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The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Short outline of the history of origins of the PKK
In April 1973 a group of six people came together in order to form an independent Kurdish political organization. They acted on the assumption that Kurdistan was a classic colony, where the population was forcibly refused their right to self-determination. It was their prime goal to change this. This gathering may also be called the hour of birth of a new Kurdish movement.
Over the years, this group found new followers who helped them spread their conviction in the rural population of Kurdistan. More and more they clashed with Turkish security forces, armed tribesmen of the Kurdish aristocracy and rival political groups, which violently attacked the young movement. On November 27, 1978 the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was founded in a small village near Diyarbakir. Twenty-two leading members of the movement took part in the inaugural meeting in order to set up more professional structures for the movement. In an urban environment the movement would not have survived, so they focused their activities on the rural Kurdish regions.
The Turkish authorities reacted harshly to the propaganda efforts of the PKK. Detentions and armed clashes followed. Both sides experienced losses. The situation in Turkey, however, was also coming to a point. The first signs of the imminent military coup were already visible in 1979. The PKK responded by withdrawing from Turkey into the mountains or into other countries of the Middle East. Only a small number of activists remained in Turkey. This step helped the PKK to secure their survival. On September 12, 1980 the Turkish military overthrew the civil government and seized power. Many of the PKK who had remained in Turkey were imprisoned by the military junta.
In this situation, the PKK had to determine whether they wanted to become an exile organization or a modern national liberation movement. After a short phase of re-organization a majority of members returned to Kurdistan and took up armed resistance against the fascist junta. The attacks on military facilities in Eruh and Semdili on August 15, 1984 proclaimed the official beginning of the armed resistance. Although there were deficits, the move towards becoming a national liberation movement had been made.
Originally the Turkish authorities – Turgut Ozal had just been elected prime minister – tried to play down the incident. The state propaganda called the guerilla a "handful of bandits", which is telling about the mindset of those in charge there. A political approach to the conflict was not perceptible. The clashes grew into a war, which demanded numerous victims from both sides.
It was only in the 1990s that the situation became less gridlocked, when the state seemed to become ready for a political solution. There were statements by Turgut Ozal and Suleyman Demirel, then president, indicating that they might recognize the Kurdish identity, raised hopes for an early end of the conflict. The PKK tried to strengthen this process by declaring a ceasefire in 1993.
The sudden death of Turgut Ozal deprived this process of one of its most important protagonists. There were other obstacles, too. Some hardliners among the PKK stuck to the armed struggle; the situation among the leadership of the Turkish state was difficult and marked by conflicting interests; the attitude of the Iraqi Kurdish leaders Talabani and Barzani was also not helpful in deepening the peace process. It was the biggest opportunity for a peaceful solution of the Kurdish question until then, and it was lost.
Subsequently the conflict escalated. Both parties experienced high losses. However, even this escalation did not lift the dead- lock. The years of war between 1994 and 1998 were lost years. In spite of several unilateral ceasefires on the part of the PKK, the Turkish state insisted on a military solution. The ceasefire of 1998 remained without response as well. Rather, it stirred up a military confrontation between Turkey and Syria, which brought both countries to the edge of a war. In 1998 I went to Europe as the chairman of the PKK in order to promote a political solution. The following odyssey is well known. I was abducted from Kenya and brought to Turkey in violation of international law. This abduction was backed by an alliance of secret services and the public expected the conflict to further escalate then. However, the trial on the Turkish prison island of Imrali marked a political U-turn in the conflict and offered new perspectives for a political solution. At the same time this turn caused the PKK to reorient ideologically and politically. I had been working on these points already before my abduction. This was truly an ideological and political cut. What, then, were the real motives?
Doubtlessly, my abduction was a heavy blow for the PKK. It was nonetheless not the reason for the ideological and political cut. The PKK had been conceived as a party with a state-like hierarchical structure similar to other parties. Such a structure, however, causes a dialectic contradiction to the principles of democracy, freedom, and equality, a contradiction in principle concerning all parties whatsoever their philosophy. Although the PKK stood for freedom-oriented views we had not been able to free ourselves from thinking in hierarchical structures.
