More than 20 years ago Zana was elected to Parliament, where she took the formal oath in Turkish and added a Kurdish-language phrase, “I swear on the bond of brotherhood between the Turkish and Kurdish people.” This was enough for Parliament to cancel her mandate and put her in jail for 10 years on charges of treason. Those were the times when the Kurdish existence was denied and the Kurdish language was forbidden.
Children that come of age nowadays would never understand the official stupidity of denying the existence of a people who have full citizenship rights and a shared history of a thousand years. Yet they still fight and die in a belated battle for Kurdish rights that caused the radicalization of the Kurdish youth.
Looking back, how can this ideological malady that cost this country roughly 40,000 lives in fratricide, billions of dollars in the name of “national security,” a low-grade democracy and retarded development be explained? Furthermore, it has betrayed its aim of creating a united society.
In her quest to seek and discuss the likelihood of seeking a negotiated settlement in the Kurdish imbroglio, Zana did not confer with political parties, namely the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), which has been instrumental in getting her re-elected after two decades. She has been harshly reprimanded by the PKK as well.
Her private initiative revealed two fault lines. The BDP, although surprised and not fully supportive, wished her good luck, indicating that it was also discontented with the radical and lethal ways of the PKK. Secondly, there are extremist factions in the PKK who believe they are engaged in a “people’s revolutionary war” which they will soon win and, despite the more moderate voices in the organization, are far removed from Turkey’s circumstances and serve other interests in the Middle East that make them irreconcilable. It seems Zana is cognizant of these facts and wanted to break the inertia of the conflict that draws blood and has no visible end to it. Her starting point is the fact that the Kurdish people have suffered a lot during many decades of denial, repression and displacement. It is time to render this unfortunate people their basic rights if Turkey is to be a democracy where the rule of law reigns. Secondly, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has the political mandate and popular support to solve this gangrenous problem. It is now or never.
Previously it was Turkish nationalism that prevented a settlement. Now it is the reactionary Kurdish nationalism that is preventing peace. The clash of (ethnic) nationalisms will never allow Turkey to grow into a modern, united nation with a claim to greatness.
Thirdly, the PKK has, to a great extent, lost touch with the realities of the Kurdish people of Turkey, who want to talk with a government that is willing to negotiate rather than fight a senseless war. Yet the PKK still wants to carry on with armed conflict that serves more the interests of Middle Eastern actors rather than the people it claims to represent. Indeed, the PKK has acquired the character of a militia army that wages a proxy war fought on behalf of regional powers who do not want Turkey to extend its powers beyond its national boundaries.
It was at this juncture that Zana’s appointment with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan took place. The sincerity of both sides in ending this fratricidal conflict has provided an opportunity to lay out a roadmap for the demands of Kurdish civil society. For Zana did not represent any formal authority or organization but simply called for a negotiation process by which partners in the conflict can take their place at the settlement table/process.
I personally guess that she reflected the ideas of Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of northern Iraq, as a moderate broker and requested that Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, should be included into the process to mellow the direct influence of the intransigent PKK.
Logically, her move was timely and necessary. Her talking points were moderate and doable: peace negotiations (the Oslo process) must resume; Kurdish must be the language of instruction for Kurds (instead of half-hearted initiatives); and Öcalan must be taken out of his prison cell and placed under house arrest so that he can control his maverick organization and broker a peace deal. An obeying organization, like the PKK, will soon lose legitimacy. She did not even insist on the autonomy or decentralization of the central administration of Turkey that is the mother of many ills.
Zana did not act on her own. Both she and the Kurds and Turks have matured after so much loss to grasp that intractable problems cannot be solved if parties to the problem do not become partners in the solution as well; that the majority is responsible for the welfare and freedom of the minorities; and that it is impossible for the majority to enjoy rights, freedoms and security if the minorities do not enjoy the same.