Turkish PM Erdoğan a chance for peace: Leading PKK figure
MURAT YETKİN BRUSSELS - Hürriyet Daily News
Murat Yetkin (L), the editor-in-chief of the Hürriyet Daily News, meets with Zübeyir Aydar, one of the most influential names in the PKK, in Brussels.“Erdoğan is a chance for peace.” These remarks belong to Zübeyir Aydar, one of the most influential names in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an executive of the organization’s European wing and a board member of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). While acknowledging that a leader with major electoral support such as Erdoğan has taken a significant risk to solve the Kurdish problem, Aydar said PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was the only name with such a power on their side to make things happen, adding that that is why he is much more hopeful that there will be results this time, in contrast to the failed Oslo process before.
“We should hurry up,” said Aydar, who said it is possible to complete not only a withdrawal of the PKK militants, but all stages of the process, which include legal infrastructure and other aspects of normalization, before budget talks start in Parliament in November if “we have a deal with the government.” Aydar said there was a consensus among the PKK executives to get involved in the process, and they have duly launched a series of meetings to inform members in Europe, Kandil and Turkey.
In remarks regarding the criticism of the lack of Turkish flags at Nevruz celebrations in Diyarbakır on March 21, Aydar said: “We do not have a problem with the flag, or with the country’s borders; our problem is with internal operations. If the Kurdish problem is solved, Turkey will not be divided, it will grow.”
I talked with Aydar at the Kurdistan Information Bureau in Brussels on various subjects from the Kurdish peace process to the leak of the Oslo and İmralı minutes.
After years of nothing but armed clashes, now there is an accelerated dialogue process. Do you think a return is possible in this process?
All our efforts are toward preventing a return. For that reason, we are acting this sensitively. We wish that both sides, both the government and us, reach a point of no return. We have no concerns on our side. We want to solve this problem. Our concern is the government.
The government also has concerns. They say that once the arms are laid down, a solution will come. What is your concern?
While a solution is mentioned, will the Kurds’ own identity, culture, language and road to politics be open? We are asking that.
But there is the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Isn’t the road to doing politics open now?
No, that road is not completely open now; Kurdish issues are banned in the Constitution and under the law. The prime minister has said, “We have eliminated assimilation,” but its existence in the law is continuing. In order to be able to say that “assimilation has been abandoned” for a language and for a culture, there should be education in one’s mother tongue, and public services must be offered in that mother tongue.
You are probably saying this for some eastern and southeastern provinces, but in Turkey, the Kurdish-origin population is everywhere, and most probably the most is in Istanbul. How will that happen?
There could be education, or public services also in Istanbul; there is no contradiction in this. For example, at the location I am talking to you, in Brussels, each street sign is in two languages, in French and in Dutch. When you go to a government office, they ask you in which language you want your documents. For example, in Kirkuk, Assyrian may not be an official language, I’m not sure; but they give public services in accepted official languages Arabic, Kurdish and Turkmen. This constitutes no problem, no harm to anybody.
In Turkey, Turkish is present everywhere; let that remain. But, if there is a certain number of people – I’m not saying only for Kurdish – if a certain language exists at a certain number, then education in one’s mother tongue should be provided. There is a practice in education in mother tongues now anyway. A compromise can be found for this. Education in one’s mother tongue and public services are two complementary subjects. If the diploma you have received in that language is no good in public, then it fails short.
At one time, in Turkey, there were very frequent references to red lines. Is this your red line?
Those who want to build a future together should not draw red lines for each other. We want a better Turkey, a better Middle East and a better life, together. We are determined to do this through politics.
Do you think it will be possible to open the paths to politics while there are still arms?
We are approaching the process sincerely. We want to absolutely adopt the political road by entirely eliminating the factor of violence. The declaration read at Diyarbakır, Amed, is a declaration read on behalf of all of us.
You probably do not just think of education in one’s mother tongue when a solution is mentioned. What else do you understand?
This solution is not only limited to within the borders of Turkey; it will have an effect crossing the borders of Turkey. Look, we especially emphasize the National Pact. The National Pact is the last decision of the Ottoman Parliament dated Jan. 28, 1920, and it states that the borders at the Armistice of Montrose should be maintained. On that day, there was not one British soldier either in northern Syria or northern Iraq. The British army entered Mosul one week later. If Urfa, Antep and Maraş had not resisted the French invasion, would we be considering them outside the borders of the National Pact? A national border was drawn alongside the Berlin-Baghdad railroad; this is not a holy border. Turkey was an empire 100 years ago; it disintegrated outside the will of the peoples living there. It has been separated by forces foreign to this region, against the consent of the Turks, Kurds, Arabs. It is our demand that the National Pact be updated.
