Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Searching for a new paradigm in dealing with the Kurdish problem

A recent article titled “How would Gandhi solve the Kurdish issue?” elicited many comments from my readers. This is good. We are no longer a society which remains silent in the face of “sacred taboos.”

Of course, every analysis possesses its own inherent errors, as columnists and political scientists are no Zeuses exhorting from on high at Mount Olympus.

The other day, I was speaking with a Kurdish friend of mine who directs the local Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) in an Aegean town. My friend expressed great concern about the possibility of provocations that might happen in the Aegean region. He said he sensed that Ergenekon was organizing in the region and that it was preparing to implement some terrible plan. With our most critical current problem being the Kurdish one, and the clear and open existence of a very nationalist vein in the Aegean region, these are truly not just irrational delusions held by my friend.

The build-up of anger in the East, Southeast the Aegean regions are parallel in many ways when it comes to violence. According to calculations made, over the course of the 30-year war in Turkey’s East, exactly 5 million people performed their military service in the hot clash zones of Turkey. I don’t know what sort of numbers you would find if you were to add this to the numbers of clerks and salaried officers that have worked in the region. A rough estimate, however, shows that all these people, in addition to their families, amount to a mass of 25 million in this region representing the West, who have fallen victim to violence and misinformation about the Kurds. In addition, around 5,500 have lost their lives.

Kurds have never been equal citizens

From the Kurdish perspective, the situation is terrible. They have never been equal citizens. Efforts were made to assimilate them, and then they were simply marginalized and mistreated. A giant income gap developed between the West and the Kurdish region. The events of the Sept. 12 coup at the Diyarbakır Prison are counted as one of the reasons for the war that has continued up until today. But the real disaster was what happened during the 1990s. It was then that one of the bloodiest periods of this dirty war began. During this time, 4,500 villages were burned down and emptied, more than a million Kurds relocated and JİTEM carried out thousands of still unsolved murders.

When unsolved massacres in areas like Bingöl and Güçlükonak came to an end in the ‘90s, there were at least eight different peace processes and cease-fires taking place. In fact, the whole situation became so complicated that it is now alleged that many of the high-ranking officers being tried in the Ergenekon case carried out peace talks with Abdullah Öcalan and his outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). As the war continues, it gets clearer and clearer that this type of confusion and provocation will simply never end.

As for my personal proposal, it is quite radical and I still back it fully. While it may seem a bit romantic compared to the terrible atmosphere in the ‘80s, I am as sure as I am of my own name that we will never get anywhere by fighting violence with violence. What’s more, I am saying this as an ethnically Armenian Turk whose people were unjustly treated during the great disaster of 1915. More violence means more blood and tears. More violence means new dictatorship. I once asked, “If the PKK had never existed, would more Kurds have died?” In the ‘90s in Turkey, did horrific organizations such as JİTEM not bring a certain legitimacy to the PKK through their efforts to destroy the group?

My goal is to not speculate about the past. As a writer, I am saying that from here on out my real goal is to help convince people to see that the Turkish-Kurdish issue has reached its capacity for violence. The past is filled with pain. And now, in order not to relive this all again, we need to change our paradigm, which is why it is now an absolute necessity that we view the past with a critical eye. When we view events from the past as legitimate or necessary, it means we will act similarly in the future when under the same circumstances.

So how will change come?

First of all, we must recognize that the past could have unfolded differently. Saying that it was only PKK violence that foisted the Kurdish situation on us is the same as saying that these methods must once again be used in similar situations. At the same time, Öcalan’s words about how he will review the situation if the government does not take any steps by March really amount to the same thing: on with the war.

I observe on visits to the Southeast that those close to the BDP and the PKK are very angry, and rightly so. They say the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has neglected its Kurdish initiative, that it has hesitated on many easy steps and that the initiative has been reduced to the level of TRT Şeş. These same people also assert that “we have lived for years with violence and death. For us, nothing has changed.” It is quite clear that this is being asserted with anger, pain and even rebellion. But it is also clear that in such a negative situation, these will be the emotions that rule over all. I say “emotions” because reason is really not at work here. If we are not going to question this anger, which will only lead to more young deaths, now, then when will we do so?

Face to face with Öcalan

Look for a moment at how a new book called “Öcalan’ın İmralı Günleri” (Öcalan’s Days on İmralı) presents Öcalan talking about his meeting with state authorities who came to meet him in 2000: “They came to make inquiries. Some were commanders and they spoke with authority. They said to me, ‘You have pushed your power outside the borders and have taken a one-sided step.’ I asked the commanders about the state’s policy and they answered: ‘The state will not pay attention to you with this low-intensity war. Raise the stakes of the war, and fight more seriously. Then they will pay attention.’ Of course, I did not do so. I was afraid and did not believe that the problem would be solved that way.”

I do wonder just how many meetings like this occurred between the state and the PKK.

Writer İsmail Beşikçi is another person who has claimed that the very existence of the PKK has been influential in the prominence of the general Kurdish reality. Here is some of what he said on the issue in an article that was published in the Taraf newspaper and at

“We see that over the past few years there have been intense discussions and arguments over the Kurdish issue. How was this atmosphere created, how did we come to this point? If today we can argue and discuss Kurds, the Kurdish language, Kurdish literature, Kurdish culture and the Kurdish problem in general, the role of the PKK in all of this is great, though this conclusion should be no barrier to criticizing the PKK itself.

“What the PKK needs is not praise, but criticism. What will move the PKK forward is criticism and self-criticism. PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, the BDP Party, and the DTK [Democratic Society Congress] need to think about all of this.

“Those whose sons and daughters have been killed by state forces, whose villages have been burned down and who have been affected by unsolved murders can make their voices heard and fight for their rights. But those whose sons and daughters have been killed by the PKK or other Kurds have nowhere to go and so remain silent. If the PKK does not search out peace within its own ranks and other Kurdish organizations, and does not develop ties with Kurdish civil society organizations and Turkey, there will be no formation of peace with the state. The PKK will make no gains by excluding Kurds and Kurdish organizations and developing alliances only with Turkish leftist organizations.”

One cannot help but agree with Beşikçi’s criticisms of the PKK. Unsolved murders and injustices wrought by the state are mentioned and recognized on even the level of the prime minister himself these days. So what about the crimes committed against the Kurdish people by the PKK? What about the PKK’s cooperation with Ergenekon?

I think that the time has come and gone for self-criticism as we emerge from this crazy era. The bare minimum here should be the full rejection of violence no matter what the condition, leaving it outside the scope of negotiations. We need a new paradigm. From this perspective, the question of “How would Gandhi have solved these problems had he been a Turk or a Kurd?” should not be dismissed.

Some of the comments that were made in the wake of my recent article were correct in pointing out that Turkey is no India, and the Turkish state no Britain. The problems Gandhi faced in India were much more complicated than ours and the violence much worse. One example of this was the 500 or so people massacred in just one march that took place in the Punjab province of Amritsar, when the army fired on the crowd with automatic rifles. Still though, Gandhi entreated his people not to fight violence with more violence.

We do not possess the knowledge and ability to know how history would have been had it unfolded differently than it did. But we do possess the foresight to see that it is time to abandon methods that have been used over and over and have only resulted in disaster.

Todays Zaman, 26.01.2011

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