approach,” he said. “We believe a solution should be reached through dialogue and negotiations.”

Still, he does not hold the Kurdistan Workers’ Party responsible for the breakdown of a cease-fire this summer. He accused Mr. Erdogan of backtracking during peace talks over the last two years as part of a broader political strategy to capture the Turkish nationalist vote.

Since the Kurdistan Workers’ Party intensified its attacks against Turkey in late July, Mr. Demirtas has asserted that he has no power to disarm the group, even though it and the Peoples’ Democratic Party have largely the same constituency within Turkey.

“In my opinion, Selahattin Demirtas made a mistake when he admitted that he has no leverage on the P.K.K., because Demirtas and the H.D.P.’s political future depend on the return to peace negotiations,” said Kubilay Yado Arin, a visiting scholar at Duke University’s Middle East Studies Center. “Erdogan is aware of this and won’t give the Kurdish representatives a chance to play the honest broker.”

But Mr. Demirtas insists that he and his party will battle through.

“We are going to stop this war and the A.K.P.,” he said, wrinkling his forehead. “The peace process is not over; it is just going through a period of chaos and conflict. We just need to break through these handicaps and get back to the negotiating table.”

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This entry was posted on 2015-08-27 by in News Articles.
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