Abdulah Ocalan PKK
Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the PKK, after his capture by Turkish special forces in 1999.

Uzay Bulut | GATESTONE


Turkey’s authorities keep saying that the Turkish “security” forces do what they do — arrest or kill Kurds — only when Kurds carry out “terrorist” activities, or only when the PKK attacks targets in Turkey. Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth. Turkey’s attacks against Kurds have always been intense, even when the PKK declared unilateral ceasefires.

Regarding 2014, when there were no clashes between the Turkish military and the PKK, Faysal Sariyildiz, a Kurdish MP for the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), said, “During the last year, regarding the Kurdish issue, 3,490 people have been taken into custody, 880 people have been arrested and 25 people have been killed with police bullets.”

“These attacks,” said Mark Toner, spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, “are only exacerbating the continuation and the cycle of violence here. We want to see these attacks cease. We want to see the PKK renounce violence and re-engage in talks with the government of Turkey.”

What Mr. Toner fails to understand — although of course both sides should renounce violence and try to resolve the issue through dialogue, without bloodshed — is that the cycle of violence intensified only after the Turkish military started a recent all-out assault on Qandil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

What the AKP government refers to as “the resolution process” started in 2012, when talks were allegedly held between the Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and the leader of the PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, who has been imprisoned in Turkey since 1999.

But since then, in terms of liberties and rights, what has changed for Kurds?

Before that, about eight or nine talks between the PKK and the MIT were held in Oslo, Norway between 2008 to 2011, a PKK authority said. During the talks, the PKK — through the protocols Ocalan prepared — demanded a constitutional resolution, peace, and the establishment of a “Commission on Investigation of Truth” that would investigate murders committed in the past. “But in June 2011, after the elections, the government saw itself as powerful again, so it stopped participating in the talks and stopped taking them seriously,” the PKK authority said.

Again, during this process, no legal step was taken for recognition of Kurdish national rights.

Just this May, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a public speech:

They [the HDP party] say that “When we come to power, we will abolish the Diyanet [Presidency of Religious Affairs].” Why? Because they have nothing to do with religion. They go as far as saying that Jerusalem belongs to Jews; they [the PKK] give education on Zoroastrianism at the camps on the mountains.[1]

The TRT [state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation] has a Kurdish TV channel. There are Kurdish language courses at universities. Our country does not have a Kurdish issue any more. But our Kurdish citizens have some issues. Those who want to make the resolution process all about the Kurdish issue are on about something else. They say ‘We are the representatives of the Kurds.’ No way! If you really are their representatives, clear up the dirt in the sidestreets.”

Is this the language that someone who genuinely aims to achieve peace and provide democracy would use? First of all, Erdogan and his AKP party do not see the Kurdish issue as an ethnic or national problem. They seem to think that a Kurdish TV channel and a few courses at universities should be enough to resolve the issue. This shows that the root of the problem is not the Kurds’ demands or violence. The root of the problem is traditional Turkish supremacism. The Turkish government evidently expects the indigenous Kurds to settle for whatever crumbs the government offers.

It is this supremacist mentality of Turkey that started and inflamed this problem, and created countless grievances in Kurdistan. The Turkish state wants to be the one to name the issue; to start and end it; to choose the way to resolve it or make it go on forever; to determine how Kurds will live and die; what Kurds can want and when they should stop; what language they can speak, and where and when.

Then, when Kurds resist, and say they want to be free and have a say in their own affairs in Kurdistan, Turkey dismisses them or blames them for being “terrorists” or “traitors.”

The Kurdish PKK is an armed organization; and just like all armed organizations or groups, it uses violence as a tactic. But it does not aim to destroy Turkey or the Turkish people. It has declared several times that it is open to dialogue, negotiation and peaceful coexistence.

The Turkish government could also embrace a similar purpose: peace based on political equality and mutual respect. Turkey could abandon its destructive militaristic ways and start an open, transparent, genuine peace process that does not aim to destroy and annihilate Kurds and their militia. Killings will only bring more killings and more hatred. It is high time that Turkey stopped attacking Kurds and used the only method it has not used in its history: respecting the indigenous peoples of Anatolia and Mesopotamia.