Another main contradiction lay in the PKK’s quest for institutional political power, which formed and aligned the party correspondingly. Structures aligned along the lines of institutional power, however, are in conflict with societal democratization, which the PKK was declaredly espousing. Activists of any such party tend to orient themselves by superiors rather than by the society, or as the case may be aspire to such positions themselves.
All of the three big ideological tendencies based on emancipative social conceptions have been confronted with this contradiction. When real-socialism and social democracy as well as national liberation movements tried to set up social conceptions beyond capitalism they could not free themselves from the ideological constraints of the capitalist system. Quite early, they became pillars of the capitalist system while only seeking institutional political power instead of putting their focus on the democratization of the society.
Another main contradiction was the value of war in the ideological and political considerations of the PKK. War was understood as the continuation of politics by different means and romanticized as a strategic instrument.
This was a blatant contradiction to our self-perception as a movement struggling for the liberation of the society. According to this, the use of armed force can only be justified for the purpose of necessary self-defense. Anything going beyond that would be in violation of the socially emancipative approach that the PKK felt itself obliged to, since all repressive regimes in history had been based on war or had aligned their institutions according to the logic of warfare. The PKK believed that the armed struggle would be sufficient for winning the rights that the Kurds had been denied. Such a deterministic idea of war is neither socialist nor democratic, although the PKK saw itself as a democratic party. A really socialist party is neither oriented by state -like structures and hierarchies nor does it aspire to institutional political power, of which the basis is the protection of interests and power by war.
The supposed defeat of the PKK that the Turkish authorities believed they had accomplished by my abduction to Turkey was eventually reason enough to critically and openly look into the reasons that had prevented us from making better progress with our liberation movement. The ideological and political cut undergone by the PKK made the seeming defeat a gateway to new horizons.
New strategic, philosophic, and political approaches of the Kurdish liberation movement.
A comprehensive treatment of the main strategic, ideological, philosophical, and political elements at the base of the process of change cannot be accomplished in this essay. However, the cornerstones can be outlined as follows:
* The philosophical, political and value-related approaches that the newly-aligned PKK embraces find adequate expression in what is called "democratic socialism".
* The PKK does not derive the creation of a Kurdish nation-state from the right of self-determination of the peoples. However, we regard this right as the basis for the establishment of grassroots democracies, without seeking new political borders. It is up to the PKK to convince the Kurdish society of their conviction. This is also true for the dialogue with the hegemonial countries exercising power in Kurdistan. It is to be the basis for a solution of the existing issues.
* The countries that presently exist here need democratic reforms going beyond mere lip service to democracy. It is not realistic, though, to go for the immediate abolition of the state. This does not mean that we have to take it as it is. The classic state structure with its despotic attitude of power is unacceptable. The institutional state needs to be subjected to democratic changes. At the end of this process, there should be a lean state as a political institution, which only observes functions in the general field of security and in the provision of social services. Such an idea of the state has nothing in common with the authoritarian character of the classic state, but would rather be regarded as a societal authority.
* The Kurdish liberation movement is working for a system of democratic self-organization in Kurdistan with the features of a confederation. Democratic confederalism understands itself as a coordination model for a democratic nation. It provides a framework, within which inter alia minorities, religious communities, cultural groups, gender-specific groups and other societal groups can organize autonomously. This model may also be called a way of organization for democratic nations and cultures. The democratization process in Kurdistan is not limited to matters of form but, rather, poses a broad societal project aiming at the economic, social, and political sovereignty of all parts of the society. It advances the building of necessary institutions and creates the instruments for democratic self-government and control. It is a continuous and long-term process. Elections are not the only means in this context. Rather, this is a dynamic political process which needs direct intervention by the sovereign, the people. The people are to be directly involved in the decision-finding processes of the society. This project builds on the self-government of the local communities and is organized in the form of open councils, town councils, local parliaments, and larger congresses. The citizens themselves are the agents of this kind of self-government, not state-based authorities. The principle of federal self-government has no restrictions. It can even be continued across borders in order to create multinational democratic structures. Democratic confederalism prefers flat hierarchies so as to further decision finding and decision making at the level of the communities.
