INTERVIEW. Abdullah Demirbas, member of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), was a mayor in one of Diyarbakir’s districts, in North Kurdistan, until last year when the Turkish law closed down the town council, accusing him of providing public information in languages other than Turkish, something that is against the Turkish State Constitution. In this interview, Demirbas talks about the threats on banning his party, as well as the perspectives of the DTP on the next local elections.
Your party today, The Democratic Society Party (DTP), is the main Kurd formation in the Turkish State. You are supported within a large group of Kurds, but continue to run in danger of having the party shut down by the Turkish law. How do you see the current situation?
The DTP has 21 Members of the Turkish Parliament, 54 mayors and hundreds of militants. It is the fourth largest party in the Turkish State, but it defends something different from the rest. We do not agree with the policies of the government. We want the Turkish State to be democratic: the solution for the Kurdish problem must be democracy.
Another important aspect of our party is the defence of women's rights. We believe just as much in the freedom of women as we do in the freedom of the people, and we want there to always be a minimum of 40% of women in all institutions. Within our party, we have 21 Members of parliament, 8 being women. We have two presidents in the party, one is a man and the other a woman.
Our party is secular, it defends women, and it is in favour of a democratic republic. We want the Turkish State to join the European Union, but not in the current situation; not in the way it treats us. The Turkish State must be a democratic country. It must adopt a democratic criteria. This is why we want the Turkish State to change. In exchange, they want to shut down our party.
Do you believe they will shut it down?
Yes. In the Turkish State, a party that thinks the way mine does always ends up being banned. Up to now, they have shut down five, but another one always springs up.
It could be that they don't do it now because in March there are local elections. It is very likely that they will wait until after elections. The AKP [Justice and Development Party, the party that governs the country and has the majority in Parliament] has the power to ban our party at any moment, but if they close it down now, more Kurds would end up voting for the DTP as a consequence.
Now, a few months before the local elections this upcoming March, it is forecast that there will be a large growth of DTP supporters...
Yes. We currently have 54 mayors and we want to double this number to reach approximately 110 mayors. Such a result is possible, because at the moment the AKP no longer has a part of Kurd supporters that it had in previous elections. In 2003, the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyep Erdogan, said in a visit to Kurdistan: " The Kurdish problem is my problem." This gave a lot of hope to the Kurds.
Yet, in all these years, he has not done anything for democracy nor for the Kurds. Today, we continue to have just one language, one government and one religion. Even further, the Parliament has authorized the bombardment of Kurdistan on two different occasions.
Meanwhile, people continue to show their support for the Kurdish movement. These last few days we have seen in the media demonstrations against Erdogan across Kurdistan, everywhere in the country. The life of Abdullah Öcalan [funding leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, PKK], imprisoned, is in great danger. He is not well. He has been tortured and this is why the Kurdish people are now making their voices heard and protesting in Kurdish cities. The last few months, at least 3.500.000 Kurds have signed a petition, accepting Öcalan as a legitimate leader.
Our party does not see the PKK like terrorists. The PKK is the root of the Kurds, it is not just a problem. If the Kurdish problem is not solved, PKK will not be solved either. The Turkish State must accept the Kurdish identity and look for democratic solutions.
What is the state of your judicial case?
I alone have 20 pending trials. I could be condemned for a total of 60 years. If I lived, I would be free at 104 years of age. All of this, only because we have yet to allow the Government to make us disappear. We claim that the Turkish State is not one nation, it is plurinational; it doesn't have only one language, but many; not just one identity, but multiple ones; not just one religion, but countless. In the Turkish State there aren't only Turks: there are Kurds, Lazs, Circassians, Armenians, Assirisians...This is scientific, historical, and admitting it is not a crime. The Turkish State says that not accepting the official matters is a crime.
From the Turkish State's point of view, I am also a terrorist, even though I have never killed anyone. I was mayor of a city, with 60% of the votes. I am a graduated Sociologist. I tell the truth: I am Kurd, the language I speak is Kurdish. Their response is to accuse me of being a terrorist. And so I say that if demanding my rights is terrorism, then so be it, I am a terrorist.
One day I went to trial because the town council had received a greetings card in Kurdish, Turkish and English that wished them a Happy New Year. The judge said that we had used the letter "w", something that is prohibited because the letter does not exist in the Turkish alphabet. So then, we asked the judge, "Do you use the computer?" and he answered yes. "Then that means you use ‘www'; if that is a crime, you have committed quite a few on a daily basis." And he answered no, because he wasn't doing it in Kurdish.
In Şırnak, one of Kurdistan's cities, a demonstration pro-government happened. They put a banner in the hands of a child that said, "No to terrorism," but in Kurdish. There was a letter "x". [In Kurdish, there are three letter that do not exist in Turkish: w, q and x, and so they are prohibited in the Turkish State]. When I use the letter "x", they sue me for three years of prison; since the demonstration was in favour of the government, there was no crime in using the letter "x".
There is definitely a problem in the Turkish State. They do not recognize our identity. I have spoken in Kurdish in Brussel's Parliament, in the European Council, and in the Basque Parliament. But if I do it in the Turkish Parliament, I am guilty of a crime. Leyla Zana, along with three other members of Parliament, tried it and were sent to prison for 12 years.
In respect to Kurdistan's future, are you optimistic or pessimistic?
No matter how dark the current situation is, I will always be optimistic. I have hope that freedom and peace will someday arrive to Turkey. If I didn't have this hope, I wouldn't be fighting, but I fight because I know that we will win. There has never been a dictator who has had power forever. There are still a few, but we will defeat them.