BDP asks for role for Kurds in ‘new Middle East’

29 October 2013 /ALİ H. ASLAN, WASHINGTON – Turkey’s Kurdish politicians have sent the message to US officials that Kurds can play an important role in the “New Middle East,” during a one-day academic and political conference held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Co-chairman Selahattin Demirtaş, who is visiting Washington together with a delegation from his party to attend a conference titled “The Kurdish Role in the New Middle East” on Monday, called on the US and the Western world to pursue policies that “directly support Kurds” in the Middle East.

The BDP delegation will also have meetings with officials and think tank representatives during their trip to Washington. The organizers of the conference reportedly also tried to fly Saleh Muslim, the head of Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD), an offshoot of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), to Washington so that he could have meetings with representatives of the Barack Obama administration, but Muslim reportedly could not obtain a US visa in time for the conference, instead participating via video conferencing. During Monday’s conference, Demirtaş and other participants emphasized the importance of the Obama administration’s readiness to talk with Muslim. The fact that the PYD is associated with the PKK, designated a terrorist group in the US, is making it difficult for the PYD to cover more ground. James Jeffrey, a former US ambassador to Turkey, stated that the US administration will need to reassure both Ankara and Arbil before talking to Muslim.

Same borders, news status

Kurdish academics, experts and politicians who attended the conference mostly emphasized the secular characteristic of Kurds, presenting them as a “model” people that respect pluralism and are fighting “jihadists” in the Middle East. They also portrayed Kurds as an “oppressed” group that should not be left to the mercy of the region’s countries, including Turkey. Demirtaş, in his speech, said Kurds can be given freedom and an autonomous status without changing current borders.

Warning against warmongers

The BDP co-chairman was mostly critical of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government and its “settlement process,” the name given to the negotiations between the PKK and the Turkish state. Demirtaş said that there are some circles in Turkey who believe that talks are not necessary to resolve the country’s long-standing Kurdish problem. He said these circles are trying to sabotage the talks, adding that everyone should be careful about such “traps.” Demirtaş said: “There are some who are really against the settlement process and tell the parties that they don’t need to speak to each other, they will not achieve anything this way and that they should resort to weapons again. This is a fact. We definitely need to be careful of the traps and games of these circles.” Last year, the AK Party government launched talks with the PKK in a bid to resolve the country’s Kurdish and terrorism problems. As part of this process, the PKK began to withdraw its militants from the country; however, it recently halted the withdrawal on the grounds that the government is not taking the necessary steps for democratization.

Talking about the difficulties of settlement processes, Demirtaş said: “Settlement processes, peace processes are difficult times requiring patience and we are sure that such processes are more difficult and challenging than a war. It is hard to figure out how long these processes will continue, but the important thing is to keep the determination to stay around the negotiating table.”

He also noted that his party is trying to keep the settlement process going. The BDP co-chairperson in addition directed criticism at the government, accusing it of trying to avoid the negotiations. “We do not need to give up negotiations. We need to be insistent because the alternative to giving up on negotiations is a state of conflict, which is not good or desirable for anyone,” he said.

Demirtaş also called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to listen to criticisms and proposals made about the settlement process.

“The prime minister needs to listen to such criticisms and see there are circles other than his close colleagues that can contribute to the settlement process,” he added.