June 20, 2017
The Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) met with Mr. Hishyar Ozsoy, the Deputy Co-chair of People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Mr. Ozsoy is also the head of the Foreign Affairs Department of the HDP and a member of the Parliament representing his hometown, Bingo-Turkey.
WKI: Thank you for this oppurtunity, can you tell us a bit about the current situation with the Kurdish people in Turkey in general?
Hishyar Ozsoy: There was a peace process between the Turkish government and the [Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK between 2013 and 2015. After the June elections in 2015 Erdogan ended the peace process, since when we have been in great political turmoil. It’s a vicious cycle of violence which the government started unfortunately and the current situation is one of increasing political polarization and militarization of the Kurdish conflict. There is particularly great pressure on the HDP, our political party. Our co-chairs and nine other members of parliament are in prison, plus some 86, if I’m not wrong, elected Kurdish mayors are in prison in addition to about 5,000 other members and administrators of the HDP, our party and our sister party, the Democratic Regions Party.
WKI: The Co-chairs of the HDP have been arrested by the Turkish government. The allegations are for refusing to answer to government inquiry by prosecutors. Can you tell us what the inquiry was about and why they refused to answer?
Hishyar Ozsoy: The reason why the HDP decided not to go and testify at the prosecution offices was because our legislative immunity was lifted in an illegal way which was clearly against the constitution. So, the Turkish government violated the Turkish constitution and the parliament revoked our immunity. That is totally illegal and by [the] constitution, we are still members of parliament. We have our immunity and we [will] not go to the prosecution offices to testify. That may be a reason to take the deputies to the prosecution offices to testify, but not going to the prosecution offices is not a reason for pre-trial detention or arresting any person. They again are violating their own law. We know that the Turkish government has been arguing that “oh. They are being sent to prison because they are defying the law. They are not coming to testify.” But, not going to testify at the prosecution office, unlike for example the United States, which is like prevention of the law, right? Obstruction of the law, right?
Hishyar Ozsoy: In Turkey, we don’t have such [a] thing. The only thing they [Turkish authorities] can do legally is the police comes and takes you to the prosecution office. You testify or you refuse to testify, that is it. That cannot be a reason to send people to prison.
WKI: Is that somewhat similar to the fifth amendment here in the US?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Exactly.
WKI: Has the HDP been able to mount an effective legal defense for these individuals or have there been obstacles laid out to prevent this. If so, what?
Hishyar Ozsoy: The decision to arrest HDP deputies, and members, administrators to [send them to] prison is not a legal decision, it’s a political decision made by president Erdogan and the government and we don’t have an independent, impartial judicial system in Turkey anyway. So, the issue is not legal. It is a deeply political issue.. It is not about the alleged crimes committed by the HDP deputies. It is about that the HDP is a strong oppositional voice and that we could stop Erdogan, Erdogan’s presidential ambitions in June 2015 and then in November 2016 and before the referendum about the executive [powers of the] presidency. They had a consensus with the ultranationalist, the Nationalist Movement Party. And on the day they declared their consensus for a referendum on the presidential system, that very night they sent ten of our deputies, including our co-chairs to prison.
WKI: So, I guess that leads somewhat into the question of thee coup. Following the coup, CNN reported in 2017, earlier in April I believe, that roughly 113,000 individuals were either detained or arrested. A large chunk of those, or a considerable size of those being part of the Judiciary. Now, before the coup, would it have been easier to get an impartial trial or was that not the case?
Hishyar Ozsoy: It could have been a better situation, but one should make it clear that before the coup, the Judiciary was also deeply politicized, but in a different way. Now the judges and prosecutors in office are mainly militants of president Erdogan. There is militancy there. There is partisanship there. Before that, there were some other members, I mean related to the Fethullah Gülen community or Kemalists or others. Many of them have been eliminated. Now we have a judiciary that is almost 100% identical with the government.
WKI: On a fairly different note, what are the relations between the HDP and the PKK, if any?
Hishyar Ozsoy: We don’t have any relationship with the PKK. We do share the same, say, social base. I mean many if not all of the people who are sympathetic with the PKK vote for us and that’s a reality.
WKI: But on an institutional level?
Hishyar Ozsoy: No. On an institutional level, the HDP is a legal democratic political party whose program and internal regulations were approved by the Turkish authorities. We’re running in the elections. We’re getting elected to the parliament. I mean, it’s a democratic party. As politicians who are in the parliament or who are in the legal political field, we do not approve the use of violent methods for political ends. We have expressed this several times. We want a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish conflict. But let me also make this clear that we think that the Turkish government should engage the PKK in a political way, not in militaristic ways because simply saying “the PKK’s a terrorist organization and we’re not going to negotiate with them” is stifling any kind of peaceful resolution on the Kurdish conflict. The PKK is a reality. It is a reality there for Turkey to face and to come to terms with rather than fighting. To negotiate with and to find a peaceful democratic resolution for the conflict.
