Urgency needed in Kurdish issue: Deputy AKP chair
What Turkey needs to do is ‘fill the room’ with enough oxygen for everyone to breathe, regardless of their ethnic or religious background, senior AKP figure Hüseyin Çelik tells the Daily News. DAILY NEWS photo / Selahattin SÖNMEZ
There is not a moment to lose in ending Turkey’s Kurdish problem because the country is quickly passing the point of no return on the matter, according to senior government official Hüseyin Çelik.
“Tomorrow is now today; each day works against us,” he recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.
The recent funerals of three murderd Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) members took place without incident. How do you evaluate the fact that what was feared did not ultimately occur?
It was nice that the funerals took place in an atmosphere of responsibility and maturity. The fact that the crowds acted with common sense and that the police expended great efforts to ensure that the funerals took place without incident is all good news. I believe this is an important marker on the road to peace.
What is the message that has emerged from Diyarbakır, where the funerals took place?
It is a positive message for us because the prime minister had said it would be an indication of whether or not there was really a desire a peace. It is no longer a secret that the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) is the political wing of the PKK. It is important that the BDP crowds are also willing because this [peace process.] cannot succeed if all sides are not eager. Turkey wants peace. We want a country where no one dies.
So what lies ahead?
We need to see the fact that every time there has been an effort to lay down arms, some people sabotaged those efforts. Just as talks [with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan] started, 110 militants came to attack. There is a genetic hatred that is growing in Turkey. The picture of a PKK member is hung on a wall and when children ask about it, they say soldiers killed him. Children grow up with that state of mind. On the other side, a soldier or a police officer dies; they say the PKK did it. You cannot explain to a citizen in Denizli and Çankırı the difference between a Kurd and Kurdish nationalism. And the hatred grows there as well. The PKK actually wants a body to come out from each household and for anger to fill each house. This is what we are trying to prevent. This is a government that has done what was not done previously. It abolished emergency rule in its 18th day in government. We have been accused of turning to security policies. You endorse security policies if you have extrajudicial killings, if you have emergency rule or if you [forcibly] depopulate villages. Nowhere in the world do security forces give back flowers when attacked by armed groups. The AK Party never turned to security policies. You can count at least 50 steps on what we have done in the cultural sphere [for Kurds].
What is interesting is that whenever we have made an improvement, the PKK and its affiliates despise it. They did not want TRT-6 [TRT’s Kurdish-language channel], they did not appreciate Kurdish instruction in schools. First they took it lightly but then they told their people: “This is done thanks to us. Our blood is being shed but in return we are getting these concessions.”
These steps could have been taken thanks to deaths, but 5,000 PKK members were dying annually in the 1990s. Was there any will [for reform] in the 1990s?
We have made several improvements for non-Muslims. Did we do it because they aimed a gun at us?
What we are saying is that whether Öcalan wants it or not, or whether the BDP wants it or not, we have answered the legitimate requests of our Kurdish citizens and we will continue to do so. We see that as a separate issue than the terrorism issue. But in order to achieve this, we need the right climate. In order to succeed, we need to satisfy the Kurds but convince the Turks. These reforms cannot succeed if 70 percent of non-Kurds in this country start asking the question, “Am I losing my honor, is this country being dismantled?” The AK Party gets votes from [all] 81 provinces. It has to embrace 75 million. The BDP endorses Kurdish nationalism, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) endorses Turkish nationalism but the AK Party has no such luxury. If you cannot convince the strong ones, you cannot register improvement in favor of the disadvantaged.
Arms first need to be silenced, then laid down. The PKK used to say, the state does not recognize the existence of Kurds, we can’t sing in Kurdish, et cetera. Nothing of that sort exists now. All democratic roads are open. The BDP should come and voice Öcalan’s views in Parliament; they can talk about division, federation or mother tongues. Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights stipulates that all views expressed no matter how shocking and disturbing are within freedom of expression. But [they must do this] without legitimizing terrorism or using violence as a means of expression.
In the process ahead, can we then say that everything will be on the table, including federalism?
Look, I decide to build a house, but I am not an architect. I have the desire to build the house, but it will be the specialists who will build it. The desire to stop the bloodshed belongs to this government; as for the question of which instruments will be used, that is left to the relevant state organs. We will not sit with Öcalan and the BDP and ask, “What do you want on behalf of the Kurds?” Once you do that, you make the PKK and the BDP the Kurds’ only legitimate representatives. The party that most Kurds vote for is the AK Party. Does the BDP have a say when we set out to talk about making this country more democratic? Of course it does, just like any other party. But we cannot make an emphasis in the Constitution about Turks and Kurds; we can’t say the founding peoples of this country are first Turks and second Kurds. That won’t happen. What we are saying is let’s fill this room with enough oxygen for everybody to breath, be it Turk, Kurd, Muslim or non-Muslim.
