’Turkey must cross river of Kurdish woes’

’Turkey must cross river of Kurdish woes’

Mehmet Kaya

November 07, 2008, Friday/ 18:26:00/ AYŞE KARABAT
Diyarbakır Chamber of Trade and Industry (DTSO) Chairman Mehmet Kaya says the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) is aiming to create a rift within Turkish society.

The atmosphere in which Kurds are being portrayed as evil is helping the PKK achieve this goal. According to Kaya, there are a number of people who regard the PKK as pursuing a legitimate cause but who, at the same time, would like to see it lay down its arms and put an end to the violence. He sees these people as representing the grayer shades of two black-and-white extremes.

He further states that excluding them from the political process would kill any chances of finding a peaceful and viable resolution to the conflict. According to him, the existence of such "grey people" is reason for hope. He says they are stepping stones in the middle of a river that must be crossed before it is too late.

Kaya also underlines that unless positive steps are taken for a solution, violence will become more common. He notes that the language of violence is already being adopted in Kurdish politics.

In an interview with Today's Zaman, Kaya argues that once a suitable atmosphere is created in which people realize that dead PKK members have families just like dead soldiers, a group of wise men can intervene to solve the problem and create dialogue. On the other hand, Turkey has a poor record on compromising, and this may make finding a solution harder. According to him, creating a suitable atmosphere for solving the problem is difficult and will take time. He points out that on almost every TV channel there are programs presenting Kurds as bad people. He sees this similar to the situation in America in which Native Americans were presented "scalping savages." This vilification is opening deep wounds in the hearts of the Kurds, he argues.

Kaya notes that state officials sometimes quietly admit that the Kurds have been subjected to discrimination and unjust acts, but that these same officials are not able to admit this openly. Kaya asks what such officials would lose, answering his own question: "Nothing, but they would win the hearts of the people"

He also draws attention to fact that the Turks who are against democratization and the PKK agree on one point: opposing the European Union process.

Some analysts are claiming that the recent unrest in the region is related to the upcoming March 2009 local elections. Do you agree?

No. To think that the tension is increasing because the local elections are approaching is as wrong as to think that if the PKK is stopped the Kurdish question will end. Both of them are wrong.

Then what is it?

It is the PKK's attempt to direct developments. It wants to make the society undergo a process. It is engaging in provocation to deepen the cracks between societies. If you take wise steps against this provocation, the terror dimension of it will end, but if you don't, the ethnic cracks will deepen.

What kind of a provocation is it?

It was tried during the '90s. For example, in those years Musa Anter [a Kurdish poet] was killed. The aim was not just to kill him, but to make the Kurdish people take to the streets and, once they were out on the streets, to open fire on them with machine guns in order to increase the tension. We are able to understand it more openly because of the Ergenekon case. The governors of those days are claiming that they prevented the establishment of an independent Kurdish state. No. Ergenekon did this. Today abusing [PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan] has the same meaning as killing Anter. The aim is to drive the people into the streets. What is the aim behind it? To make the police kill them. But the police are acting wisely. This wise action should be taken further. The state should think about wise steps to prevent divisions.

So this tension is not serving to increase the votes of the Democratic Society Party (DTP)?

If you go out on to the streets of Diyarbakır, you will find many people who are saying, "Before the recent events I was thinking of voting for the DTP, but now I will think again." The recent events served to strengthen unity among DTP supporters. Historically, there have always been different groups of people living in Diyarbakır, and there still are. You cannot make them into one group. There are many people who want to live in peace, who want employment, but at the same time they want respect to their identity. Not all voters in Diyarbakır migrated to the city or support the same ideology.

Although clashes between Kurdistan Workers' Party terrorists and the Turkish Armed Forces continue in the area near Turkey's border with northern Iraq, life goes on as usual in many of Turkey's southeastern provinces.

But there have been suggestions that the number of people who see the PKK as a legitimate organization are increasing and that the number of the people who defend an alternative path -- neither the PKK nor oppressive methods, but something else -- are decreasing. Do you agree?

Yes. In this process there were people who considered the armed struggle of the PKK legitimate. They argued that the democratic channels are closed. But at the same time, they strongly believed that the PKK should lay down its arms. I call them "grey people." Their numbers were high. Within the DTP they outnumbered the others. Their existence gave us hope. The decrease in their numbers is making us pessimistic.

What happened to these grey people?