WKI: So, the HDP had attempted to moderate peace between the PKK and the Turkish government.
Hishyar Ozsoy: Definitely.
WKI: Though at first it seemed to be going through and going well, it ultimately failed. Can you give a brief explanation why? Who initiated the ending of the peace process?
Hishyar Ozsoy: President Erdogan ended the peace process for two reasons. One was his defeat in June elections. June 2015, where he felt kind of forced to have an alliance with ultra nationalists. And for the ultra nationalists to support Erdogan, their precondition was “end the peace process and take a very hawkish position on the Kurdish issue.” The second was the defeat of ISIS in Girê Spî [Tell Abiad], and the combining of the two Kurdish cantons [administrative regions], Cizîrê and Kobane. So that was kind of a tipping point. These two successes of the Kurds on either side of the Turkish-Syrian border, I mean the electoral victory of the HDP in Turkey and the combining of the two Kurdish cantons by the defeat of ISIS in Rojava, somehow…
WKI: It was an added pressure?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Yes.
WKI: Even if it was perceived and not actual?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Yes. Erdogan and the nationalists organized around him perceived these advances of Kurds on either side of the border as a main national security threat. That is how they ended the peace process and started a massive campaign of destruction and crack down across the Kurdish geography.
WKI: Germany, for example, has a very significant Turkish population or a population from Turkish descent. With that in mind, would a future attempt at peace be more useful with foreign assistance from say, the US or Germany?
Hishyar Ozsoy: I think so. People both in Turkey and abroad are tired of this conflict situation in Turkey. We know that some important international actors have been trying to resume the peace process, only the Turkish political leadership, under Erdogan; they are not willing to negotiate in any sense. This may continue for conjunctural reasons for a couple of years. They haven’t been able to convince the Turkish government.
WKI: What pressure would you say the attempted coup in Turkey played on pressuring Erdogan to break down the opposition? Did he merely put down the initial opposition, the initial coup, or would you say he took the opportunity to silence political rivals?
Hishyar Ozsoy: From the very beginning Erdogan has been using the abortive coup as an opportunity to repress every single oppositional voice in the country. When together with the MHP, the Nationalist Movement Party, they decided to have a referendum on the presidential system, Erdogan started more aggressively attacking the HDP and the Democratic opposition. Erdogan’s argument was, “we are declaring emergency rule in order to fight the coup attempt, the coup plotters.” But many of the Kurdish people, trade union members, those on the left of the political spectrum, they never had anything to do with the coup. But then they [Turkish authorities] say, “we are fighting against terrorism as well.” What is happening in Turkey is a counter coup, I should say. A counter coup is going on and Erdogan is specifically targeting opposition forces who might be an obstruction for his ambitions for the presidential system. That is why our co-chairs, our mayors, our administrators have been sent to prison. In addition to the crack down on the media, the universities, the judiciary. So, the kind of emergency rule practices of Erdogan have nothing to do with fighting the coup or terrorism, In fact, he has been terrorizing the whole society.
WKI: Going back to one of your former statements, that the HDP… doesn’t support any violence and would prefer a political solution, it seems like Erdogan is not taking that approach.
Hishyar Ozsoy: Yes, unfortunately. Erdogan said he suspended the peace process. In fact he said he put it in the refrigerator meaning that at one point, he may take it out of the fridge.
WKI: But even in the fridge, things can spoil.
Hishyar Ozsoy: Exactly. We think it was not a suspension. He ended it. Erdogan killed the idea of a peaceful resolution in his mind unfortunately. Currently, the Kurdish question is much more complicated because the Kurdish issue in Turkey in deeply intertwined with the political developments in Rojava [Kurdish Syria] and also within the KRG territories [Kurdish Iraq]. Turkey needs to develop a more regional and integrated approach if they ever [want] to come to the point to make peace with the Kurds. But for now. It seems for quite some time, Turkey will be fighting the Kurds in Syria and in Turkey.
