Michael Albert interviews Abdullah Demirbas, the Kurdish mayor in Sur Country, Diyarbakir, Turkey. Interview was conducted by email.
Can you first please briefly explain your position in Diyarbakir, your office and role?
I am mayor of Sur Country, Diyarbakir. I am now serving in my second term to which I was elected with 66 percent of the votes.
You are Kurdish and deeply involved in the Kurdish Liberation Movement. Can you briefly indicate, please, your affiliations in that regard as well?
I have been in the Kurdish Political Movement for almost 30 years. I was a trade unionist and mayor as well as I took part in the foreign affairs commission of the party as a member of the central executive committee. In addition, I am currently on trial, accused of being an administrator of the KCK (Koma Civaken Kürdistan, the Kurdistan Communities Union is an umbrella organization representing various constituents of the Kurdish people).
Can you explain what the 'Kurdish Problem' is, in Turkey? That is, what are the conditions of the Kurdish people in Turkey? How many are there, compared to the population of Turkey? What is the reason the Kurds are in revolt?
The Kurdish problem is a political one. The main cause is that Kurds’ identity, along with other minorities, are not recognized by the State. Our existence is being denied constantly as well as our language. Our language is deemed to be non-existent. Kurds are faced with annihilation. We don’t get education in our native language. Our identities are not recognized in the Constitution and in national laws. We have some difficulties participating in politics. We are faced with oppression, arrest, death, and threat of closure of our legal parties. We have to live in Turkey as Turkish. Clear information about our population is not obtained easily since everyone is counted as a Turk in the census. However various scholars believe that 20-25 million Kurds live within the borders of Turkey and in total 40 million, considering those living outside of Turkey as well. Kurds always revolted to the State’s official ideology. We carry out this struggle with politics as well as with guns. My own case is a good example of this situation. Though I am within a political struggle, I am on trial and discharged from my duty and the prosecutor demands that my punishment should be 232 years imprisonment. My 16 year old son revolted at this situation; since they did take away my political rights, he picked the gun out as an option for the struggle. This is a sample explanation of the reasons why Kurds take up arms and climb into the hills as guerillas.
More personally, can you describe the impact of the plight of your people on you and your family, and on the people you serve as mayor?
Both as a family and a people, we are suffering considerably. Air operations (air bombarding sorties) are carried out daily and we cannot sleep in our beds thinking that our sons and daughters are not safe. Millions of people are in the same situation. People are being affected negatively in terms of economy, psychology, and social life. As a matter of fact we all are going through a trauma. We get deeply depressed when we witness poverty and the villages burned by government soldiers.
Can you explain the historic roots of the problem, its origins and, in particular, why you think the Turkish government has been, and remains, intransigent about solving this problem by granting the demands of the Kurds?
Kurds are one of the most settled and ancient people in this land. We live here in this region but our land has been divided by among different countries; Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran. When looking at the history we see that Turks were able to penetrate into Anatolia thanks to Kurdish alliance. The Turkish government is not willing to share its power with Kurds. Hence it does not bestow democratic and political rights on the Kurds. The government demands that Kurds be subjected to the state’s domination. Kurds live as a people without any status in spite of their 20 million population. The Turkish government does not take any steps to resolve this issue. Recently the government seems to have increased its efforts to annihilate Kurds.
Can you explain the broader problem – the role of Kurds in other regional countries – Kurdistan – etc.?
The Kurdish problem is an international one. Furthermore solving the Kurdish problem is a key element for democratization of the Middle East, since we are situated in the center of the Middle East and have lived strategically in the Fertile Crescent. Solving the Kurdish problem enables the multicultural, multi-religious, multi-identity nature of the Middle East to improve. Thus the confederation of all Middle Eastern peoples will flourish.
What do you think has been the role of the U.S. in the history and present conditions of the Kurdish community?
The USA not only has some responsibility for solving this problem, it has also played a role in the formation of the problem. At the outset, British policy was to blame for the Kurds’ inferior position. The USA then applied this policy. The USA has strategically supported the sovereign powers of the countries where Kurds live. The USA has given them POLITICAL and MILITARY power. The USA actively supported the Kurds in Northern Iraq in the post-Saddam period. In a nutshell, Kurds have fallen victim to international economic and political relations. But this problem cannot be solved without USA’s involvement.
What has been the broad history of development of the Kurdish movement, from the early days, on? What is the role of various parties in the movement, and what is the role of Ocalan and the changes that he has gone through?
So far 29 insurrections are said to have taken place by the authorities. However, the Kurdish Political Movement has been subjected to oppression and persecution due to both the political conjuncture and some troubles with regards to its leadership, organizational and ideological inefficiencies and splits. In spite of these obstacles, the Kurdish democratic freedom movement was able to gain some experience through its struggles. Every new movement has evolved from each previous one’s experience. All those struggle experiences crop up in PKK. Mr. Öcalan is a leader who is heeded by the Kurds living in other parts of the region. The paradigm he has evolved recently is assumed to be as important for both Kurds and the people throughout the Middle East. Whether you accept it or not, he has brought about intellectual and ideological change at an international level as well as in Turkey and the Middle East, and he is respected by the people.
What is Democratic Autonomy? When was it born? What is its aim both for the Kurdish people, and for Turkey?
To me, it is the definition of a status in which Kurds and Turks live together. It is an aspiration of Kurds to form their own self-governance. And it is also the solution for democratic unity. Kurds express that they want to live with their own identity along with other peoples in a democratic republic. Actually this is a project which has been put forward by the democratic unity ideal after 1999 and the tenets which have taken shape since then. Kurds used to believe in the ideal of an independent united Kurdistan; however after 1990s, the notion of living together was set forth. At the same time democratic autonomy is a solution process for the whole of Turkey. That is, it is not a process to divide Turkey but a process to fully integrate Turkey and all of its peoples. It is actually a democratic Turkey initiative that should be heeded by everyone, both politically and governmentally. As well as being an example for the Middle East, it is a model that fosters a federation of people in the Middle East.
How do you think the program seeking Democratic Autonomy will win its aims, by what path or paths?
The main principle is people’s participation and organization. This a project based on participation of the people to the procedures of decision making. Its target is to organize with assembles and councils from bottom to top. Democratic autonomy must have an institutional mechanism for planning and finding solutions which suits the people’s needs. Women are the main dynamics of this process. Freeing society can only be accomplished by this way. In my opinion this is the only way to live freely and peacefully, without regard for any of the distinctions (sexual, ethnic, or religious) that have historically divided us.