So the purpose of the recent process is to achieve a climate so that the reform process can advance quickly.
Correct. The Kurdish issue in Turkey is no longer the issue of Kurds. Democratic maturity means Kurds defending the rights of Turks and Turks defending the rights of Kurds. So long as Turks do not defend the rights of Kurds and vice versa, so long as Sunnis do not defend the rights of Alevis and vice versa, we can neither be a democratic nor a mature society in the true sense. First, arms will be silenced and when the PKK withdraws beyond Turkey, then we will talk about how we can live together as Turks, Kurds, Abkhaz, Circassians in the common denominator of constitutional citizenship.
So the address to solve the problem is Parliament and the rewriting of the Constitution.
Obviously. The question is how we can undertake democratic steps in this country, not just for Kurds. Our [party] vision for 2023 foresees advanced democracy. We will go as far as the EU standards go. But we will not negotiate it with Abdullah Öcalan. But you cannot shake hands when they are like fists. Now they say that soldiers need to lay down arms.
They ask why the state is conducting military operations at the same time it has started a peace initiative.
So long as there are armed groups in Turkey, no one should expect security forces to halt operations. The prime minister said we will not shoot retreating forces. If Kandil [the PKK wing in northern Iraq] says it won’t attack, Turkey does not have the intention to eliminate those in Kandil. Those who have not been involved in terrorism should come live with their family.
So this process will include the integration of PKK members into society. But officials excluded any possibility of a general amnesty even at the beginning.
A general amnesty means to act as if nothing took place. You should not harm one side while trying to improve the conditions of the other side.
What makes the government believe this is the right time to initiate the peace process?
There is a famous book from author Atilla İlhan. Tomorrow is now today. Each day works against us. Anger and hatred grow each day more and more. I am a child born to a Kurdish family in Van. I am a person who learned Turkish after I went to school when I was seven years old. I am a person that can look with the eyes of those people. I know Van, Hakkari, Siirt, Muş, Iğdır like the palm of my hand.
But I am a member of a government that embraces 75 million. The hands that move against both Turks and Kurds need to be broken. This is the only way we can live together in this country. We are not obliged; we are bound to live together in this area. No one has the right to push others out of this country. We can create a society of the rainbow. The characteristic of a rainbow is the fact that all colors exist as they are in a harmonious way. Blue does not need to turn to red, or red to green. We can do it.
So you claim it will be more difficult to do it with younger generations.
The late Şerafettin Elçi [a prominent Kurdish politician who died late in 2012] had said they were the last generations [that the state could talk to] – the coming generations are filled with anger. I share this view. The BDP needs to act with great responsibility if they are genuine in their wish to stop the deaths of Kurdish children. The BDP has threatened me. Why? Because I am a Kurd; they are angrier at me. Because the BDP says, “Either you are like me or you have no right to live.” And then they say “peace and democracy.” What kind of democracy is that? Everybody has the right to voice their views. But the BDP should not come to the front with preconditions. We cannot reach the desired outcome with preconditions. They have been requesting things on behalf of Öcalan [like house arrest] which has not been demanded by Öcalan.
Some are asking why the AK Party is prolonging the process. Some moves should come step by step. There are some prejudices in society. Public opinion needs to be managed as well.
There is also a regional and international dimension to the process.
The PKK is no longer just the problem of Turkey. Sixty percent of the Kurds in the world live in Turkey. Right now, we have very warm relations with [Masoud] Barzani in northern Iraq. A very big portion of the world’s Kurds live in Turkey and northern Iraq. Turkey plays a key role here. A big majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims – 85 to 90 percent of the Kurds in Turkey are Sunni Muslims. Throughout history, Turks and Kurds have lived integrated.
They might not speak the same language, but they share the same emotions; but if [we don’t move soon], these shared emotions will be lost with every passing day.
Who is Hüseyin Çelik ?
Born in 1959 in a village in the southeastern province of Van, Hüseyin Çelik graduated from Istanbul University’s Literature Faculty. He later conducted his post-graduate degree at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
He later joined Van’s Yüzüncü Yıl University and served as head of the Turkish Language and Literature Department. He is also the author of 15 books on subjects such as political trends, Turkish culture and political history.
Çelik was also one of the founders of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and was elected as Van deputy in the three general elections held since 2002.
He served as the culture minister in the first AKP Cabinet headed by Abdullah Gül before becoming education minister in 2003 in the Cabinet headed by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Çelik held the education portfolio until 2009 and is now the AKP’s deputy chairman responsible for publicity and the media.