AK Party Deputy Chair Mehdi Eker told Daily Sabah that the PKK is opposed to Kurds becoming an important part of the Turkish political system through gaining political rights and democratization
Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Deputy Chairman and Istanbul Deputy Mehdi Eker said the detention of Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputies who refused to testify was in line with the law and added that similar to all democratic countries, politicians in Turkey are not exempt from fulfilling their legal duties.
Eker, who spent several days in Diyarbakır to observe people's reactions after the appointment of trustees to HDP municipalities, said these municipalities did not serve their constituents and, instead, helped the terrorist organization. Thus, Eker believes that these municipalities and their heads have lost their legitimacy. Thus, the appointment of trustees is definitely not a usurpation of the will of the people.
Mehdi Eker (R) and Daily Sabah's Ali Ünal
Responding to criticism about freedom of the press in Turkey, he stressed that the AK Party is not against freedom of the press and objective journalism, while underlining that Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) members and affiliates who work for the media, regardless of their positions, should be held responsible for aiding the coup attempt, either directly or indirectly.
DS: What's your thought about the detention of the HDP deputies?
In all democratic countries, including Turkey, politicians are not exempt from fulfilling their legal duties. HDP deputies were detained for refusing to testify under the scope of ongoing terror probes. But other lawmakers, including the chairman of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahçeli, testified when they were summoned by the prosecutors. HDP deputies are not exempt from the law, and the detentions were in line with the rule of law. The detained HDP deputies came to power via elections, but they preferred to embrace terrorism, and of course, they will be held accountable by the law.
DS: In recent days, control of some HDP municipalities was transferred to appointed trustees. This was seen as a usurpation of the people's will by some. What is your opinion on this issue?
It is definitely not the usurpation of the will of the people; these municipalities did not serve the people's needs, as stated in the law. If these municipalities did not serve their constituents and, instead, helped the terrorist organization to dig trenches and devastate the city, these municipalities and their heads have lost their legitimacy. Still, these are all legal processes. If the judiciary has investigated these allegations and found them to be true, the executive can appoint trustees to these municipalities. Moreover, these trustees are not permanent; they are temporary administrators. Thus, these allegations and discourses are only political jousts. These discourses do not have any correspondence with what the people are thinking.
How do you evaluate the PKK's killing of AK Party provincial administrators? Secondly, what kinds of countermeasures are being taken by the AK Party central administration?
The PKK has always been a tyrannical terrorist organization. They are known for never tolerating the existence of political or ideological notions or movements that are not in accordance with their own views. I remember during the last years of the 1970s when the PKK was formed. They subdued people and organizations, including Kurdish citizens and organizations, by violence just because they had viewpoints that differed from the PKK. Hence, the PKK has since aimed to purge any movements, parties and organizations that oppose them by using force and employing terror tactics.
The PKK clearly does not tolerate the democratization of Kurds, Kurds gaining their rights, becoming an important part of the Turkish political system, improving their positions in the system or developing their culture. Thus, the PKK is against a democratic and civil sociopolitical atmosphere for Kurds. For this very reason they try to disrupt, damage and destroy any processes just so their ideology can dominate the public sphere.
As the AK Party treats Turks, Kurds and other ethnicities equally and tries to create a prosperous and peaceful Turkey, there is a conflict of interest with the PKK. Thus, the PKK wants to sabotage it. They either threaten or attack our provincial personnel in southeastern Anatolia, as they perceive the AK Party as their enemy. In this sense, constant attacks on our personnel and offices indicate the unity the AK Party has achieved with the people.
Regarding countermeasures to prevent further killings, we have already taken some security measures. As you know, our security forces are already fighting successfully against PKK strongholds in the southeast. When our security forces take these strongholds and incapacitate terrorists, it will be much safer. Moreover, we are advising our provincial personnel to take individual security measures as well.
