Aliza Marcus: I do not believe the PKK will undermine the process  

NEWS CENTER (DİHA) – 4.4.2013 – Journalist Aliza Marcus, “I do not believe the PKK will undermine the process. The PKK is very committed right now and understands that it cannot be the group that breaks down the process.

But I think that AKP is not as committed as the PKK is. Or, let me say, AKP is committed to ending the conflict, but not committed to giving Kurds full rights. Needless to say, I hope I am wrong and Erdogan proves himself to be a brave and bold leader on this issue” said.

* What would you like to tell us about dialogue process began after intense term?

I am very pleased that Erdogan has begun dialogue with Ocalan. But I am not certain that the Prime Minister understands the steps that he must take to truly solve the Kurdish problem. And this worries me. In 1999/2000 Ocalan called a ceasefire and the rebels withdrew from Turkey. Ecevit, who was prime minister then, and Erdogan, who became prime minister during this period, ignored the ceasefire. They were convinced that because the PKK had stopped fighting, this meant the PKK was finished. And they believed – wrongly – that without the PKK there was no Kurdish problem. So what happened? In 2004/2005, the PKK ended the ceasefire and started fighting again.

Now, Erdogan has promised to make changes if the PKK stops fighting. OK, the PKK has called a ceasefire. So what’s the next step? There’s always a risk that the government will “forget” its promises. Or that the government will continue to act as if it does not need to negotiate with Kurds. Look, Erdogan even has said recently that he will not negotiate with BDP over the constitution. Well, if he’s not going to talk to BDP about the constitution, then how does he expect to make the changes that will satisfy the Kurds – changes that will allow the PKK to put down weapons forever?

Turkey needs to accept that it cannot dictate to Kurds. There was a time when Turks would say – there are no Kurds. Well, Kurds knew they were Kurds. Then for years Turkish governments told Kurds that their language wasn’t important or useful, so there was no reason to allow Kurds to study in Kurdish. And more recently, after the year 2000, AKP said to Kurds – here, we are allowing you to study Kurdish in private classes – or, here, you can watch television in Kurdish two hours a day; or now, they say, you can study Kurdish in school if enough students request it as a special language class. This is all about Turkey dictating to Kurds. About telling Kurds what they can have. When did this government, or any Turkish government, sit down with Kurds and say, “OK, what do you want? What can we give you? How can we live together as equals?” I believe, that until Turkey realizes that it needs to negotiate with Kurds, not dictate to them, there can be no permanent solution. Unfortunately. I do not think AKP is ready yet.

* According to AKP Administration’s allegation, PKK have been in a tight corner militarily. That is why government and PKK have dialogue. What do you think about the PKK’s situation? Is PKK really forceless?

First of all, the PKK is not in a weak position militarily. Yes, the PKK suffered big losses in 2012. But that’s because it staged very big attacks and fought to hold territory. The Turkish military also suffered big losses.The two sides, in some ways, have reached a certain equality. The Turkish military cannot force the PKK out of the southeast, and the PKK cannot force the Turkish military to leave the southeast. What the PKK can and does do it hit the military very hard, and by doing this, the PKK makes Turkey look weak. AKP says the PKK is weak, but this isn’t true. The PKK has enough money and weapons. It has secure bases in Kandil and elsewhere along the border. It has an endless supply of new recruits. Every week, young people leave to join the PKK. And from all over Turkey. Some of them have jobs, some are in university, some are in high school, some are school drop-outs. But Kurds are constantly joining.

More importantly, the PKK is the most popular Kurdish political movement inside Turkey. The PKK is incredibly strong. The PKK, whether through its rebels, through BDP or because of the various pro-PKK associations that operate inside Turkey, is very powerful and popular. In the Kurdish regions, there’s no question – the PKK is much more popular than AKP. How the PKK got to be so strong is something I explain in my book, Kan ve Inanc (Iletisim)

* Do you think the AKP Administration has enough will to solve the Kurdish problem in fair and honorable way, considering ten years term of the AKP?

