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Turkey's Not-Quite President

Selahattin Demirtas and the Evolution of Turkish Politics

Demirtas speaks during an election rally in Istanbul, August 3, 2014. Osman Orsal / Courtesy Reuters

In an election, coming in third place is rarely cause for celebration. But for Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic and telegenic 41-year-old politician who ran in Turkey’s August 10 presidential election, it was. Nearly ten percent of Turkish voters cast their ballots for Demirtas, a Kurd. 

The Kurds are Turkey’s largest ethnic minority and are located predominately in the country’s southeast. They have struggled since the late twentieth century against the Turkish majority for increased autonomy and cultural and linguistic rights. Some have called for a separate Kurdish state. Others have fought for it: In the early 1980s, a number of Kurds formed a Marxist guerrilla force called the Kurdistan Workers Party, more commonly known as the PPK. Since then, the PPK, a recognized terrorist group, and the Turkish military have fought a brutal war in which more than 40,000 have been killed. 

Although the Kurds have secured increased rights

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