On the other hand, the people are no longer heeding the call of the PKK or its political extension, the HDP. Before the June 7 elections in 2015, the HDP had said if given the chance, only they could disarm the PKK and contribute to the peace process. The people gave them this chance on June 7. However, in the following process, we have seen that the HDP was in no position to direct or command the PKK or Qandil. Moreover, some of their deputies even openly declared that they relied on the terrorist organization. Afterwards, the people became aware of the reality and started to withdraw their support from the HDP. This caused the HDP to lose half of its deputies in the following snap elections in 2015.
In recent weeks, you visited and had contact with your counterparts in countries like the U.S. and U.K. Do you believe Turkey is able to fully convey what happened on July 15, the night of the coup attempt?
Starting around 2009, FETÖ started to create a certain perception about Turkey. This perception management reached its peak during the Gezi Park protests. In this sense, FETÖ manipulated the Western public and political opinions about Turkey.
Today, most people are questioning the apprehension and dismissals of FETÖ-affiliated civil servants, inquiring whether there is a mass purge of the opposition and wondering if Turkey is becoming more autocratic. I can say that these questions are very typical, reflecting the rhetoric of the international media. However, when I talk with my foreign counterparts or peers who are informed either by their ambassador in Turkey or their intelligence agencies about the subject matter, they are seemingly closer to understanding the truth.
What we have to do is to prevent FETÖ's manipulation of the international media with disinformation, refute their false allegations through the same channels and convey the truth of the matter. If we are to defend ourselves against slander, communication is vital. Unfortunately, we have the habit of addressing an issue only when it becomes overt; however, we always have to address these issues, regardless of appearance or emergence, if we want to overcome them. Thus, we should have continuity in our communications with all of our contacts, as communication is the only weapon that can make people question whether what they have been hearing about Turkey is true.
As Turkey started to improve its relations with Russia after the coup attempt and criticized EU countries for reacting to the coup attempt in a delayed manner, some are questioning whether Turkey is shifting from the EU towards Eurasia. Being the chair of the AK Party's Foreign Affairs, how would you respond to these questions?
The Russian Federation is our neighbor, and we have important trade, tourism and energy relations with them. Hence, Russia is an economic and strategic partner of Turkey. Improving all aspects of our bilateral relations with Russia is of importance. In this sense, questioning improved relations with Russia is meaningless, as there is nothing more natural than improving relations with your neighbors. Moreover, as Russia is a part of regional issues in the western Mediterranean, a level of diplomatic relations are needed to resolve the issues in the region and achieve stability. Thus, Turkey's interactions with Russia have nothing to do with either the EU or NATO.
Turkey is determined in its bid to become a full-member of the EU. Thus, it's the EU that should consider its disposition. Unfortunately, there are some narrow-minded politicians in the EU that cannot comprehend the reality. Some of these politicians believe that Turkey's full-membership would be a gift to Turkey; however, we believe that the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU. Moreover, pluralism is one of the European values that the EU is built upon. The actual realization of this value depends on Turkey's complete integration in the EU. Otherwise, the EU will not be able to create a pluralist social structure and will stay as a monolithic structure. We know from history that whenever Europe becomes monolithic, infighting ensues. Therefore, the EU's security and stability rests on Turkey's full-membership.
Turkey is a country that is both Western and Eastern - not only in a geographical sense, but in cultural terms. Thus, Turkey's relations with different countries should be perceived as an effort to bring these two different cultures together.
You have mentioned pluralism. Some European countries argue that Turkey lacks plurality in many aspects, such as the media, and therefore assert that Turkey is distancing itself from European values. What is your response to these allegations?
I believe these allegations are not true. As you know, we recently experienced a coup attempt that caused the death of 241 innocent civilians and wounding 2,195 people. Many institutions were bombed by F-16 fighter planes and attack helicopters. The perpetrators, FETÖ, are not like the juntas of the past. The interventions of past juntas were of course undemocratic; however, none of them bombed state institutions and wrought havoc, killing people in the process. FETÖ aimed to push Turkey into chaos, opening it for international interventions.
