Violence will end and a peaceful solution to the Kurdish problem will be possible if Turkey's deep state recedes, the country becomes more transparent, military tutelage is eliminated and the state of justice is strengthened, said one of the most illustrious figures of the Kurdish left.
Answering our questions from Stockholm for Monday Talk, Kemal Burkay said the deep state -- groups with links to the security forces formed in the early 1950s to carry out illegal activities to "protect" the republic – has created an extensive network over which the legitimate organs of the state are unable to exert oversight.
“This deep state has leaked into both leftist and rightist organizations, into the Kurdish movement, into the media, the justice system and universities, too. And in the past, the deep state has triggered all sorts of actions and protests in these groups. It still does. This is no secret,” he said adding that violence nourishes more violence.
Burkay, who resides in Sweden, where he was granted asylum, is making plans to return to Turkey despite implicit threats against him, the most recent one coming from outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, imprisoned on İmralı Island.
‘In the past, the deep state has triggered all sorts of actions and protests in these groups. It still does. This is no secret. To the degree that military guardianship is lifted, that militarism recedes, that Turkey becomes more transparent, that the state of justice is strengthened, well, to that degree the deep state will recede and violence will abandon the stage in a reciprocal manner. Now, violence nourishes more violence’
Elaborating on the Kurdish problem, Burkay first talked about his life in Sweden.
You have been living outside of Turkey for more than 30 years, in one of Europe’s most prosperous countries, Sweden. But we hear news that you would like to return to Turkey.
Like so many other people, I was forced to go to Europe from Turkey and because the oppressive atmosphere created by the Sept. 12 coup lasted for a long time, I was just never able to return. I chose Sweden more for its clean air and beautiful nature than for its level of prosperity. My life abroad and the lives of my friends have not passed, as some circles would have people believe, “in luxury.” Our political activities prevented us from holding onto careers. So actually, according to the standards of this nation, we have actually led very modest lives.
How have you arrived at this point, the decision to return Turkey?
The thought of returning to Turkey started occurring to me two years ago. The general atmosphere in Turkey, especially because of the government’s new “initiative” period, has softened. For the past few years, there have been intense, widespread debates over the whole Kurdish situation in Turkey. The media embargo that had been placed on me has been lifted over the past few years. In fact, so much so that many newspapers, magazines, and TV channels conducted interviews with me and then published and broadcast them. In other words, my views now reach the public without being censored. In addition, there are now even legal political parties that have adopted into their programs the suggestions I have made to solve the Kurdish problem. For example, the Rights and Freedoms Party [HAK-PAR] is proposing a federation as a solution. All of these things are important signals of change going on in Turkey. Of course, the Kurdish problem has still not been solved, and many steps still need to be taken in the direction of democratization. I am convinced that if I return to Turkey, I will be able to contribute more to the solution and peace process we are talking about and to the efforts being made on the democratization front.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also called on you to return to Turkey, and said of you, “Our door is open for him.” Did this influence your decision at all?
Yes it did. Prime Minister Erdoğan and Interior Minister Beşir Atalay both influenced my decision. But really, my decision is based on the reasons I mentioned before. I realized I really do have a lot of friends among both the media and intellectual circles. Their very existence gives me the strength to return.
‘Guns need to quiet down, politics and dialogue need to move forward’
What are the successes and failures of the Kurdish initiative in your opinion?
The hopes that were born with the initiative have faded. It is because the government has not been making calculations in line with the great dimensions of the problem. In addition, the government did not have a comprehensive plan for a solution that is appropriate to solving this great problem. Of course, just starting this initiative was important. President Abdullah Gül initially stated the biggest problem in Turkey was the Kurdish problem and that a solution was absolutely necessary. He also said using violent methods would not work in addressing the problem. Those are followed by Erdoğan’s similar statements. All of that has meant that policies aimed at crushing and silencing Kurds have started to change. At the beginning of the initiative, TRT-6 was launched. It was important to have a state television station broadcast in Kurdish 24 hours a day. The Kurdish problem has started to be discussed in the public arena as it has never been discussed before. The government started an initiative for a cease-fire that was also important. But the acceptance of the people at the border returning from camps in Kandil and Mahmur and Kurds’ joyous celebration of this event led to reactions within the Turkish public. The pro-status quo opposition parties, the CHP [Republican People’s Party] and the MHP [Nationalist Movement Party], provoked the public against the government. Chauvinism started to prevail again. As the then chief of General Staff’s comments came on top of all that, the government stepped back -- there were no more returns from Kandil. Shortly after that mass arrests came against a number of selected Kurdish mayors and politicians, the KCK [Kurdish Communities Union] operation, and the excitement and hopes of the Kurdish people waned, the initiative has been plugged.
