“There is good will, but it’s not enough. There needs to be more clarity,” he said. Bucak commented on the Turkish government’s efforts to change the status quo in the long-standing Kurdish problem but emphasized the need for concrete steps.One example he gave in that regard relates to the children who face prison sentences of up to 25 years for throwing stones at security forces.
“Minors should not be tried for ‘making propaganda on behalf of an illegal organization’ or ‘being a member of an illegal organization’,” he said, and added that Parliament postponed discussing a bill that might change the situation of children who are facing charges as adults under Turkey’s anti-terrorism legislation.
Another step the government can take is changing the Political Parties Law to make party closures more difficult, he said. But the government should again bring its offer for a new constitution to the table in order to guarantee rights, according to Bucak.
The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) announced its intention to settle the Kurdish question through peaceful methods during the summer but has not yet detailed its plan. The expectations are that the democratic initiative will grant the country’s Kurds increased cultural and linguistic rights.
News from Ankara is that the AK Party is resolute in its plans to bring about a resolution to the Kurdish question through a massive democratization package in 2010.
Bucak responded to our questions about the initiative, which has been stalled following clashes in the streets between nationalist groups and supporters of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) protesting the closure of their party by the Constitutional Court on charges of ethnic separatism and links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Is it still possible to talk about the Kurdish initiative?
Ever since the prime minister [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] announced the initiative in the summer months, I predicted that it was going to be a rocky road. This is true for any problem in the world where there is a process of resolution. We can see highs and lows, but it seems like the initiative hit rock bottom recently. But I still see a way out even though the government has approached the issue hesitantly because of nationalist reactions.
What do you think would rescue the process?
The government should make its roadmap quite clear. There is good will, but that is not enough. There needs to be more clarity. And I must say that Turkey is lucky to have an interior minister like Beşir Atalay who approaches the issue in a very sensible way. However, there needs to be concrete steps taken.
Would you be more specific about what steps the government can take in that regard?
For example, there needs to be steps in regards to the “stone-throwing children.” Some of them face prison sentences of up to 25 years for throwing stones at security forces. Minors should not be tried for “making propaganda on behalf of an illegal organization” or “being a member of an illegal organization.” There needs to be immediate action in that regard. But Parliament has been postponing discussing a bill that might change the situation of children who are facing charges as adults under Turkey’s anti-terrorism legislation.
What else can be done?
There is also the problem of the arrest of elected politicians within the scope of the KCK [Kurdish Communities Union (KCK), an organization that allegedly functions as the urban arm of the PKK] operations. More than 40 people were detained, and eight of them were mayors. This was done in response to street protests [criticizing the prison conditions that the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, faces.] However, the government should not have acted reflexively. Instead, it should have implemented the roadmap. There are several steps that could be taken in this regard, such as the restoration of the original names of Kurdish towns. In addition, the Political Parties Law could be changed to make party closures more difficult.
Some of the changes in that regard are so much dependent on changes to the Constitution, and that does not seem to be on the horizon.
There is the opposition’s resistance when it comes to that, but the government can still insist on it since it has a powerful majority in Parliament. We don’t see that decisiveness. The government acts in accordance with the current climate in society without a roadmap to solve the problem. If there are no constitutional guarantees, there will be nothing done in the long term. What if this government goes and a different-minded one or a coalition government comes to power? Who will guarantee the democratic rights of Kurds then?
‘There should be action for more PKK arrivals’
You were talking about the place where the government can pick up the pieces of the initiative.
The initiative should expand with more PKK arrivals from Europe. And first and foremost, the government also should change the language it uses in the process. Instead of repeating that the PKK will be eliminated, the language should stress ending violence and purging the Kurdish problem of violence. Using the old methods of military and police operations in the process will not be helpful. Instead, showing a positive attitude of taking democratic steps for the initiative process is key. This would eliminate low morale among the Kurds as well.
What is the stumbling block, exactly? Why did the initiative stop?
The public has not been prepared well for the process. A significant proportion of Turks are under the influence of the CHP [Republican People’s Party] and MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] opposition. The government tried to carry the issue to Parliament, but they have been pro-status quo for a long time. There is a new debate now: “civilian tutelage.” But it has been the opposition that employed the tactic of “civilian tutelage” over the public.
Ever since the PKK members were received with festive celebrations full of symbolism in the region, the initiative process has been stalled. Do you see any problems with the showy reception of the PKK members?
I was in Diyarbakır at the time. It was normal that people were joyful because their sons and daughters were coming home. But looking back, a more restrained reception would have been better. It shows that the PKK was not prepared for it, either. It should have acted more sensitively and tried not to turn the reception into a provocative event.
