Interview wth Ahmet Türk from Today’s Zaman
05 September 2010 – The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has made another move and topped the country’s agenda.
The democratic initiative, the events following the entry of inhabitants of the Makhmour camp into the country, the unexpectedly escalating violence, the local demands for “democratic autonomy” and the organization’s decision to de-escalate the situation, etc. — all of these recent developments show how difficult it is to analyze the Kurdish issue. Which moves means what? What sort of developments may we expect from the region? Why does the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) insist on boycotting the referendum although this means shooting itself in the foot? The questions can go on. And these questions were answered by the co-chairman of the BDP-affiliated Democratic Society Congress (DTK), Ahmet Türk, speaking to Sunday’s Zaman.
Türk, a veteran politician, inherited the post of “agha” from his grandfather and father and the profession of politician from his elder brother, who was assassinated when he was a deputy. He tries to express the intricate balances unique to the region, although at times this might contrast with the democratic values he upholds. For instance, he says that he supports the boycott, but does not refrain from asserting, “I prefer ‘yes’ from a conscientious and ethical standpoint, if we are to chose only between ‘yes’ and ‘no’.” As he expresses dissatisfaction with the amendments, he acknowledges that “even if very radical amendments are made, the current Constitutional Court will not approve them.”
Do you really want the Kurdish problem to be solved?
We not only want it to be solved, but also are ready to do anything to this end. Our sole desire is to put an end to the suffering and create a country where people can live freely, equally and peacefully. Who benefits from lack of a solution? We do not benefit from it. Rather, we are victimized by it. The lack of solution leads to the growth of hatred and anger.
Now consider this: You are the ruling party and you are supposed to deal with a problem which hasn’t been resolved for 80 years. What would your approach be?
A problem that’s been unresolved for 80 years means that the core of the issue has always been ignored. Today’s conditions are different. There is now a group that does not accept the denial of their language, culture and identity. If people express their demands, then the problem can be solved in a more constructive manner. Acceptance of Kurdish identity is neither the state’s nor the government’s favor.
Yet we know what the approach toward the issue was just 15 or 20 years ago.
Of course, this is true. But there is a group of people who are developing a sense of community. These people seek a system where they can enjoy their own identity, culture and language and participate in it. The fact that debates amount to this level stems from the intensively expressed demands. It is obvious that in today’s democratic world, denying identities and cultures does not play nice with democratic values.
But in the past, there was a ban on speaking Kurdish, and this ban has been abolished. Can’t you acknowledge any progress?
We need to see one thing clearly. Neither the Justice and Development Party [AK Party] nor the governments led by Süleyman Demirel or Bülent Ecevit have ever said: “There are Kurds among my citizens. Their differences are an asset.” The point where we stand today does not owe anything to their mentality. Rather, any progress we have made owes to much suffering and debate [on the Kurdish question].
Let’s suppose you are in power and you are preparing for the elections. You get different reactions from different parts of Turkey. What would your approach be under these circumstances?
Of course, we know about the balances in Turkey and are aware of a nationalist, racist mentality blocking the country’s progress. We also know that the government has backpedaled from its former polities under the influence of this mindset. I always reiterate that if the government could garner support from the opposition, it might have been easier to make progress with regard to certain demands from the Kurds. We need to be realistic. But leadership requires courage. To become the chairman of a political party or head of the ruling party is one thing, and to be a leader is another. A leader is supposed to make important decisions for the prosperity of the country, even if this involves some temporary difficulties. There are many examples of this around the world. For instance, very radical steps were taken in Spain in decisions relating to the Basque and Catalan regions.
But our case may not be similar to them. There is the Ergenekon problem here.
There were gangs and Gladios there as well. To do nothing just because our case is different, is that acceptable? No event is identical to another. Basque is not the same as our case and neither is Catalan, South Africa, Scotland, Ireland or Wales. But, how will we find a fitting example? Leadership is not an easy task. No leader has risen up in Turkey to lead the general public. The country has always been governed by those who were submissive to the status quo. This is a fact. The power that founded, or claimed to be the owner of, the republic has always blocked political venues. And since politicians did not have full trust in democracy or since their perspective on the people and their diversity was not within a democratic framework, they failed to handle this problem.
What unexpected steps can the people in the region take in order to exhibit their determination concerning the settlement of the problem?
Actually, they are already taking such steps. Until now, there have been cease-fires seven or eight times. It is not easy to manage these processes properly. The risk of provocation is always there. You may in all sincerity want to attain a peaceful solution, but you may unexpectedly face a provocation which you do not like and which is not approved by the government or the state either.
