Kurdish Question In Turkey: Towards A New Crossroad

(A Kurdish Publishing House in Turkey)


In February 1999 when the leader of PKK (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan – Kurdistan Workers Party) Abdullah Ocalan was abducted by a USA lead international conspiracy and handed over to Turkey, the expectations were more as follows: In Northern Kurdistan (Southeastern Turkey) where the Kurds constitute the majority of the population and in large cities like Istanbul which had received massive Kurdish migration as a result of ethnic cleansing, Kurdish uprising would escalate and would become widespread. Turkey’s ultra-nationalist fascist party MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) was declaring that this uprising would have at most a six months lifetime and was demanding the PKK leader should be immediately hanged; some retired Turkish army generals were following the same line: Abdullah Ocalan should be hanged to give a clear message to the whole and the last Kurdish uprising of the 20th century should be brutally oppressed.


However, after being captured, intending a democratic solution for the Kurdish question, Abdullah Ocalan detained in isolation in Imrali Island of the Marmara Sea wanted Kurdish guerillas fighting in the mountains of Kurdistan to draw to the Southern Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) and the mass demonstrations with impending violence to be stopped. In accordance with his demand, the protests whole over Turkey had stopped and most of the Kurdish guerrilla drew to Southern Kurdistan. It seemed that a war with a toll of 30,000 casualties, thousands of demolished Kurdish villages and millions of expelled Kurds was over. Abdullah Ocalan’s suggestion to stop uprising for democratic solution and the communication of this message to the general public was no doubt realized by the permission of the high ranked Turkish authorities. The dominant tendency in the state had been to head towards a de facto cease-fire. The ultra-nationalist fascist alternative which was empowered during the “low-intensity war against the Kurds” and whose votes was increased up to 18% in 1999 elections was being rendered useless.


In the same period, by abolishing itself, PKK has started a process towards structuring a congress and renamed itself as KADEK (Kongreya Azadi u Demokrasiya Kurdistan – Kurdistan Freedom and Democracy Congress). This was not simply a renaming. In its court defenses KADEK leader Ocalan has claimed that PKK has emerged and struggled for just reasons but was incapable of renewing itself and was pulled into the terror created by the war. He pronounced that although KADEK was a continuation of PKK, it has to succeed in going beyond its predecessor. According to him, the Kurds in 21st century has to play the following role in the Middle East: to struggle for the democratization of the states that they are living within their territories (Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria) and for the transformation of the whole Middle East towards a federal structure of peoples having an equal status.


When democratic solution to the Kurdish question is pronounced, the first idea in public opinion in Turkey is the legal changes to be carried out for Turkey’s participation to the European Union (EU). By these legal changes, Kurds will certainly achieve some basic human rights. For example, abolishing death penalty, freedom for the Kurdish language including political propaganda, TV broadcasting in Kurdish language, freedom for learning Kurdish language etc. are the essential measures among the EU criteria. Moreover, the freedom for thought and expression are decisive for the Kurdish population to express their political demands freely. For this reason, the legal representative of the Kurdish Liberation Movement, DEHAP (People’s Democratic Party) which entered to the general elections in November 2003 with a coalition with Turkish radical left parties and had increased its votes over 6% has supported Turkey’s membership to the EU. In general, the Kurdish people have become a major component of pro-EU public opinion in Turkey.


An important turning point in Turkey’s democratization process is the September 11th events. After September 11th, together with the USA’s “war against terror”, anti-EU power groups in Turkey again began to raise their voice. Especially the policy leaded by the Turkish military – a regime perspective around USA axis but also within some limited alliance with the EU – began to be prominent. The consequences of this development for the Kurds and the peoples in Turkey in general were the dropping of “democratic solution” to the Kurdish Question from the agenda. Here, the biggest failure of the anti-democratic powers in Turkey is their wrong analysis of USA’s Middle East policy. After September 11th, they were unable to see that Turkey’s importance was not geo-strategical but geo-tactical and they supposed that Turkey could be a strategic ally to USA in Middle East alongside with Israel. They believed they could have imposed their own Kurdish policy on USA. They would have to pay the cost of this wrong assessment by the start of the Gulf War II.


Few months before the Gulf War II, on the 3rd of November 2002, Turkey went through an important general election. After this general elections a party insisting on Turkey’s entrance to EU and not approved by the Turkish Military because of its Islamic attitude – AKP (Justice and Development Party) has gained power and had the right to sit alone in the office. AKP was established by a political group separated from Islamic RP (Welfare Party) that had had anti-western tendencies. AKP declared they were “Muslim-Democrats” or “right-wing conservatives” and were rejecting fundamentalism. They were successful in gaining the support of the majority of the right-wing electorate by claiming that religious freedom in Turkey would be also achieved by Turkey’s entrance to the EU. Moreover, they were promising freedom and welfare for all sectors of the society. AKP was holding back from the military and civil bureaucracy of the state. It’s leader Tayyip Erdogan was not able to become elected MP as he has committed crime of thought expression. In order to make himself accepted he had met several country leaders, G. W. Bush being the primary one, and wanted to show that he is the de facto prime minister of the government. Plan was successful: For him, an interim election was organized; he became an MP and the de facto prime minister became the official prime minister.


