Turkey's CHP deputy says party ready to 'solve Kurdish issue'

"Our presidential candidate Mr. Ince used to be a neo-nationalist and someone keeping a distance from the Kurdish issue," but not anymore, Erdal Aksunger tells Kurdistan 24.

ISTANBUL (Kurdistan 24) - Deputy Chairman of Turkey's leading opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Erdal Aksunger said on Friday that the group's presidential candidate had the resolve to recognize Kurdish rights on the basis of "equal citizenship."

Speaking to Kurdistan 24 TV's Istanbul bureau, Aksunger stated that CHP had made it a part of its election promises to strengthen local administrations in accordance with European Union standards and recognize the right to education in one's mother tongue.

Turkey is holding snap general and presidential elections on Sunday, called for by incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who the opposition and Kurds accuse of grave human rights violations and an increasingly authoritarian rule.

"Our presidential candidate Mr. [Muharrem] Ince used to be a neo-nationalist and someone keeping a distance from the Kurdish issue," Aksunger said. "But we have in the last past year told our friends and Mr. Ince that the most critical aspect of the Kurdish issue was to see the people as human beings."

Ince, a former high school physics teacher, has become the most formidable rival of Erdogan and his combative style has put the President on the defensive for the first time in his rule over successive governments since 2003.

"There, you see, Mr. Ince said there should be education in the mother tongue. If you notice, Muharrem Ince said this not in the [Kurdish-majority] east but the west. This is precious. The Kurdish issue and the problems of the [Kurdish] region need to be first digested by the people in the west, and then make them a part of the solution," he added. "We are supporters of this."

In his election rallies, Ince has told supporters that "our kids will get an education in three languages: Turkish, our mother tongues, and a foreign one."

Erdogan's other opponent, Selahattin Demirtas of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), remains jailed pending trial for more than 18 months so far, over his speeches and rallies prosecutors consider "terrorist propaganda and separatism."

The prospects of toppling Erdogan on June 24 or in a run-off in early July have brought the CHP and HDP closer this term. It is the first time a prominent politician, since the republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, has courted the Kurds' demand for linguistic rights and self-rule.

"I believe the Republican People's Party will solve the Kurdish issue very easily. During this election campaign, the CHP has turned its face further toward the east," he said, euphemistically using the geographic term for the part of Turkey that is historically known as a part of Greater Kurdistan.

Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) has in the past used the name of "Kurdistan" and promised to bring a peaceful solution to the four-decades-long conflict between Ankara and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in peace talks.

However, his administration later carried out a destructive campaign on autonomy-claiming Kurdish towns in 2015, after the AKP lost a parliamentary majority thanks to HDP's emergence in polls. It also made threats in response to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region's September independence referendum. After this, the Turkish army invaded the Afrin canton in Syrian Kurdistan, displacing 160 thousand people.

Aksunger said that what Turkey needed was a culture of co-existence.

"CHP has 21 important points on the Kurdish issue. Our candidate Ince is acting on this basis."

Among those points, CHP says it will reform the Turkish criminal code and anti-terror laws in a way to avoid violating personal liberties and democratic rights, and to recognize mother tongues and clear all minefields in the conflict-ridden southeastern provinces.

The CHP and its candidate have yet to explain whether their administration would, if victorious, withdraw forces from Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan, or if they intend to end the war with PKK at home through political negotiations.

Editing by John J. Catherine