Analyst: Both PKK and AKP want HDP to be weakened
Cansu Çamlıbel - CAMBRIDGEThe Middle Eastern Studies Center of top-ranking Harvard University hosted Turkish journalist-author Cengiz Çandar last week. Çandar spoke in the seminar “Understanding and Misunderstanding Turkey and the Middle East,” with American academics bombarding Çandar with questions to unravel the dramatic changes in Turkey since the June 7 election. We met with Çandar in Cambridge after his Harvard rendezvous.
According to Çandar, who has been working on the Kurdish matter for years, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) wanted the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to be weakened just as much as the government. Çandar says, “Actual surprising developments can occur on the Washington- Kurdish line,” he adds.
Did Harvard University invite you as a speaker following recent developments in Turkey?
It was June when the invitation came. Right around that time [the northern Syrian town] Tal Abyad was cleaned of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants, taken by the People’s Protection Units (YPG). The balances started shifting. There was also a new picture put forward by the elections in Turkey. We set the title as “Understanding and Misunderstanding Turkey and the Middle East.” Of course, there is a tremendous difference between Turkey in June and Turkey in September. Developments that would occur in a few years span in many other countries and regions of the world have fit into two months. The government in Turkey engaged itself in a state of war against the Kurds and the PKK retaliated in the same aggression. This situation has shifted the June balance.
There are those that think this account had an impact on the forming of this new situation: the Justice and Development Party (AKP) chose to consolidate nationalist votes in order to come to power alone and the government made the HDP, which it equates with the PKK, as hostile, with a stronger rhetoric. Even if the AKP had such a plan, has the PKK’s war strategy helped to strengthen the government’s hand?
If we base our reasoning on conventional thinking, yes, that is exactly what happened. From wherever you look at it, both President Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP administration have a rage against the HDP. This is highly understandable. You have plans and goals and you use the government. Then you suddenly see that the parliamentary arithmetic the HDP has created deprives you of all your calculations. Of course you get angry at the HDP. Also, the HDP caused a great discomfort by going way of PKK representation and taking many weapons from the hands of the AKP. From this, there is nothing not to understand about why a political direction has been taken to surround and weaken the HDP. Though a lot of people –including myself- are not in favor of this situation, it is understandable. Thus, the following can be asked: Has the PKK not put the HDP in a tough spot? It has! There have been public statements, like [PKK leader]Duran Kalkan implying about HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, “Who is he, what has he accomplished?”
Does the PKK really want this or which team within the PKK wants this?
The discourse on the separate teams within the PKK is a challenging and logically possible one. However, I am not in the opinion that this is worth much in terms of actions. The PKK is an organization of war. It was in action in Syria when it was unable to be in Turkey. When ISIL became active in Iraq, we saw a PKK that sent forces to Mahmur and Kirkuk, which could stand more functioning than peshmergas against ISIL. Such an organization is not like a debate club. It is a war organization; therefore, it has an internal structure and headquarters suiting a war discipline. We also know the headquarters. Cemil Bayık, Murat Karayılan, Kalkan, Mustafa Karasu, Sabri Ok; these names constitute the inner circle. There are also names like Bese Hozat that stand out but those that know PKK a bit and keep tabs on it know those five names. They live where they can see each other a few times every week, if not every day. No discord occurs through this. They can only exist when they hold on to one another.
Demirtaş shows discrepancy with the PKK
Was the HDP’s June 7 victory something the headquarters did not expect? Or was it foreseen but later turned into discomfort with Demirtaş’s rise in politics?
There are some major question marks regarding this. It is not very easy for us to know and understand them from where we stand. Events took such a course that we had no time to dig through them and understand. The pace of these events left all of the inquiries of how big these contradictions were, if they would lead somewhere meaningless. Currently there is a Selahattin Demirtaş who is being made a target to revoke his parliamentary immunity, kept from entering Cizre, despised by security forces of Turkey and subjected to libellous statements by people who carry the title of president and prime minister. Now is there a reason for this Demirtaş to make an effort to point out a difference of stance from Kalkan? I think that Demirtaş was showing signs of a discrepancy from several elements of the PKK. However, there is no reason to do this in the state we have arrived at today. On the contrary, the development of the events covered up any cracks that might have existed between the PKK and the HDP. Here is an example: Cizre.
Therefore, according to you, it will reconcile those with different approaches in Kurdish politics.
The thing is, even Leyla Zana, a Kurdish person who would position herself the furthest from all these people and situate herself closest to the Turkish president, is now talking about going on a hunger strike.
What do you think Demirtaş means for the PKK?
Demirtaş, a democratic Kurdish figure, is a political figure with a bright future who could take on a role that would benefit the PKK in the future. Perhaps this was the very reason that the PKK acted as if it is discomforted by him, perceiving him as someone who should be eliminated through a trap.
At least this is how it looks now...
There is certainly that image, without room for discussion. When the guns started firing, Demirtaş yelled, “From wherever it is coming and whoever is doing it, violence must stop.” These words were unheard from any of the representatives assumed to be on the same ground as the PKK. However, we must also see where this audacity derives from. The people in Turkey that deal with this draw the Sinn Fein-IRA analogy, as if the legitimate party Sinn Fein is the HDP and the PKK is the IRA. However, this has never been the case. I, as someone who has personally spoken to its supporters after the Northern Ireland peace, have always defended that they are not similar examples. Because Sinn Fein and the IRA were not far apart, the leaders of Sinn Fein are ex-commanders of the IRA. When Gerry Adams or Michael McGuiness had a suggestion for the IRA, they had to listen because, after all, they were their ex-commanders.