What will happen if the PKK lays down its weapons as a sign of good intentions? The PKK should be disbanded. OK, but how? Shouldn’t the state provide an atmosphere of confidence for this? Suppose it declares its intention to lay down its arms. What difficulties may arise after such a declaration?
Do you trust your state so much that you expect the people with guns to do so and accept being disbanded without any guarantees or assurances? Suppose the PKK is disbanded. What will happen next? Will its members be imprisoned? Can they become involved in politics? Will they mingle with other people as ordinary citizens? I am not suggesting that they should not leave their weapons, but this will not be possible unless suitable conditions are prepared. We should not deceive ourselves. I recently said that they may be disbanded under the supervision of the United Nations. People raised hell even about this statement.
But shouldn’t very serious steps be taken in order to solve the problem?
Of course there should be, but what I am saying is that the government and the state must assure that rights and freedoms will be guaranteed. If this is not done, you and I may trust [the state], but someone else will not. These people have been in a struggle for 30 years. That’s why we say that assurance should be give to them. A big country like Turkey can no longer be governed using a strictly centralist mentality.
In your opinion, what unexpected steps may come from the government toward the solution?
Some of the executives and mayors that belong to our party have been in jail for one-and-a-half years. They have yet to be brought to court.
So you think they have been denied a fair trial?
Yes. We want them to be released. There is also the unfair election threshold which is fixed at 10 percent. We want it to be decreased to 5 percent at least, which is the highest among European countries. The antidemocratic laws under which we are litigated according to counterterrorism procedures whenever we make a statement must be abolished as well. Even the government’s declaration of intent will be a great chance for a peaceful process.
So both parties demand a lot of things from each other.
But it is the government which must take steps as it is they who govern Turkey. I am not ruling the country. If you are running a country, then you are responsible for every single matter, small or big. No one should try to put the blame on the Kurds.
We have been in Diyarbakır for several days. The majority of the people here say the referendum package should be accepted. Indeed, you also say, “If Kurds have to choose between ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ all of them will say ‘yes’.” Given this, the BDP fails to satisfy the people’s expectations. Isn’t this a sort of tutelage?
Mr. Prime Minister and the Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) leader claim that they are the true victims of Sept. 12. If you do not mention what Kurds suffered in Diyarbakır Prison, no one will accept that victimization. Kurds represent the group that was victimized the most. Still, there is not a single article in the referendum package that will improve the situation for Kurds, is there? We cannot say “no” to the amendments. But we do not have any reason to say “yes” either because these arrangements have been made without taking Kurds into consideration.
Will the changes to the structure of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK) and the Constitutional Court not have any effect on the Kurdish people?
I am not comparing the amendments with current practice. Of course, they are better than the current situation. But I am expressing my reaction. I am telling the government, “I have been victimized and I have suffered, but you have not taken any steps to improve the situation for Kurds.” The amendments you propose do not satisfy me, so I do not go to the polls, I say. This is what you fail to see.
Why didn’t you lend support to the article concerning party closures? Weren’t you supposed to support that amendment?
If only that article failed to pass while all other articles were easily approved, we are not to be blamed. The AK Party had the power to pass it.
Aren’t there Kurdish civil servants or disabled Kurds? Aren’t there Kurdish women, children or victims who are adversely affected by the current structure of the judiciary?
The package fails to satisfy me, in a nutshell. Ask a number of times, and my response will be the same. The package is far from satisfying me as a human being and as a politician. I am not comparing Sept. 12 with the current situation. Already, no one is discussing the individual articles. Listen to the politicians. Are they talking about the content?
But the package is raising the standing of living for all of us, isn’t it?
We, too, care about these steps. But if democratization, transformation or change does not happen, and if the tutelary regime does not disappear, this is because there are Kurds here. If you do not take steps to ease conditions for Kurds, it will not satisfy me. Throughout the history of the republic, there were three things which were mentioned as obstacles to change. The first one was communism, and it’s gone. What were the two that remained? The Kurdish issue and Shariah. The status quo and the tutelary mentality survive by leaning on these two factors which they use as threats in the face of demands for change. And the Kurdish issue is the most complicated one. If you do not take it as a basis and enact change and transformation, then Kurds won’t say, “Good things are happening.” This is because the system that denies their existence will still be firmly in place.
With what you say, you seem to imply that not a single good step has been taken during the process?