Well, are you now talking about changes in borders, the sovereignties of the Syrian and Iraqi states?
We do not want a new war. It is possible to redefine the National Pact without changing the borders. We are talking about a democratic alliance between the Turks and the Kurds. Let me cite another Belgian example. While passing to the Netherlands from the Dutch-speaking region, the border is just a formality.
Those living on both sides of that border live their daily lives together; they do commercial business. There is no difference anyway; so let the border remain.
But these countries are part of a formation called the European Union. They have lifted customs control; they have adopted a common currency and a common foreign policy. They are in search of a Constitution. The situation in Syria and Iraq is obvious. Do you think this is possible in practice?
Nobody is saying everything should happen overnight. These should be joint targets. We are talking about joint targets once peace is established.
Do your words implicate a federation?
This can be debated. The method to rule is found by arguing. Öcalan [Aydar refers to him as ‘Chairman Apo’ in the whole interview] earlier gave the example of coal and steel union that lies in the roots of EU. For example, we as Turks, Kurds and Arabs could establish the Euphrates and Tigris Basin Water Union. With a democratic alliance, we can present a model to the region. This will have political contributions to Turkey and Middle East, economic and cultural repercussions; that is what we mean when we say that a solution will go beyond Turkey’s borders. But we say that Kurds’ existence, security and freedom should be guaranteed – the way to politics should be wide open.
Could you open up a little more?
We want obstacles placed before doing politics in the legal field to be removed for everyone, including the PKK and the KCK. This means the right to politics for everybody without criminal prosecution. On our side, Öcalan has all the authority. Is it right to make him withdraw his men, order them to lay down their arms and have him do everything else, but keep him as he is on İmralı?
We want all the 30-year-old unjust treatments to be ended. All negative consequences should disappear. If we are talking about embracing, it should be for both sides.
‘We can complete it before the budget talks’
Is what you want a general amnesty?
Let’s not say general amnesty, let’s say a mutual embrace.
Let me give you an example. Recently there were incidents because the British queen shook hands with Martin McGuinness, a leading name in the Irish movement. Besides, the latter is not in prison, he is a minister in the Irish Cabinet, years later. … Such things happen around the world, there are examples. If we want to solve the problem, let’s eliminate all the consequences.
[Senior PKK figure] Murat Karayılan talked about the difficulties for the retreat of the militants; Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay said the withdrawal may last as long as necessary. But the mood in Ankara is that the withdrawal will be completed before the budget talks start in Parliament in November. Do you think that will happen?
I think we should hurry up. A few days ago Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan said, ‘We should complete this business by the end of 2013.’ Because after that the process of the 2014 local elections starts. My desire is that, beyond the withdrawal, all stages are completed before the budget talks start. I mean we should be able to complete the withdrawal, the democratic Constitution, legal amendments and stage of returning home and normalization.
‘To Europe, to Kandil, to the prison…’
Surprisingly you have started using the same language as the government, such as withdrawal, normalization. … When the government says normalization, it means an end to activity and the PKK members going into the process of integrating with society. What do you mean?
What we understand from normalization is the solution of the problem on a constitutional level, the return of everyone in Kandil and Europe, the release of political convicts and the opening of the way to politics for everybody.
There are those who killed people among them. Won’t the relatives of the victims know the killer is free?
Yes, they know the killer, but the others also know the killer. He knows who tortured him, who took away his child from their house at night and made him disappear. This is what we mean when we say ‘all consequences.’ I believe that our community will forgive if peace will come. If the bloodshed will stop, comfort will come; this society forgives.
I agree with the prime minister; we must complete this job by the end of 2013. And we can if we hurry.
You are talking about six-seven months; it is not much time, is it?
Let me tell you a funny thing. Some three weeks ago, Nelson Mandela’s lawyer, Essa Moosa, came here. We were speakers at a panel in Sweden on Feb. 23, then she paid us a visit. She said, ‘We worked hard to speed up things during Apartheid in South Africa, but we couldn’t. Then the De Klerk government took a solid decision to complete the job, and then we could not keep up the pace with the government.’
One Friday the lawyer receives a phone call from the government: ‘we are releasing Mandela at 8 a.m. Sunday, come and get him.’ They panic, they have no preparations. They want at least to have a mass welcome. The lawyer called the government to say, ‘Please keep him for another few days so we can prepare.’ The government said no, the lawyer said they could stall until 1 p.m. Sunday and Mandela was released. We wanted the government to go so fast that we have trouble keeping up. That is why I say we should hurry.