* The model outlined above may also be described as autonomous democratic self-government, where the state-related sovereign rights are only limited. Such a model allows a more adequate implementation of basic values like freedom and equality than traditional administrative models. This model need not be restricted to Turkey, but may also be applicable in the other parts of Kurdistan. Simultaneously, this model is suitable for the building of federal administrative structures in all Kurdish settlement areas in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Thus, it is possible to build confederate structures across all parts of Kurdistan without the need to question the existing borders.
* The decline of real-socialism was also a result of how the socialist countries used their power both internally and externally, and in the fact that they misconceived the importance of the gender issue. Women and power seem to be quite contradictory things. In real-socialism, the question of women’s rights was a rather subordinate issue, which was believed to be resolved anyway once the economic and other societal problems would be solved. However, women may also be regarded as an oppressed class and nation or an oppressed gender. As long as we do not discuss freedom and equal treatment of women in a historical and societal context, as long as no adequate theory has been devised, there will not be an adequate practice either. Therefore, women’s liberation must assume a main strategic part in the democratic struggle for freedom in Kurdistan.
* Today, the democratization of politics is one of the most urgent challenges. However, democratic politics need democratic parties. As long as there are no parties and party-affiliated institutions committed to the interests of the society instead of fulfilling state orders, a democratization of politics will be hardly possible. In Turkey, the parties are only propaganda tools of the state enjoying public alimentation. Their transformation into parties committed exclusively to the interests of the society, and the creation of the necessary legal basis in this context, would be an important part of a political reform. The founding of parties bearing the word Kurdistan in their name is still a criminal act. Independent parties are still obstructed in many ways. Kurdistan-related parties or coalitions serve democratization and are not advocates of separatism or the use of violence.
* There is a widespread individual and institutional subservient spirit, which is one of the biggest obstacles in the way of democratization. It can only be overcome by creating an awareness of democracy in all parts of the society. The citizens must be invited to actively commit themselves to democracy. For the Kurds, this means building democratic structures in all parts of Kurdistan and wherever there are Kurdish communities, which advance the active participation in the political life of the community. The minorities living in Kurdistan must be invited to participate as well. The development of grassroots-level democratic structures and a corresponding practical approach must have top priority. Such grassroots structures must be regarded as obligatory even where basic democratic and legal principles are violated as in the Middle East.
* Politics needs independent media. Without them the state structures will not develop any sensitivity for questions of democracy. Nor will it be possible to bring democracy into politics. Freedom of information is not only a right of the individual. It also involves a societal dimension. Independent media have also always a societal mandate. Their communication with the public must be marked by democratic balance.
* Feudal institutions like tribes, sheikdom, aghast, and sectarianism, which are essentially relics of the Middle Ages, are like the institutions of classic nation-states obstacles in the way of democratization. They must be urged appropriately to join the democratic change. These parasitic institutions must be overcome with top priority.
* The right to native language education must be warranted. Even if the authorities do not advance such education, they must not impede civic efforts for the creation of institutions offering Kurdish language and culture education. The health system must be warranted by both state and civil society.
* An ecological model of society is essentially socialist. The establishment of an ecological balance will only be accomplished during the transition phase from an alienated class society based on despotism to a socialist society. It would be an illusion to hope for the conservation of the environment in a capitalist system. These systems largely participate in the ecological devastation. Protection of the environment must be given broad consideration in the process of societal change.
* The solution of the Kurdish question is attempted within the framework of the democratization of the countries exercising hegemonial power over the different parts of Kurdistan. This process is not limited to these countries, though, but rather extends across the entire Middle East. The freedom of Kurdistan is tied to the democratization of the Middle East. A free Kurdistan is only conceivable as a democratic Kurdistan.
* The individual freedom of expression and decision is indefeasible. No country, no state, no society has the right to restrict these freedoms, whatever reasons they may cite. Without the freedom of the individual there will be no freedom for the society, just as freedom for the individual is impossible if the society is not free. A just redistribution of the economic resources presently in the possession of the state is eminently important for the liberation process of the society. Economic supply must not become a tool in the hands of the state for exercising pressure on the people. Economic resources are not the property of the state but of the society.
