It is Time for World to See That Kurds Are Not an Obstacle to Peace

 MUTLU CIVIROGLU –  RUDAW – WASHINGTON DC – The United States now understands that a democratic Middle East is not possible without the Kurds, according to the co-founder of Turkey’s Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

Ahmet Turk, whose Kurdish party played a key role in a historic peace process between Ankara and the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), said that he had asked the Americans to observe the peace process in Turkey and play an active and encouraging role. Rudaw spoke to Turk during his visit to Washington last week, when he met with State Department and White House officials.  Here is his full interview:

Rudaw: What does the US government think of the peace process in Turkey with the PKK?

Ahmet Turk: The notion that no true democracy can be realized in the Middle East without the Kurds has gotten stronger.  During meetings in the United States I have observed that many agree that the Kurds are now actors in the region, and that without their active involvement no problems can be resolved and a democratic Middle East cannot be achieved.

Rudaw: Can the success of this process impact the Kurds in other parts of the world, and the Middle East as a whole?

Ahmet Turk: The process we are going through is a very crucial one, and it brings with it some problems. For instance, in Syria and in the region there are some serious issues which significantly affect peace in Turkey. However, peace can only come when Kurds have equal rights with Turks, and when both peoples have constructive relations and a partnership that is based on justice, equality and freedom. In my view, Ankara also realizes that such a mutual relationship between the Turks and Kurds is necessary in order for it to play the leadership role in the Middle East, and for it to create and maintain good relations with Kurds elsewhere.

 The notion that no true democracy can be realized in the Middle East without the Kurds has gotten stronger.

The way the Kurds see it, they have already demonstrated their sincerity toward the process. Nevertheless, our concerns about the process have not vanished. While Kurds are taking positive steps for the process, they expect to see confidence building measures taken by the (Turkish) government. In our meetings with the Americans, we told them about the importance of this process and underscored it was important that Kurds and Turks solve this issue together.

With this visit we wanted to tell the Americans our side of the story, and inform them about our expectations. We expressed our view that, if an unwanted situation emerges, its cause should be identified correctly, and appropriate action is shown. We shared our expectation that the US should play a cautionary and facilitating role if something undesirable should happen. In this process, it is crucial that everybody monitor the events closely, and see who really prevents a solution of the Kurdish question. We asked American officials to observe the process carefully, and play a positive role. In this peace process between Kurds and Turks, it is vital that the US plays an encouraging role for both sides.

Rudaw: In an article last week, David Phillips said in the Huffington Post that the US should remove the PKK from its list of terrorist groups. What is your comment?

Ahmet Turk: As you know, the relations between Washington and Ankara are quite different. At this stage, the US will not be eager to do anything that might upset Turkey. However, if we can show effectively that the (Turkish) state is the one preventing the solution, this situation can change. In my view, keeping the Kurds on the “terrorist list” will only encourage those who do not want a solution, and serve solely their interest.

It is a must that this attitude toward the Kurds should change, and the PKK should be de-listed. What will those, who labeled Kurds as “terrorists”, say about this in the future? How will they defend their incorrect decision? This will certainly not remain as it is, and the international community will discuss this issue. Everybody will see clearly who wants this issue to be solved, and who wants the opposite. Kurds do not have any concern about this issue because they trust themselves. It is time for world to see that Kurds are not an obstacle to peace. We know this very well, and achieving true peace will make us very happy. But, it is equally important to expose the true face of those who do not want peace!

 It is a must that this attitude toward the Kurds should change, and the PKK should be de-listed.

Rudaw: In a meeting with the Kurdish-American Congress you said that “BDP will not object to ‘Turkishness’ in the new constitution.” What are your thoughts about the new constitution?

Ahmet Turk: This issue needs to be understood correctly. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu says, “We will not give up Turkishness.” I was referring to him when I was talking to a group of journalists, including you, on Tuesday. We defend brotherhood of peoples. We want Turkish people to have more freedoms. When we raise our objection to denial policies against the Kurds, some people immediately react that they will not abandon “Turkishness”, as if we are against the Turkish people. In fact, such slogans aim to prevent Kurds and other groups from being free and achieving their rights. We want a constitution that will protect all oppressed identities, cultures and faiths in Turkey, and guarantee existence of diversities. What we say is that all identities and cultures should exist in the constitution; unrestricted mother-tongue use in all areas, including the public sphere, should be provided by a constitutional guarantee.  Mother-tongue education should be recognized as a constitutional right.

Rudaw: Academics in the US and researchers on the Kurds and Turkey believe the Turkish government has not taken any concrete steps yet to cement the peace process. What are your thoughts?

Ahmet Turk: This is a very important issue, and I have not spoken about it before. We do not want society to experience a disappointment; we want that the government should take some significant steps for the entire society, and create a reassuring atmosphere. It is very striking that many academics, political scientists and human rights activists in the US are raising their concerns. This is a very important point. It shows that other than Kurds, Americans are also worried about the government not doing enough for the process. I have observed this during my talks in America. I am hopeful that the government will address these concerns, and draw a new roadmap that will address such concerns. It is also crucial that this roadmap be shared with the Kurds and the entire society.

 It is very striking that many academics, political scientists and human rights activists in the US are raising their concerns. 

Rudaw: What is your party’s stance on the situation in Syria, especially after some recent tensions among Kurdish parties there?

Ahmet Turk: We do not want any problems among the Kurds. I am hoping that this issue will be resolved soon through dialogue and compromise. Yet, there is a reality on the ground that 70 percent of the Kurds support the Democratic Union Party (PYD). Some people are trying to ignore the PYD, and act like it does not exist. This is not a right attitude! If you do not take such a power seriously — talk with its officials and cooperate with them to build a democratic unity and initiate a common struggle — you cannot be successful! If you send some tiny Kurdish groups to Europe and the US, present them as the representatives of Kurds, and have them say that the “PYD does not represent the Kurds,” this will naturally create problems.

Rudaw: In your meetings, what did you tell the Americans about Syria, and the Kurds there?

Ahmet Turk: I openly told the Americans that if you do not find common grounds to bring the PYD — who represent 70 percent of the Kurds — and the Syrian opposition together, you cannot win the Kurds. By putting a small group of individuals into the opposition, you cannot win the Kurds.

Some are trying to put themselves forward by eliminating the PYD. They say, “We are the representatives of Kurds. You should talk to us!” This is not a right approach, and it will not bring Kurds any good.  At the same time, PYD should build a better dialogue with other parties and embrace them. PYD should be cautious, and should not give any excuses to groups that are willing to deepen the intra-Kurdish disagreements.

Rudaw: The US is concerned about radical Islamic groups in Syria. Are the Kurds worried, too?

Ahmet Turk: In the Middle East, Kurds are the people who internalized democracy best. Because Kurds have suffered a lot, they know what a struggle for democracy means. For the same reason, they value freedom and respect diverse cultures and identities. If you do not include Kurds, who make up 15 percent of the Syrian population, you cannot achieve anything.  Even if you topple (President Bashar) Assad with the help of forces brought externally, you cannot bring a real democracy to Syria. How can an opposition supported by Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra bring democracy to Syria? Americans we have met with understand this very well, and they share our concerns. They openly told us that we were right in our thinking about this issue.