Oral Çalışlar, a journalist and writer, has said that the declaration of a cease-fire by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) should be seen as an opportunity to solve the Kurdish problem because circumstances are ripe for a solution.
“The PKK cease-fire is an opportunity for Turkey, and it should be taken seriously,” he told Today's Zaman for Monday Talk.
“International circumstances force the PKK to pursue a political path in order to solve the problem because, although Turkey has deficiencies in its democracy, there is in fact a Turkish government that desires a civilian solution to the problem much more than previous governments,” he said, adding that campaigning ahead of the Sept. 12 referendum on a constitutional amendment package will take place in a healthier environment because of the cease-fire.
Terrorist PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, currently serving a life sentence on the island of İmralı in the Sea of Marmara, told his lawyers recently that Kurds should discuss the referendum and constitutional amendments until the last day.
Another PKK leader, Murat Karayılan, has claimed that they have started negotiations with the government and that this is why they stopped their attacks, but government sources were quick to deny this.
The PKK declared a cease-fire until Sept. 20 and has offered conditions for extending this period. Kurds demand a halt to military operations in the Southeast, the release of pro-Kurdish activists, including some Kurdish mayors, who are facing trials for alleged membership in the urban extension of the PKK, lowering the 10 percent election threshold, starting negotiations and accepting Öcalan as an interlocutor in the process.
Meanwhile, the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has not yet changed its position on the boycott of the upcoming referendum, and commentators argue that many Kurds will still cast their votes in favor of the reforms in defiance of the beleaguered BDP leadership.
According to Çalışlar, the PKK cease fire is to bring many advantages to Turkey as the Sept. 12 referrendum draws near.
“There are many advantages. Above all else, the referendum process will be healthier. If we see soldiers killed every day, it would be more difficult for the public to make a healthy decision in the referendum,” he says. However, he underlines that there are still things to do regarding the Kurdish problem even during the referendum process.
Çalışlar answered our questions on those developments and more.
Why do you think the PKK declared a cease-fire at this time? What is the reason for its cease-fire and is it significant?
It is significant for the reason that there is a chance that the cease-fire will be taken seriously by the dominant authority in Turkey. There have been PKK cease-fires before and the dominant authority, which had the military’s mental approach to the issue, ignored them. We have experience on our side: the 1993 Bingöl massacre. Apparently, some members of the military who did not want a solution to the problem and some PKK members who also did not desire a solution cooperated to that end. There were revelations later that there were forces within the state desiring to continue that war. The benefits of the war for those people are not just profits from drug or human trafficking; there is also a battle for continuing to hold the power obtained in that process. The easiest way to retain militarism and the military’s political role in society has been the continuation of war.
‘The PKK cease-fire is an opportunity for Turkey, and it should be taken seriously. International circumstances force the PKK to pursue a political path in order to solve the problem because, although Turkey has deficiencies in its democracy, there is in fact a Turkish government that desires a civilian solution to the problem much more than previous governments’
Are you saying the PKK might have seized an opportunity now that relations between the military and government are on a different course, maybe in favor of civilian authority -- as should be the case? And that critical discussions revolved around this at this year’s Supreme Military Council [YAŞ] meeting?
This process, the battle for the supremacy of the civilian authority over the military, has been going on for the past seven or eight years. YAŞ is the latest event in that regard. In that context, it seems the military will not block the cease-fire. Second, the PKK’s latest actions have shown that it is alive and well, and its acts could escalate a crisis in society. This is against the militarist view that the PKK is about to perish or that military operations will make it disappear. It is obvious that if Turkey cannot take steps in the civilian sphere to solve the Kurdish problem and insists on military solutions, then Turkey will find itself in more trouble. The PKK cease-fire is an opportunity for Turkey, and it should be taken seriously. International circumstances force the PKK to pursue a political path in order to solve the problem because, although Turkey has deficiencies in its democracy, there is in fact a Turkish government that desires a civilian solution to the problem much more than previous governments. And this is how it is perceived by the Kurds, by the society and by the world. Therefore, the PKK has been forced to not use violence.