The process is approaching a point in which those who considered the armed struggle legitimate are starting to use the same language as the [PKK]. The political movement started to consider violence, to throw stones, to force shops to close down for protests, linked with democratic demands. … The violence is starting to be absorbed. This is a very dangerous process.

What must be done, then?

We cannot achieve positive developments by blaming those who participated in the process. We have to take steps to reach the roots of this process. We should not push the political movements that are in some ways affiliated with the PKK outside the system. This may be the DTP or other groups. The dialogue should not be stopped. I don't mean just the alienation [of the DTP] by the AK Party [Justice and Development Party]. The CHP [Republican People's Party] is asking the AK Party why it is not engaging in more alienation. When you alienate, it is reflected in all the neighborhoods of Diyarbakır. The feelings of a person whose deputy has been alienated become negative. It is leading people to think that if we are excluded from politics, we should not only consider the PKK legitimate, but we should also support it. This thinking is not a problem of the region alone; it is the problem of all of Turkey. To see this as Turkey's problem is good because it shows that it must be solved together. Nobody has the luxury of saying, "Let the Kurds do whatever they are doing." Every segment of the society has the responsibility of contributing to a solution.

What could be the use of the grey people?

I use this analogy: We have to take steps to cross a river that is flowing slowly. There are grey stones in the middle of this river. If we step on them and cross the river, it will be fine. But if we don't, the river will become deeper and start to run faster and these grey stones will disappear. Then there will be two opposite views and there will be no possibility of talking about a solution. There will be bloodshed or other results that are not good at all.

The government is demanding the laying down of arms first. The PKK is saying, "You should take a step first." The DTP is suggesting itself as a mediator, but first demanding steps from the government. How is it possible to solve this "you first" deadlock?

We have a black record on compromises. There were periods of time in which the organization laid down its arms but, even in these periods, the governments did not take steps for democratization, despite their promises. Such a black record is preventing dialogue. This situation makes the emergence of a third way, a group of wise men with common sense, inevitable. This kind of mediator can be discussed, but first there should be a suitable atmosphere for it. Such an atmosphere does not exist at the moment.

How can this atmosphere be created?

I told this to the prime minister and to the chief of general staff and everybody should know it: Every time there is a clash in Turkey, be it a raid on an army outpost or a military operation, the same drama in the funeral of a soldier is also lived out on the other side. We are watching the funerals of the soldiers. We are witnessing the pain of the families and parents. We are traumatized by it. We should understand that the same feelings exist on the opposite side. They had families, too. But we don't respect the feelings of their parents and we are damaging their feeling of belonging to this society. What are we achieving? A boy just 15-17 years old returns from the mountains as a dead body. His friends come to his funeral. We don't respect this, but attack it. Then we are making his friends take the road to the mountains or making them live with the problems of Turkish society. But when we realize that they have parents, too -- when we are able to share the pain -- we will realize that killing is not the solution and that all children are our children. The discourse of killing every last person in the mountains is traumatizing the young generation here.

But how is it possible to make the people understand each other?

On almost every TV channel there are programs holding Kurds in contempt. These kinds of programs are increasing. They are similar to those Hollywood films representing Native Americans as scalping savages. But later it was admitted that the Native Americans actually were not scalpers, but the white people created this image. Now for the Kurds a similar ploy is being implemented. Kurds are not scalpers. Our economic demands are perceived as burglary. It has been thought that we are smuggling the investments in the region to İstanbul. These are lies. We are proving this with numbers. These lies are opening deep wounds and harming everyone. This kind of portrayal of Kurds is not right. What is the solution? Sometimes between the lines the responsible officials say there were unjust acts toward the Kurds. What will they lose if they say this openly, even if they don't apologize? You will win the hearts of the people.

The support of the Kurds for the EU accession process is declining, too. Why is that?

The concept of the EU for a certain segment of the Kurds and for a certain segment of the Turks is different. For a certain segment of the Turks, the EU process means Cyprus, the Armenian problem and Kurds; in other words, the division of Turkey. This is why the process lost its support among Turks. But it was important for the Kurds, and I do believe it is still important. But when the EU countries decided to implement their decision, although it was a little late, to denounce the PKK as a terrorist organization a new propaganda effort started among the Kurds in which it claimed that only social rights are important, not individual rights and freedoms, which is nonsense to me. The [PKK] is against the idea of Turkey joining the EU. So the Turks who are against democratization and the PKK and its affiliated organizations share the same view regarding the EU. But the government was not able to take steps to accelerate the EU process by improving individual rights. The government should realize that if it improves individual rights on the way to the EU, the [PKK] will be isolated.


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