Noting that she approves of the stance of Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) on the Kurdish initiative, Tanbay said: “If there is something right happening, we must stand behind it and support it. By writing a thank you letter, I took a stance for people, human rights and peace.” She noted that this is the first time Turkey has been so close to finding a solution to the Kurdish problem and that up until now, there were only the late President Turgut Özal's attempts. “But his steps weren't as definite as they are now, and such a wide audience had not been reached. I am starting to think that Özal was killed because he wanted to start this initiative,” she added.
Noting that polarization is one of the biggest problems in Turkey, Tanbay said: “Even if something good and right happens, it is opposed because of this polarization. I am tired of this stance. Without any hesitation, I immediately wrote a letter after Erdoğan's announcement because three or four years ago when Erdoğan said, ‘The Kurdish problem is my issue,' he was not supported.”
She went on to recall that when Erdoğan went to Diyarbakır after his speech several years ago, he was met with resentment.
‘If those who are cold toward the Ergenekon investigation are leftist, then I am not'
Do you know Kurdish?
I want to learn it very much. I learned that Kurdish language classes are being offered at Bilgi University. I want to start taking Kurdish lessons in December.
Do you describe yourself as a leftist?
I am perplexed about how to describe myself. There are leftists that say they are leftist today and then turn their backs and say they are pro-military. If those who say, “We don't know what Ergenekon is all about so we should stay distant from it,” are leftists, then I am not. I am for freedom. Whoever wants to wear the headscarf should be allowed to wear it, and whoever wants to wear a miniskirt should be allowed to wear a miniskirt. I want a Turkey where people are not required to be like everyone else.
In an interview, artist Tarık Akan said, “I am a leftist,” and then after his interview said, “I am pro-military.” A leftist person cannot describe himself as a leftist and pro-military. He's either a leftists or a military supporter. It's very difficult to be both at the same time. The Ergenekon process, the Kurdish initiative, they are a litmus test. We are seeing where everyone stands. It has been painful. We have lost some of our friends.
Who is Zeynep Tanbay?
Zeynep Tanbay started her dance education at the Kuğu Ballet Studio in Ankara. In 1981, she went to New York and studied at the Alvin Ailey Dance School. She continued her training at the School of Cleveland Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet School, the Paul Taylor Dance School and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance as a scholarship student. In 1983, she began dancing as a soloist dancer and later as a primary soloist dancer at the Minnesota Dance Theatre. Before her return to Turkey in 1997, she taught dance at various dance schools in New York. Tanbay is a lecturer at the faculty of art and design at Yıldız Technical University, the director of the Dance Workshop at Akbank Art and serves as a dancer and choreographer in the Zeynep Tanbay Dance Project. She is also a leading advocate of expanding civil rights.
“The media published stories that emphasized this resentment and scholars failed to show a supportive stance, so Erdoğan couldn't stand behind his words. I think this is what he thought: ‘We wanted to take a step, but there isn't enough support from the base, public opinion and scholars, so the country must not be ready yet.' I wrote a letter. In unison, businessmen, professors and student associations should say they want peace,” she said.
Tanbay, who is the wife of former Freedom and Solidarity (ÖDP) Party leader Ufuk Uras, shared her thoughts on the Kurdish initiative with Today's Zaman.
There are reactions against the prime minister's Kurdish initiative as well.
There is a [Republican People's Party] CHP and [Nationalist Movement Party] MHP discourse going around. They are provoking the public. Under these circumstances, it's become even more important to stand behind what's right and good. If the AK Party is doing what's right, then I will stand behind it. If the MHP is doing what's right, then I will stand behind the MHP. This won't necessarily mean I'm an AK Party supporter or a MHP supporter.
What was it about Erdoğan's speech that affected you?
He said words that I have never heard a political leader utter before. It was vastly different from vague political talks. It had a very humanistic aspect to it. No state leader at his level has ever made such an emotional speech acknowledging that truths had been hidden from us before. For example, no one ever said before that the pain of a mother in Hakkari was the same as the pain of a mother in Yozgat.
