Message by Mr. Osman Baydemir, Mayor of Diyarbakir Metropolitan and the President of the Union of South East Anatolia Region Municipalities, 10 the "6th International Conference on EU, Turkeyand the Kurds" organized in Brussels on 3-4 February 2010.
Dear Esteemed Colleagues,
It is with sadness that I convey to you that I cannot join you today in this important conference, "Turkey and the Kurdish Conflict: Political Dialogue & Peace-building", organized by the EU Turkey Civic Committee. I cannot join you today, for I have been "forbidden from going abroad". Nonetheless, I believe that there is one thing that no authority or govemment can dictate: our conscrencc. I believe that our conscience cannot be held captive by any authority.
For the very first time in their history, and only with great sacrifices, the Kurds in Turkey have just begun having a voice in the local govemments in their own language, with their own culture and identity.z’Along with the central tutelage, i
~ – the Kurds achieved a say on their streets, roads and cities for the first time
through our municipalities. Our cities in the region are being built into women¬friendly environments for the first time. Our local citizens are introduced with participatory budgeting, participatory planning processes and examples of direct democracy. However, in return, the central government has initiated a massive
purge directed against these instances of freedom the Kurds had just started to enjoy,
Since April 2009, 4475 people have been detained and 1444 people have been arrested in our region, all of whom are mayors, municipal council members, party officials responsible for local govemments and NGO representatives (the numbers are increasing everyday). Today, 20 ofmy colleague Mayors and Vice¬Mayors, such as Mr. Nejdet Atalay, Mr. Zulkuf Karatekin, Mr. Abdullah Demirbas, Mr. Firat Anli and Ms. Leyla Guven, are handcuffed and put in
prison. Let me make it very clear, this state of affairs is completely incompatible with the rule of law, human rights and democracy.
If I had had the opportunity to attend the conference today, I would have shared with you our experiences related to the democratic decentralization and local governments on the ground. Similarly, I would have talked about the possible contributions that the strengthening of the civil authorities, subsidiarity and decentralization processes could make in developing a peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue.
All the works carried out in accordance with the European Charter of Self¬Government by our mayors, including my own, have been made a subject of legal investigation. In these legal investigations, the very municipal activities that are inspired by the spirit of democratic decentralization and guided by the
– principles laid out at the European Charter of Self-Government constitute the biggest crimes committed by our mayors. In other words, the efforts towards democratic decentralization are regarded as criminal in Turkey. If you happen to visit Turkey one day, I suggest you not defend the philosophy of "democratic decentralization", I also suggest you stay away from the idea of "keeping the 12 thousand year old ancient city of Hasankeyf alive, and thus protecting humanity’s common cultural and natural heritage". If you do so, you may be arrested or forbidden to leave the country. Or you may even be served an official notification of a probable assassination against you. I particularly suggest you not ever use the words "democratic, free local governments" when you are talking about your understanding of local govemment practices. May you also not embrace the basic principles of "participatory framework", "transparency", "gender-equality" and "ecology"; these concepts are also treated as incriminating evidence and as a basis for initiating a criminal investigation.
Although the above-mentioned principles and activities are stipulated by the European Union and the European Charter of Self-Government and have a rising importance in the European politics, they form the basis for the arrest of the Kurdish civilian politicians and mayors in Turkey. I cannot really say that I can make sense of the silence of the world towards these proceedings that go against law, ethics and conscience, towards these things that matter. I would like to pose a question for you: What do you think would be the reaction, if the Mayors in Europe or in Ankara, Istanbul, in the Western side of Turkey were treated in this manner? I would like to leave the decision about the meaning of this silence towards all that we have been going through in the region to you.
According to the governmental policies, which were initially named the "Kurdish Opening" and later quickly transformed into the "Project for National Unity", people were supposed to come down from the mountains to the cities, disarmament was supposed to be one of the major aims. However, now we can clearly see that, let alone paving the way for those in the mountains to join civilian life, the government has no tolerance for even the current civilian Kurdish politicians in local politics. Unfortunately, the government understands and implements the imprisonment of the Kurdish politicians as apart of their solution strategy. However, through this political purge, the AKP government is merely trying to eliminate its sole political rival in the region, our political party BDP, formerly DTP, which has had a major victory in the local elections of March 2009 by increasing its number ofmunicipalities from 56 to 99.
I should also add that if the political process continues this way, one day, the government will not be able to find a single Kurd to establish dialogue in" the region.