* An economy close to the people should be based on such redistribution and be benefit-oriented instead of exclusively pursuing the accumulation of surplus value and turnover increase. The local economic structures here do not only damage the society but also the environment. One of the main reasons for the decline of the society lies in the effects of the local finance markets. The artificial production of needs, the more and more adventurous search for new sales markets and the boundless greed for ever growing profits lets the divide between rich and poor steadily grow and enlarges the army of those living below the poverty line or even dying of hunger. An economic policy like this cannot be tolerated anymore. This is therefore the biggest challenge for socialist politics: implementing an alternative economic policy, which is not exclusively oriented by profit but rather by a just distribution of resources and the satisfaction of natural needs.
* Although the Kurds assign the family a high value it is still a place where freedom does not abound. Lack of financial resources, lack of education, lack of health care do not allow for much development. The situation of women and children is disastrous. So-called honor-killings of female family members are a symbol of this disaster. They become the targets of an archaic notion of honor, which reflects the degeneration of the entire society. Male frustration over the existing conditions is directed against the supposedly weakest members of the society: women. The family as a social institution experiences a crisis. Here, too, a solution can only be found in the context of an overall democratization.
The present situation and suggestions for a solution
The Kurdish-Turkish relations in Turkey play a key role with a view to a solution of the Kurdish question. In this respect, the Kurds in Iraq, Iran, and Syria have only a limited potential and can probably only support a possible overall solution. The Kurds in Iraq give a very good example. The semi-state Kurdish autonomy is indirectly the result of worldwide efforts on the part of Turkey, the U.S. and their allies to denounce the PKK as a terror organization. Without consent by Ankara this "solution" would not have been possible. The chaos caused by this solution is obvious, and the result unforeseeable. It is also unclear, which direction the feudal-liberal Kurdish national authority in Iraq will take in the long run and how it will affect Iran, Syria, and Turkey. There is the danger of a regional escalation of the conflict similar in shape to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A flare-up of Kurdish nationalism might even radicalize the Persian, Arab and Turkish nationalists further, making a solution of the problem more difficult.
This prospect needs to be contrasted with a solution free of nationalist aspirations, which recognizes the existing territorial borders. In return, the status of the Kurds will be put down in the respective constitutions thus warranting their rights concerning culture, language, and political participation. Such a model would be largely in accordance with the historical and societal realities of the region.
In the light of this, making peace with the Kurds seems inevitable. It is highly improbable that the present war or any future war will yield anything else but a Pyrrhus’ victory. Therefore, this war must be put to an end. It has been lasting too long already. It is in the interest of all countries of the region to follow the example of other countries and take the necessary steps.
The Kurds only demand that their existence be respected; they demand freedom of culture and a fully democratic system. A more humane and modest solution is impossible. The examples of South Africa, Palestine, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Corsica demonstrate the ways in which different modern countries have been able to solve or handle similar problems in the course of their history. Furthermore, these comparisons help us to find a more objective approach to our own problems.
Turning our backs to violence as a means of solving the Kurdish question and overcoming the repressive policy of denial at least in part, are closely connected to the fact that we upheld the democratic option. The ban on Kurdish language and culture, education and broadcasting is in itself a terrorist act and practically invites counter violence. Violence, however, has been used by both sides to an extent that goes clearly beyond legitimate self defense.
Many movements today take to even more extreme methods. However, we have declared unilateral ceasefires several times, we have withdrawn large numbers of our fighters from Turkish territory, and thus refuted the accusation of terrorism. Our peace efforts, however, have been ignored over the years. Our initiatives never met a response. Rather, a group of Kurdish politicians sent out as ambassadors of peace was detained and handed long prison terms. Our efforts for peace have wrongly been interpreted as weakness. There is no other explanation for statements like the PKK and Ocalan are practically finished or, our initiatives were only tactical. So they claimed that they only needed to proceed a little bit tougher in order to smash the PKK. So they increased their attacks on the Kurdish liberation movement. Nobody asks, however, why they never succeeded? It is impossible to solve the Kurdish question by means of violence. The attitude described above also contributed to the failure of the ceasefire that began on October 1, 2006. I had called on the PKK to offer this ceasefire. Some Intellectuals and non-government organizations had demanded such a step. However, again it was not taken seriously. Instead, racism and chauvinism were stirred up creating an atmosphere of confrontation. Besides, we must not forget that the AKP also uses this issue to play down their own problems with the Kemalist elite by making compromises with the Army and speculating on the escalation of the Kurdish problem. Presently, the government restricts itself to some half-hearted measures in order to wrench some concessions from the EU. They are trying to win time with the help of the harmonization laws enacted in the context of the EU accession process. In reality, these supposed reforms are just waste-paper.
