Islamists make their move in Kurdish problem

Islamists make their move in Kurdish problem

As the government continues its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the decades-long Kurdish problem, Islamists made their move yesterday by announcing that a “Democratic Islam Conference” will be held in Diyarbakır next month.

The announcement of the conference is the fulfilling of a wish first voiced by Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who is serving a life sentence on İmralı island. In November 2013, Öcalan had issued a call for a “Democratic Islam Congress” to convene in Diyarbakır against “groups betraying Islam, in particular al-Qaeda and al-Nusra.”

The Peace and Democracy (BDP) lawmakers who visited Öcalan on Oct. 14 in İmralı Island prison carried back an Eid al-Adha message from the PKK leader.

“Our people, both Alevi and Sunni, should conduct in-depth debates in this congress and it should conclude with meaningful decisions and institutionalizations,” he had said in his message.

The Prophet Muhammad’s shura (council) - exercises that were a kind of collective decision making process in which the Prophet consulted with his companions before making important decisions - should be a model for the Democratic Islam Congress, he suggested.

Writer İhsan Eliaçık, one of the organizers of the conference, said yesterday in Diyarbakır that they wanted to make use of the accumulated science, opinion and knowledge in the whole region.

“We believe that we have a lot to learn from scholars, intellectuals, opinion leaders, academics and everyone who has put their hearts out for the idea of peace,” Eliaçık said.

Using religion, Islam in particular, as a tool to bring Turks and Kurds together is not a new idea, of course. Many politicians, including Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have referred to the “common religion” when talking about the Kurdish problem in Turkey.

“Some say the Kurdish people’s religion is Zoroastrianism and Islam was imposed forcefully. This is not true,” Erdoğan said in Diyarbakır during an election rally before the 2011 general elections. “You must know that the community in Istanbul’s Süleymaniye Mosque turns [its face] to the same qibla as the community here in the Ulu Mosque. Our qibla is the same. Is there any difference? No,” Erdoğan said.
He also said he advocated “one nation, one state, one flag and one religion” for Turkey.

But building a “brotherhood” through religion has its problems. The BDP, which again proved its power in the eastern and southeastern Turkey in March 30 elections, follows secular policies but still manages to get the votes of the conservative Kurds in the region. The AKP’s “one religion” strategy fails to lure the majority of the Kurds away from the ethnically-driven BDP.

Secondly, the PKK, which was founded as a Marxist-Leninist organization, has had its share of problems with the Islamists in the region. Turkish Hizbullah was used as a tool by the state in the 1990s against the PKK and Kurdish politicians. The organization was behind many murders committed in the region at the time.

The BDP is also currently at odds with the Islamist Free Cause Party (Hüdapar), which has alleged links to the outlawed Hizbullah, with the latest incident being a fight between students at Diyarbakır’s Dicle University earlier this week.

Öcalan’s call for an Islamic conference and his references to Islam in a letter calling for a cease-fire also irked the Kurdish Alevis, prompting BDP officials and Öcalan himself to make further statements on the issue to try to calm the anger.

History shows us that believing in the same religion has not been able to prevent humankind from fighting. It is nice to see the Islamists taking an initiative for peace, but let’s not keep our hopes too high.