Jailed Kurdish leader calls on intelligentsia to unite to help build full democracy in Turkey

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Jailed Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş, a former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), has called on Turkey’s writers, artists, academics and journalists to unite and help establish full democracy in the country by taking “an active stance” for it in the period towards June 2023 elections, local media reported on Thursday.

The Kurdish leader made the call in a letter, shared with the public via his wife Başak Demirtaş, saying that Turkey’s intelligentsia have a “historic responsibility” to get together, not for the sake of a political party or alliance, but for democracy.

“My dear friend, I don’t see the need to explain the situation in Turkey at length. You are already a witness, and, in a way, a victim of it. … I’m also aware of the threat posed by the power held in the hands of the tyrant we’re facing, which he’s not afraid to use without limit,” Demirtaş said, hinting at President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

He continued to say that the only way out of the chaos Turkey was in and the collapse into which it was being dragged was to “act with a common mind, together with our differences.”

Demirtaş said that was what the government feared the most and was trying to prevent by criminalizing all opposition parties, especially the HDP, by spreading “dirty propaganda” against them, while none of the opposition groups were enemies of Turkey but were only “trying to stop the collapse in the country and save the society from disaster.”

He also underlined that the main reason for the opposition’s failure to spark enough social excitement, a collective hope, with their attempts to come together in different ways was their inadequate approach solely aiming at “a change in political power,” rather than “a radical mentality revolution and structural changes” in the country.

“The primary goal [of the opposition] shouldn’t be to try to win elections through tactical collaboration. On the contrary, the main goal should be to rebuild the republic on the basis of democracy through elections,” Demirtaş said.

Emphasizing that it was a “very urgent social need” for the intelligentsia to make their demand for full democracy “constantly visible” in a Turkey where the people are “in deep sorrow,” Demirtaş urged them to draft a “Democracy Convention” and open it to the signatures of nongovernmental organizations and political party leaders.

The Kurdish leader further said they could form a “Committee of Intellectuals” to closely follow all developments as a third eye, apart from political actors, and become observers, supporters and inspectors of all the historic processes before and after the 2023 elections, or organize a conference called “We Have a Dream” and bring all political and social opposition together around that dream.

Demirtaş finally said that the calls, guidance and motivation of the intelligentsia would be “vitally important” in all matters, including election and ballot box security, adding that he has no doubt that they’ll take the most active stance on those matters.

Arrested on Nov. 4, 2016, on terrorism-related charges, Demirtaş has since then remained in prison despite two European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) rulings in 2018 and 2020 that said Demirtaş was imprisoned for “political” reasons and not for “legal” reasons, ordering his “immediate release.”

Through a referendum in April 2017 Turkey switched from a parliamentary system of governance to an executive presidential system that granted Erdoğan and his AKP sweeping powers and was criticized for removing constitutional checks and balances, thus leading to a further weakening of Turkish democracy.

The opposition blames Erdoğan’s one-man rule for Turkey’s woes, including an economic downturn and an erosion of rights and freedoms.

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