Selahattin Demirtaş (Turkish pronunciation (help·info); born 10 April 1973) is a Turkish politician of Zaza Kurdish descent, member of the parliament of Turkey since 2007. He was co-leader of the left-wing pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), serving alongside Figen Yüksekdağ from 2014 to 2018. He has been imprisoned since November 2016.
|Chairman of the Peoples' Democratic Party|
22 June 2014 – 11 February 2018
|Preceded by||Ertuğrul Kürkçü|
|Succeeded by||Sezai Temelli|
|Leader of the Peace and Democracy Party|
1 February 2010 – 22 April 2014
|Preceded by||Mustafa Ayzit|
|Succeeded by||Party abolished|
See Democratic Regions Party
|Member of the Grand National Assembly|
22 July 2007 – 7 July 2018
|Born||10 April 1973|
Palu, Elazığ, Turkey
|Political party||Democratic Society Party|
Peace and Democracy Party
Peoples' Democratic Party
|Relatives||Nurettin Demirtaş (brother)|
|Alma mater||Ankara University|
Demirtaş was the presidential candidate of the HDP in the 2014 presidential election, coming in third place with 9.77% of the vote. The HDP executive board also fielded Demirtaş as their candidate for the 2018 presidential election. Running his campaign from prison, he came in third with 8.40% of the vote.
Selahattin Demirtaş was born into a Zaza-speaking family in Elazığ in 1973, where he completed both his primary and secondary education. He cites his experience at the funeral of politician Vedat Aydın as a political awakening:
I became a different person. My life's course changed … although I didn't fully understand the reason behind the events, now I knew: we were Kurds, and since this wasn't an identity I would toss away, this was also my problem."
Upon graduation from secondary school, he took the university entrance exam and started his college education in Dokuz Eylül University in the Department of Maritime Commerce and Management, where he would face political problems that would force him to leave school without finishing his degree. He returned to Diyarbakır and retook the university entrance exam, after which he enrolled at Ankara University Law Faculty. After his graduation, Demirtaş worked as a freelance lawyer for a time before becoming a member of the executive committee of the Diyarbakır branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD). The IHD Chair at the time was Osman Baydemir who was elected as the mayor of Diyarbakır at the following local election, when Demirtaş replaced him as the chair of the Diyarbakır IHD. During his term as chair, the association focused heavily on the increasing unsolved political murders in Turkey.
Demirtaş started his political career as a member of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) in 2007 at which time he stood as one of the 'Thousand Hope Candidates' for the DTP and several other democratic organizations in Turkey. He was elected to the 23rd Parliament and became the Parliamentary Chief Officer for the party at the age of 34.
The DTP was closed down by a Supreme Court order in 2009 for the parties alleged connections to the PKK, and the DTP MPs moved to the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). The BDP held its first congress in 2010 and elected Selahattin Demirtaş and Gültan Kışanak as its new co-chairs. Demirtaş contested the 2011 elections as part of the joint 'Labor, Democracy and Freedom' list endorsed by the BDP and 18 different democratic political organizations, this time for Hakkari. He was re-elected to parliament as an independent.
Demirtaş was the co-chair of BDP during the period when the peace process and negotiations kick-started in Turkey. In 2014 Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ were elected as the co-chairs of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) – a new initiative originating from a three-year-old coalition of the BDP and various different political parties and organization under the auspices of the Peoples' Democratic Congress (HDK) - for the 2014 presidential elections of Turkey, being one of three candidates and hoping to attract left-wing voters. He came third with 9.77% of the vote.
Demirtaş was co-leader along with Figen Yüksekdağ during the June 2015 Turkish general election, the party's first campaign in a general election. The HDP came in fourth place with 13.12% of the vote and 80 out of 550 seats. Celebrating the victory, he stated: "From now on, the HDP is Turkey's party. HDP is Turkey, Turkey is HDP." Demirtaş was officially announced as the candidate of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) on May 4, 2018 for the presidential election, after members of the party had hinted at his candidacy weeks in advance. Party leader Pervin Buldan declared that Demirtaş, the jailed former co-chair of the HDP, would be leading a five-party "Kurdish alliance" into the general election. He received 8.4% of the votes.
Legal prosecution and detentionEdit
After the Turkish parliament revoked the parliamentary immunity for several HDP politicians including the HDP leadership in May 2016, on 4 November 2016, Demirtaş was arrested along with Figen Yüksekdağ and other HDP MPs, accused of spreading propaganda for militants fighting the Turkish state. Demirtaş stated he is not a "manager, member, spokesperson, or sympathiser" of the armed PKK group.
The criminal indictment against Demirtaş alleged that he gave instructions to pro-PKK groups and provoked them during the 6–8 October events, which resulted in the death of 53 people. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed him for provoking protests, and said that all Kurdish people are the citizens of Republic of Turkey, and no one can attempt to build a state for them. This was at odds with Demirtaş's statements, which repeatedly stated opposition to both PKK and TSK violences, calling killed Turkish soldiers "the children of this country, our children", and declaring "No one has anything to win from a civil war in Turkey. Just look at Syria and Iraq.”
On January 18, 2017, Turkish prosecutors announced they were seeking a 142-year prison sentence for Demirtaş.
On November 20, 2018 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Demirtaş should be released from preliminary detention, and ordered Turkey to pay him 25'000 Euros. On November 30, 2018 a court in Turkey ruled he shall remain detained despite the ECHR ruling to release him. According to the verdict, the ruling of the ECHR was not definitive and not binding. The sentence he received the 7 September 2018 was upheld on December 4, 2018 by an appeal court. On the 31 December 2018 the lawyers of Demirtaş appealed the sentence at the Constitutional Court. According to the New York Times, more than hundred charges have been brought against Demirtaş. In November 2019, the Progressive Alliance wanted to give the Political Courage Award to him, but he couldn't attend the award ceremony, due to his imprisonment.
Since 4 November 2016 he is detained in the prison in the F-Type prison Edirne, a border town near Greece and Bulgaria, far away from Diyarbakır in South-Eastern Turkey, where his family lives at. His wife visits him once a week. The ECtHR called for releasing Demirtaş and stated that his arrest in 2016 violated his freedom of speech and the right of joining to the elections. According to HDP speaker Saruhan Oluç, he is not allowed to receive visits by parliamentarians of the HDP.
Demirtaş has faced threats due to his political activity and on November 22, 2015 he survived an assassination attempt.
In detention, he wrote a book titled Seher containing short stories. The Turkish edition of Seher has reportedly sold more than 200,000 copies. He has also wrote the book Devran in prison. In 2020 the book Leylan was published and Demirtaş acknowledged he would prefer a career in literature than the one in politics.
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- Orhan Türkdoğan, Doğu ve Güneydoğu: Sorunlar ve Çözüm Yolları, IQ KültürSanat Yayıncılık, 2009, ISBN 9789752552623, p. 16.
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- Demirtaş, Selahattin, "It is The Kurds, and Turkey's democracy, at stake," Newsweek, 10 March 2016, http://europe.newsweek.com/selahattin-demirtas-it-kurds-and-turkeys-democracy-stake-434024?rm=eu.
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