‘People see Öcalan as their leader; it’s a fact of life’
Why do you think the PKK has until recently resorted to violence?
The PKK violence has been legitimized by actions such as the arrest of close to 1,700 legal Kurdish politicians in the Southeast [the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) operation]. Also, the situation of children who faced harsh penalties for involvement in terrorism-related offenses had long been an unsolved issue. Then the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party [DTP] was closed down; politicians such as Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk, who could have played a positive role in finding a peaceful solution, were banned from politics. All these gave legitimacy to the PKK’s actions. And, as I said, the PKK has proven its existence. Even Gen. İlker Başbuğ had said in an interview that the initiative was largely in the hands of the PKK. If the chief of General Staff says this, it is not easy to pursue or support military action. That said, some circles provoked the government to carry out the KCK operation, and Justice and Development Party [AK Party] officials defended the operations. Yes, there could have been people in the KCK providing a bridge between the PKK and the pro-Kurdish party. If you’re going to get the PKK down from the mountains, it is possible to use the KCK in a constructive way.
The Democratic Society Congress includes Tuğluk and Türk. Do you think this structure can be a bridge between the PKK and official channels?
Two tasks are involved when managing the Kurdish issue. One is to have the PKK come down from the mountains and disarm. The second is steps toward democratization. The first needs to be carried out through direct or indirect communication with the PKK. Neither the Democratic Society Congress nor the BDP can have a say in the first task because they are not the ones who are holding the guns. Disarming the PKK could be done through Öcalan and Kandil [mountains that serve as a PKK safe haven]. The Democratic Society Congress, which encompasses the region’s civil society organizations and the BDP, can be an intermediary in that regard. Some commentators wrongly point out that they, the BDP politicians, point to İmralı as an interlocutor in a discussion seeking the solution. But is it possible for the BDP to talk about disarmament? It is up to the people on the mountains. The BDP says it is a legitimate party in Parliament and that it should be taken into account when the topic is democratization and legal ways to address the problem. We have to also consider the fact that the PKK and Öcalan have had an influence over the Kurdish population for the past 25 years. No matter what you call him or the PKK -- be it terrorist, pro-violence or what have you -- people see Öcalan as their leader; it’s a fact of life.
‘Referendum process will be healthier’
What are the advantages and disadvantages of the PKK declaring a cease-fire prior to the Sept. 12 referendum?
Oral Çalışlar, journalist and writer
Oral Çalışlar studied political theory and was among the intellectual leaders of the youth movement of 1968. After the 1971 military coup he was sentenced to three years in prison for his political activities, and to four years after the 1980 military coup. He worked as a columnist for the Cumhuriyet daily from 1992 to 2008. Since 2008 he has been a columnist for the Radikal daily and writes about the Kurdish problem, Islam, women’s rights and social issues. The award-winning journalist has published 18 books so far.
There are many advantages. Above all else, the referendum process will be healthier. If we see soldiers killed every day, it would be more difficult for the public to make a healthy decision in the referendum. But we should not sacrifice the cease-fire to the referendum. There are things to do regarding the Kurdish problem even during the referendum process.
What can be done, in your view?
The right to an education in the Kurdish language should be placed somewhere in the education system. It is no longer possible to say that “there is no such language as Kurdish.” Neither the world nor the Kurds would accept it. There needs to be a project on how to include Kurdish into the Turkish education system. Second, there needs to also be a project on how to bring PKK members down from the mountains. When a group of people affiliated with the PKK surrendered at the Habur border gate [toward the end of last year], we saw that there was obviously no well-thought-out project on how to proceed with the initiative.
Do you think the government was able to tell or explain to society what the Kurdish problem was all about? Why do the Kurds behave like this? Does the society know this?