The exacerbating conflict is cause for concern. Nevertheless, I will not give up my hopes for a just peace. It can become possible at any time.
I offer the Turkish society a simple solution. We demand a democratic nation. We are not opposed to the unitary state and republic. We accept the republic, its unitary structure and laicism. However, we believe, that it must be redefined as a democratic state respecting peoples, cultures and rights. On this basis, the Kurds must be free to organize in a way that they can live their culture and language and can develop economically and ecologically. This would allow Kurds, Turks, and other cultures to come together under the roof of a democratic nation in Turkey. This is only possible, though, with a democratic constitution and an advanced legal framework warranting respect for different cultures.
Our idea of a democratic nation is not defined by flags and borders. Our idea of a democratic nation embraces a model based on democracy instead of a model based on state structures and ethnic origins. Turkey needs to define itself as a country, which includes all ethnic groups. This would be a model based on human rights instead of religion or race. Our idea of a democratic nation embraces all ethnic groups and cultures.
Against this background let me summarize the solution I propose:
* The Kurdish question is to be treated as a fundamental question of democratization. The Kurdish identity must be put down in the constitution and integrated in the legal system. The new constitution shall contain an article of the following wording:
"The constitution of the Turkish republic recognizes the existence and the expression of all its cultures in a democratic way." This would be sufficient.
* Cultural and language rights must be protected by law There must not be any restrictions for radio, TV, and press. Kurdish programs and programs in other languages must be treated by the same rules and regulations as Turkish programs. The same must be true for cultural activities.
* Kurdish should be taught in elementary schools. People who want their kids to get such an education, must be able to send them to such a school. High schools should offer lessons on Kurdish culture, language, and literature as elective courses. Universities must be permitted to establish institutes for Kurdish language, literature, culture, and history.
* The freedom of expression and organization must not be restricted. Political activities must not be restricted or regulated by the state. This must also be true in the context of the Kurdish question without restriction.
* Party and election laws must be subjected to a democratic reform. The laws must warrant the participation of the Kurdish people and all other democratic groups in the process of democratic decision-making.
* The village-guard system and the illegal networks within the state-structures must be disbanded.
* People who have been evicted from their villages during the war must be allowed to return without impediments. All administrative, legal, economical, or social measures necessary must be met. Furthermore, a developmental program must be initiated In order to help the Kurdish population to earn a living and improve the level of living.
* A law for peace and participation in the society shall be enacted. This law shall enable the members of the guerilla, the imprisoned, and those who are in exile, to take part in the public life without any preconditions.
Additionally, immediate measures on the road to a solution need to be discussed. A democratic action plan must be formulated and put into practice. In order to reconcile the society truth and justice commissions shall be set up. Both sides must find out what they have done wrong and discuss it openly. This is the only way to achieve the reconciliation of the society.
Whenever states or organizations cannot make progress anymore, intellectuals may serve as mediators. South Africa, Northern Ireland, or Sierra Leone has made positive experiences with this model. They may take the role of arbitrators, with the help of whom both parties can be moved in the direction of a just peace. The commissions may include intellectuals, lawyers, physicians, or scientists. When the day comes that we put down our arms, it will only be into the hands of such a commission, provided it is a commission determined to achieve justice.
Why would we surrender our arms without the prospect of justice? The beginning of such a process also depends on goodwill and dialogue. Should indeed a dialogue come about, we will be able to begin a process similar to the last unlimited ceasefire.
I am prepared to do all I can. The government, however, needs to show its will for peace. It needs to take the initiative. This is what they need to do, if they do not wish to be responsible for the consequences all on their own.
In case our efforts for a peaceful solution might fail or a sacrificed to day by day politics, power struggles or profit-seeking, the present conflict will exacerbate and its end will become unforeseeable. The chaos following will see no winners.
At last, Turkey needs to master the strength to recognize its own reality, the reality of the Kurdish existence and global dynamics. A state which denies reality will eventually and inevitably find itself on the brink of existence.
It is crucial, therefore, to take the steps that will lead this country to a lasting peace.