AKP certainly wants to solve the Kurdish problem. The question is, what does AKP mean when it says it wants to solve the Kurdish problem? How does AKP want to solve this? Does Erdogan hope that once the PKK withdraws Turkey can announce the problem solved? Does AKP plan on making reforms? Will these reforms meet Kurdish demands? The problem is we don’t know exactly what Erdogan means when he says he wants to solve the problem – the only thing we do know is that he says there has to be a PKK withdrawal. He doesn’t say what else there has to be. That worries me. Because for there to be a solution, both sides need to make changes. We know what the PKK is supposed to do – stop fighting, withdraw from Turkey and, in the end, disarm – but what is Turkey going to do in exchange?

Why am I worried? After all, Erdogan has announced that he will make what changes are needed. Shouldn’t that be enough for us to trust him? No, not really. Over the past decade I would say there were three periods when Erdogan made an attempt to solve the Kurdish problem. The first time was after 2002, when Erdogan approved some minor reforms related to use of Kurdish language (private schools etc), allowed Kurdish language television (TRT 6) and also eased persecution of people for publishing or speaking about Kurdish issues. But was this enough? Was this what Kurds wanted? Did he ask Kurds what they wanted? No. And remember, this was during a period when the PKK had a ceasefire and the rebels had withdrawn to Iraqi Kurdistan. So what held Erdogan back? He didn’t understand the strength of the Kurdish national movement and he didn’t understand that he had to ask Kurds what they wanted, he couldn’t just decide on his own and expect them to agree.

The second period began around 2008, when AKP began to talk about a Kurt acilim. There was a lot of excitement about that. In 2009, AKP agreed to allow 34 PKK members to return to Turkey. They crossed via Habur and were greeted by tens of thousands of people. Erdogan, apparently was very angry. He felt “betrayed” because Kurds welcomes returning PKK members as heroes. What did Erdogan expect? The PKK is the most popular Kurdish national group inside Turkey. The welcome the PKK members received was not a surprise for people who understand the PKK and the Kurdish issue. But Erdogan obviously did not understand the Kurdish problem. And he certainly did not understand how strong PKK support was among Kurds inside Turkey. And because of Habur, Erdogan got angry and frightened and the so-called acilim ended. Finally, there was the Oslo surec. We all know that the process included meetings in Europe between the PKK and MIT. And that Ocalan provided some road maps of his views. We also know that the process collapsed right before the national elections of 2011. Why did it collapse? Many Kurds think it collapsed because Erdogan was never serious about making peace. Instead, he wanted the PKK to stop fighting in the months before the June 2011 elections, to make it easier for AKP to win votes.

Now it’s 2013 and AKP has started yet another peace process. This one is a little different. First of all, Ocalan is openly and publicly involved. For the first time since he was on trial, Ocalan has been allowed to directly speak to Kurds. He has been allowed – even encouraged — to act again as the leader of the PKK and to openly speak to both Kurds and to the PKK leadership. But some things haven’t changed. Erdogan says he will solve the Kurdish problem – but he hasn’t said how he will do it. He hasn’t asked Kurds for what they want. He says he will drink poison if needed – but this isn’t about poison. This is about legal changes. Erdogan doesn’t mention that. So again, the question is not whether the PKK is willing to make peace. Right now, it is clear the PKK is willing to make peace and very much wants to (even though regionally, the PKK is in a much better position than years ago, mainly thaks to Syria). And we have known for years that the PKK is no longer fighting for independence (as much as some Kurds may want that) and that it seems very likely they would settle for some sort of weak autonomy, if Ocalan tells them to. But what we don’t know is what Erdogan is willing to do. He has said nothing about what changes actually need to happen. He hasn’t even agreed to set up a parliamentary commission to oversee a PKK withdrawal. In other words, Erdogan is avoiding the real issues, and he’s avoiding taking and concrete steps that would show him committed to this process. So in some very basic ways, I do not see a big change in AKP’s Kurdish politics. And yet, Erdogan has given Ocalan a very public platform for the first time. That is a big and important change. But is Erdogan trying to use Ocalan so that he can weaken the PKK? Or is he serious about moving forward with peace and understands that he needs Ocalan’s involvement? We don’t know yet.

* Some politicians and socialists say that the AKP wants to ease the situation because of the next elections-local and general- in 2014.

