Kurdish MP Who Met Ocalan Talks About Peace Process

By HEMIN KHOSHNAW – 16.3.2013 – ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Altan Tan was among the Kurdish MPs from the Turkish parliament who visited the jailed leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, on Imrali island in late February. 

In an interview with Rudaw, he spoke about the peace talks between the PKK and the Turkish government that began with that visit.  Tan, a member of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), said that Ocalan was in good health, despite solitary confinement and denied visitors.   Tan, who was in the Kurdistan Region last week to deliver a message from Ocalan to the PKK command in the Qandil mountains, also spoke about the fragile Kurdish trust in Turkey, and called on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to show greater solidarity with the Kurdish struggle in Turkey. Here is his interview:

Rudaw: According to the minutes of the conversation between Ocalan and the BDP, he is apparently saying that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the only person with whom the Kurds can form an alliance.   Can you comment?

Altan Tan: I also think that Erdogan is the only one with whom the Kurds can form an alliance. But, until recently, they were saying that the Kurds do not want peace. They were especially saying that the BDP and PKK reject peace. However, today we declare that we are ready for peace, and if you want peace then give everybody their rights. The world will soon see who is a peacemaker. But there is an issue that has to be addressed: It would be a mistake for them to think they can give the Kurds a few rights and forget about the major rights.

  I also think that Erdogan is the only one with whom the Kurds can form an alliance.  

Rudaw: Is this a worry?

Altan Tan: Everybody is worried at this stage. All the Kurds are wondering whether or not they will be   deceived again.

Rudaw: Who do you think is pushing this process? Fethulla Gullen’s movement?

Altan Tan: I don’t want to mention anyone here. There are many countries that want the Turks and the Kurds to make peace. Some other countries appose that because they have issues with dividing oil, water resources, and other issues of the Middle East with Turkey. But again, if the PM takes the initiative and facilitates the process by satisfying the Kurds a little, then the process will be a success.

Rudaw: What role can the KRG play in this process?

Altan Tan: The KRG says that north Kurdistan needs to settle down in order for KRG to improve its relations with Turkey. Why should we settle down? Without the struggle of the Kurds in the north, the chauvinist Turks wouldn’t have tried to come to Kurdistan within 24 hours. We totally support the rights of the Kurdistan Region and protect their achievements, but they should also say the Kurds of the north are their brothers and that they have their own rights. Half of the Kurds are in the north. Without solving the issue of north Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Region and west Kurdistan will not see calm.

Rudaw: Does the United States have any presence in this process?

Altan Tan: I smilingly asked the American ambassador this question. He laughed and said that they support this process. I wish they would.

  Without solving the issue of north Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Region and west Kurdistan will not see calm.

Rudaw: Ocalan has been in Imrali prison for more than 14 years. Has he changed much in that time?

Altan Tan:  His health is very well. He has no problem in logically controlling the events.  Without doubt, the human body changes every day. He has gained weight and a little belly. Ageing should show on one’s face, and this is normal. I have aged as well. He has a problem in his eyes. This is an old problem. It began 15 years ago, and his eyes were constantly watering.  He does not have any other problems.

Rudaw: But some Turkish newspapers quoted you as saying he is losing his hair.

Altan Tan: No, I have not said such a thing. Human hair becomes thinner with age. Ocalan’s hair has become a little thinner and white, which is normal.

Rudaw: Is Ocalan bored of living in solitude? Has this solitary life affected his psychological wellbeing?

Altan Tan: Staying in one place for 14 years is very difficult.  The human is a social being and life becomes very difficult without talking to someone. But Ocalan has organized his life in a good way. He has coped with life in prison. He reads, follows events and reacts appropriately to them.

Rudaw: As a player in the peace process, can you say how it is proceeding?

Altan Tan: I have asked the Turkish side, ‘Do you want to solve the Kurdish issue or not?’ I told them that if they had such a goal, they should know that the solution could be reached through us, Kurdish politicians.  We need to visit Imrali Island and Qandil mountain and also continue our meetings with the Justice and Development Party (AKP). They later reached the conclusion that is best described by this proverb: ‘Better lose half than all.’  Many people have become victims of this conflict. We have wasted many years to reach this conclusion, but it is still a success if we can salvage the situation now.

Rudaw: There are four main actors in this process:  Imrali, the Turkish state, Qandil and Diyarbakir. What sort of mechanism ties these four together?

  He has coped with life in prison. He reads, follows events and reacts appropriately to them.

Altan Tan: This process started late, but well. The Turkish state is an actor in this process. By Turkish state, we mean Turkish intelligence.  The Turkish government is comprised of the intelligence service, the prime minister and the cabinet. A mechanism for negotiations has thus been formed. But it needs to become more effective through cooperation between the government and the BDP. We went to Qandil and talked for 10 hours. They had their questions and we had ours.  With two of my MP friends, we went to Imrali for talks. The government gave us a letter for Ocalan.  All of these events took place before the public. This process must continue in a transparent way. If not, then people will ask questions and conspiracy theories will be generated. The AKP and BDP must agree on this, and agreement between these two parties is the key to the success of this process.

Rudaw: Have you received any indications that the AKP wants to hold talks with you?

Altan Tan: We received messages, but they have not been followed by action. Previously, talks with the AKP were very scarce.  Sometimes, they did not exist at all, and this is the real problem. Many times politicians from the Kurdistan Region visited Ankara and conveyed to us the words of PM Erdogan or his foreign minister, Ahmed Davutoglu.  Politicians from around the Middle East have come to Ankara for talks, but we still have not spoken with the Turkish foreign minister. Isn’t this laughable? I once told those politicians in jest:  ‘The next time you come to Ankara, please introduce us to Davutoglu, because we don’t know each other.’  The Kurdistan Region, Iraq, Iran, Syria all have ties with them, but we don’t. I believe this stage is nearing its end, and with God’s will we will have more talks with the AKP. I hope through these talks we can create a new Turkey and constitution.

 The AKP wants to make these changes but it is afraid to do so. Why is it afraid while it has 50 percent of the votes, and 60 percent of the MPs in parliament? 

Rudaw: As part of the new constitutional committee, can you describe your main disagreements with the AKP regarding the constitution?

Altan Tan: We have many disagreements. First, it is the definition of Turkey. The old constitution, which is racist and Kemalist, states: “One nation, one flag, one language.” Secondly, the community of Turkey is a Muslim one, but wearing a headscarf in public offices is forbidden.

Rudaw: But doesn’t the AKP support these changes?

Altan Tan: The AKP wants to make these changes but it is afraid to do so. Why is it afraid while it has 50 percent of the votes, and 60 percent of the MPs in parliament? They are afraid to take the initiative. I have suggested changes regarding religion and nation in the committee. We also disagree with the AKP about the Alawites, who make up 10 percent of the Turkish population, and about the authorities at the municipalities. We do not want to confer with Ankara on everything we do. We also disagree on how to solve our disagreements. For example, there are 21 regional administrations in Russia, four federal regions in Pakistan. We do not ask for federalism, but for local administration. We say let the mayor be elected by the people and not the central government. The Kurds have been saying for 100 years that they do not want to secede. We want to live together. My mother is a Turk and my grandmother is an Arab. At home we talk with each other in Kurdish, Arabic and Turkish. Turks, Arabs and Kurds are brothers in Turkey, but politics has ruined this brotherhood. Therefore, we need a constitution where ethnic, religious, sectarian and social rights are protected. Kurds do not ask for democracy only for themselves, but they say let it rain on everybody; any rain would be mercy and blessing for all of us.