When Erdoğan said you would not be released from prison, his supporters chanted ‘Hang Selo!’ [Demirtaş’s nickname]. What was your feeling when you heard it?
In fact, I and my cellmate Selcuk Mızraklı [elected mayor of Diyarbakır], we just smiled at the scene, and we felt really sorry for that crowd. One can only feel pity for their desperation, along with their leader they are reminiscent of the Middle Ages.
It is now a widely shared view that after May 28 the government’s oppressive practices against the Kurdish political movement will be more ruthless than ever. What sort of steps do you think the government might take?
Actually, it is now only massacres that they have not yet resorted to, though it’s hard to imagine that they would dare to do that. They will probably resort to practices that will amount to cultural genocide, while continuing to use violence. They will particularly try to penetrate the social core using Huda Par [the Kurdish Islamist Free Cause Party], and Kurdish people will have to respond with unprecedented resistance and ideological struggle.
What will be the middle and long term consequences of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s defeat?
We shall see a more authoritarian, more polarized, and poorer Turkey, which will be even more dependent on other countries.
On the evening of 14 May, when the election results became clear, how did you feel and what did you think?
I didn’t expect exactly those results. I expected both the Green Left Party (YSP) and Kılıçdaroğlu to do better [than they did]. I was both saddened by the results and angered by the disorganized appearance of the opposition on election night.
What were your feelings on the evening of May 28 [when the results of the presidential election runoff were announced]?
It wasn’t so surprising. I actually believe that Kılıçdaroğlu won. While the winner was officially Erdoğan, that was made possible with some election fraud, with votes from abroad, and with the votes of those who were recently granted citizenship. What took place had nothing to do with democracy, and it was not the people’s will that came out of the ballot box. The entire thing was an operation.
If you were free, what would your opposition strategy be in the face of the current picture?
I do not have a miracle formula, and neither am I a savior, but I could have contributed by setting solid objectives that would motivate and mobilize the masses. I can contribute from prison only through social media and other media, and that is prone to shortcomings.
What are you planning to do from that point on? What will be your political path?
I told our party leadership months ago that I will no longer be engaged in active politics after the elections, whatever the results may be. I still feel the same. I believe that all comrades outside will successfully come out of these times with our own resources. I have confidence in all of them. My criticism of our party and my suggestions have always been made constructively, with good intentions and to contribute. My criticism should not be exploited by anyone to weaken the HDP. I am a member of the HDP and I will remain so. I want everybody to know it well.
What’s your analysis of the election results?
From the first moment on, the elections took place on unequal, unfair, illegitimate grounds. The AKP used all the state’s power for lies, slander, smearing, repression and obstruction. There was interference at polling stations. Turkey actually did not have the conditions for a fair race after seven years of absolute authoritarianism. The legitimacy of the results will always be disputed.
Despite being aware of those facts, the opposition made a great mistake by legitimizing the government, by acting as if it was a normal government. The opposition helped the government by readily accepting the criminalization of the HDP. When your opponent is conducting an operation instead of an election, you can succeed only by using extraordinary means in your struggle against it.
A struggle involving large masses of people should have been organized long before the elections. A seven-year operation of social engineering [by the government] cannot be overcome by an election campaign in the course of a few months. A majority of the people were actually in favor of change, but that demand for change could not be transformed into a social movement. It was restricted to political parties.
What do you think are the lessons to be drawn?
I believe there is a strong need for fresh blood, a change in party leadership, and a party congress should be swiftly held, beginning with local congresses. As far as I can see, this is the sort of maturity and responsibility that the people expect from the party leadership, including party co-chairs. What we should be guarding over right now is the organized struggle of our people and our party.
Do you think that the Green Left Party’s determination of the candidate lists from the central headquarters, despite objections from the local level, had an impact on the current results? Did you have any consultation with your party on this matter? Would a different method have resulted in a different outcome?
Certainly, one of the reasons for the failure is the insufficient consideration given at the local level. Regarding the candidate selection method, we did not have any consultation with the Central Headquarters.
