PUK Representative in Ankara: This is a Historic Moment for Kurds in Turkey

RUDAW 15.11.2012 – Bahroz Galali represents the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Ankara. In this interview with Rudaw, he discusses the current hunger strike in Turkey and how he expects the Turkish government to handle the Kurdish issue in the near future. He also described his party’s relations with neighboring countries, and the increasing economic partnership between Turkey and the Kurdistan Region.

Rudaw: The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has taken a firm position against Turkey in face of prisoner hunger strikes and Kurdish demonstrations on the streets. Why?

Bahroz Galali: The Kurdish issue in Turkey is very important to all the other parts of Kurdistan. The PUK and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) pay a lot of attention to this part of Kurdistan. With the current situation in Turkey, the PUK and KDP have different opinions.

The PUK has always been a supporter of Kurds in the other parts of Kurdistan. The PUK has always played a peaceful role where needed. Today, there is a historical chance for the Kurds to advance their cause in Turkey. Both Mr. Jalal Talabani [head of the PUK] and Mr. Massoud Barzani [head of the KDP] have played their roles in the peace process in Turkey.

When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) took office, it moved towards solving the Kurdish problem. The PUK has done its best to bring a truce about.

Rudaw: What have been the results of Talabani’s efforts for peace with Turkey? Are they still ongoing?

Bahroz Galali: Two years after the meeting in Oslo between Turkey and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), these efforts faced problems and difficulties. There are efforts to create an environment for dialogue again.

“The PUK has always been a supporter of Kurds in the other parts of Kurdistan.”A few times, the Turkish prime minister has pointed out that, if necessary, Turkey will even meet with imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan. Next week, the Turkish ruling party (AKP) will propose to Turkish Parliament that prisoners be allowed to defend themselves in Kurdish in court.

Now about 700 Kurdish prisoners are on hunger strike. But only 160 are on a true hunger strike. The problem of the Kurds in Turkey will not be solved with Ocalan and the PKK. Turkish journalists and intelligentsia have reached this conclusion, that the Kurdish problem has to be solved via dialogue and negotiations.

Rudaw: Do you think Turkey will meet with Ocalan?

Bahroz Galali: Until 2014, nothing major will happen on the Kurdish issue in Turkey, because the current Turkish prime minister is trying to become the next president and change the Turkish system. However, it is not clear yet whether Erdogan will run for the presidency or not.

Rudaw: But he is the prime minister now and has all the power. Why would he not change the system now?

Bahroz Galali: He cannot do so now because of Turkish nationalists. But if the system is changed to a presidential system, then Erdogan will have more power in his hands and can take that step.

Rudaw: Talabani has asked for a truce a few times. And recently, PUK media officially announced that Talabani is trying to bring both parties [Turkey and the Kurds] to a truce. But the clashes between the Turkish army and PKK fighters are ongoing. Have Talabani’s efforts failed?

Bahroz Galali: In diplomacy, everything works in secret. I may not be able to say much about this to the media, but Talabani has been working on this issue since the era of Turkish President Turgut Ozal. Anytime our Turkish brothers have asked us, we have done our part. Kurds and Turks have to sit together.

The visit of the Turkish prime minister to Erbil and opening a Turkish consulate there was a dream. Now we have seen this dream realized. There are certain things that we cannot talk about now, but maybe in 10 years. This is related to the interests of Kurdistan. We want the Kurdish problem solved in Turkey, because if the problem is solved in Turkey we will enjoy more stability in Iraqi Kurdistan.

We have to improve our economic relations with Turkey. Our economic exchange value has now reached $10 billion dollars. That is why a ceasefire between the Kurds and the army in this country is important to us.

Rudaw: Don’t you think the relations between Turkey and PUK have weakened?

Bahroz Galali: No. There are some people who try to project an image of strong relations between the KDP and Turkey, and between the PUK and Iran. This is not true.

I have been here in Turkey for 12 years. Sometimes the relations between Turkey and PUK have weakened and sometimes they have reached a peak. Now our relations with Turkey are very normal and we have no problems. Our relations with Turkey are not at the expense of the Kurds. If there are problems in Diyarbakir, then we will not be to enjoy stability here [in Iraqi Kurdistan].

“The visit of the Turkish prime minister to Erbil and opening a Turkish consulate there was a dream. Now we have seen this dream realized.”

Rudaw: Talabani has not visited Turkey in the past two years. Does this not show that there are problems between the PUK and Turkey?

