Ismail Beşikçi: This is the Century of the Kurds
27/09/2012 RUDAW – By MASHALLAH DAKAK – Turkish sociologist and author Ismail Beşikçi spent 17 years in Turkish prison for his scientific research and opinions on the Kurdish issue. In this interview with Rudaw, Beşikçi says that, while they will probably not gain independence, “the 21st century is the century of the Kurds.”
Beşikçi believes it is very important for the Kurds to preserve and strengthen their unity. On the international level, he feels Kurds have to provoke their issue. “Why should Luxemburg, with a population of 30,000, have an independent state, while 40 million Kurds don’t have one?” he says.
Beşikçi completed his military service in Turkish Kurdistan. After 38 years, he returned to Diyarbakir where he met with Rudaw.
Rudaw: When it comes to solving the Kurdish issue in Turkey, it always seems to be a case of one step forward and two steps back. Sometimes it feels like the problems are about to be solved, but then they are not. Does the Turkish state really want to solve the issue?
Ismail Beşikçi: The Turkish state does not have any particular view on solving the issue of the Kurds. Therefore, it delays dealing with the problem, hoping that it will be solved over time. That is because the Turkish state believes that as time passes, the Kurds will assimilate. A large number of Kurds live in the west of Turkey. The state believes that after two to three generations, they will assimilate and become Turks. I believe this is the plan of the state.
“The Turkish state does not have any particular view on solving the issue of the Kurds.”
Recently, the state was trying to change the age that children started school from 6 to 5. The state is changing this due to the Kurdish issue. The state is aiming to assimilate Kurds. This is the policy of the state.
Ten years ago, the state did not reveal its goals with regards to the Kurdish issue. However, today and in the recent past, patriotism has grown among the Kurds. Therefore, the state has to reveal its true intentions when it comes to the Kurdish problem.
Rudaw: In order to prevent assimilation into Turkish identity, what do the Kurds have to do?
Ismail Beşikçi: Kurds have to speak and write in Kurdish everywhere. They have to advance the Kurdish language. The Kurds have to direct harsh criticism at the state.Between 1985 and 1988, in Bulgaria, the Turks were made to name their children Bulgarian names. They were told that if they chose Bulgarian names, their lives would be easier. This Bulgarian policy was severely criticized by Turkish civil society organizations and Turkish publications. They called Bulgaria a fascist state. In 1988, Bulgaria stopped this. Now the problem does not exist. Later, the Bulgarian Turks established their own political party. Now Bulgaria is a member of the European Union.
But until this very day, Kurds in Turkey cannot name their children Kurdish names, particularly those names that contain the Kurdish letters [equivalents of Q, X, W]. These letters are forbidden by law.
The Kurds have to be intelligent in this matter and criticize the government. They have to insist on naming their children Kurdish names. Even if they cannot name their children Kurdish names in the state records, they can at least use the Kurdish names among themselves. For example, you could name your child Welat.
Rudaw: Regarding the constitution, there are several red and perhaps vague lines. For example, the Kurds have demanded education in their mother tongue, but the Turkish ruling party refuses to accept this request. If a new constitution is to be drafted, how will these problems be addressed?
Ismail Beşikçi: As long as this government is in office, there will be no new constitution. The constitution that the current government is thinking about is still based on Turkish nationalism and Ataturk’s ideas.
“The constitution that the current government is thinking about is still based on Turkish nationalism and Ataturk’s ideas.”
In that new constitution, the word Kurdish will not be tolerated. This is still the policy and mindset of the government. When you have a parliament where most of the members have this mindset, I do not think you can set up a new constitution.
The government thinks establishing TRT 6 [a government-sponsored Kurdish language TV channel] and having optional Kurdish classes in schools is enough to solve the Kurdish problem. For the governors of Kurdish provinces, for security officials and directors of real estate offices and other Turkish officials, optional Kurdish classes could be a choice, because when they are in Kurdistan they must speak Kurdish. But for the Kurds, who number 20 million, Kurdish classes must be compulsory.