None of you should ever have the slightest doubt about our political struggle for an honorable peace. Be it in "closed prisons" or in "a country tumed into an open prison", under each and every term and condition, we will continue our non-violent, civilian and democratic struggle for an honorable peace.
In closing, with my strong belief that it is possible to live in peace, that peace will eventually prevail, I would like to call for justice, justice and justice for everyone.
I salute you with deepest respect.
MEHMET YUKSEL KNK
Honourable Participants and Delegates of this Conference,
I would like to warmly welcome you all to this timely conference on behalf of the Kurdish National Congress. I would like to begin by presenting the recent developments in Turkey and our perspective on them. Also I would like to outline our proposals for a solution to the Kurdish issue in Turkey and North Kurdistan.
Taking part at this conference you must surely be aware of the history of the Kurdish question and its present condition. This conflict lasting now more than 25 years has resulted in the deaths of more than 40.000 people. At least 4.000 villages have been destroyed, millions of people forced to migrate. Furthermore, at least 17.000 people have been massacred in extra-judicial killings. This is a genuine war. To call it terrorism is to deny reality. It is clear that both sides have not been able to prevail over one another. A different approach is called for and non-military methods ought to be sought. Attempts for this have intensified in the last few years.
The Kurdish side has struggled for a peaceful solution for years, called unilateral ceasefires and has taken similar steps on many occasions. Many discussions and peace initiatives in the past have also carried the hallmark and self-sacrifice of the Kurdish movement. Despite all the military operations and attempts of sabotage, the Kurdish side and forces have been adhering to a unilateral ceasefire for the past 14 months.
Preparing a road map to peace, the Kurdish movement has consulted all sections of Kurdish society gathering suggestions and presented them to the Kurdish Peoples’ Leader Abdullah Öcalan. Taking these into consideration, Mr. Öcalan prepared a road map and submitted it to the Turkish side via the Imrah prison administration in August 2009. Whilst a copy of the road map should have been issued to us and the wider public, the Turkish state seized the road map and is still withholding it.
Despite all this, the Kurdish Freedom Movement insists on a peaceful approach and wants to strengthen the stock of those in favour of peace. Upon an appeal from Mr Öcalan, 8 guerrillas from the mountains and 26 political refugees from the Maxmur Refugee Camp have been sent to Turkey as a Pe ace Group representing our case.
The Turkish side is yet to show a serious response to our frank and transparent approach. This does not mean that we do not value the discussions and initiatives that have been taken from their part. Yes, the Turkish government started an initiative the so-called Kurdish Initiative in July 2009. At the beginning we followed with interest. Then this initiative changed name and became the Democratic Initiative, this was also scrapped soon after and it became the National Unity Project. It was said that the project would be disclosed in the Turkish Grand National Assembly and a special session was convened in November 2009. However, a political project was not put forth by the AKP government. The govemment spoke a lot, spoke a lot about short, medium and long term plans that remained more than vague. Nothing tangible and concrete has been announced so far.
During that time, despite the unilateral ceasefire of the Kurdish side, the military operations of the Turkish Armed Forces continued. There were again more deaths. Additionally, the surprise victory of the DTP in local elections in March 2009 has not been accepted by the Turkish government. Whilst they should have been welcomed as interlocutors and mediators in a peaceful solution, the DTP was targeted. The AKP, who lost at the ballot, tried to get their political revenge by conducting police operations against the DTP. The first major operation was conducted in April 2009, hundreds ofpeople were taken into custody and arrested, including many senior members and executives. These operations intensified in the following months.
The closure case against the DTP was also suddenly brought back on the agenda. On 11 th December 2009 the DTP was cIosed down and banned by the Turkish Constitutional
Court in an unanimous decision. 37 party executives including the General President were banned from politics while General President Ahmet Türk and MP Aysel Tugluk were stripped of their status as parliamentarians. Meanwhile on 24th December 2009, hundreds of people including 17 Mayors were arrested in a new operation. The flood of arrests continues. Thousands have been arrested until now.
Until now the leaders of Turkey have approached this problem by denying, suppressing, eliminating and assimilating. The current AKP govemment is continuing this policy using more refined methods. Their primary aim is the suppression and elimination of
the Kurdish Freedom Movement and the assimilation and Turkification of the Kurdish People. This is still the policy in practice.
It is evident that this Turkish-Kurdish conflict cannot be solved with this approach.