You are an executive board member of the KCK, one of the most influential names in the PKK. Not only Karayılan, but you are also responsible for hurrying the process up, aren’t’ you?
Yes, I am also responsible. Before the call, Öcalan wrote four letters, the same letters, one to the government, one to Kandil, one to us and one to the BDP. There is a phrase there, ‘the general agreement text.’ In other words, there is an agreement-like approach [between Öcalan and the government], not as a protocol but as a consensus. Then come some articles in the letter. If both we and the government do what is written there, things will speed up. Everything is possible if the two sides agree.
PKK management talks to members
Are there people in your administration opposed to a solution?
There people in Turkey arguing this: the [KCK/PKK] executives live in luxury, they do not want to give up the easy money, that is why the problem remains. These are lies prepared one time by psychological warfare units and then served to the masses. I assure you, everybody in our administration, including me, are like dervishes, living almost with one coat … that is who we are.
We are ready for peace as the administration; we are also readying our cadre. When the letter arrived, meetings were held at all levels, the letter was read, it was discussed. Not one person, not here, not in the mountains, opposed it. Öcalan says in the letter that this process is not a must, it is the perception of moving forward to peace and democracy.
Now we are starting informatory meetings, in Europe, in Iraq, in Turkey, in the mountains, in the city, everywhere. There are people who have questions about the process; we will answer them and try to convince them. We will complete these within a month. I don’t know about the remote mountainous regions, but this process will end in a month in all central places.
I was involved with the Oslo process from the beginning until the end. I had not had this much hope then, I’m much more hopeful now.
How the Oslo recordings and İmralı minutes were leaked
How did the Oslo process start, and why did it collapse?
Oslo started in 2006 with indirect meetings, at the time of [then-National Intelligence Agency - MİT] Emre Taner.
There is a person called ‘Balıkçı’ [fisherman]. Did he mediate?
He had nothing to do with it. He might have been slightly included in the 1998 process, but there were neither fish nor fishermen in the Oslo process. Those involved have never been made public. The direct meetings started at the end of 2007, here in Europe, and sped up in September 2008. [The process] stalled in the spring of 2011, when the military launched an operation on April 1. As the elections neared, Öcalan had proposed three protocols on May 10; we had received it through MİT.
Both sides decided to meet in the first week of June to voice opinions on the protocol. We said ‘we are in’ with a couple of minor changes. Nothing came from the government. Then the prime minister made a speech on June 9, saying they would not have lifted the death penalty [had they been in power at the beginning of the 2000s].
We later learned that a deal was made with Iran, Syria and Iraq in early 2011 regarding a Sri Lanka-style annihilation following the June 12 elections. A group within the security bureaucracy said, ‘We pressure and finish it.’ We were, on the other hand, trying to stop the guerillas who pressure us that the [military] operations had not stopped, telling them that it would be okay after the elections.
We had another meeting after the elections. At that time came the Silvan incident, on July 14 [in which 13 soldiers were killed]. We investigated it. There is not a central decision, ambush or raid, we were told [the militants] met the soldiers in operation in the plain, but what’s done cannot be undone. We had another meeting scheduled after Silvan, the government canceled it, and we did not have another one. But they saw that the Sri Lankan model did not work, too; it was understood in Şemdinli in 2012.
What Oslo and İmralı leaks have in common
The Oslo recordings were leaked after the process was over, weren’t they? Who leaked them? Even your name was mentioned.
MİT also suspected us at first. Our friends contacted us; we said, ‘Do an investigation.’ When a criminal probe was launched against [MİT chief] Hakan Fidan, they were also convinced that we didn’t do it.
When the investigation was launched, [the prosecutor] claimed that a copy was found at the BDP’s provincial branch in Diyarbakır. I’m clearly telling you, we have one copy of the Oslo recordings and that copy is kept hidden somewhere in the mountains under the responsibility of Murat Karayılan.
My opinion is the Oslo recordings came out of the MİT archive. I think it was taken by illegal methods from the MİT archive and leaked. The MİT administration could not have done that, because it wasn’t to their advantage; they became targets.
You were suspected when the recording was published by the Fırat News Agency.
Fırat agency had it from Dicle News Agency; I immediately called [the agency] when I saw it. The person on duty at Fırat took it online when he saw it on Dicle’s website. But then he called, he said Dicle removed it and so would he. We asked, the people at Dicle had no information. Later, we understood that the recordings were put on Dicle’s website in a hacking job.
Dicle News agency was also mentioned when the İmralı minutes were published in Milliyet, wasn’t it?