I certainly agree that one reason Erdogan is trying to settle the Kurdish question is that he wants to be elected president in 2014 and he needs Kurdish support. He needs BDP’s votes in parliament order to get the changes he wants to create a very strong presidential system. But if Erdogan is proposing to make legal changes to help Kurds, in exchange for Kurds supporting legal changes to help Erdogan, than I believe this process will fail. Because this process requires very serious and extensive legal changes. And getting this all done before the 2014 deadline would be very difficult.For sure, maybe the spark was the presidency and the elections, but the only way to keep the fire going, as we say in English, is to accept that solving the Kurdish problem will require very difficult steps. And I don’t just mean changing the constitution or legal changes or releasing KCK prisoners (although all those are needed), but other things like: what do you do about the korucu? What do you do about the mysterious killings that happened in the 90s (both those killed by state forces and those killed by PKK forces) do you investigate? Will Ocalan be released? What about the tens of thousands of Kurds and leftists stripped of their citizenship and living in exile in Europe- are they allowed to return without penalty? There are so many questions and right now, I do not see signs the government is thinking about these.

* About 2 million people listened PKK leader Öcalan’s message during Newroz celebration in Diyarbakır and presented their support to Öcalan. What do you think about this message considering Kurdish people and PKK.

Look, Ocalan’s message was greeted very positively. Kurds are tired of the war and many of them, not all but many, do see Ocalan as a real leader. Having him address the people like that was an incredible experience for many Kurds and it gave them a lot of hope. But not really hope in AKP. People are very mistrusting of AKP. But they have hope, and trust in the PKK. And if Ocalan says there is a reason to be hopeful, then they are. I assumed that Ocalan’s message would be well received. I just wasn’t sure what Ocalan would say. As I said in a talk in DC the day before – we know that Ocalan’s statement has been approved by MIT and Erdogan, but we don’t know whether it will meet the expectations of Kurds. I was surprised at Ocalan’s letter. It was very well done. It was written in a very intelligent way. Ocalan did not make any clear demands, but he also did say no to anything. In other words, Ocalan did not say that he was demanding autonomy, but he also did not say he did not want autonomy. He called on the PKK to withdraw, but he did not say when they had to withdraw. He said it was time to give up fighting, but he did not say the war was.

In other words, Ocalan’s statement was the first step. He left the second step in the hands of the PKK in Kandil and in the hands of the parliament in Turkey. It was a very intelligent speech. He showed himself to still be a leader, but he did not try and take too much control. Because he knows he is not fully in control. The next decisions must be made by Kandil and by the Turkish parliament.

* What do you think about Turkish media, regarding the last developments?

In my opinion the Turkish media should try to be objective and independent. In other words, it should ignore pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office. I have heard many stories of when someone from the prime minister’s office calls up a newspaper owner or editor and tells him to use certain language (for example, insists the paper refer to the PKK as terrorists) or not to write about certain thing. Erdogan himself criticized Milliyet for publishing the Imrali tutunaklar and accused the newspaper of working against the state. Well, newspapers aren’t supposed to work for the state – or any state. They are supposed to report the news, as objectively as possible. And publishing the tutunakler was the right thing to do. It was news. And the journalist who managed to get a copy of the tutunaklar should be praised for what he did, not criticized. It was great journalism. But when Hasan Cemal defended what the newspaper did, he was basically fired. So this sort of ortam is wrong. It’s exactly the anti-democratic type of ortam that need to come to an end. Peace with the PKK, and an end to conflict with Kurds, requires a democratic, open environment.

* After what PKK leader Öcalan has done, what AKP administration and Turkish Republic should have supposed to be done?

The AKP government needs to take some formal action. AKP wants the problem to be solved in a democratic way. OK, then allow Kurds to practice legal politics. End the imprisonment of KCK defendant and end the trials. Release the KCK prisoners. Stop the arrests of people for writing or speaking about Kurdish issues. And begin to work on laws to protect Kurdish rights and allow Kurds equal rights as Kurds – whether it’s mother tongue Kurdish language education or changing the names of villages back to their original, Kurdish ones. Get parliament to issue a law protecting PKK rebels from attack when they withdraw. Set up a process to discuss with Kurds – and not just pro PKK Kurds, but Kurds from other political parties – what sort of political system will work. For example, should regions be given more power? Should local mayors have more power? What about the post of regional governor – is it time to change or abolish it? In other words, start acting like this is a process and show Kurds that there will be legal guarantees.