The AKP government cannot dispose of this issue by using window dressing and misleading. They cannot solve it without accepting interlocutors. They cannot trick anyone. The Kurdish issue cannot be solved with a TV Channel, a few language courses, a few departments in universities, the restoration of a few place names and a repentance law. The Kurdish issue is in fact a problem of the acceptance of the national democratic rights of a People and the recognition of its democratic political representation.
It is crucial in any peace and reconciliation process to acknowledge the other side and reach out having genuine negotiations between equal political partners. All pursuits apart from this will be futile and nothing but a waste oftime.
As the Kurdish side our stance and approach is clear. Our demands are the minimum of what should already be in palce in any democratic country. Let me briefly outline our proposals for a solution to the Kurdish issue once again:
1. In view of writing up a new democratic constitution with the participation of all sections of society and parties, the Kurdish issue must be taken as the main component of the Democratic Unity of Turkey and its democratisation. Based on this, the new Constitution must become neutral to all ethnicities by grounding itself on constitutional citizenship or alternatively take the Kurdish identity under the protection ofthe Constitution.
2. A Truth and Justice Committee must be formed in order to foster and ensure an environment of peace, reconciliation and trust investigating and uncovering all the incidents contrary to international rules of war and human rights that have lead to great sadness, pain and trauma in Kurdistan and Turkey. For results to be attained, all necessary assistance and facilities need to be provided for this Committee by both sides.
3. In line with the acceptance of Kurdish identity in the constitution and related changes, Kurdish language and education must be arranged and organised, with the use of Kurdish language as the language of education from primary school to University.
Kurdish must be accepted as the second official language in places where there are a large number of Kurds.
4. All restrictions on the sustenance and development of Kurdish culture must be removed and the rights afforded to all other cultures must be afforded the Kurdish people. All restrictions on Radio, TV and the Press must be removed and Kurdish broadcasting must be subjected to all the laws and procedures that Turkish TV, Radio and Press is subjected to.
5. All restrictions on thought, belief, free speech and the right to organise must be lifted and the path offree voluntary politics opened.
6. Predicated on the Constitution of 1921, the Democratic Local Government Law must be reissued. Local parliaments and democratic political representatives must be considered as part of the general political landscape and their authority augmented based on decentralisation providing democratic autonomy.
7. The village guard system must be abolished by taking economic and social precautions.
8. All obstacles preventing the return ofthe people forced to migrate must be removed so that all social wounds can be healed and the debilitated equilibrium of society can return to normal. All damages done to victims of war must be compensated and they must be supported administratively, legally and economically to rebuild their lifes.
9. Determination must be shown in mobilising an economic development programme in the Kurdish regions. State-subsidised investments must be made in places with suitable infrastructure. Tax reductions and credit with low interest rates must be offered to private businesses encouraging investment and economic recovery.
10. Predicated on the introduction ofthe social peace and democratic participation act, the Kurdish and Turkish People need to forgive each other. All political prisoners including Mr. Abdullah Öcalan must be released and given the chance to participate in social and politicallife. Political refugees living abroad must also be reintegrated.
11. With the assurance of a lasting peace, the guerrilla must be positioned, within current law, as either a local public security force or be given a new status to protect its existence within a new democratic system.
As is evident, these suggestions are consistent with the criteria set by the European Union. These articles represent the most basic requests that should be found in a contemporary democracy. We are calling first and foremost on the European Union and all
other dernocratic powers to support the Kurdish Peoples’ struggle for a peaceful and democratic solution to a conflict that has lasted far too long.
In conclusion, we would like to say that the Kurdish people are yearning for peace and are thirsty for freedorn. The Kurds have been struggling for years for an honourable peace. As the Kurdish Peoples’ Leader Abdullah Öcalan has said: " … in these lands peace is only possible with the peaceful coexistence of all moral, political and social powers, without killing and guns." Leaving you with these words, I would like to greet you and wish you good luck in your endeavours in the belief that the discussions at this conference will shed light on perspectives for a dernocratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue.
“6th International Conference on EU, Turkey and the Kurds” (Brussels, 3-4 Febr. 2010)"
Kurdish Initiative – Illusion or Reality?
Mark Muller QC
Chairman of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England & Wales & EUTCC Board Member
Can I take this opportunity to extend the greetings of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales to the Conference and to all our Turkish and Kurdish friends who are here with us today at the European Parliament. Can I also thank that the European United Left/ Nordic Green Left for helping the EUTCC to host this most important of international conferences.
