President, Kurdistan Parliament in Exile
March 21, 1998
[Editor’s note: The Badlisy Center for Kurdish Studies held its Second International Conference on March 20-21, 1998, in Princeton, New Jersey, USA. The theme of the conference was “The Regional Dimensions of Kurdish Identity: Prospects for the 21st Century”. The President of Kurdistan Parliament in Exile in Brussels was invited to speak. Due to his recent surgery, he could not attend the conference but did send in the following statement.]
Apart from a few pundits, not many people in the world are aware of the war that is unfolding in Kurdistan. Nor are they aware of the geopolitical importance of the land of the Kurds. In the heart of the Middle East, Kurdistan is the gateway to the Caucasus, to Iran, to the Arab world and also to Anatolia. It is a land of precious natural resources, both above and below the earth.
Divided into two parts in 1639 between the Iranian and Ottoman empires, the land of the Kurds was divided again in 1923, this time among the emerging nations of the new Middle East, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. This state of affairs continues to this day. Today, constituting some forty million people residing in their historical lands, the Kurds are subjected to the rule of others and do not enjoy any of the constitutional guarantees that peoples all over the world take for granted. This state of affairs is now being rejected by the Kurds. I wish to focus on a few of the most pertinent aspects of this new status of the Kurds.
For years, the natives of upper Mesopotamia, the Kurds, have continued to live in the same area and historically have taken part in the progress of civilization, which owes some of its earliest beginnings to this region. The Kurds have intermingled with neighboring peoples, the Persians, the Arabs, the Assyrians and the Turks. They have also shared common rituals with their neighbors, such as Zoroastrianism and the various sects of Islam. Such a richness remains a part of our strength in the region today. And some would argue that this very fact accounts for our persevering to this day.
This inherent diversity of Kurdistan has found its true expression in the formation of the Kurdistan Parliament in Exile. In contrast to that, when a few Kurdish parliamentarians asserted their true identity in the Turkish Parliament, they were sentenced to 15 years in prison. Leyla Zana, the recipient of the Sakharov Freedom Award, is one of those parliamentarians. Hatip Dicle, the president of the Democracy Party, and Kurdish parliamentarians Selim Sadak and Orhan Dogan languish in jail as well.
Looking at the early history of Turkey reveals that the country was founded with the galvanized efforts of both Turkish and Kurdish liberation forces. After the Treaty of Lausanne, the Kurds were robbed of their gains, and with the consent of the Allied powers they were subjected to the rule of others. As can be expected, the Kurdish response was not late in coming and in Palo in 1926, in Agri in 1930, and again in Dersim in 1938, the Kurds took up arms to undo their subject status.
The Turks vowed to undo the Kurds and their tactics amounted to genocide. Kurds of both sexes and all ages were brutally killed, their were leaders hanged and their families were driven into exile. This policy has been the rule throughout the 75 years of history of the Turkish Republic, but it has not extinguished the desire on the part of the Kurds to assert their rights.
In Turkey, there is a direct correlation between the desire on the part of the Kurds to ask for their rights and the policy of the Turkish government to increase its heavy-handed tactics to suppress the Kurds. If the desire on the part of living organisms to grow is natural, the same is true for peoples to perpetuate their heritage and culture for successive generations. And yet in the Turkey, where a majority of the Kurds live, it is part of the law of the land that the Kurds do not speak their own language, do not practice their traditions and must forcefully accept the “superior” culture of the Turks. Ours, I might add, is the only people in the world whose language is constitutionally banned.
Such an unnatural course of action has led to the intensification of state sanctioned violence against the Kurds on the part of Turkish government officials. To this day, one would look in vain for evidence of the Turkish government’s desire to accommodate the Kurds. The reality of the Kurds and their land, Kurdistan, remains a taboo subject. Those who would dare to defy the law and write about the subject are either eliminated or imprisoned or driven into exile. 109 professors remain in Turkish jails for daring to write on the Kurdish issue. 74 journalists share the same place with these professors for the same reasons.
If Kurds decide to assemble and form an organization to address some of their concerns, the organization is immediately threatened with closure. It does not matter if the organization is cultural in nature or has as its aim to teach folk dances. They are subject to bans as are the Kurdish political parties that have struggled for years now to have a voice in the country’s politics. This state of affairs has lead to the birth of organizations that have taken up arms, and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is one such an organization.