WKI: In English there is a phrase that dates back to Shakespeare, the Tempest. Misery makes strange bedfellows. Following the coup, or just generally internationally, would you say that the HDP has found any unexpected allies?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Yes… we do have allies. Here is the issue: people are pretty much sympathetic to us wherever we go even to the United States or to Europe, any place we go people welcome us, They say nice things about us. They are concerned about us. They feel for us. But then, there is real politics. Turkey is a member of the NATO. It’s a powerful country… Unfortunately, because of the refugee crisis in Europe, Europe mostly turned a blind eye on the atrocities committed by President Erdogan. Erdogan was threatening them. “I’m going to ship all the refugees.” And when you talk about the refugees, Europeans tremble. They are so scared of that. But the fact is they know we are right. They know we are under tremendous pressure and also they know that the HDP does have a political vision that can help both Kurds and Turks in Turkey. So, in that sense, we do have certain allies. But because of real politics, the crucial global powers often chose to turn a blind eye on the kind of repression trying to paralyze us by Erdogan.
WKI: They’re distracted by bigger things you’re trying to say. The HDP got a huge amount of votes. They passed the 10% minimum in the past election and there was the Kurdish base in the southeast of the country and other certain sections, but also other ethnically Turkish voters supported the HDP. So.. can you tell us about about the base ideology of the HDP both in reference to minority right and classical liberalism?
Hishyar Ozsoy: The HDP is unlike previous Kurdish parties, which were banned one after the other. We have established about ten political parties in Turkey and all of them were destroyed by the Turkish judiciary. The HDP is different than them because it’s not simply a pro Kurdish party. The HDP is a political party including primarily of course, the Kurdish movement, but also we have the women’s movement, we have other minorities. We have Armenians represented, the Syriac people represented, Yezidi people represented, Alevi people represented. In a way, HDP brought together all those under represented groups and voices in Turkey and we carried them to the parliament. In other words all the… “unwanted” people of Turkey came together and developed a pluralistic political vision. The HDP is a pluralistic party particularly sensitive to the Kurdish issue working for a peaceful resolution. At the same time, it represents the needs and aspirations of women, of workers, of youth, of minorities, religious, ethnic, or otherwise.
WKI: That really plays into the question of egalitarianism which has been seemingly central to the message of the HDP. Are there any ideological concessions that the HDP would be willing to make or could possibly make to get a larger chunk of the vote in the next Turkish election, providing that they’re able to run?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Ideologically, we are secular. We are inclusive. And we promote pluralism both within the HDP and within the country. And we are sensitive to the Kurdish issue definitely. We want its peaceful resolution and we do have a strong program including social justice, fair distribution of wealth in the society, gender equality, protecting the environment. We have a strong ecological viewpoint too… We can’t have any kinds of concessions over these kinds of basic principles. These are what make us the HDP…So honestly, the people in Turkey, if we do have access to the media, with this particular program, we’ll be able to mobilize millions of Turkish people. The problem is the whole government media. The pro government media, which is more than 80% of the media now, and the remaining of the mainstream media, all of them, they are targeting us in particular. Criminalizing, terrorizing and preventing us from having access to popular masses in Turkey. I mean, rather than having any concessions, if we just have opportunity to talk to wider sectors of the Turkish public, I’m sure we can convince them.
WKI: Now, according to that same CNN article, it had been reported that over 130 journalists were arrested, 179 media outlets shut down, then a great number more of journalists were let go from employment. What does that say about the current state of basic freedoms in Turkey at the moment?
Hishyar Ozsoy: We have no freedoms and rights in Turkey. All of them suspended. There is emergency rule and the government thinks they can do whatever they want. They already suspended their agreements on human rights with the Council of Europe. The Turkish government did suspend that. The media is of course under tremendous pressure. I think the numbers are higher because they’ve increased after that [article].
WKI: This is just from April.
Hishyar Ozsoy: Numbers are increasing. There is absolutely no freedom of expression. No freedom of the media. People are so scared, they can’t even gossip. That much fear the government has created. Kurdish media outlets were particularly targeted. We almost have no access to the media. Mostly, we are using social media, the HDP even tried to create its own web TV. All of this repression justified in the name of “fighting terror”… Erdogan is putting pressure on the media. More than 150 journalists are imprisoned. More than 200 media outlets were closed. A lot of pressure on the academia, universities. More than 5000 academics lost their jobs. So much pressure on the judiciary. More than 3000 were just dismissed over night. This happened right after the coup attempt. Over 80 Kurdish mayors are in prison. So many Kurdish politicians, including our co-chairs are in prison. Members of parliament are in prison. This whole massive crack down on the democratic opposition in general, is for Erdogan to clear the way, to consolidate his rule, the executive presidency. It’s not just he’s randomly attacking this and that. All of these are happening as parts of a particular political program of violence, of intimidation, and of consolidating the presidential system…
WKI: Would you say that it’s become systematic?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Very systematic. The country is under emergency rule, it’s an exceptional measure, right? Under exceptional circumstances, you declare it for a temporary period of time. It has been one year now. With the presidential system Erdogan is trying to establish, we will be living under permanent emergency rule. No rights. No separations of powers. No freedoms. Anyone critical of Erdogan will go to prison. One last example. My own case. World peace day, on September 1st. In my hometown, I delivered a speech to people and the press. The local press… Where I was criticizing Erdogan’s militaristic policies and talking about the urgent need of resuming the peace process. And then, I got this, you know, invitation from the court. There was a court case against me.