When the Gulf War II has started the AKP government was under a difficult situation against USA administration which had been supported them: The memorandum which would let almost whole Turkey to be used as a logistic base in USA’s Iraq war was turned down by the Turkish parliament. But USA administration knew who was the guilty: Turkish military, to whom they had provided limitless arms and diplomatic support in its “low-intensity war” against the Kurds for many years. Actually, before the negotiation in the parliament, AKP had demanded the National Security Council (MGK) that comprises the Turkish General Stuff together with the president and the government representatives and having the power to influence the parliament, to make a declaration favoring the memorandum. But this demand was refused. Soon, the Chief of the General Stuff Hilmi Ozkok has declared that they had  supported the resolution but for the sake of democracy they didn’t want to influence the parliament. However, naturally, the USA administration was not convinced with this declaration. Everybody knew that the MGK in Turkey had been the top government structure for decades, civil governments were not able to take critical decisions without the consent of this body and Turkish General Stuff was the most powerful element within this governmental organization. The real problem lied in somewhere else: the Kurdish policy of Turkish General Stuff had began to live through a severe conflict with the Middle East and particularly the Kurdish policy of the USA.


From the Kurdish perspective, after the US occupation, the Kurdish leaders in Southern Kurdistan (Barzani, leader of Kurdish Democratic Party and Talabani, leader of Patriotic Union Of Kurdistan) aligned their future to the fate of the new colonial administration. However, the political leadership of the Northern Kurdistan Kurds within the boundaries of Turkey (KADEK and its chairman Ocalan) indicated that Turkey is at a crossroad. Either it will follow a path of peace and democracy and move towards a new social restructuring based on voluntary unity of the peoples of Turkey, or the colonial regime that includes Southern Kurdistan will become an attraction center for all Kurds of the region.


The civil and military elite circles that dominate the administration of Turkey are still insisting on pursuing their traditional policies. The essence of this policy is to prevent Kurds from attaining any equal people status as other peoples in the Middle East by exerting a harsh oppression on them. On the one hand they are trying to prevent a federative Kurdish state in Southern Kurdistan under the protection of USA, on the other hand they are trying to destroy the political leadership of North Kurdistan Kurds, that is KADEK. At the same time they are provoking a low-profile anti-imperialist discourse and preparing the left and right wing nationalists for a possible Turkish-Kurdish war.


There is a virtual solidarity between Turkey, Syria and Iran. Syria is systematically arresting KADEK members and handing them over to Turkey. Iran is firing shells over the border to the regions in Southern Kurdistan where the KADEK guerrilla fighters are based. Turkey is launching military operations against the guerrilla groups in Northern Kurdistan. During the skirmishes at Northern Kurdistan, KADEK guerrillas are responding to Turkish military operations within the frame of self-defense and retaliation. At the moment the war is not declared officially. However Turkish officials indicate that a “war against terror” as it had been conducted in 1990’s may start.


It should be noted that the civil and military elite circles that are trying to “solve” the Kurdish question by traditional methods are facing with serious difficulties. They cannot align their Kurdish policy with USA. USA is dismissing the geo-strategic importance of Turkey after Gulf War II and inhibiting the movements of Turkish military in Southern Kurdistan, as has been demonstrated by the arrest of a squad of Turkish Special Forces in Kirkuk. Turkish state knows that it cannot conduct a war against Kurds without US support, so it uses the presence of KADEK – which is on USA’s terror list – in Northern and Southern Kurdistan as a pretext.


At his point the major obstacle for Turkish civil and military elite is the “amnesty and social reconciliation” campaign declared by KADEK. KADEK leader A. Ocalan currently detained in Imrali Island under isolation has announced that he is open to all sorts of sacrifice including his banishment that can open the path for peace and democracy and eliminate the threat of a new impending war. However the Turkish state is insisting on its opposition against any kind of roadmap that might result in the political representation of Kurds by gaining a status of an equal people. Abduction and rape of DEHAP Chairwoman Gulbahar Gunduz by certain individuals who are known to be police was the most important provocation that aims to stop civil and peaceful actions. After this incidence, hundreds of people who took action for peace and amnesty have been arrested.


The Kurdish Question in Turkey has become a quagmire. There are developments that may yield to very diverse roads. Turkish state could not manage to destroy the political center of Kurdish liberation movement (KADEK). AKP started to bestow some rights to Kurds in accordance to the EU criteria, however since the political center of Kurdish liberation movement could not be destroyed they think that restricting the Kurdish identity as a sub-identity is impossible and they are cautious about taking further steps. Furthermore even if KADEK would have been destroyed militarily and rendered ineffectual politically, it seems impossible to prevent Northern Kurdistan Kurds, who have been suppressed for a long time and valued at most as a secondary people in accord with EU criteria, to rely on the formation of Kurdish federative state in Southern Kurdistan. The empire looks more promising than a mere nation state with regards to basic rights. At this very point, Ocalan warns Turkish state: Either peace and democracy or overall corruption and decadence.


As Turkey comes close to a new crossroad regarding the Kurdish question, KADEK leader Ocalan insists that the Kurdish liberation movement should move with a paradigm that transcends the nationalistic and Marxist boundaries since five years. He proposes to establish democratic and ecologic social coordinations that will besiege and keep under control the state instead of a strategy that aims seizing the state or establishing a new one, to reject any “statist” orientation and to stop resorting to armed struggle except the cases of self-defense. The reason for Turkey, Iran, Syria, US and EU not to digest the Northern Kurdistan-based Kurdish liberation movement is that vision. As Southern Kurdistan starts to become a “reliable” base for a colonial regime that provides a ground for ethnic conflicts, Northern Kurdistan is becoming an “unreliable” ground where the Kurdish liberation movement is trying to restructure itself as a dynamic of the global liberation movement.


Finally the KADEK Council of Presidency has announced that they will wait until the 1st of September (World Peace Day) and if no attempt is developed by the government that deals with the Kurdish question outside the “terror domain”, they will abolish their compromising policy that proves to be ineffective as long as it is unilateral. If the Turkish Government itself doesn’t build a compromising policy, probably most of the KADEK guerrilla forces will turn back to the Northern Kurdistan and armed struggle will become a routine matter in Turkey’s agenda. It is not easy to see the consequences of such a development in the Middle East in general.







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