The crucial question posed in this Conference and to which parties, policy makers, and civil society all over Turkey want an answer is whether the Kurdish Initiative of the Turkish Government is real or just an illusion. Is it a political hoax or something to be celebrated and supported?
The answer has profound consequences for us all as it may make the difference between peace and war – civil strife and national reconciliation – economic misery and prosperity. Turkey’s bid to join the EU is in part dependent on an answer to this question. Europe wants a stable, democratic and reliable Turkey and not one that is subject to endemic sources of instability arising out of discrimination and ideological military coups.
Whether there is real reform and progress in Turkey in the next few years depends largely upon whether the Initiative is a figment of the imagination – dreamt up by the AKP for short-term electoral advantage – or something more transformative – that holds out the prospect of peace for the first time in a generation by an enlightened government that understands the need for a new democratic settlement within Turkey in the 21st Century.
So are we at a crossroad in the development of a new Turkey? It is often said that Turkey stands at a crossroad – a crossroad between Europe and Asia, between the East and West, between Christianity and Islam, between secularism and theocracy. These crossroads always pit Turkey against the other, be it a neighbour, religion, or continent.
The Kurdish Initiative is an altogether different crossroad. It is unique because at its centre – is a call for an internal debate about Turkey itself – its identity, culture, democratic future and how to heal wounds inflicted on its own society. It is about recognising the existence of different groups and their experiences within Turkey and how they can be finally brought together within a new democratic settlement. That is the nascent power behind the promise of the Initiative. What most Kurds want to know is whether it is genuine or not.
Many Kurds in this hall say it is just an illusion – an illusion of the most cruel sort – where Kurdish hopes have been gratuitously raised by the soft words of a President only to be crushed by the harsh reality of security forces operating on the ground. That despite all the AKP’s allusions to reform over the last 12 months what has occurred is the systematic repression of Kurdish non-violent democratic elements with the multiple arrests, detentions, and prosecution of DTP and BDP officials and mayors and the closure of democratic organisations.
They say this repression is on a par with the 1990’s and that it is telling that it wasn’t the most radical of DTP politicians that were banned from Parliament but the most moderate. Men like Ahmet Turk. What signal does this send out to ordinary Kurds about the Initiative and the desire of the AKP to build a new democratic future for all?
For many these repressive measures are not simply isolated incidents or the work of individual prosecutors or right wing nationalist elements. They are part of a devil’s pact in which the AKP talks about peace but sacrifices the very partners with which it needs to make peace, in a brazen effort to reduce the hostility of the military towards it. Such a policy has the added advantage of enhancing the AKP’s electoral prospects by degrading the capacity of the BDP to operate democratically in the Southeast.
Yet in doing so, the AKP must recognise that this destroys any prospect of peace and long-term democratic reform. For the truth is you cannot achieve a peace settlement without a partner for peace. You cannot reduce tensions in society without tackling the source of those tensions. You cannot bring long-term stability to a country without giving all warring factions some stake in the future of that country.
I believe this Conference should send out a strong message to the AKP Government that without a parliamentary partner for peace, such as the BDP, this Initiative will go nowhere. The AKP should recognise that beyond the BDP there are other Kurdish leaders like Ahmet Turk, the inspirational Leyla Zana and other leading Kurdish entities, who all stand ready to assist a non-violent resolution of the Kurdish issue if only the Government was willing to reach out towards them.
Yet we also underestimate the Initiative at our peril. For may others observers both within and outside this Conference, the Initiative is the only opportunity for democratic reform even though little of substance has been achieved to date. For them the Kurdish initiative must be seen in a much wider historical context. It is a response to Turkey’s own troubled history – to long running, deep seated tensions within Turkish society, that enlightened Turkish policy makers, know in their heart of hearts, must be confronted, especially if Turkey is to join the EU and enhance its role as a reliable regional player. Seen from this perspective the Initiative is not a cynical short-term electoral ploy but part of a wider strategic response of the Turkish State to deal with the Kurdish conflict once and for all – a strategic response that has pitfalls for the Kurdish nationalist movement but which also heralds golden opportunities as well.
Thus, far from arriving at our doorstep by electoral chance, the Initiative is with us because Turkey has finally begun to recognise certain fundamental truths about the Turkish State and society – truths about Turkey’s multi-ethnic character, its lack of democracy and equality, and the inability to solve the Kurdish issue through military means. This recognition should be applauded. The Turkish PM sees himself as a visionary just as Ozal did twenty years ago. We should not be suspicious of such traits but use them to the democratic advantage of all citizens of Turkey.
