OUR MAN IN WASHINGTON : BDP Representative in Washington: It’s Important to Tell Our Side of the Story in America

03/11/2012 RUDAW  By AYUB NURI – In this interview with Rudaw, the representative of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Mehmet Yuksel, says that his office aims to build good relations with the US government and provide a Kurdish perspective on the political situation in Turkey. Yuksel says his office is in touch with the Kurdish community in America and takes their opinion into account.

Since the start of hunger strikes by Kurdish prisoners in Turkey, the BDP representation in Washington has actively worked to draw attention to the prisoners’ plight and their demands. Yuksel says that vague legal codes have given the government in Turkey a free hand to detain and imprison anyone who may ask for his rights, including thousands of BDP members.

Rudaw: What do you hope to achieve by having a representation in the US capital?

Mehmet Yuksel: Our objective as a political party here in USA is to inform the intended audience, organizations, institutions and the US government about the oppression and injustices Kurdish people are facing in Turkey from a Kurdish perspective, and form a public opinion that is cares about the Kurdish conflict in general.

Rudaw: Was it easy to open an office in the US? What was the American government’s response to your request and what does Turkey think of you being here?

Mehmet Yuksel: The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has been formed in 2008, and as a political party we have had an office in Washington DC since 2009. We have had relationship with American organizations since 2009. We also consult with the Turkish Embassy and have regular contact with them.

“As Kurds of North Kurdistan, it is important for us to tell our side of the story first hand here in USA.”

Rudaw: Are you here to talk to the US government and policymakers or to the Kurdish community in America?

Mehmet Yuksel: Given that the US is an important actor and has a special interest in the affairs of the Middle East, it is important for BDP to be here in USA, primarily to communicate its policies to US Government departments, organizations and institutions. Of course, our representation office here in the US would also listen to the opinion and perspectives of Kurdish organizations as well as Kurdish Americans.

Rudaw: Do you think the US will be able to understand the Kurdish problem better now that you are in America and can talk to them?

Mehmet Yuksel: As Kurds of North Kurdistan (Turkey), it is important for us to tell our side of the story first hand here in USA. We believe that the US needs a Kurdish perspective on this matter as well.

Rudaw: Have you done anything about the Kurdish prisoners on hunger strike in Turkey right now?

Mehmet Yuksel: Many hunger strikers have entered a critical stage as 63 of them have been near death for 52 days now. Kurds with conscience have done something to raise the concerns and demands of prisoners on hunger strike and would do so. We, too, have worked here, trying to bring this matter to the attention of the public. Our office is ready to contribute to any steps taken towards a dialogue to begin and end the hunger strike in order to prevent loss of life.

Rudaw: Do you worry that people here might see you as an affiliate of the PKK as the Turkish government often arrests your members under the same excuse?

Mehmet Yuksel: There are about 8000 members of our party is in prisons now. They were all arrested, charged and some of them sentenced under the pretext of the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) operations. Nearly all of them have been prisoned based on a legal code that limits and prevents the freedom of expression, which was also raised by the UN on November 1 for the first time.

A Reuters report that quotes United Nations human rights experts and later circulated by the Hurriyet Daily News in English, says, “Turkey is using a vague counterterrorism law to prosecute many activists, lawyers and journalists, often holding them for long pre-trial periods without access to a lawyer,”

These vague definitions in the provisions of 1991 enhanced with amendments, even allow the state to consider speeches made by BDP members of parliament within the scope of persecution. And a regime is in power that defends this type of governance and jurisdiction. Anyone raising the question about their basic rights is considered a terrorist and the international community knows this very well.

Gulan Kılıçoğlu who has been on hunger strike since September 12, was a 4th year student at Ankara University, Faculty of Political Science when she was arrested under the pretext of the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) operations. She was arrested on April 1, 2010 and sentenced to 6 years and 3 months of imprisonment for being a member of an illegal organization under the same legal code in question. In her trial, the judge decided that it is against the normal course of life for her to go to Hewler (Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq) and conduct research at Selahaddin University. If you are right and have a right there is nothing to hesitate about or be ashamed of.

“At this time, BDP is the only serious opposition against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its policies.”

Rudaw: Does the US know what is happening Turkey in terms of arrests of Kurdish activists and journalists? Do you think they care?

Mehmet Yuksel: On this subject, our party is informing the US State Department consistently, so we believe they follow the developments in Turkey closely. However, for their strategic relationship they may be turning a blind eye to the matter.

Rudaw: Do you think or hope that your office will be able to provide a perspective about the situation in Turkey and change the US policy in some ways?

Mehmet Yuksel: For us it is important to present clear, unbiased and undistorted facts from a Kurdish perspective to our affiliates here. Our office here has a plan to work on this objective. There will not be any blooming without hope. And we are hopeful.

Rudaw: Where does BDP stand right now in Turkish politics?

Mehmet Yuksel: At this time, BDP is the only serious opposition against the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its policies. BDP is also the only opposition that would make it hard for the AKP to advance its agenda. Since the March 2009 elections, about 8000 members of our party have been arrested and imprisoned. As a party supported by the majority in the Kurdish regions, BDP was very successful in the last elections as well. In next municipal elections we are anticipating to double the number of city and municipal governments for our party. At the same time, BDP plays an important role as the changing motor helps Turkey to evolve into a more democratic and plural society.

Rudaw: Do you have relations with the KRG mission in Washington? Have you visited them? Did they welcome you?

Mehmet Yuksel: Our office here in Washington has good relations with the KRG Representative Office from the very beginning and this relationship will continue.

Rudaw: Has the US government told you that you cannot do certain things/activities as a BDP mission here in the US?

Mehmet Yuksel: We are here in the US capital upon the permission of US Government. We respect the laws of USA and conduct activities that are permitted in this country by the law and have no interest in any activity that is outside of the scope of legal definition.