Turkish state authorities seem to wish to make Kurds surrender without gaining any national rights or political status, and they call this “a peace process.” That is not an oversimplification: The AKP has ruled Turkey since 2002 but has done nothing to recognize Kurdish self-rule. All the AKP did was to provide a few small changes, such as permitting a Kurdish TV channel, TRT-6. But even those are not legal reforms. Turkey is still ruled with the same constitution that the Turkish military drafted after the 1980 coup d’état.

In this fight, Kurds are the “rape victims.” On their own ancestral lands, they have no national rights and no political status, and they do not even have the right to be fully educated in Kurdish. They are randomly murdered and arrested. Apparently, their lives have no value in the eyes of the Turkish state.

Turkey has a huge national problem because it does not see Kurds as an equal nation. This is how many Turks see the conflict:

  • Turks are to have their own state — a supreme one that has power over international politics — but Kurds are not to have even autonomy.
  • Turkish is to be a rich and respected language worldwide, but Kurds are not to have a single school where they can be educated fully in Kurdish.
  • Turks are to have a powerful army; Kurds are to disarm their militia and are to just serve in the great army of Turks.

But even integration in the military does not seem to work. Many soldiers of Kurdish origin serving in the Turkish army reportedly commit “suicide” or are killed in “accidents.” In 2012, for instance, out of the 42 soldiers who were officially reported to have killed themselves, 39 were Kurdish and one was Armenian, according to the lawyer Mazlum Orak.

The founders of the Turkish state also promoted Turkish nationalism to the full extent, while denying the very existence of Kurds in Turkey. They fully enforced a ban on Kurdish language, culture and geographical place names. They called Kurds “mountain Turks” and did not allow Kurds to establish legal political parties until the 1990s. Even after that, seven legal pro-Kurdish political parties were closed down by the Turkish constitutional court over 20 years. Scores of Kurdish villages were burned down by the Turkish army, and tens of thousands of Kurds were tortured or murdered wholesale.

Kurds in Turkey have therefore always been brutally oppressed even when there was no organization called the PKK.

Turkish sociologist Ismail Besikci, who was spent 17 years in prison for his writings on Kurds and Kurdistan, compared Turkey to South Africa. He concluded that Turkey’s mentality “is much more racist” than South Africa’s:

“What happened in South Africa in 1960s was that the white administration told the others: ‘You are black; you will live separately from us. You will have separate neighborhoods, schools, hotels, and entertainment places. You will live outside of places where the white live; do not mix with whites.’ And for that, they formed very large areas that were surrounded with wires. Those places had very limited infrastructure. The sewer system did not work; there were frequent electric power outages and water cuts. The schooling and health conditions were very insufficient. But the natives experienced their own identity. They lived the way they were. But Turkey tells Kurds: ‘You will live with us but you will look like us. You will forget your identity. You will live with Turks but will look like Turks.’ I am trying to say that this mentality is much more racist than the administration in South Africa.”

Besikci noted that in the 1990s, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and was elected as the president of South Africa: “The president of the white administration that released Mandela from prison became the vice president of Mandela in the elections. South Africa is called the most racist state of the world but such a change happened there. This shows the official ideology there was flexible; it was not so strict.”

Kurds are not the ones who started the war in Kurdistan. Kurdish leaders have openly and frequently made it clear that despite all of the state terror, mass murders and oppression they have been exposed to, they wish to live in peace with their Turkish, Arab and Persian neighbors. There is a war imposed on Kurds. And its results have been disastrous for Kurdistan.

The U.S. Department of State really needs to analyze the Kurdish issue more closely and carefully. When they do, they will see that the problem should actually not be called “the Kurdish Issue;” it would be more just to call it, “the Turkish Racism Problem.”

Uzay Bulut, born and raised a Muslim, is a Turkish journalist based in Ankara.

[1] Selahattin Demirtas, co-President of the HDP, had said in a public statement that Jerusalem is holy for Jews. “Religions have their centers,” he said. “Muslims go to Kaaba in Mecca; Jews go to Jerusalem.”