And nobody from the government said that there was nothing to be upset about over that reception. Not even Kurdish politicians.
They were silent. But at the same time the government has done a lot to bring those people back. It was the right step. The opposition CHP and MHP have been too critical of the government. On the other hand, the Kurdish side should have acted more sensitively. [Diyarbakır Mayor] Osman Baydemir mentioned recently that he wished they had acted more carefully. This is an acceptance that there was a mistake.
You pointed out an important fact a few moments ago that the public has not been well prepared for the initiative. How do you think it could have been better prepared?
We have to see that there has been an intense public debate about the issue in the last few months that the country has never seen it in its history! Even the very existence of Kurds has been ignored for 86 years. So, confidence-building measures could have helped in the process.
What would you tell the public if you were in government?
I would have said if these people are coming down from the mountains, no matter how they are dressed, that means that they have left their old ways, and if they are welcomed, they will be followed by others. This should have been the message.
‘New, non-violent, democratic civilian movement is about to be born’
You mentioned in our previous conversation that there is a “silent majority” among Kurds. Would you elaborate on this idea?
In the legal political arena in which Kurds are involved, there are three parties: the Rights and Freedoms Party [HAK-PAR], the Participatory Democracy Party [KADEP] and the Peace and Democracy Party [BDP, or former DTP]. Even though established for a long time HAK-PAR and KADEP have not found the public support they needed. And all of them brought important topics for discussion. HAK-PAR, for example, raised the issue of a federation for the Kurds. Because of that I was tried in court for a long time. What I see in the Kurdish population is that there is a silent majority that does not find itself represented by the political parties. We see their votes emerging as reaction votes in some elections, as in the elections of 2007 when a lot of Kurds voted for the AK Party. But after the prime minister’s nationalistic rhetoric prior to the 2009 local elections, they voted for the DTP. My observation is that people seek an outlet to express their desires, and there is no political party that has enough power to present that platform for those people.
Is that why you decided to start a new civilian initiative?
Yes. We have certain principles in that regard: Kurds cannot remain indifferent to the democratization process in Turkey, so we need to support it; the rule of law is indispensible -- as we know very well that Kurdish people have been among the most disadvantaged in that regard. In addition, we are very clear about the use of violent methods; we definitely do not support it. The state cannot solve the Kurdish problem with violence -- be it the removal of the original Kurdish names of towns or keeping Kurdish banned – and neither can the Kurdish movement. Moreover, we support Turkey’s membership in the European Union, which is a process that will help Turkey’s democratization. It is important also that military’s tutelage over civilians should be removed, and this can be achieved, too, in Turkey’s EU accession. Also in that process, economic disparities among Turkey’s various regions should be eliminated.
Could your civilian initiative turn out to be a political party in time?
It is possible, but first there is a need for a civilian movement for the public who do not find representation in present politics. Kurds do need pluralism and a civilian movement away from the current political parties.
Do you have a name for the movement yet?
We will soon discuss this issue, at the end of the month in Diyarbakır. It is likely to be “Civilian Kurdish Quest” or “Democratic Kurdish Quest.”
Do you think it is possible for a Kurdish political movement not to be under the PKK’s realm?
If violence persists, it is very difficult to gather support in the area out of the PKK’s realm. People ask, “What do you do for Kurds while people are up in the mountains?” We say that we encourage a non-violent approach, but the sounds of weapons cut our voices short. If violence stops in this process of democratization in Turkey, a number of civilian movements will flourish in Kurdish areas. We only need to look back at history to see it: Kemalist ideology has tried to control everything in Turkey since 1923, but it was not able prevent the rise of the AK Party. We will have a similar destiny for the Kurds in Turkey if democratization persists instead of violence. A Kurdish movement that is based on democratic standards is bound to be born.
Sertaç Bucak supports EU reforms and on-violence
Former head of the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) in 2006-2008, he is one of the first names that comes to mind in the Kurdish movement away from the realm of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He resigned from HAK-PAR at the end of 2009 to work on establishing a civilian organization to voice the concerns of the Kurdish people. His father, Faik Bucak, was among 485 Kurds who were taken by members of the army following the May 27, 1960 military coup to a camp in the central province of Sivas where they were kept for months without being allowed to appear before a court and were subjected to inhumane treatment. Sertaç Bucak went to Germany in 1970 to study and had his Turkish citizenship revoked in 1983 because of his political activities related to Kurds. His citizenship was restored in 1993, and he returned to Turkey in 2002. He has been invited to deliver presentations on human rights in various platforms such as the European Council, the UN Human Rights Commission, the European Parliament and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).