It should be understood that FETÖ is a messianic cult that has infiltrated not only state institutions, but also many privately owned establishments such as the ones in the media. It is well known that this terrorist organization has newspapers, media agencies and TV channels. Thus, the current operations on certain media outlets are an effort to sort out FETÖ affiliates in the media.
We are not against freedom of the press and objective journalism. FETÖ members and affiliates working for the media, regardless of their positions, should be held responsible for aiding the coup attempt, either directly or indirectly. We are fighting against terrorists and their sympathizers -- not against journalist who are only doing their jobs. After all, as I always state to my peers, Turkey upholds the rule of law, and everything is conducted according to these laws.
In the context of the operation on the Cumhuriyet daily, some are claiming that the government is trying to silence the opposition with statutory decrees, as Cumhuriyet has been known as an opposition and a Kemalist media outlet. What is your response?
As the judiciary has not yet prepared the bill of indictment and publicized the reasons, we cannot possibly know why this operation took place. We can only speculate about the reasons, but it would not be a healthy approach. Therefore, we have to wait until the judiciary publicizes the accusations about the people who were apprehended.
Officials will collect evidence, gather information from the apprehended and prepare a bill of indictment. This is the standard procedure. Of course, no one would desire injustice befalls innocents. As these are our state institutions and citizens, we would not want any injustices.
Regarding the claims, we are a political party, and we depend on the votes of the Turkish people. In this sense, doing injustice to the people would only increase the numbers of our opponents. Therefore, it is not rational to assert that the government is deliberately causing injustice.
In what conditions would a new reconciliation process be viable?
The PKK has always sabotaged any initiatives that aimed to democratize the Kurdish people and achieve a permanent peace. Even though they had to disarm and retreat in 2013, they did not do that. Moreover, in 2014, using the siege of Kobani as an excuse, they massacred many of our citizens. As if these were not enough, they fortified themselves in Sur, a historical district of Diyarbakır, digging trenches, damaging and destroying the properties of our citizens. Considering all of these facts, there is not another way besides fighting all terrorist elements until they are completely incapacitated. This is the case.
Lastly, what are your thoughts on the ongoing discussions about a presidential system and new constitution?
Turkey is currently in search of a new system, and we are witnessing discussions about a presidential system. The current system in Turkey is neither a complete parliamentary system nor a presidential system; it is in between. This has to be made clear.
I have to state that we do not have any issues with the Republic or democracy. We will never renounce democratization or democracy. In fact, our presidential system proposition is about democratization. The AK Party has always been a force of democratization; this is why we have faced fierce opposition throughout the years.
We have to clarify the terms, as our presidential system proposition is facing disinformation and false allegations. First of all, democracy is our regime that we will never forsake. Secondly, our form of government is a republic, therefore the will of the people. As I have said, we do not have any issues with these two concepts and their application.
In accordance with international laws, the will of the people and Turkey's interest, we want to propose a change in the system of government. However, the people will decide what it is going to be: a parliamentary democratic system, presidential or semi-presidential system and a party member president. … This process was not our initiative; those who tried to block us from electing a president in April 2007 while we had 363 seats in Parliament, are the initiators of this process. They tried to subdue the people by imposing an arbitrary law stating that two-thirds of total seats were needed to elect a president.
In the fall of 2007, the constitutional change that foresees the election of the president by popular vote was passed. Now we have a popularly elected president, but the system still needs an overhaul, as it is not complete. As we currently have an AK Party government, it may not seem problematic. However, Turkey has long suffered from an inconsistent and inconclusive system. What we are proposing is people should decide how the system should be - nothing more, nothing less.
Turkey is in a region that is constantly in one conflict or another. These conflicts are not our products, but we have to stay strong and protect our lands from these conflicts. I believe this can only be done by having a powerful and stable government. We know that we are not permanent as a government; people may lend their will to another political party. However, we believe that the change in the system of government is vital for the perpetuation of Turkey.
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