Right. The BDP investigated it. Both Dicle reporter and press official denied they took them and gave them to the paper. When they were told ‘the government found out who did it, they have records,’ the two admitted it.
That is why I say we should hurry up.
‘Paris assassination was a sabotage of the process’
What would happen if you don’t act fast?
Someone could sabotage the process. There may be groups taking advantage of a war, and those whose interests could be harmed. They could sabotage it.
Is there a progress with regard to the Paris assassination [in which three Kurdish female activists were killed on Jan. 9]? Did you find out what actually happened?
Recently, I heard from the lawyer of the families that the French have not provided much information.
Is there a possibility that it was a petty crime?
I think there is no possibility for it to be a petty crime. New data has been revealed about this person. In the past, he went to a place called the Mevlana Association in Munich. And recently, he tried to visit Nedim Seven at his home. I think this person has those decisions to demolish our administrative levels behind him – those decisions that were reached while the 2011 Sri Lanka orientation was being discussed; he carries the traces of this. I think the signs point to the Special War Department of the army.
Do you have a concrete data about the incident?
At 12:32, Fidan called Brussels and had a two-minute conversation. It’s not an extraordinary situation. The one who answered the phone also testified. The last activity in the office was connecting to the Internet at 12:43. At 12:56, the person left the building. All these things happened in these 13 minutes in between. We are conveying all the data we have to the French authorities.
These murders disrupted the process.
The funeral ceremony in Diyarbakır was important both for us and the government. Fortunately, everyone acted responsibly there, and the problem did not get more severe. But the process is open to new acts of sabotage.
Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said, “It is not yet clear what will happen if the process succeeds; but what will happen if it does not succeed is certain: the bloodshed will continue.” I agree with him. The hopes of peace should not be extinguished since the alternative to peace is conflict again. It means the continuity of the lose-lose circle. The experiences we had so far should teach a lesson to us. If we do not learn from it, the following processes won’t be persuasive.
‘We don’t have a problem with the flag and the borders’
Also, there is a flag controversy. The government is being criticized since there was no Turkish flag at Nevruz celebrations in Diyarbakır.
I don’t find this discussion correct. There was no [Turkish flag] at former Nevruz celebrations.
But this time, it had a political meaning.
If one from the government had warned the organizing committee, they would have hung it. Kurds do not have any problem with Turkey’s flag. Every state has a flag. And we don’t demand a change in the national flag. However, we want to preserve our own values. For example, in Spain, the flags of autonomous regions are hung along with the national flag. The name is not very important; the symbols of provinces could also be attached. These are surmountable problems.
We don’t have a problem regarding the borders of Turkey. We don’t want to divide the country; this country is inseparable. Our problem is with internal operations, forms of administration and forms of relations. If the Kurdish problem is solved, Turkey will grow. The country, which is the 17th biggest economy in the world, will move up if the Kurdish problem is solved. In the recent past, Kurds were regarded as the greatest danger. But today, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq is one of Turkey’s best partners.
Erdoğan is a chance for peace
After saying all these words, will taking up arms and returning to armed conflicts be harder? Then will the government’s expression regarding you “we tried everything, but resulted in vain,” be justified?
It is true that the government is taking a risk, but we are also taking risks. Tayyip Erdoğan’s taking risks is a chance for peace since he also has a power stemming from public support. And on our side, there is no one except Öcalan who is as powerful to take such risks. This is also a chance.
The government must ease Öcalan’s job. This process cannot be limited to an 11-square-meter area. It is difficult for him to carry on the process only by writing letters from inside. I think he needs to negotiate with a secretariat, counselors, press members and other figures. His conditions should be fixed so that he can better play his role in the peace and solution process.
The government should include the CHP
What do you think of the criticisms that say the solution process will transform into support for Erdoğan’s presidential demand?
For us, the target is for Turkey to be a democratic country. In the United States, there is the presidential system; in France, there is a semi-presidential system; their democracies function better than ours. What is important is the functioning of democratic institutions. We are not against the presidential system; however, we are against it being transformed into a one-man administration.
What do you think the reflection of the process will be on Parliament?
We regard that it is important that the [main opposition Republican People’s Party] CHP is involved in this process. The government should be more insistent for the inclusion of the CHP in the process, it should be more facilitating. I wish the MHP [Nationalist Movement Party] would have also supported [the process], but the CHP should absolutely participate. What suits the CHP, as the founding party of Turkey, is to contribute to, to support the re-establishment of peace and democracy. There are people in the grassroots of the CHP who we know from the past, those we worked together in the past, this should not be the stance. There are responsibilities here both for the government and for the CHP.