There's no Kurdish issue in Turkey, Selahattin Demirtaş is a terrorist: Erdoğan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed that there's no Kurdish issue in Turkey and that former HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş is a "terrorist." He also defended the removal of elected HDP mayors from posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast.

Duvar English - Reuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed that there's no Kurdish issue in Turkey and accused Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair of being a "terrorist." 

In a speech to members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) during a weekly parliamentary group meeting on Nov. 25, Erdoğan said that Demirtaş, who has been imprisoned since Nov. 4, 2016, "has blood on his hands." 

His remarks came after Bülent Arınç, one of the founders of the AKP who assumed various high-level roles within the party for years, criticized the indictments into Demirtaş and prominent businessman, philanthropist and human rights defender Osman Kavala. 

"Demirtaş might be released. Osman Kavala needs to be released," Arınç said on Nov. 19, adding that pre-trial detentions should be the last resort, while also urging judges not to rule for arrest unless it is an “exceptional” situation.

Despite previous court orders for their release, Demirtaş has been in prison for more than four years while Kavala, a philanthropist accused of helping organize the attempted coup, has been jailed for more than three years.

Arınç's remarks were met with a harsh response from Erdoğan, prompting the AKP heavyweight to resign on Nov. 24. 

During his address to AKP members on Nov. 25, Erdoğan continued to slam Arınç for calling on people to read Demirtaş's book Devran. 

"It offended me that he suggested everyone read the book written by a terrorist," Erdoğan said. 

"There is no Kurdish issue in this country," he added. 

Demirtaş, he said, defends "terrorism" and has the "blood of thousands of Kurds on his hands." 

Demirtaş faces hundreds of years in prison on charges related to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) - designated a terrorist organization by Ankara - despite a previous European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that he was imprisoned on political grounds and should be released immediately. 

Erdoğan's remarks scotched some hopes that a reform plan could lead to wider liberties for the opposition and dissidents.

The president promised a slate of judicial and economic reforms two weeks ago, leading to expectations of the possible release of politicians, including Kurdish ones, and human rights advocates from jail.

Erdoğan said the AKP would carry out the reforms together with its Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) alliance partner - staunch opponents of the Kurdish political movement. The details of the plans to make judicial processes easier and quicker have yet to be made public.

'This reform narrative is not sincere'

HDP lawmaker Meral Danış Beştaş, a senior figure in the party, dismissed the reform pledges as politicking.

"This reform narrative is not sincere. This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law," she told Reuters.

"It has one aim: to win back the support which has been lost," she said. The next election is not due for three years, but the parties have been dipping in the polls.

The HDP, chaired by Demirtaş between 2014 and 2018, has had thousands of its officials and members arrested in recent years. It has generally been accused of links to the PKK.

Erdoğan on Nov. 25 defended the removal of elected HDP mayors from posts in the Kurdish-majority southeast. The state has appointed trustees to 59 out of a total of 65 municipalities that the HDP won in local elections in March 2019.