Do you think it is possible to overcome that state of stalemate in progress?
Of course. The government should again show the courage to deal with the problem. If the AK Party [Justice and Development Party] can have a majority in Parliament after the election – as seems very likely to happen – then it can do it by the mandate that has been given to the government. One of the most important steps would be to silence the guns, and the other would be to have a constitution in line with the democratic and contemporary standards that are appropriate for the pluralistic colors of the country including the Kurds. Then ways for free politics, dialogue and peaceful solutions for Kurds would be possible. Education in Kurdish can be possible. More sophisticated steps can be possible afterwards.
There are certain threats that do exist against you. Do these in any way weaken your resolve and courage when it comes to returning to Turkey?
Threats against me are nothing new. Especially over the past 30 years, I have faced threats like these many times. These have absolutely never affected my struggles and work; in fact, to the contrary, they have only encouraged me more. If there exists politically motivated violence in a nation, and if it is widespread as it is in Turkey, then there will always be threats at hand against that nation’s intellectuals, its politicians, every sort of democratic person, even against business figures and scientists. For decades now, Turkey has been enveloped by this risk. For this reason, there are many people who face these risks, and in making my decision to return, I have acknowledged that I am ready to share this risk with others. The way of getting rid of the risk altogether is by ridding society of violence by finding solutions to political problems. To put it another way, the guns need to quiet down, and politics and dialogue need to move forward.
‘PKK should lay its arms down indefinitely’
Kemal Burkay, a poet who has beenin exile from his homeland
Born in Tunceli in 1937, he went to school in his own village, where his father was a teacher. He graduated from the Ankara University school of law in 1960. After completing his military service in Erzurum, he briefly worked as a kaymakam (district governor) in Osmaniye. In 1964, he began practicing as an independent attorney. His first collection of poems, “Prangalar” (Shackles), was published in 1967. Burkay joined the TİP in 1965. In 1968, he was elected to the general council and then to its executive steering committee. He went abroad after the March 12, 1971 military intervention. In 1974, he came back under an amnesty law and started working as an independent lawyer in Ankara. In the same year, along with some of his friends, he established the outlawed PSK, where he was elected secretary-general. But he had to leave after the Sept. 12, 1980 coup and was granted political asylum in Sweden, continuing his activism there. Burkay, one of the most important figures in Kurdish politics, has always stood apart from the PKK with his stance against armed struggle. He has authored a large number of books on literature and politics. His most well-known poem in Turkey is “Gülümse” (Smile), which was popularized in a song by Turkish diva Sezen Aksu.
In an interview with you in 2009, you said Öcalan had abandoned the basic demands of the Kurdish people and that he was now being “directed from İmralı” and “deep powers.” Do your views on this still continue along the same lines?
Yes, they do. Certain people who were until just yesterday commanders on İmralı are now being tried as part of the Ergenekon case. In the meantime, I am also of the belief İmralı is very much under military control and that the government does not have enough of a say there. Öcalan’s frequent praising of the military and heavy criticism of the government show this.
In my interview prior to his death, prominent Kurdish politician Abdülmelik Fırat also said, “Without the death of the deep state, the PKK cannot end.” What do you think about this particular view?
The deep state has brought together a wide organization over which the legitimate organs of the state are unable to exert oversight, and this deep state has leaked into both leftist and rightist organizations, into the Kurdish movement, into the media, the justice system, and universities too. And in the past, the deep state has triggered all sorts of actions and protests in these groups. It still does. This is no secret. To the degree that military guardianship is lifted, that militarism recedes, that Turkey becomes more transparent, that the state of justice is strengthened, well, to that degree the deep state will recede and violence will abandon the stage in a reciprocal manner. Now, violence nourishes more violence. From this angle, the case opened against Ergenekon is very important in terms of being an opportunity for the nation to normalize, and for peace and democracy to take root. As the power of the deep state is broken down, peaceful, political methods will start picking up, and the PKK, even if it is not eliminated entirely, will be transformed and become a legitimate political actor.