No, it is not true. If you compare the 1980s and today, you must honestly acknowledge they are poles apart. We don’t deny that. Although significant steps have to be taken to help create suitable conditions for coexistence, it is meaningless to make mention of small moves such as the opening TRT Şeş, which is intended to silence Kurds.
Won’t you be happy with a change in the high judiciary?
We are talking about democracy, not a transfer of power from one hand to another. We are discussing how judges should see Turkey and democracy.
What are the changes you find important?
I am not comparing the content with the Constitution of Sept. 12. But there aren’t any amendments that will fulfill Kurds’ democratic demands. There is also this: When you combine them into a package, you postpone the possibility of a new constitution. This, too, should be acknowledged. This was always the case.
But the prime minister says they will draft a new constitution. Let me give you another scenario: When the preparations for a new constitution start one year before the general elections, the opposition will say: “You don’t have the legitimacy. Let the new parliament do it.”
True, let me tell you something more serious: Even if very radical amendments are made, the current Constitutional Court will not approve them.
In which case don’t you shoot yourselves in the foot?
No. We exhibit a stance. You cannot deny Kurds’ demands.
But you say the people will choose “yes” if they are left to themselves. If their demands are not fulfilled, why do they vote “yes?”
They are already left to themselves. No one is saying a thing to them. We take the will of the people as our basis. But what we say is that we, as politicians, are not satisfied with the package.
You say that you won’t go to the polls since there is nothing that will satisfy Kurds. This statement implies that the BDP no longer claims to be a party that represents the whole country, doesn’t it?
Rather, it is the state or the government that forced the BDP to become or seem like a regional party. If you impose the 10 percent election threshold and force the BDP to nominate candidates from a limited staff, then you eliminate the possibility of its becoming a party representing the whole country. If the election threshold is lowered to 5 percent, I will have the chance to nominate not only Kurds or BDP members, but also Turkish intellectuals, democrats and Islamists. Only in this way can a political party start to appeal to the whole country. In this way, I can address the people with projects that have a broader appeal.
How would you interpret a “yes” coming out of the referendum?
What if those boycotting equal those saying yes? Let us see what happens. I would like to comment on this after seeing the percentages. Both “yes” and “boycott” will come out, in almost equal terms. Their percentages will be similar. There will be a serious boycott.
Is there any likelihood of the boycott decision being loosened or lifted?
As I said before, there are expectations and if they are fulfilled, this attitude may change. To make use of a process where weapons are silenced is, for us, more important than the referendum. The referendum does not excite us very much. Let me reiterate: I prefer “yes” from a conscientious and ethical standpoint if we are to choose only between “yes” and “no.” But by exhibiting a political stance, I say that the package lacks any real steps for solving Turkey’s biggest problem. If people have expectations from me as a political party and if Parliament and the government, which are supposed to fulfill them, do not take our demands seriously, then I don’t have the right to tell my people to go to the polls to say “yes.”
In Turkey, governments always suffer from an inability to wield power. As this tutelage is being eliminated, you would expect a swift response to your demands. Doesn’t this play into the hands of the tutelage?
Are you kidding? Which tutelage is being eliminated? Yes, some steps are being taken, but you cannot say that the government is killing that mentality. Rather, we want it to show that this distorted, small move will not solve the issue. An accurate assessment and a radical solution are required. The statement made today will not bring progress. It is time a new mentality is asserted. Our expectation is that the state should acknowledge this.
The PKK decided to de-escalate the situation after declaring its boycott decision. And then the opposition started to argue that the AK Party is in the same boat as the BDP and the PKK. Some see the decision to de-escalate the situation as referendum trap.
We are not in the same boat as anyone. We are not supporters or opponents of anyone. We side with an approach that makes democracy and solutions its foundation. Our decisions may be likened to those of another party. But these may differ in the future. We support an approach that is reasonable, that is aware of popular expectations and that is based on democracy.
But you gave up just on a signal from İmralı?
No, I was actually telling my colleagues that it was incorrect to withdraw since the beginning. In the final analysis, one needs to consult with the views of all groups when formulating a policy. The demand for democratic autonomy is not new. We have been expressing it since the beginning. It is in the program of both the Democratic Society Party [DTP] and the BDP. We want to ensure integrity in the proper manner, and not to seek separation.
After meeting with Jalal Talabani you said, “The PKK’s armed struggle is doing harm to the Kurdish people.” Do you still back this idea?
I have always asserted that problems cannot be solved with guns. Democracy and civilian politics should be reinforced. Guns should no longer be used to secure one’s rights.
05.09.2010 – CEMAL KALYONCU / AYŞE ADLI