Selahattin Demirtaş

Selahattin Demirtaş (Turkish pronunciation ; 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. Since November 2016 he has been detained by the Turkish state. 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 from prison,[1] he came in third with 8.40% of the vote.

Selahattin Demirtaş

Chairman of the Peoples' Democratic Party
In office
22 June 2014  11 February 2018
Serving with Serpil Kemalbay (formerly Figen Yüksekdağ)
Preceded byErtuğrul Kürkçü
Succeeded bySezai Temelli
Leader of the Peace and Democracy Party
In office
1 February 2010  22 April 2014
Preceded byMustafa Ayzit
Demir Çelik
Succeeded byParty abolished
See Democratic Regions Party
Member of the Grand National Assembly
In office
22 July 2007  7 July 2018
ConstituencyDiyarbakır (2007)
Hakkari (2011)
Personal details
Born (1973-04-10) 10 April 1973
Palu, Elazığ, Turkey
Political partyDemocratic Society Party
(Before 2008)
Peace and Democracy Party
Peoples' Democratic Party
Spouse(s)Başak Demirtaş
RelativesNurettin Demirtaş (brother)
Alma materAnkara University

Early life

Selahattin Demirtaş was born in a Zaza-speaking family[2] 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."[3]

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 college, 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.

Political career

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 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 from Hakkari. He was re-elected to the 24th parliament.

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.[4] 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."[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] He received 8.4% of the votes.[8]

On November 4, 2016, Demirtaş was arrested along with Figen Yüksekdağ and other HDP MPs, accused of spreading propaganda for militants fighting the Turkish state.[9] Demirtaş stated he is not a "manager, member, spokesperson, or sympathiser" of the armed PKK group.[10] But he allegedly gave instructions to the pro-PKK groups and provoked them during the 6–8 October events and resulted to the death of 53 Kurdish people. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed him for joining provocation and said that all Kurdish people are the citizens of Republic of Turkey, and no one can attempt to build a state for them.[11]

On January 18, 2017, Turkish prosecutors announced they were seeking a 142-year prison sentence for Demirtaş.[12]

On September 7, 2018 he got sentenced to 4 years and 8 months for a speech he had made at a Newroz celebration on the 20 March 2013.[13] on November 20, 2018 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled Demirtaş should be released from preliminary detention.[14] 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.[15] The sentence he received the 7 September 2018 was upheld on December 4, 2018 by an appeal court.[16] On the 31 December 2018 the lawyers of Demirtaş appealed the sentence at the Constitutional Court.[13] According to the New York Times more than hundred charges were brought against him.[17]

Detention conditions

Since 4 November 2016 he is detained in the prison in the F-Type prison Edirne,[13] far away from Diyarbakır, where his family lives at. His wife visits him once a week.[18]

Personal life

Demirtaş is married to Başak Demirtaş and is the father of two girls, Delal and Dılda. Demirtaş has faced threats due to his political activity and on November 22, 2015 he survived an assassination attempt.[19]

In detention, he wrote a book titled Seher containing 12 fictional short stories. The Turkish edition has reportedly sold more than 200,000 copies.[20] The rights for the book in English was bought by Sarah Jessica Parker who published it under the title Dawn: Stories.[21] The English version was released on April 23, 2019, under Parker's imprint SJP for Hogarth.


  1. "Turkey's top Kurdish politician to run for president from behind bars". 25 April 2018.
  2. Orhan Türkdoğan, Doğu ve Güneydoğu: Sorunlar ve Çözüm Yolları, IQ KültürSanat Yayıncılık, 2009, ISBN 9789752552623, p. 16.
  3. Bellaigue, Christopher de. "The battle for Turkey: can Selahattin Demirtas pull the country back from the brink of civil war?". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-10-30.
  4. "Kurdish problem-focused HDP announces co-chair Demirtaş as presidential candidate". 30 June 2014. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  5. "Selahattin Demirtaş, the Dimming Star of Turkish Politics". Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  6. "HDP'li yetkililer: Demirtaş, ceza çıksa da çıkmasa da aday olacak". Sputnik News. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  7. "HDP nominates imprisoned former leader Demirtaş for presidency". Hürriyet Daily News. Retrieved 4 May 2018.
  8. "Seçim Sonuçları: Haziran 2018 Cumhurbaşkanlığı ve Genel Seçim Sonuçları". Hürriyet. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  9. "Turkey HDP: Blast after pro-Kurdish leaders Demirtas and Yuksekdag detained - BBC News". BBC. 2016-11-04. Retrieved 2017-03-02.
  10. "HDP's Demirtaş: I'm not a manager, member, spokesperson, or". 2015-09-09. Retrieved 2017-03-02.
  11. "Erdoğan: '53 kardeşimin kanı Demirtaş'ın eline bulanmıştır'". Internet Haber. Retrieved 2018-08-19.
  12. van Wilgenburg, Wladimir (18 January 2017). "Turkish prosecutor demands 142 years imprisonment for Kurdish leader Demirtaş, EU rapporteur outraged". ARA News. Retrieved 2017-03-02.
  13. "Prison Sentence of Selahattin Demirtaş Taken to Constitutional Court". Bianet. 2 January 2019.
  14. "ECHR: Demirtas should be released, his rights were violated". ANF News. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  15. Eckerd, Patrick. "Turkish court rules Kurdish opposition will remain leader imprisoned". Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  17. Gall, Carlotta (2018-07-31), "Erdogan's Most Charismatic Rival in Turkey Challenges Him, From Jail", The New York Times, ISSN 0362-4331, retrieved 2019-01-10
  18. "Why Kurdish voters could hold the key to Turkey's elections". The Independent. 2018-06-22. Retrieved 2019-01-10.
  19. "HDP says co-leader escaped an assassination attempt". 23 November 2015. Retrieved 24 November 2015.
  20. Jo Glanville (23 June 2018). "Inside stories: Turkey's grim tradition of publishing behind bars". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
  21. Kareem Fahim (22 March 2019). "From Turkey's bursting prisons, literature breaks out". Washington Pst. Retrieved 16 April 2019.
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