Bahroz Galali: Talabani has visited Turkey as the president of Iraq a few times. Turkish relations with Iraq are in very bad shape. However, Turkey has very good relations with the Kurdistan Region. When Ankara has weak relations with Baghdad, it does not mean that relations between Turkey and Talabani have weakened. It is just the Turkish relations with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that are in a weak state.

Talabani is the architect who built relations between Iraq and Turkey, and it was Talabani who solved the Kurdistan Region’s problems with Turkey. Just for your information, in 2002 it was the PUK who brought the companies Genel Energy and Petoil to Kurdistan. Then we had many problems with the KDP. The problems were solved after the formation of a unified government.

Rudaw: Turkey has officially invited Talabani to Ankara a few times. Why has Talabani declined the invitations?

Bahroz Galali: The situation in Iraq is such that Talabani cannot leave Iraq to visit Turkey. [Turkish] President Abdullah Gul has asked Talabani to visit Ankara several times. Even when Talabani wanted to have his knees operated on, Gul phoned Talabani and told him that Turkish hospitals were more than happy to host him. But Talabani thanked him and said he already had plans to go to Germany.

Rudaw: In support of the Kurdish prisoners on hunger strike, a Turkish flag was set on fire at a protest in Sulaimani. Would this influence relations between the PUK and Turkey, because the flag was burned in a province where the PUK has its largest number of supporters?

Bahroz Galali: I am PUK’s official representative in Turkey. If there had been concerns, they would have called me. I have not noticed any concerns personally. Burning a flag was not a good idea. A flag is a symbol of a nation. Burning a Turkish flag cannot generate any good, I don’t think; on the contrary, it creates problems.

Rudaw: How much longer before the Kurdish problem is solved?

Bahroz Galali: I believe in the next four to five years major changes will take place in regards to the Kurdish problem. The changes will be in the favor of the Kurds. For example, Abdullah Ocalan might be released.

I want you to know that the Kurds in Turkey are making many mistakes with regards to the AKP. When a group of 34 PKK members came back to Turkey from Qandil and Makhmoor in 2009, this initiated an era of looking for a solution to the Kurdish problem. But when the PKK members were given a hero’s welcome and large celebrations, this embarrassed Erdogan in front of the Turkish nationalists. This was not a good thing. The nationalists used this incident against Erdogan.

“We do not have a representation office in Ankara. I support opening a trade office in Turkey as the first step.”There might be some people in the PKK that do not want peace. The same applies in Turkey. There are also external actors who do not want the Kurdish problem solved peacefully. You know who those actors and countries are.

Rudaw: Is Turkey a friend of the Kurds?

Bahroz Galali: If you want to put me on the spot, then I have to answer you in this way: Turkey has 20 million Kurds and they are struggling for their rights. However, in a democratic state like Turkey, there should be no political prisoners. The Kurdistan Region is benefiting from Turkey. If we had our current economic relations years ago, our situation would have been much better today.

Rudaw: Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Region, presented his speech at the AKP convention in Kurdish. This subject was discussed widely in Kurdistan. Did it attract attention in Turkey?

Bahroz Galali: President Barzani’s speech was a historical speech, which was delivered in Kurdish. Mr. Barzani is the president of the Kurdistan Region. Wherever he is respected, the whole Kurdish nation is respected. The way Erdogan received President Barzani was something for all Kurds to be proud of.

Rudaw: Maliki says Kurds want the Dijla forces to withdraw from Kirkuk, but Turkish forces are in Bamarni and Kani Masi. When will these forces withdraw?

Bahroz Galali: Unfortunately, these forces came to the area in a bad situation. Therefore, there may have been attempts for these forces to withdraw, but to my understanding Turkish forces will not leave when they enter a country. The PUK and KDP have not asked them to withdraw. Like I said, I believe that when the Turkish military enters any country, they will not leave that country.

Rudaw: Is it true that the PUK is planning to change its representatives in Ankara?

Bahroz Galali: No, but I have asked for the change several times. Talabani has turned down my requests.

Rudaw: Why doesn’t the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have representation in Turkey? Does Turkey not accept having a KRG representation office?

Bahroz Galali: It is true. We do not have a representation office in Ankara. I support opening a trade office in Turkey as the first step. Turkey may accept opening a KRG trade office.

The timing is also good for opening a trade office. There are a lot of problems between Turkish and Kurdish businessmen and companies. I also suggest that the KDP and PUK unite their representation offices in Turkey, so in the future they can open a KRG representat