When we say that people in the Southeast were tortured, no one believes us. Indeed, the current government has done more than any other political party in that regard. The prime minister’s speeches in Parliament and his speeches in the Southeast -- his speech “Let no mother cry any more. Both sides have mothers” -- were important appeals. There should be an environment that not only AK Party circles but also other parties support. Western Turkey should be psychologically prepared for a solution to the Kurdish problem because if this war is to end, there needs to be a compromise, and a compromise means giving concessions. The fact is that the society in general now sees that the PKK is not going to disappear and that it will not be eliminated very easily. People realize more and more that the problems cannot be eliminated just by eliminating the PKK. For my part, I take journalists to the Southeast with me when I go to the region. And I see that they are shocked when they see some of the realities. Most of them say, “We did not know it’s been like that!”
What do people say that shocks or surprises journalists?
Emin Aktar, the head of the Diyarbakır Bar Association, says half of his family is up in the mountains and the other half is not heard from, victims of extra-judicial killings. This is hard. He says he had a very smart and strong cousin whose body was never found. There are hundreds of such stories told by Kurds there. Aktar does not support the PKK. He has even been critical of it. But he stands strongly behind the Kurdish identity. In that region, all Kurds gather behind the demands for the Kurdish identity. This group includes BDP members, PKK members, AK Party members and even Nationalist Movement Party [MHP] members. When someone from the western part of Turkey listens to them, he or she may falsely come to the conclusion that they are all from the PKK. Demands for a Kurdish identity are a very rooted demand. It’s not “good Kurds versus bad Kurds.”
‘Media acts opportunistically, uses nationalistic language’
When the situation is like that, strong reactions surface when a Kurd -- Osman Baydemir, for example -- talks about a federative structure as a possible solution to the Kurdish problem.
Two peoples, the Kurds and the Turks, are far from understanding one another. Politicians and journalists have a big role to play in this; they can bring people together. Unfortunately, politicians, except for the AK Party, are playing a negative role, a provocative role rather than a positive role. The media also acts in an opportunistic way and uses very nationalistic language. You can still find columnists out there who write about why there is no such language as Kurdish! If this goes on, we will pay dearly. Indeed, we are already paying. The government can take journalists to the region to encourage them to talk about the region’s realities.
The General Staff did this in the mid-1990s.
Yes, I was there. It was all propaganda. They would, for example, use Kurdish village guards who would say things like, “PKK members are not Kurds, they are Armenian bastards.” It was dramatic and never aimed at presenting the true picture.
In recent days there have been people speaking out about how the extra-judicial killings of the 1990s were an implementation of a state policy. One such person was retired Vice Adm. Atilla Kıyat, who cannot be discredited easily.
Who can deny this?
Do you think there is more space for free speech in Turkey and that people will be courageous enough to speak out?
Yes, there is. In the past, people were prosecuted or even killed for speaking their minds. The consequences of speaking up are not as harsh today as they were yesterday. The environment is changing. When we went to the Southeast, all bureaucratic officials were under the orders of the military -- from the governors to the chiefs of police -- and they all told us to speak to the gendarmerie commander. It is different now. Civilian authorities have started to speak.
Can you positively say that if military tutelage ends, the Kurdish problem will be solved?
Yes. One of the major obstacles to a solution to the Kurdish problem is militarism. Former prime ministers Süleyman Demirel, Mesut Yılmaz and Tansu Çiller all said the military had the final say on the Kurdish issue. We now have a new environment in which the military does not have much authority. We see that the military reacted positively to the PKK’s cease-fire. This should be seen as an opportunity.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is planning a visit to the predominantly Kurdish city of Diyarbakır in early September. How do you think he should use that opportunity?
In the last local elections, the AK Party’s main enemy was the BDP. This was wrong. The government should have seen the BDP as a partner to solve the problem rather than a rival. Only the BDP and the AK Party can be found in the region. When these two fight each other, there are no other forces in the region to solve the problem. I hope the government will not declare the BDP an “enemy” again.
The BDP, which has strongly urged its followers to boycott the referendum, seems to be backing down from its position…
The BDP should be extra careful, especially after the PKK cease-fire. And I should stress that boycotting the vote is not the same as encouraging a “no” vote. Boycotting has a potential to become a “yes” vote.