WKI: A warrant?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Yes. My immunity was lifted because of that speech. And in the speech, they couldn’t find anything, except for one sentence. In that sentence, I said “We in Turkey are 80 million people in total. And we haven’t been able to satisfy the ambitions of President Erdogan and his family. Erdogan is insisting on militaristic policies. He’s insisting on war making in order to pursue his political ends.” And this much I said. They are asking up to five years prison sentence because I insulted the president. Even saying that his ambitions are not satisfiable. There is nothing wrong about what I said. I am a lawmaker. I am a politician. I have to talk. I have to criticize. It’s what I do. So that is the situation unfortunately. He’s out of control. If he continues like this, he may [make Turkey] fall apart. Make Turkey a new Syria.
WKI: Now, Osman Baydemir [HDP spokesperson], was arrested by Turkish authorities for insulting the police. Now this happened within the past week I want to say, but the occurrence of question was back in 2012… He’s since been released. Has there been any updates there?
Hishyar Ozsoy: The good question to ask here is why something that had happened in 2012 became an issue in 2016. Because the prosecutors were given orders by the president of the country to prepare indictments. They went through old files and couldn’t find anything. In my case they couldn’t find anything that satisfies what they could… [prosecute for]. Mr. Baydemir is the spokesperson of the HDP. As you know, he was former mayor of Diyarbakır for ten years. Now he is member of parliament representing the Şanlıurfa province. He has so many other cases, I don’t know really how many. He is much more popular in that sense, popular than me. [Laughs] I only have two court cases. I don’t know how many he has. Maybe 15, 20. There may be other brief arrests. Or he, too, may go to prison. Anyone can go to prison in Turkey.
WKI: So, the argument of him insulting the police, is just an excuse?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Definitely. Let me mention my second case to clarify. I have two cases. One is insulting the president and the other is insulting the police. This is what really happened. A police[man] comes to me and we are at the morgue and some person was killed and we are trying to deliver the dead body of that person to the family. There was a lot of police presence there. This police officer; the chief police officer in charge of anti terror operations, was there and pushing people here and there. And I said, “Mr. Officer, I am a member of parliament.” He knows me of course. I said “what is the source of tension? People are already agitated here. We need to help. We need to just help these people to have their dead body and just take it for burial.” I somehow cooled him down a little bit. Like, half a minute later, he started again. Pushing people and the person he was pushing was our number two candidate for November elections. I approached him again. I said “What’s your problem? Why you are creating tension here? I mean you don’t need to even be here.” Right at the gate of the morgue. People are agitated. They want to take their dead for burial. The police officer said, shaking his finger like this, “who the hell are you? Sen de kimsin? … “Sen de kimsin” is like a very rude way of saying I don’t know who are you. Like, “who the hell are you”. I said, “I am a member of parliament elected by these very people and “siz kimsiniz?” “Siz kimsiniz?” in Turkish is the polite way of saying, who are you? I was definitely more polite than him. And my phrase, “siz kimsiniz,” became the reason for another indictment. Insulting the police officer while on duty. Insulting the character of the Turkish state. And I am a member of parliament and this police officer is pointing his finger at me like this and calling me and pointing at me. I ask him three times. I say, “please lower your finger, people are here. This is something you shouldn’t be doing as a public officer.” Like this. “Don’t do this.” Three times. And at the end, he lowered his finger and I said, “siz kimsiniz.”
WKI: That means the same as who are you?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Yeah. It is who are you. One is “siz kimsiniz.” The other is “sen kimsin.” “Sen kimsin” is the rude way. it’s very rude. That is what he said and I said “siz kimsiniz?” That was the polite way. But he opened a court case against me, [Chuckles] claiming that I insulted him. That was the second reason that my legislative immunity as a member of parliament was lifted. Probably something similar happened to Osman Baydemir. I don’t know about the specific case… The Turkish police are very sensitive.
WKI: Well, that actually goes to the question of there being a lot of subjectivity to it.
Hishyar Ozsoy: Ooh. Sure. There is no factual objective ground to any of these accusations. 99% of these allegations are about some speech delivered by [a] member of parliament. Mr. Selahattin Demirtaş, our co-chair, had 103 different cases and every single one of them was either about a speech he delivered, the majority, or in some public event, meeting, protest, he showed up.