The Kurdish language must be the language of education from the day care centers all the way to the higher education institutes. This is happening now in Southern [Iraqi] Kurdistan. If it is happening in Southern Kurdistan, why should it not happen here? The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) [pro-Kurdish party in Turkey] criticizes this double standard of the Turkish state.
Rudaw: As a Turkish academic you always talk about the unity of the Kurds….
[Beşikçi did not wait for the rest of the question]
Ismail Beşikçi: We have to understand the situation of Kurdistan in the Middle East. Kurdistan has been partitioned and divided since the 1920s. In a time when the issue of the right of self-determination was more discussed than any other, the Kurds faced a catastrophe. They were divided instead of allowed self-determination. Partitioning Kurdistan was a terrible devastation for the Kurds. Kurdistan was partitioned and on the borders mines, barbed wire and espionage drones were placed.
The Kurds have to understand that today there are 208 states in the world. Of that number, 40 states have a population of less than 1 million. In the European Union, which is composed of 24 states, Luxemburg, Malta and Cyprus have a population of less than half a million. But the Kurds are 40 million.The Kurds have to ask questions on an international level. They have to ask why, if other nations with a population of less than a million have a state, they should not have their own legal status.
In the European Commission, 47 members exist; countries like Monaco, San Moreno and Andorra are members. The population of these countries is between 30,000 and 35,000. When the Kurds have such a big population, and such a large geography, why should they not have their country?
The Kurds have to always ask why they were subjected to this catastrophe. They have to criticize Europe as well. Europe calls those countries with very little population states, but they call a country with 40 million people “terrorist.” How did this anti-Kurdish system come about? We have to ask this question and provide a reasonable answer.
Rudaw: The 21st century is the century that the Kurds will gain independence. Is this century the century of the Kurds?
“In the 1920s, forming a Kurdish state was very easy. But today, it is very difficult.”
Ismail Beşikçi: Yes, I see it as the Kurdish century. In the Kurdish problem, external factors play an important role. Imagine 1995 and 1996. During those years, if I was to write a scenario for the future of the Kurdish problem, I would never have thought that Jalal Talabani, secretary general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), would become president of Iraq. I do not know if anyone could have that thought back then! If it was not for the U.S. intervention, the Kurds – even if they were tigers — would not have been able to topple Saddam’s regime.
In Syria, a similar situation has come about. It has been 11 months that the Syrian National Council (SNC) has been fighting the Assad regime. We saw Assad and his army withdraw from the Kurdish cities, and Kurds announced self-rule system in those cities. Therefore, if the SNC takes over, or Assad remains in power, the Kurdish gains will not be lost. That is because these gains are linked to external factors.
Rudaw: Why can the Kurds not form a unified discourse? What is causing this disunity in Kurdish demands?
Ismail Beşikçi: In the 1920s, forming a Kurdish state was very easy. But today, it is very difficult. A hundred years have passed since the partition. There are too many people sticking their hands in the Kurdish issue and their number is on rise. However, the stronger the Kurdish sense of patriotism, the shorter their hands will be. This is to say, if there is a better understanding of the Kurdistan partitioning, then the Kurds from different parts of Kurdistan will get closer to each other more easily.
For the Kurds, division has been a very effective means to use against them. In 1915, the Armenians faced a similar situation. The Lausanne Treaty is the calamity of the Kurds. Since1922, with the Lausanne Treaty, the Turkish Republic secured an international guarantee to deny the existence of Kurds and to work on assimilating them into Turks.
Rudaw: What do you think of “democratic autonomy”?
Ismail Beşikçi: The term federalism is clearer. However, the important thing is that Kurds run their own affairs by themselves. For this to take place, a border has to be drawn. Democratic autonomy is not a clear term; federalism is. That is because when you talk about federalism, you are talking about a border being drawn, just as it is in Southern Kurdistan and in Palestine.