The birth of the PKK has to be seen as the struggle by a people to fight for their self-preservation. Those who would like to label the struggle of the Kurds as “terrorist” are in agreement with those who wish not to find a solution to the Kurdish Question. Lest it be forgotten, it was the Kurdish side, the PKK, which declared a unilateral cease-fire in 1993 and abided by its rules for 83 days – but to no avail. The Turkish government continued to pound Kurdish villages with bombs and to this day refuses to engage the Kurds in a dialogue. The Kurds and their property have become the spoils of war and the targets ofTurkish troops both from the air and on the ground.
The number of Kurdish villages that have been destroyed by the Turkish armed forces has now reached some 3,200. The whole region is administered by a “super” governor and his secret special teams that are a law unto themselves. The region is under an occupation force. Unknown assailants continue to murder at will and some 4,000 activists have met with violent ends at the hands of these “representatives” of the state. In other words, one cannot speak of the rule of law in the lands of the Kurds.
For three terms, I was elected president of Democracy Party (DEP), the third Kurdish party in the recent history of Turkey with hopes to be a democratic voice for the Kurds. One of our duly elected parliamentarians, Mehmet Sincar, a member of the party, was murdered in broad daylight. Other Kurds were targeted just as he was. In the last eight years alone, 184 active members of Kurdish parties have been killed. This is the price we are paying to have our voices heard in Turkey.
We have only one request for all of the sacrifices we are enduring: We want a democracy that does not accept the condition of forbidden-ness. We want a democracy that is on par with those that manifest themselves in Western countries. The troubles of democracy in Turkey can be traced to the absence of the rights of the Kurds. Without a solution to the Kurdish Question, one cannot speak of democracy in Turkey. As is well known, all of the state constitutions in Turkey have been written by generals. The latest Turkish Constitution, the product of a Turkish military coup, is no exception.
With the demise of “real existing” socialism in the Soviet Union, the United States became the de facto leader of the world. And America today continues to view the Kurdish Question as merely a human rights issue. This is unfortunate. The Kurdish Question is a national, regional and international issue. Militarily, it will not be resolved. It can only be resolved politically. Without a peaceful solution to this question, there cannot be peace in the region. In the United States today, there exists a body of scholars who know well the nature of the Kurdish Question. For the United States to consign its Kurdish policy to the tender mercies of the government of Turkey is wrong and dangerous. Turkey is waging its dirty war on the Kurds with thesupport of weapons supplied by the United States. This very policy is the source of instability in the region.
Those who view the Kurdish Question as an ethnic minority issue, as a problem of backwardness, as a question of economic immobility or a residue of feudalism are belittling the question. It is a national question and must be viewed as such. It crosses the borders of the established countries in the region and will require their participation in its eventual resolution. The Kurdish Question can only have a lasting solution when its divisions are addressed in its totality.
In addition to the ongoing war in northern Kurdistan, southern Kurdistan has been invaded time and again by Turkish forces, and the very fabric of the federal Kurdish state is threatened to be entrusted to the care of Saddam Hussein. This time, Turkey has taken it upon itself to do this favor for the butcher of Baghdad.
In the meantime, the United States government needs to examine its policies relative to the war of genocide that the government of Turkey is waging against the Kurds. Most of the arms Turkey uses in its dirty war originate from America. National interest cannot be an excuse to bless the war which Turkey continues to wage against the Kurds.
Let the record show that we don’t favor war and have always expressed our desire for peace and a political solution to the Kurdish Question. We respect the territorial integrity of Turkey, if it accommodates the equality of the Kurds with those of its Turkish citizens. We are ready to opt for peace and talk with Turkish representatives to reconstitute the country and form a true federation which reflects the reality of the peoples who make up the country.
The authorities in Turkey must come to their senses and forgo their option of a military solution to this question. The fruits of such a change in policy will be the true democracy, peace and stability that Turkey needs and the Kurds can offer. We ask the nations of the world to side with us to put an end to the policies of the Turkish government that amount to a war of genocide.
The Kurdish national movement embodies the diversity that is characteristic of the Kurdish people. It is not the prisoner of an uncompromising ideology. It is contemporary and is advancing the welfare of the Kurdish people day by day. As it stands, the Kurds have been forced to respond to the oppressive policies of their adversaries by means of a defensive war. But more important than this war is the awakening that is taking place among the Kurds. Some have called this a Kurdish cultural renaissance. I share their sentiments.
Our struggle to have equality in our lives for our offspring continues. The road to that state of affairs points to a new federal composition. We have seen the light and we hope our adversaries will see it too. Thank you.