WKI: It’s a highlight of feelings.
Hishyar Ozsoy: Yeah. Anything you say, anything you do is a crime.
WKI: Going to Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK). They made a statement recently saying, this is a quote. “All the cities of Turkey are our battlegrounds and our actions will be much more intense than in the past.” You’ve said that there is an institutional difference between the HDP and the PKK..
Hishyar Ozsoy: Yeah. Well of course. We don’t approve of TAK I can say very clearly. We have said that in Turkey and several times in public… There are two things here. One is the Turkish government has been so aggressive, so violent, against not only the PKK militants, the Kurdish militia or militants, but also against civilians. They killed more than 170 civilians in three basements in the town of Cizre. Like, in front of the watching eyes of the international community. I should tell you that Kurdish people and Kurdish youth are so much angry. They are angry and they don’t think that legal politics, legal politicians, like us, democratic politicians can resolve the issue. And they are tending towards violent methods… to respond to this massive campaign of violence and repression implemented by the Turkish government. In the HDP, we don’t find this productive at all. We think it is not a good idea in such a delicate time, despite the fact the government is using every nasty tactic, violence, repression, killings, murders. They are doing it, but this way of responding to it and turning Turkish cities, into what they say?
Hishyar Ozsoy: That is going to deepen the cycle of violence we have been trying to get out of. So, that is our position. It’s clear, but I should also say that this particular feeling, the idea of taking revenge or retaliation is actually gaining a lot of popularity and social base particularly among the Kurdish youth who are so angry at the… Turkish government… Of course the idea is understandable that Kurdish people are so angry at the Turkish government. That they are so angry at, for example, that the dead body of a 60 year-old woman was left on the ground for seven days. Or more than 170 people were killed in basements and these were civilian people… Whole towns were destroyed. Bulldozed… So such events have created a particular kind of social psychology among the Kurds. Yes, many of them do want some kind of justice through revenge or violence. Politically, of course we don’t find that useful.
WKI: The HDP is still taking a political route?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Of course, I mean we are a political party and the whole idea of the HDP was to build peace in Turkey. As a party, we emerged out of the peace process, actually when the peace process started… The main goal was to democratize Turkey and to try to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. That is our main promise, so if we deny that promise, we can’t do any politics. Because the government has been closing off all the channels of communication and all the spaces of legal democratic politics, we do think the government is sowing the seeds of more political violence.
WKI: So, it’s the arson and the fireman?
Hishyar Ozsoy: Yeah. You close off every venue for political expression. Anybody who criticises the government like Selahattin Demirtaş, you send them to prison. And the majority of Kurdish people may think, “you see. Oh. We can’t reach any kind of solution, settlement by means of negotiation or talking or dialogue. See, even people like Ahmet Türk were sent to prison for example,” the senior Kurdish politician. And that is why there is this psychology of, like “if they’re coming to us with violence, then we need to respond by violence.” That’s a different kind of doing politics. We do think that will be counter productive and it wouldn’t benefit anyone in Turkey…
WKI: Tell us about the main message of your party to the US government here?
Hishyar Ozsoy: We know that the US government has been supporting the PYD and YPG [Syrian Kurdish political organization and military force] on a military basis, providing them with weapons, and ammunition and intelligence in the fight against the ISIS. And they claim their relationship is a tactical one and we don’t know what they specifically mean by that. But I think that tactical doesn’t mean temporary. Tactical doesn’t mean that at one point it won’t turn into a broader political strategy. But in exchange for that support to PYD/YPG, it seems the US administration is providing Turkey with some other kinds of resources and intelligence and probably weapons to fight against the PKK, which is a further militarization of the Kurdish conflict that we don’t need in Turkey. We do think the US government should do its best and use its leverage to convince the Turkish government for the resumption of the peace process [rather than supporting Turkey for further militarization of the conflict]. They [the US government] should help Turkey to come to the idea that a peaceful resolution of the issue is also to the benefit of Turkey and Turkish people. The US is trying to ease the anxiety of Turkish government stemming from the US policy of providing YPG [Syrian Kurdish military force] with weapons. This politics of appeasement, easing the anxiety of Turkish government, should not lead to further militarization of Kurdish conflict in Turkey. Now the US administration is trying to balance out the YPG with the Turkish government. The elephant in the room is the peace process at home in Turkey. If they can help to resume the peace process, that would be a major contribution. And such a Turkish Kurdish peace process would also help to stabilize both Iraq and Syria in a much shorter period of time.
WKI: Thank you very much for your time.