The PKK has ended a cease-fire it announced in August of last year. Does this move have any advantages that might win over the Kurds?
The PKK’s decision to leave off arms last August was based on being until the coming elections and based on certain conditions. That decision has lasted until the present. But now it is saying that since it has not seen its demands fulfilled, it will be reviewing this cease-fire decision after Nevruz. I think this cease-fire should continue; in fact, the PKK should lay down its arms indefinitely because at the point at which we’ve arrived, violence and armed conflict are providing no advantages for either side, for either the PKK or the state.
If the Turkish state were to fulfill Kurdish democratic demands, would the PKK have any more reason to exist?
Had Turkey only recognized Kurdish rights earlier, there would neither be a Kurdish problem nor so many Kurdish uprisings from the start of the republic up until now. Neither would the Kurds have felt any need for illegal organizations, nor would a group like the PKK have ever emerged. The only way to completely rid Turkey of this problem now is to recognize all the basic rights of the Kurdish people. A solution based on the principle of equality is possible, there are many examples of this throughout the world, and as we see it, this would take the shape of a federation.
‘Öcalan should not rely on violence’
For nearly 40 years, you have worked in the leftist movement. Do you have any plans to get involved in Turkish politics?
I have always been involved in politics, for as long as I can remember. These days it is no different. It’s something different to take up a leadership position in politics, though. In the past I worked for six, seven years at the top ranks of the Turkey Workers’ Party [TİP], and then for nearly 30 years as the secretary-general of the Kurdistan Socialist Party [PSK]. But I left that position eight years ago, with plans never to take on that level of responsibility again. After returning to Turkey, even if I do support a party that I find I like, I have no plans to officially take on any responsibilities because I did get exhausted. The second reason is that I am not one of those people who stay in one of those political positions forever, asserting that “this won’t happen without me.”
What are your thoughts on the state of leftist politics in Turkey?
The left in Turkey, after all the big changes in the world, especially the collapse of the Soviet system, was unable to renew and reinvent itself. Some of the leftists were enveloped by a sense of hopelessness after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Others were unable to learn real lessons from everything that was occurring around them, and thus they still live in the past, repeating over and over whatever they have memorized in the past. For these reasons, one faction of the left returns to touchstones such as anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism. What this in turn does is distance them from any sort of reality as well as from understanding the needs and desires of the masses. Another faction of the left has taken the side of the status quo protectors, gathered under the title of “neo-nationalists,” [ulusalcılar] in their campaign against change, globalization and Turkey’s EU membership. Leftist politics, rather than adjusting itself to a changing world or learning to swim in new waters, simply opposes change.
After some threats against you, you had a statement addressing Öcalan and provided as an example Leyla Kasım from northern Iraq. Can you remind us who she is?
Leyla Kasım was a young girl who stood among the ranks of Kurdish resistance to the Baathist regime’s tyranny in Iraq. She was caught and her execution was ordered. She was then told that if she were to write a letter to President al-Bakir and apologize, her death sentence would be lifted. But she refused, and she was executed. I think she was a real heroine. Those who set out searching for true justice ought not to bow and scrape before tyrants in order to save their own lives. When it comes to Öcalan, when he was living in Damascus and Bekaa, he would always accuse his imprisoned counterparts of not resisting as much as they should. But he himself, on the day he was captured, said, “I am ready for service.” Later, he spoke of his regret, and in court said, “Whatever it is you want, I will do.” If a leader actually believes that what he or she is doing is right, then he or she should not say things like this. This is not to say ‘Öcalan was doing the right thing before his capture, he should have kept on defending violence.’ No, from the beginning, he was wrong to count on violence as a method. He needs to be resolute in defending the basic rights of the Kurdish people in court, and he needed to continue this. That would have been the truly honorable stance.