The Statement of Mehdi Zana
On the Occasion of the Washington Kurdish Institute’s
KURDISH CONFLICT RESOLUTION FORUM
At the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Washington, DC
July 28, 1998
First of all, I would like to thank the Washington Kurdish Institute, the organizer of this conference, for bringing us together here today for a solution to the Kurdish Question.
In my opinion, we are witnessing an historical situation, seldom seen in its annals, displaying the attitudes of two peoples who refuse to change for different reasons. On the one hand, you have a people represented by a government in Ankara that has turned its back to democracy and human rights and pursues a racist policy that excludes the right to life with rights of other peoples. On the other hand, you have the Kurds who refuse to give up from the struggle of demanding their basic human rights. In Turkey, in other words, if you do not assert your identity and if you do not ask for your rights, you can live in peace. Otherwise, you do not have the right to live.
The Kurdish people, just as the Turkish government insists that they must forgo their identity, has insisted to live, despite the horrendous costs, with its identity. I don1t want to delve into the dark pages of history. In summary, I want to raise a couple of points here.
If we look at the most recent history of the Kurds, just the last two hundred years, we find that the Kurdish people1s history is one of constant rebellions, recurring genocide, prisons, and exiles. But these setbacks have not derailed the Kurdish people from their struggle and as we are witnessing it today too, the struggle goes on.
Let me also remind you that in the last two hundred years the guns have not fallen silent in Kurdistan.
There is an inescapable lesson of this conflict and it is that with denial a problem can not be solved.
If such a thing were possible, the Kurdish leaders would have pulled a curtain over this issue and might have said that we are no longer driven by it and that we will from now on sit still.
But the Kurdish people and their leaders have always responded with no, no and again no to the policy of denial.
Let me get into some specifics. When the Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk waged a war of liberation, he made a number of promises to the Kurds to secure their help. The Kurds did help but after the war, the Turkish leader conveniently forgot his promises. The identity of the Kurds was at once denied. Kurdish leaders were imprisoned. Many others were driven into exile.
This state of affairs continued even after the reign of Ataturk. For example, when the single party system ended and the Democratic Party entered the political fray, some of its noted leaders, Celal Bayar and Adnan Menderes visited Diyarbakir and spoke of a new era in the history of the republic. Nazim Onen, the new party1s Diyarbakir representative spoke in Silvan, in my hometown, of the need to indict those who had committed the atrocities in Varto, Zilan and Karakopru.
The second set of promises proved to be as short lived. Nazim Onen, the deputy representing Diyarbakir, discovered too soon and to his chagrin, one might add, that the new party was no different than the old one and resigned from his party as well as from his post in the parliament.
The story of another deputy, in early 50s, is equally revealing. Mustafa Remzi Bucak, the deputy representing Diyarbakir, relates the following anecdote in his open letter to Ismet Inonu, the successor to Ataturk. 3On day, I was invited to the Presidential Palace for a state dinner. President Bayar pulled me aside told me the following: “Mustafa Remzi, our eyes are on you. We know what you are doing and what you are thinking. Don1t forget we view the Kurdish question as an important one. It is even more important than the Armenian issue for us. If you do not want to face the same predicament, sit still in your place. View our silence as a blessing for yourself. And appreciate your blessing.”
The blessing that Mr. Mustafa Remzi Bucak thought he had for himself as a deputy of Diyarbakir came to an abrupt end in 1954. The Democratic Party chose to not to field his name as a candidate. After the election, he left the country settled in New York city.
In 1959, there were other surprises. 49 Kurdish intellectuals were arrested on the grounds that they had advocated Kurdish nationalism. Their trail came to be known as the trial of 49. Emin Batu, one of the accused, was discovered dead in his cell after the third day. The oppression of the Kurds intensified.
In 1960, there was a military coup in Turkey. Some of the Turkish intellectuals even portrayed this usurpation of power as a revolutionary change. But the changes that took place had no bearings on the Kurdish situation. The policy of denial of the Kurds continued. Ardent Turkish nationalists began to attack the Kurds openly. In Turkish Kurdistan, Kurdish youth began to form Eastern Revolutionary Cultural Associations (D.D.K.O.). Other left wing organizations also took root.
In 1971, another military coup took over. This time the arrests were more widespread. The prisons were filled. Kurds were accused of being separatists. Prison sentences of one to three years were given. If the authorities wanted to keep someone in prison for a longer period of time, they accused him or her of being a member of the Communist Party. Then, an accused was given 15 years in prison. In 1974, a general amnesty was adopted. Many of the inmates were released.
The coup of 1980 was most systematic and the most fascistic relative to the other coups. Hundreds of people were killed summarily. The prisons overflowed with the suspects. The cries of torture never ceased. The Kurdish villages became a favorite target of the Turkish soldiers for all kinds of atrocities. The torture in the prisons still continues to this day.
