The Armenian Weekly April 2013 Magazine
Is it true? Are things really changing in Turkey, the land of
genocides, pogroms, repression, and a prolonged war for the past 30
years with its own Kurdish citizens? Is the war that has claimed more
than 40,000 lives—mostly Kurdish—in Turkish Kurdistan really coming to
an end? Is this nightmare, which has played out not only in the
mountains but also in cities and towns, almost over, allowing for a
normal life—a life that children and adults under 30 have never known?
These were the questions crucial not only for the Kurdish people’s
future in Turkey, but also for everyone who demanded real democracy, the
full observance of human rights, equality, justice—in short, a better
life to live. For us, the success of the Kurds’ struggle meant the
opening of the road that would lead us all to a more promising future.
But now, everything seems blurred and vague. It is as if we are
walking on a tightrope and, at any moment, we can fall into a bottomless
abyss. PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s recent statements during the
negotiations and, ultimately, his letter read out loud during the Newroz
celebrations were a disappointment for many.
During the civil war, Newroz meant the violent intervention of
security forces, sometimes with firearms, sometimes with tear gas and
water cannons, causing deaths and injuries. It was a time of military
raids in towns and rural villages, a time when villagers were arrested
en masse and taken away, when civilians were killed during military
operations. Kurdish human rights fighters, lawyers, and journalists were
kidnapped and found dead by the roadside, and sometimes not found at
all. During these years, more than 3,000 villages were evacuated and
burned down. More than 3 million Kurds had to leave their homes and
migrate to nearby towns and cities, totally helpless, jobless, unable to
earn a living. Forests were set on fire by the soldiers. The whole
landscape turned into a desert—a bare land with ghostly images of
destroyed villages, with the remains of houses blackened by fire.
Newroz, in those years, was invariably associated with brutality and
loss of human lives. It was during the Newroz celebrations of 1992 that
nearly 140 civilians were killed and hundreds of others injured
following then attack of the security forces on demonstrators, and the
subsequent operations—accompanied by bombings—carried out in the
province of Şırnak and its district Cizre. Those nightmarish
“celebrations” were followed by a large wave of Kurdish immigration to
Hopes for peace
This year’s Newroz celebrations were held in dramatically different
circumstances. The so-called “Peace Process” had started; negotiations
with Öcalan, who had been isolated in prison for 14 years, were ongoing.
Deputies of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) visited him twice.
Letters between Öcalan and the PKK headquarters in Qandil, in Iraqi
Kurdistan, were exchanged.
The celebrations everywhere, both in a number of western provinces,
including Istanbul, and in the Kurdish provinces, particularly in
Diyarbakir, were spectacular. It was for the first time a real
celebration with enthusiastic festivities. Hundreds of thousands of
people came together, with women dressed in bright colors, and children
dancing and singing joyously.
All were waiting for Öcalan’s letter to be read out loud in Kurdish
and Turkish. He would make his final statement, the outcome of his
“peace” talks with government authorities, in his cell.
In addition to the Kurds, and since the defeat of the Turkish left by
military rule in 1980, veteran socialists and communists, and others
who stood for democracy, human rights, and freedom, had all set their
hopes on the Kurds’ struggle against the establishment in Turkey. It was
because the Kurdish political movement had done something that the
Turkish left had always dreamed of, but never achieved, during its long
years of struggle. The Kurdish political movement had mobilized masses
of ordinary people, both in rural and urban areas, and integrated them
into the struggle. It was this struggle that made it possible for the
forces of democracy in Turkey to make progress—no matter how modest—in
freedom of speech. It was not a coincidence that the Armenian Genocide
started to be discussed in Turkey during the years of the Kurdish
insurgency—an insurgency that could not be defeated in 30 years by the
Turkish Armed Forces, Europe’s biggest and the world’s 8th biggest army,
second only to that of the U.S. in NATO.
Öcalan calls for withdrawal
When Öcalan’s letter was read in Diyarbakir—before an audience of
hundreds of thousands, if not more than a million—declaring a cease-fire
and instructing PKK guerrillas to withdraw beyond the borders, it was
clear Öcalan was aware of the criticism against his statements in the
minutes of his meeting BDP deputies during the “peace” process leaked to
the press which resonated an overt antagonism towards non-Muslim
peoples of Asia Minor. So he was careful to include Armenians and other
peoples making up the Anatolian population in the scope of his endeavor
to bring peace to the country.
In the aforementioned meeting with the BDP deputies, Öcalan had, for
instance, referred to the “Armenian lobby” as a force that,
historically, has never wanted peace in Anatolia. “The Armenian lobby is
powerful. They want to dominate the agenda of 2015,” he had said. The
Kurds were marginalized during the creation of the Turkish Republic as a
consequence of the efforts of the “Israeli lobby, the Armenians, and
the Greeks, who had decided that their success would depend on
marginalizing the Kurds,” he continued. “This is an ongoing,
thousand-year tradition.” He had added, “After the Islamization of
Anatolia, there has been Christian anger that has lasted a thousand
years. Greeks, Armenians, and Jews claim rights to Anatolia. They don’t
want to give up their gains under the pretext of secularism and
Despite some references to Armenians and other non-Muslims, Öcalan’s
Newroz letter—full of enthusiastic rhetoric about peace, fraternity, the
peaceful coexistence of peoples of different beliefs and ethnicity, and
a new era of peace—was no consolation to those of us who demand real
justice in this country.