Ostensible PKK-PYD distinction is convenient for U.S.
According to the U.S., the PKK is a terrorist organization but the Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria is not. In fact, the YPG forces are their greatest alliance in the war with ISIL. What kind of a balance is this?
To be honest, the PYD and the PKK being ostensibly different organisms does not mean anything but is face-serving for the Americans. Because the YPG and HPG are the same thing and there is no difference between the PYD and the PKK. The only difference is that during the time the PYD was founded, the PYD members were registered as Syrian citizens. Since the crisis in Syria, this difference ceased to exist because borders ceased to exist. Of course, it is out of the question that the Americans do not already know what I am saying. It behaves as such because it suits its book for the time being.
What sort of developments can the collaboration the U.S. has deepened with the Kurds over the fight with ISIL cause for Turkey?
For one, the instance America switched to a radical policy was the night it brought weapons to Kobane. It was a very historical moment because it did this knowing Turkey was against it and the political meaning behind it. This was done with the possibility of its relationship with Turkey taking a different direction from what used to be in mind. It was not powdered milk they brought down, it was weapons. After that, it sat in the main headquarters in Erbil and conducted air strikes with the YPG. Three to four years ago, these were inconceivable things. “The U.S. sees the PKK and the PYD as two different organizations that won’t change:” Of course it will! Like how it acted against Turkey in Kobane, it can very well take steps in the context of the Kurdish matter that will cause distress to Turkey.
What sort of steps are you talking about?
There are several steps. For example, you can see the names of people who are known PKK associates but are not on the wanted list in America as speakers at whatever meeting. The U.S. can gravitate towards constantly modifying its policies so long as it sees the Kurds as a fresh and newly emerging power in the global political sphere and their ally. This is the situation with the Kurds in Iraq; ways are being sought out on what to do with the Syrian Kurds. Cemil Bayık constantly invites the U.S. as a third party intermediator. Are these not put on record in Washington?
Are these statements of Bayık a signal or possibility of the existence of back door diplomacy and some contact?
Cemil Bayık has already stepped forward and announced, “We have direct and indirect contacts.” The very next day, a U.S. spokesperson refuted these allegations. The U.S. states, “The PKK is a terrorist organization; we are not in dialogue with them.” Well, you are in dialogue with the PYD. Besides is the Washington administration not in contact with the HDP? The HDP has representation in Washington. Demirtaş is in contact with names like the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State. Would one who delivers the Washington’s message to PYD leader Salih Müslim not do the same to Kandil [PKK’s HQ in northern Iraq]?
If Öcalan does not speak, there is no consensus
As you know, the admission of committees to İmralı has been brought to a halt. Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan said, regarding the HDP, “Abdullah Öcalan [the PKK’s jailed leader] would chase them with a stick if he got a hold of them.” On the other hand, there are leaks saying the state has concerns Öcalan would not be able to stop these clashes. What do you thing the situation is really like?
Öcalan is being used as an instrument; the government makes proclamations like, “Öcalan thinks as such, he would do this, it is actually like this…” If the situation is in fact as the government claims it to be, there is an easy way out: If the October 6-8 incidents stopped at Öcalan’s word, then that means that Öcalan’s word has a golden effect on the Kurds. Up to this day, everything he ordered has been executed. Seeing that, if the situation is so critical and Öcalan is in a state of mind where the HDP members would get beaten and the PKK’s staff in Kandil would lose a tremendous amount of credit, then let him say so. Could anything be more beneficial to the current state of the nation? Let him regulate the HDP and remove all the esteem of the PKK leaders. If this is what the government believes, then have Öcalan speak. But from what we have experienced from 1999 to 6-7 months ago tell us that whenever Öcalan does not speak up or is made to speak, it means that there is no consensus between the state and Öcalan. When there is a tactical correspondence between the state and Öcalan, he is allowed to speak up. The times when his voice is not heard can be interpreted as periods his distance from the state has expanded.
What is the main reason for the resolution process derailing and the opposing sides going to a war in a short time?
The resolution process was nothing more than a state of truce with a label. There was no serious resolution process. There is no calendar, route map, negotiation. Oslo was a more serious process because of the table there. And there was international mobilization, no closed circuit conducts. They had to go to Oslo, Brussels or wherever from Kandil. These attendees are not people who sit in the cafes of Paris every day. There has to be a multiple- sided organization for them to enter and exit countries. On one side of the table sit people who will have to be arrested and across from them sit the people that are to arrest them. They talk on a text. In fact, they take that text and bring it to İmralı [to Öcalan].
What was needed to turn the resolution process into a real one?
What would turn the resolution process into a real one would be a Kurdish representation in the actual sense. There is a party with 80 of its deputies relieved of their duties. Cutting out the HDP and attempts to dehumanize it would in a sense mean throwing Kurdish representation outside the Turkish legal system, setting grounds for the Kurds to express themselves with weapons. When this happened, the situation became perfect for the PKK and things got out of hand. The cutting out of the HDP became the biggest obstacle on the path to peace with the Kurdish movement in Turkey on legal grounds. Secondly, this situation revived the PKK in the eyes of the Kurds and made it meaningful all on its own. If you deprive the HDP from entering cities creating a HDP that cannot get through to their voters, you hand over all Kurdish representation to the PKK. The PKK’s way, its reason of existence, is armed combat, something it has been training throughout the resolution period. It is understandable that neither the Turkish government nor the PKK trusted one another for the whole duration of the process. The sides have spent this process of truce said to be a process of peace with preparations for the next round of war.
Translated by Alkım Kutlu