Secondly, the observers argue that the Initiative has already broken many political and social taboos that would have appeared unbreakable just a few years ago – the recognition of Kurdish identity as a proper subject for political discourse, the acceptance of a democratic deficit in relation to the Kurds. That we have witnessed nothing short of media revolution concerning treatment of the Kurdish Question in Turkey over the last two years. The State couldn’t put the Kurdish genie back in the bottle even if it wanted to. Once people taste the elixir of free speech it is difficult to stop them drinking without using force.
I believe these changes within Turkish society are not illusory. They are real gains. Not nearly enough for some perhaps. But real gains none the less. We should recognise these advances.
And yet there is an even greater irony in this situation. Like similar initiatives elsewhere, it is not too difficult to see how peace might look at the end of the negotiating line. Many Kurds and Turks broadly agree on the need for reform and that Kurds should be allowed to express themselves more freely at home, in their communities, at school, within the media and in Parliament. The PKK and the BDP accept the territoriality of Turkey. The problem is not so much how any eventual substantive peace settlement might look – but how to get the peace train to the end of the line.
I believe there are ten fundamental steps towards creating a platform for a durable peace process.
First, all parties should publicly recommit to finding a non-violent solution and recognise the Initiative as the best available means to a build a platform for peace and democratic reform.
Second, the gains already secured should be recognised, namely, that there has been a sea change in how Government has dealt with Kurdish identity within the media and civil society.
Third, the State should recognise that this has been possible because the PKK imposed upon itself “a quiet period” over the last year or so in response to this potential democratic opening, and stated its willingness to support a non-violent settlement to the Kurdish conflict.
Fourth, there is more agreement on substance than meets the eye. Most players now accept that there is no military solution and that an open democratic and cultural reform process can resolve many of the underlying causes of the conflict.
Fifth, this is a need to deal with security as well as substantive issues. This requires discussion about ceasefires, withdrawal of forces, disarmament, amnesties and policies on the return, reconciliation and reintegration of combatants.
Six, the resolution of these issues are an integral part of the solution to the Kurdish question and can only occur if there is some interface with both the military and the PKK.
Seven, all parties should recognise that Process is as important as Substance. Talks often break down over disagreement about the nature of the talks, who attends them, whether they are public or secret, open or closed, conducted through proxies or not.
Eight, democratic openings of this nature are very delicate and can be easily brutalised by the parties.
Opposition movements should recognise constraints imposed upon elected Governments such as- the need for confidential discussions and a parliamentary mechanism regarding reform.
In contrast, Governments should recognise that you cannot realistically expect opposition movements to give up arms as a precondition of talks. It does not happen in the real world.
Above all, Governments should start from the premise that making peace is harder than making war. That it is easier for opponents to grandstand or to act as a spoilers, like the CHP or MHP, then to seek peaceful reform. That you need a strong stomach to sit down and talk with your enemy and that in security talks nothing is agreed until all is agreed.
Nine, the lessons of other processes should be studied, learnt and applied where relevant.
For example, if you want to get a movement to disarm you must give it – or some part of it – a viable stake in the future of the country, whatever that might be. Peace in Northern Ireland worked because both sections of the community were given a stake in its political future. Disarmament worked because security issues were confronted and paramilitary organisations were able to integrate into that future.
Finally, we should all recognise that peace is not just made by Governments and opposition movements but by communities coming together to share a vision of a future settlement. The role of civil society is crucial in creating political space and a platform for peace.
That is why this Conference should renew its commitment to help Kurds and Turks come together to achieve peace. Turkey is radically different from when it first came into being. Today, it is anchored in Nato and with the West. The fears of dismemberment that haunted the early years of the Republic no longer apply. Turkey is confident and resilient enough to recognise that the brotherhood between Turks and Kurds that helped build the new Republic should now be celebrated rather than feared.
I believe the Kurdish Initiative implicitly recognises this emerging reality. It is real in terms of historical intent but an illusion in terms of practice on the ground. The job of the BDP, Turkish democrats, and this Conference is to convince the Government to help change the facts on the ground. This can only occur if the AKP is brave enough to accept the BDP as a parliamentary partner in the search for peace and lasting deomcratic reform. The Government should extend an olive branch, not a stick, towards the BDP. In turn, the BDP should grab that olive branch with all its might – and take the President’s word on trust – in order to give all the citizens of Turkey a chance of peace, prosperity and reconciliation in what for too long has been a troubled and divided land.
Thank you for your attention.
3 February 2010