Muslim brotherhood brings chilling memories to mind
The most alarming aspect of the letter was its emphasis on Islamic
brotherhood, a brotherhood that saw the death, agony, plunder, and
annihilation of the Christian children of Asia Minor. His reference to
the Turks’ and Kurds’ “historical agreement of fraternity and solidarity
under the flag of Islam” sounded like an ominous prophecy. His praise
of the so-called “Liberation War” of Turkey, which was, in fact, the
continuation of the genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians and Anatolian
Greeks, was a perfect echo of the Turkish official mindset. “During
World War I, Turkish and Kurdish soldiers fell together as martyrs in
the Dardanelles. They fought together in Turkey’s Independence War, and
together opened the 1920 National Assembly. What our mutual past shows
is the mutual necessity of forming our future together. The spirit of
the 1920 National Assembly enlightens the upcoming era,” he said. What
he doesn’t mention is that the spirit of 1920 was a genocidal spirit
that was determined to complete the annihilation process of Christians
and also to repress Kurdish national identity with bloodshed.
The result is that now, people in Turkey who stand for human rights,
democracy, and peace are forced to choose between one of two evils:
Either be presented as one who does not want peace, or support something
that may be reconciliation between Kurds and Turks but not real peace
for all in Turkey.
Is Öcalan a true respresentative?
I know and respect millions of Kurdish people’s devotion to their
leader Öcalan. But I also know that Öcalan and the politically conscious
Kurdish people, as well as some sections of Kurdish political movement
are not one and the same. There is the Kurdish political movement, with
its political party, its armed units in the mountains, and the millions
who protest courageously at the risk of being shot; and there is Öcalan,
who has been confined to a solitary cell for 14 years, disconnected
from realities on the ground.
After all, it is the Kurdish people who lost family members in
unsolved murders; who cried after their children joined the guerrilla
movement, and were later found dead, half burnt, with their eyes
scratched out; and who stood totally armless against tanks and panzers
in revolt against repression. And it is the guerrilla fighters who put
their lives at risk for so many years in the mountains.
Karayılan, one of the chief commanders of the PKK, in an interview
with the journalist Hasan Cemal, repeatedly confirmed that while they
are loyal to their leader, they had some reservations: “There will be no
withdrawal without the state doing its share.”
“Mid-level command elements especially have some concerns; we have to persuade them.”
“Yesterday I talked with 250 mid-level people. They say, ‘We came
here to wage war, and we’ve been here for 10 years. We’ve come to the
point of accomplishing a result, then you ask us to stop.’”
“At this point, leader Apo [Öcalan] should get involved in the
persuasion process, and for this reason direct contact between Öcalan
and the Qandil headquarters should be established.”
Karayılan’s criticism of the BDP co-chair, Selahattin Demirtaş, was
very unusual. Demirtaş had recently said that 99 percent of the armed
campaign of the PKK was over, and that the resolution of the remaining
one percent was up to the government. “This is a shallow approach by the
BDP,” commented Karayılan. “This shows that they cannot comprehend the
retreat process in depth. Complete finalization of the armed campaign is
not such a simple issue.”
Kurds: both perpetrators and victims
Now the crucial point: Many local Kurds in Western Armenia, not only
the chieftains but also ordinary villagers, were, alongside with the
Turks and other Muslim peoples, the perpetrators of the genocide of the
Armenians and Assyrians. They were not only “tools” that were “used” by
the Progress and Union Committee (CUP), as some of the Kurdish political
leaders have put it; in many places and in many instances, they were
quite conscious of what they were doing. They were not the
decision-makers but the implementers, unaware that soon they would fall
victim to, and be forced to revolt against, their accomplices in the
genocide—the successors of the same ruling power they cooperated with in
exterminating their Christian neighbors.
The history of the Turkish Republic is the history of Kurdish
uprisings and their violent repression through bloodshed. The last
uprising, which was the longest, was not based purely on nationalistic
aspirations, but involved leftist, even Marxist, elements, with much
emphasis on freedom, equality, and human rights, not only for Kurds but
for all in Turkey. And it was the first and longest-lasting radical
opposition movement in the history of the Republic, and was not only
able to undermine at least the ideological and moral supremacy of the
establishment, but also to challenge with some success the “invincible”
domestic image of the Turkish military.
Those in the Turkish media, then, who criticized Abdullah Öcalan’s
statements, both in the meeting minutes and his letter of cease-fire,
were calling on the Kurdish opposition to not enter into a deceitful
truce with this system of annihilation and denial.
Can they also be peacemakers?
Of course, the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the Kurdish
oppositionists to lead the way for the acknowledgment of the Kurdish
people’s complicity in the genocide of the Christian peoples of
Anatolia—the Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks—and take steps toward the
restitution of the immense losses they suffered.
Without fulfilling this responsibility, the Kurdish side of the
conflict cannot possibly pave the way for, and urge the Turkish state to
agree to, a real peace—the ultimate sovereignty of justice throughout
The Kurds are both perpetrators and victims, the victim of their own
comrade-in-arms during the genocide. In order to be the peacemakers now,
they must refuse Öcalan’s offer of a so-called “peace” between Turks
and Kurds based on the common denominator of Islamic brotherhood, the
driving force behind the genocide.