* What do you think; whether Kurdish political movement has been acting they supposed to or blocking the process? What do you understand when we say Kurdish political movement; is that PKK or BDP or both together?

The main players in this process are the PKK and BDP. They are separate, but obviously also linked in some ways. BDP cannot operate alone, it needs to work together with Kandil on an agreement. But BDP and Kandil both have their own areas where they should be responsible for negotiating. BDP, for example, understands Turkey’s politics, it understands the daily needs of the people. BDP is in a better position, and is more experienced, when it comes to negotiating the democratic changes that need to be made. Kandil understands what is needed in order to disarm the rebels and what needs to be done before the PKK will give up its guns. So both need to be negotiated with.

And of course, there is Ocalan. He needs to give final approval for any deal. But because he is in prison, without contact to the PKK (and even his lawyers are still denied the right to see him) he cannot negotiate.

* What do you think about Europe and particularly USA’s position in this point?

Both the U.S. and Europe are very pleased about this process. Both of them have long pressed Turkey – indirectly or directly – to understand that repression of the Kurds is what has helped make the PKK so strong. Turkey has always argued this is a problem of “terrorism.” By working with Ocalan, Turkey is now admitting that this isn’t just a problem of “terrorism.” In other words, even if Turkey sees the PKK as a terrorist group, Erdogan is admitting that the reason the PKK has support is because of state repression of Kurdish identity. I know Erdogan would deny this, but by opening talks with Ocalan, and discussing what needs to be done to satisfy Kurdish political demands, AKP is showing that what is behind the PKK is Kurdish unhappiness with the Turkish state.

* Turkish state is uncomfortable about Kurdish people’s situation in Middle East, as we can see Turkey’s politic approach to Syria. What is your evaluation about?

Turkey has always feared that if Kurds gain rights in one part of the Middle East, this will put pressure on Turkey to do the same for Kurds living within its borders. For many years, decades even, Turkey warned that if Kurds in Iraq gain autonomy, this would be reason for Turkey to invade. So what happened? After 1991, when the Kurds received limited autonomy through the U.N. no fly zone, Turkey was incredibly unhappy. It wasn’t only because the PKK was operating freely there. It was because the recognition that the international community gave the Iraqi Kurds, put pressure on Turkey to do the same. Turkey staged a few cross border raids against the PKK and warned the Iraqi Kurds not to seek autonomy. But now more than 20 years later, Iraqi Kurdistan is almost independent, and Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government have very close relations. The reason is simple: Turkey can make threats, but it cannot stop Kurds in other countries from getting what they want. Turkey can block Kurds inside Turkey, but it cannot do that to Kurds elsewhere.

Now, we see Turkey trying the same old approach in Syria. Turkey pushed the Syrian opposition not to include Kurdish nationalists and not to recognize Kurdish demands for autonomy. So what happened? The PYD developed its own political approach – as did Kurds in groups allied with Barzani. And now Kurds in Syria are stronger than ever and even control territory on their own. And Turkey has lost influence inside Syria, with Syrian groups. So Turkey has tried and failed for decades to take its internal political approach – which is to deny Kurds ethnic rights – and apply it to Kurds in other countries. And right now, we see the collapse of Turkey’s old policies.

* When we consider the reality of Middle East, can Turkey solve the Kurdish problem. And can you see the end of this process?

I see two possible conclusions to this process that AKP has started. 1. AKP negotiates honestly and openly with Kurds, and with the PKK, and an agreement is reached that benefits both Kurds and, obviously Turks. Not only because it will mean the end of war, but because anything that helps build Turkey’s democracy – whether it’s autonomy for Kurds or just a more democratic Turkey – helps Turks as well. That’s the solution I would like to see and of course believe is the best solution for everyone. The other conclusion is that the process fails. And why would it fail? I do not believe the PKK will undermine the process. The PKK is very committed right now and understands that it cannot be the group that breaks down the process. But I think that AKP is not as committed as the PKK is. Or, let me say, AKP is committed to ending the conflict, but not committed to giving Kurds full rights. Needless to say, I hope I am wrong and Erdogan proves himself to be a brave and bold leader on this issue.