In 1983, elections were held in Turkey and a so called transition to democracy was made. But the fact remained that the parties nominated the military approved candidates for the elections. And the Motherland Party won the election.
By 1990s, the situation in Kurdistan had changed. For the first time, the government in Ankara became overly anxious about the Kurds. People1s Labor Party, HEP, entered the fray as a pro-Kurdish party. The government feared that it might enter the parliament as a major force. To deny it a chance to enter the politics, the government moved the election date to an earlier time. Members of HEP were forced to join forces with Social Democratic People1s Party, SHP, to be able to participate in the election. The ballot boxes of October 20, 1991 resulted in the election of 21 Kurdish deputies to the Turkish parliament.
But no party had won the majority vote. The True Path Party (DYP) led by Suleyman Demirel and the Social Democratic People1s Party (SHP) led by Erdal Inonu formed a coalition party. In his first public speech, the new prime minister Demirel noted that, in our country, there are Kurds. They live in the east and in the southeast of the country. They have, for centuries, shared a destiny with us. They are our brothers. And since they are our brothers, the Kurds who live in neighboring countries are our brothers as well. If their rights are violated, we need to protect them.
The Kurds received these words with some guarded optimism. But not much came of them. In fact, plans were being made to send thousands of soldiers to Kurdistan. Kurdish villages were leveled to the ground. Their inhabitants were forced to become refugees. Innocent peasants met violent deaths in their fields and were portrayed as 3terrorists.2 Those who escaped death began to live destitute lives in the large Kurdish and Turkish cities. In the cities, on the other hand, actor- unknown assailants began to murder unsuspecting Kurdish activists. The promise that the Kurds were 3our2 brothers was conveniently forgotten.
In April 1993, the Turkish President Turgut Ozal died. His post was filled by Suleyman Demirel. Turkey had a new candidate for the office of prime ministry. The U.S. educated Tansu Ciller became the first woman prime minister of Turkey. She too promised plenty. As a woman, she told her Kurdish audiences that she was their mother, and sister and that she was ready to embrace them all.
This was the beginning of a campaign of terror that the new prime minister unleashed on all Kurds, including their constitutionally protected deputies. The Kurds who thought they had had a miserable lot during the days of Demirel and Ozal began to miss those days under her rule. Living in Kurdistan became an open- air prison for all.
Today, we can not still speak of any changes in the official policy of the government relative to the Kurds. If anything, the situation is getting worse.
Now, I would like to share with you what I think is the most salient aspect of the crisis that faces the Kurds. They have lost faith in the Turkish people. They say, let the Turks go and in their place the pigs may come. This is indeed a sad commentary for the coexistence of these two peoples.
Does this mean, is this the end of the world for the Kurds and the Turks. Of course not. But so long as the question is not identified with its proper name no solution will be forthcoming.
The solution, as it stands, is in the hands of the Turkish people. They have to accept the rights of the Kurds. They need to force their government to come to terms with the reality of the Kurds. Time and efforts taken in this direction will pave the way for reconciliation. Only then can the conditions of coexistence may be established again.
But if we continue with the devoid expressions of 3motherhood2 and 3sisterhood2, and also continue to call the problem not with its real name but simple 3terrorism2, there will not be a solution to the challenge that we face. Let it also be noted that the PKK and its fighters are both Kurds and are waging a struggle under the direction of a certain ideology. To continue with the present state of affairs will not take us anywhere.
At this time, I would like to also say a few words about the much touted concepts such as democracy and human rights.
Terror by definition is the use of force against the civilians. Those who practice it do not respect human rights nor believe in democracy. When we apply this definition to Turkey, what do we see coming into picture? Can anyone tell me the name of a country that has banned the language of twenty million of its residents. I would like to ask you this, if this is not terrorism, what is? Can anything be worse than this?
Democracy is a system of government that enables its participants to express their thought and beliefs without fear of persecution. If this is so, then can any one tell me that the Kurds live in a democratic country? Democracy and human rights do not manifest in a country if its citizens wear suits and ties. These concepts have universal definitions and these definitions can not be appropriated by select groups for their expressed aims only.
Allow me, at this time, to make a couple of broader observations as well. Specifically, I would like to tackle the case of the state of Israel and the United States. Today, the soldiers of these countries are training the Turkish commandos to suppress the struggle of the Kurds. Last Sunday, an article by Mary McGrory of the Washington Post made a reference to the U.S. involvement in the training of the Turkish soldiers.
I am not opposed to the national interests of nations. I understand their nature. While I resent Washington1s decision to train the Turkish special teams, I think it behooves me also to note my profound dismay over the state of Israel1s decision to help train the Turkish forces in the genocide of the Kurds. The Israelis who only yesterday lived a horrible holocaust should not in anyway take part in the genocide of other peoples. Despite my trepidation over their recent rapprochement with the Turkish state, I wish them happiness and prosperity so long as humanity is around.