There are some people that have doubts about the Kurdish initiative because it is an AK Party-helmed initiative; they think the prime minister is not sincere about it. Do you think he is sincere?
I find him very sincere. I also believe President Abdullah Gül and Interior Minister Beşir Atalay are sincere as well. I support their efforts to break all these taboos to the very end. Even if I won't vote for the AK Party, I will support it, and I will say “good job” when it does something right.
Why is the left the most problematic segment?
When [the investigation into] Ergenekon first came out, a large segment on the left said, “This must be the AK Party's doing,” so they felt they should keep their distance. What is happening today is the same. Keeping distant and adopting a negligent stance toward what's happening is the stance of Turkey's left. This has been the case for years. The left has a lot to be blamed for if taboos are still intact today. My friends from leftist circles rejected my thank you letter saying I had given too much credit to the government for something I knew nothing about. But see, that's not how I look at it. There's one thing that's important for me, and that's supporting what's right and supporting it on time.
There have been reactions because the content of the Kurdish initiative is unclear. What do you think the initiative will contain?
The CHP's argument that nothing is clear, that nothing has been revealed, is very incorrect. Erdoğan's speech reveals the essence of the initiative. First of all, he put forth a stance that supports peace. But just recently, he used the “one nation, one flag, one state,” expression again. I am against the phrase “one nation.” I want to say “Türkiyeli” [one who is from Turkey]. Everyone who lives in this country is a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. Let citizenship be highlighted.
There is a view that the Kurdish issue must be solved by consensus. But the CHP and MHP have shut their doors. Won't this make it difficult to solve the problem?
History will judge those who oppose peace. Deniz Baykal and Devlet Bahçeli are speaking with fascist language. Democracy is about freedom of thought, but in freedom of thought there is no fascism. Both leaders need to stop provoking war.
Singer Sezen Aksu called the prime minister and extended her support. What are your thoughts on this?
It was a very timely move. Aksu is a popular, famous artist. Aksu's support, singer Ajda Pekkan's duet with Kurdish singer Aynur and singer Bülent Ersoy's statement that if he had a son he would never want him to go into the military are worth 1,000 of our actions. These artists reach a very wide audience. I applaud artists that contribute to this process, even if it is with just one word or one sentence.
Do you believe that it is the first time we have been this close to a solution?
Yes. Özal had made an attempt, but his steps weren't as definite as they are now, and such a wide audience had not been reached. I am starting to think that Özal was killed because he wanted to start this initiative.
What do you think about the [Democratic Society Party] DTP's contribution to this process?
I would like the DTP to act more like a leader. They need to be patient and understanding.
The government is trying to listen to people from all sides of the problem. It is meeting with different people and groups. Is this the right tactic?
Interior Minister Beşir Atalay is meeting with many people. This is a wonderful thing. But the government must also go to the Southeast and meet with its Kurdish citizens. The solution to the Kurdish problem is related to what the Kurdish people want. It's not something that can be done according to what authors and the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association [TÜSİAD] say. The Kurdish problem is first and foremost the problem of Kurds. They are the ones who experience this problem firsthand.
Are the steps that are being taken to solve the problem going to yield results?
The problem is definitely going to be solved. Serious steps have been taken, and there is no turning back now. This has nothing to do with being on the right or left wing or supporting that party or this party. It has to do with being a human and having a heart. This is a nonpolitical movement. I am not Kurdish. I am not a minority, I am not an Alevi. I am not homosexual. I don't wear the headscarf. I am just a woman. But I strongly want everyone's rights to be equal to mine.
The polarization that started with the Ergenekon process became more intense with this initiative issue. Are we going to be able to overcome this polarization?
I am an artist who performs modern art in Turkey. When we sent the CHP a military uniform, one journalist called me an AK Party supporter. This is how Turkey is. The [Turkish Armed Forces] TSK is at the center of this polarization.