As I mentioned earlier, I believe that a limited quota should be allocated to the Central Headquarters, and most candidates should be determined through primary elections. Of course, primary elections have their own problems, and efforts should be made to minimize those problems.
Candidates elected through primary elections for mayors and members of parliament would be the choice of the local level, and they would carry out much stronger campaigns. If this method had been adopted, we might have been able to have more MPs in some areas, but it is not possible to know for certain if it would have resulted in a completely different outcome.
Did you have intense contact with the HDP during the election campaign? Were you consulted on various issues, including the election campaign, presidential candidacy, and parliamentary candidate lists?
Due to regular visits by my lawyer friends, we do not have any technical issues in terms of communication with the Central Headquarters of my party. However, it seems that there have been occasional shortcomings in informing us due to the busy schedule of the Central Headquarters. Especially during election periods, these shortcomings can be more pronounced.
The HDP Co-Chairs stated that they self-reflect in the face of the May 14 election results. In your opinion, what should this self-reflection entail and how should it be done?
First and foremost, all of us, including myself, owe an unconditional apology to our selfless, hardworking, patriotic people. Personally, I sincerely apologize for not presenting a policy that is worthy of our people. I promise to make efforts to address these shortcomings through practical endeavors. Additionally, I thank everyone for their constructive criticisms. I will try to benefit from the criticisms. While continuing the struggle for resistance with every comrade of mine in prison, I am leaving active politics at this stage.
So, are you resigning from the HDP?
I feel the need to clarify that the discussions have been conducted on an incorrect basis once again; I am not resigning from the HDP or any position. I state that I will not intervene in current, topical politics and that I am stepping back from active politics within this framework. What we need most is internal party democracy. When internal party democracy diminishes, deviations and mistakes occur successively.
Erdogan frequently mentioned your name (Selo) and targeted you during the election process. He stated that as long as they are in power, you will not be released from prison. Were you and your party able to provide sufficient responses to Erdogan’s anti-Demirtas discourse?
Erdoğan uses “Selo” as a way to target the resisting Kurdish people and code anti-Kurdish hostility. Instead of explicitly saying Kurdish, he says Selo. Erdoğan has conducted a smear campaign against Kurds using my name in the past three elections. It’s not surprising coming from him.
However, the Kurds have given Erdoğan the response he deserves and more. The determination of our people to fight and uphold their values is truly valuable and respectable. I will always be indebted to our people in this regard.
I asked you in a previous interview as well, when can you be released from prison?
There are already release orders issued about me, and those orders will probably be implemented when the law is applied. The day of implementation will be determined by our struggle.
When asked about a recent inflammatory statement from Soylu, Professor Hamit Bozarslan made the following observation: “This plan has two important objectives. The ideological objective is the conservative transformation of Kurdish society and, based on that, the destruction of the HDP and its tradition, as well as the role of women and the positions they have achieved within Kurdish society. It is currently not possible to predict whether this can be achieved, but the Kurdish movement should take this as a warning.” In the face of this “warning,” what should the Kurdish movement do, and what can it do? Do you think the plan to conservatize Kurdish society will succeed?
Certainly, this is not a simple plan. It is a new stage of a comprehensive plan for dismantling. What is being said is just one aspect of a multidimensional and multifaceted attack. Of course, the Kurdish movement will respond to all these plans with its experiences, knowledge, and strategic intelligence by putting forward its own resistance plan. Naturally, the beliefs, lifestyle, worship, and sensitivities of our people are integral parts of their identity. It is our duty to protect them.
However, we will also oppose the instrumentalization of religion for the service of power and the state. The Kurdish people did not learn Islam from the state, and they do not accept being handed over to the state. The Kurdish people are well aware of this and they are resilient.
From culture and arts to media, from politics to women and youth, from the economic sphere to local administrations, a relentless assault has been ongoing for years, but despite all its barbarity, they have not been able to achieve results, and they will not be able to. We will resist to the end and with all our strength, and we will render all their efforts futile.
This interview was originally published by artigercek. It has been shortened and translated by the Free Turkish Press.