A Last Chance for Turkish Democracy
By Dexter Filkins 06:00 A.M.
On April 16th, Turkey will vote on a referendum that, if passed, would dramatically increase the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
On April 16th, Turkey will vote on a referendum that, if passed, would dramatically increase the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.PHOTOGRAPH BY KAYHAN OZER / ANADOLU AGENCY / GETTY
The first time I met Selahattin Demirtaş, the leader of Turkey’s largest Kurdish political party, known as the H.D.P., he arrived at a restaurant in Istanbul with a single assistant accompanying him. Demirtaş is warm and funny. Among other things, he is an accomplished player of the saz, a string instrument that resembles the oud. At the time—it was 2011—Demirtaş was trying to lead his party and people away from a history of confrontation with the country’s central government. It wasn’t easy. Like other Kurdish leaders in Turkey, Demirtaş had spent time in prison and seen many of his comrades killed. I remember him telling me how, in the nineteen-nineties, when civil unrest in the country’s Kurdish areas was hitting its bloody peak, a particular make of car—a white Renault—had been notorious in Kurdish towns. The cars were used by Turkish intelligence officers, who had developed a terrifying reputation for torturing and executing Kurds. “I’ve been inside the Renaults,’’ Demirtaş told me. “A lot of people I know never made it out of them.”
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