“A more powerful AK Party would be more courageous in making a new and democratic constitution,” said writer and intellectual Ümit Fırat.
“If the AK Party has more than 330 seats in Parliament it would be a plus. It is also obvious that despite barriers like the 10 percent election threshold, Kurdish politicians get into Parliament. Therefore, such barriers become meaningless,” he added.
Fırat pointed out that since the AK Party is expected to be in power for the third time, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has no excuses for not solving problems, especially the Kurdish problem.
“In the past, we would have thought that the party didn't have the power it needed to solve all the problems. But now the situation is different; the AK Party is powerful enough today. Therefore, reforms cannot be prevented by external forces,” he said.
Answering our questions prior to Sunday's elections, Fırat elaborated on the issue.
Two statements [on June 8] from two female politicians supported by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party [BDP] gave different messages -- one was pessimistic and the other was optimistic -- Aysel Tuğluk was critical of the ruling AK Party, saying the “language and practice” that the government has recently adopted equates to a “war against Kurds,” while Leyla Zana said in Diyarbakır that Erdoğan's post-election address will be “very important and significant” and she hopes that “peace will be given a start on that day.” What would you say about those contrasting messages?
I was asked on a television program about my expectations of the prime minister from his election speech in Diyarbakır, and I said that I did not expect anything exciting. But in the post-election period, I expect something different from the prime minister regarding the Kurdish issue because there is a need to be realistic and get out of the election campaign mood. Therefore, I agree with Leyla Zana's comment. When it comes to Tuğluk's comments, she was expressing Abdullah Öcalan's [leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) who is serving a life sentence on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara] views on her return from İmralı, and Öcalan's views change from one week to the other as he manages to attract attention to what he says.
In response to Tuğluk's comments, Erdoğan said that neither the BDP nor the PKK represents Kurds. What do you think about this idea?
As prime minister, Erdoğan cannot say anything else at the moment. The PKK does not represent Kurds as a whole, but it represents some Kurds. It is not true that the BDP does not represent Kurds because it is a pro-Kurdish party and it garners about 2 million votes on average in an election -- about the number of voters in a small European country. It is true that the BDP does not represent all Kurds but a significant portion of Kurds. There are nuances when it comes to the Kurdish issue; if you are critical of Öcalan, for most Kurds that is being critical of Kurds.
After all that was said during the election campaign, do you think the prime minister's post-election address to the nation will make history in regards to a solution to the Kurdish issue?
We don't expect a miracle. We also have to note that several of the demands of Kurds have been met today, compared to 10 years ago.
‘Deep state has many connections in addition to PKK'
Would you give examples of those demands, some that have been met and some that haven't been met?
In 2004 we had a declaration regarding what Kurds want, and this report was met with harsh reactions by Prime Minister Erdoğan and then-Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül. Moreover, then-Justice Minister Cemil Çiçek ordered the Ankara Chief Prosecutor's Office to file for charges against those who prepared the report, but the prosecutor dismissed the proceedings because the report was in the framework of freedom of expression. One point made in that report was about broadcasting in Kurdish, which is not a problem today and Kurdish is no longer banned. Another point is in regards to the description of citizenship. If the Republican People's Party [CHP] does not return to the “old” type of CHP politics, this issue seems like it is going to be solved, and the concept of “Turkish citizenship” will replace being a “Turk” in the new constitution. There are still problems, like children have to take an oath each morning in school that they are “Turk, faithful, assiduous.” However, this looks like it will be removed, too. We should recognize that most of the positive steps have been taken in the term of the AK Party government. However, if the prime minister used smoother language in his election campaign, I'd have preferred that.
How do you think it should have been?
The prime minister said that the BDP and PKK both use exploitation in their politics. However, it is obvious that the BDP and PKK have had successes, and they have successes not because they are led by genius politicians but because of the failures of the state's policies and a lack of vision on the part of the state and several governments in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.
In a Monday Talk interview in 2008, the late Abdülmelik Fırat [founder of the pro-Kurdish Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR)] said that as long as the deep state is alive, the PKK will not vanish, but if democracy prevails in Turkey, the PKK will be no more…
The deep state does not only have connections with the PKK but many other institutions in Turkey. Let's remember how we found out what the “Red Book” [the National Security Policy Document, also known as the “Red Book”] is all about; it was the result of a mafia operation. The document, which is known as Turkey's “secret constitution,” lies behind many military interventions [as it enables the military to plot against governments]. Copies of the “Red Book” were found [in 2006] in the home of a mafia boss [Kasım Zengin], who was arrested for being the leader of the Sauna crime gang [a gang that blackmailed bureaucrats and senior administrators using images or recordings of them in inappropriate situations]. In addition, there are thousands of documents in relation to Ergenekon [a clandestine network charged with plotting to overthrow the government]. Instead of legal Kurdish politicians, the PKK has been an entity preferred by the state actors who are connected with the deep state because those state actors do not prefer legal political actors in the political arena, especially if those legal politicians are critical of the state. Therefore, the state forces Kurds to fight on illegal grounds and adopt pro-violence methods. This is a well-known fact now, and indeed, Öcalan said that the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had supported him.
AK Party is powerful enough today to solve problems
If we go back to the issue of the government's post-election strategy, what should we expect, as there is violence looming since the PKK has announced it would restart its violent campaign June 15?
Since the AK Party is expected to be in power for the third time, the prime minister has no excuse not to solve the remaining issues. In the past, we would have thought that the party didn't have the power that it needed to solve all the problems. But now the situation is different; the AK Party is powerful enough today. Therefore, reforms cannot be prevented by external forces.
