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Selahattin Demirtas


On Swiss visit, Kurdish leader criticises Europe’s inaction


The head of Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party criticised European policy towards Turkey and called on Switzerland to do more to address repression of the Kurds. He was visting Bern on Thursday.

Selahattin Demirtas, leader of the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party HDP, is an outspoken critics of the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

He pointed out that European criticism of Erdogan’s repression of the Kurds has been silent since the European Union made a deal to send migrants back to Turkey earlier this year. Germany in particular has closed its eyes to Erdogan’s actions, he said. 

Although it is not an EU member, Demirtas also had some criticism for Switzerland, saying the country should do more to bring its important experience with democracy into the debate. The HDP leader also thanked the Swiss for their support of the Kurdish people and urged them not to yield to pressures from Turkey, such as a recent call from Ankara to remove a photo in Geneva that is critical of Erdogan’s government. 

Demirtas was invited to Switzerland by a parliamentary group that works on maintaining ties to the Kurdish people. While in Bern, he did not meet with members of the cabinet, but he was welcomed by current Speaker of the House of Representatives Christa Markwalder as well as Christian Levrat, head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.

He was also set to meet with representatives of the Foreign Ministry to discuss the current situation in Turkey and the region. 

Switzerland is home to about 120,000 people of Turkish origin, about half of whom are Kurds. Protests and clashes between the Turkish and Kurdish communities have taken place several times in the past.

Turkish forces have been battling Kurdish militants in the country’s southeastern region for decades, with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) calling for an independent state. Recently, Turkish parliament passed a motion to strip some lawmakers of their diplomatic immunity, paving the way for the prosecution of Kurdish and other opposition parliamentarians. 

Before the media in Bern, Demirtas said that he feels he “already has one foot in prison” as a result and said his party would “exercise political resistance” against Erdogan’s agenda.

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