Do you give 2011 a chance to be marked as the year of real reform?
In fact, I see the year 2002 more important in that regard because the CHP was hardly able to get into Parliament against the AK Party, which was both the government and the opposition at the time. The AK Party did not have enough power to be in real power then. There were generals and the establishment before it. In Turkey, parties do not become powerful by being elected, but they go through a struggle, like the AK Party did, to reduce the political influence and clout of some institutions that are not supposed to have that clout. This process has been evolutionary for the AK Party. If that evolution has not taken place, we would not be talking about making a new constitution today.
In that regard, the BDP seems to be coming back to Parliament more powerful than the last elections.
The YSK's [the Supreme Election Board] ruling against the BDP nominees probably gained them points. It was shocking that the YSK barred 12 independent candidates from running in the general elections. There have been such unjust actions, and those gave the BDP more power. But the BDP's gains in Parliament and the AK Party's loss of power do not mean that a new constitution will be more democratic.
Would you elaborate on that idea?
A more powerful AK Party would be more courageous in making a new and democratic constitution. It is apparent that the current constitution sets barriers before the democratic development of Turkey. If the AK Party has more than 330 seats in Parliament, this would be a plus. It is also apparent that despite barriers like 10 percent election threshold, Kurdish politicians are in Parliament. Therefore, such barriers become meaningless.
What do you expect from the CHP?
It is notable that they have completely reversed their rhetoric on the Kurdish issue, but it is best to adopt a wait-and-see approach in regards to how the CHP will proceed in the post-election period. [CHP] leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said on television that he would not support a change of constitution and reforms if Erdoğan does not apologize to him. This approach is not right. Offensive language used between leaders should not emerge as an obstacle before a solution to the problems of society. Most of the time we see Kılıçdaroğlu in the position of a caretaker or inspector like he was during his career at the Social Security Institution [SGK]. It is hard for the CHP to explain its nomination of Ergenekon suspects, such as Mehmet Haberal and Sinan Aygün, among others.
The MHP [Nationalist Movement Party]?
The MHP may not score big in elections, but there are always MHP adherents in parties, including in the CHP and AK Party. How can we explain [legendary MHP leader] Alparslan Türkeş's son's nomination from the AK Party?
‘Kurdish problem has taken Turkey hostage'
Do you think the release of Öcalan is a must for a solution to the Kurdish problem?
The Kurdish problem is not solely a Kurdish problem anymore. When Kurdish was banned in Turkey, the problem produced complicated issues. The Kurdish issue has grown even though there have been improvements.
Could you elaborate on the idea of how the Kurdish problem keeps growing although the country is in the process of solving the remaining problems?
If the mentality for solving a problem is based on destruction and elimination, then it becomes impossible to get rid of the problem. It is obvious that this method has been tried before and did not work. In the 1980s, nobody thought about looking into the demands and desires of Kurds. After state security forces vacated each village in the Southeast in the name of “fighting terrorism,” not only the people of the vacated village but also their fellow villagers from neighboring areas became enemies of the state; each killed PKK member has brought many followers to the PKK; each village guard has created tens and hundreds of anti-village guard people. Each mistaken policy of the state has disturbed people. What has been done for years is the equivalent of giving aspirin to a patient who has stomach problems. It is not so easy to repair those serious past mistakes. On top of that, if you still use patronizing language, you cannot expect something better from the Kurds. In addition, there are problems related to the KCK [Kurdish Communities Union, which allegedly functions as the urban arm of the PKK] arrests. Has the problem gotten better since those arrests? They want to defend themselves in Kurdish and they are prevented from doing so by the court.
What would you say about Kurds' demand for a federative structure? Every time it is spelled out by the Kurds, we see anger and outrage in some Turks?
There is nothing to be outraged about. Demands for a federation or decentralization are being voiced by others in society, not only by Kurds. The demand for a federation has been equated with a demand for separation. Actually, if the Kurds wanted separation, they would have never asked for a federative structure; their outright demand would be separation. But they see their future in Turkey. The attitude of taking the demand for a federation as a desire for separation indeed triggers desires for separation.
Do you think Turkey will solve its problems if it solves the Kurdish issue?
The Kurdish issue has taken the country hostage. Of course, there are other problems, too. The Alevis' problems are no less important than the problems of the Kurds. The same goes for other problems, like the problems of people who wear headscarves. Turkey's progress is being interrupted by the Kurdish problem that remains unsolved. We have recently lost optimism in relation to a holistic approach to solving the Kurdish issue in the election campaign of the ruling party. If it remains unsolved, solving Turkey's other problems will not be possible.
Author and editorial board member for the Kurdish political magazine Serbestî, published in Turkish in İstanbul, Fırat also writes for the Turkish dailies Zaman and Radikal as well as the Bianet Internet news site. Originally from Bingöl, he had a bookstore in Ankara between 1973 and 1979 until he was sent to jail for four years by the repressive regime of the Sept.12, 1980 military coup. An İstanbul resident since 1989, he has been active in the formation of many Kurdish initiatives, including the Helsinki Citizens Association and Kurdish Intellectuals Initiative, which organized a sizable conference - - The Necessities of Recognizing the Kurdish Reality - - which was the first such conference Turkey allowed to have “Kurdish” in its name. In the early ‘90s, he worked actively in Cem Boyner’s widely respected New Democracy Movement (YDH), which later became a political party. He was also active in 2004 promoting a signature campaign in Turkey for the text “What Do the Kurds Want in Turkey?” published by the International Herald Tribune, Le Monde and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspapers.