'After Afrin, an iron wall divides Turks and Kurds' - Ahmet Türk
Following Newroz, the traditional Kurdish celebration of both the New Year and the beginning of Spring, Ahval caught up with prominent Kurdish politician and intellectual Ahmet Türk. Türk most recently served as the mayor of Mardin, a city in the southeast of Turkey, before being arrested by the Turkish government and removed from his position.
As one of the founding members of Turkey’s Kurdish political movement, as well as a decades-long peace broker between the Turkish government and the Kurdish opposition, Türk spoke to Ahval about the state of Turkey’s Kurdish movement today, as well as the condition of Kurdish people in the broader Middle East.
How were this year’s Newroz celebrations?
We celebrated Newroz under difficult conditions this year. More people participated in Newroz than we had expected, despite the government’s state of emergency and its assimilation policies that we were up against.
In the past, city busses would transport people from various locations to the city of Diyarbakır, where we gather to celebrate Newroz. Not only did the city busses not run this year, but private bus companies were also prohibited from transporting people to Diyarbakır.
Still, people walked 10, even 15 km to join the Newroz celebrations. We believe it is important that they insisted in taking ownership of Newroz. It is important to recognize the public’s awareness and sensitivity, particularly during these times of forced assimilation and censorship.
What are your thoughts on the decision to cancel Newroz celebrations in the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq?
The government claims to have cancelled Newroz in order to hold a day of mourning out of respect for the events in Afrin. But people celebrated Newroz anyway, and channeled their anger and criticism of Turkish government policies into these celebrations. The government of Iraqi Kurdistan tried to cancel Newroz because it was concerned about the political message these celebrations might send.
If these demonstrations had been government sanctioned, the criticisms leveled against Turkey could have put the KRG’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) government in a difficult position. And to be honest, the KDP has utterly failed to fulfill its responsibilities toward the Kurdish people.
European leaders have shared their “concerns” over Turkey’s incursions into Afrin, and the KDP has not taken any action past these passive announcements. There is a serious attack on Afrin, and we have not seen the KDP show any resistance. If they were sincere about suspending Newroz celebrations out of respect for Afrin, they should have taken much more concrete steps for Afrin. Instead, their claims come across as rather disingenuous.
What are the consequences of the Afrin incursion?
Those who see Afrin as a victory will eventually see the extent of the destruction it has caused among the Kurdish and Turkish people who have coexisted for centuries, and realize that this was a bad policy by the Turkish government. Yes, there have been problems, the Kurds have had demands, and these demands have been denied and suppressed. But now we are sowing distrust and reaching an emotional breaking point.
The events in Afrin erected an iron wall between Turks and Kurds and created a political breaking point. Turkey’s incursion into Afrin benefits neither Turkey nor the Turkish people.
If Turkey had been a democracy, if it had recognized the Kurds as a people and taken democratic steps towards giving Kurds representation, it could have become the strongest nation in the Middle East. It could have been a role model for other nations, thereby strengthening democracy in the entire region. But Turkey has not taken on this role, it has instead insisted in treating Kurds as a potential threat.
Turkish nationalistic policies beget Kurdish nationalism and radicalization. Problems can only be resolved with dialogue, through mutual understanding. This is the only way of preventing the rise of nationalism.
What are your thoughts on the claims in the international media that with Turkish help, jihadist groups have come together to form a radical opposition?
Afrin does not have a strong opposition. Before the incursion, there had been vibrant coexistence in that city, even among different groups of people. These media claims are just propaganda, and should not be entertained. How could jihadists that destroy people’s property be seen as a legitimate opposition who could represent the public?
If Turkey has brought together murderous jihadists, this is a global problem. Since the West has watched idly as jihadists have been brought here, while the Kurds have battled these groups that perform beheadings, destroy artifacts, and erase cultures, it is the West that should have to answer for its actions, not I.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming 2919 elections? Do you believe they will be held fairly?
The government faces uncertainty and fears the results of an election. They say that elections will be held as scheduled, but if it sees an earlier opportunity for victory, the government could easily call for early elections. Of course, the newly passed election laws will lead to many irregularities. Unmarked ballots could be counted, government officials could be assigned to oversee ballot boxes. Everyone is concerned.
In the absence of democracy, anything is possible. We could win the election, and they could ignore the results and assign us provincial administrators instead. People are expecting all sorts of undemocratic policies to be in effect.
What are you thoughts on the possibility of international mediation to resolve the Kurdish issue?
Everywhere in the world, problems have only been resolved when a third party has become involved. In the absence of a group acting as watchdog or referee, differences are difficult to overcome. We can see examples to this end in Ireland, South Africa, the Balkans, the Philippines…
If the world is serious about stability in the Middle East, it must take on the role of arbitrator. This role does not have to be adopted by the United State; a small country could also play the part as long as they have support from the United Nations. When bigger countries become involved, their arbitration can be interpreted as compulsion or pressure, but a country like Sweden or Norway would be an ideal mediator.
What are your thoughts on he future of Kurdish politics under the censorship of the Turkish government?
Kurdish parliamentarians are being silenced in parliament or removed entirely, but we have overcome these obstacles in the past. In the mid-1990s, when we lacked local organization and were barred from forming an official party, we collected a record numbers of votes. Even in the face of such obstacles, the people know how to cast their votes.
We are living through very difficult times, and it is hard to see where things will go. For example, after the 1980 military coup, we were all rounded up and sent to Diyarbakir prison. The torture we experienced there was a crime against humanity. But we had an idea of how much longer we would be held there. Today however, I am having trouble predicting how long the oppression will last.
Is there a danger in creating idols around Kurdish leaders in the Kurdish community?
In the Middle East and the Caucasus, there is a tradition of placing a lot of importance on the leader. In countries with stronger democracies, politics are centered on people’s demands. But in Turkey, leaders have a strong impact on the people. Leaders that have been victimized by oppressive forces are particularly successful in mobilizing people.
When we call for Kurdish unity, we are not advocating for uniting against a different group of people. We want healthy policy decisions made in an organized political forum in order to support us in the path to democratization and to help us resolve issues more easily.
For example, if Kurds had a universal congress, members of the community spread out across different countries would pay more attention to each other’s needs and avoid taking actions that would be to the detriment of their fellow Kurds.
Turkey, Iraq, and Iran see this as us forming a united front against them. But in reality, we are trying to find ways of making healthier policy decisions.
What does the future hold for the Kurds in the Middle East?
We live in a world in which rights, liberties, universal values, and Copenhagen criteria are being trampled. We knew that we would not be able to achieve a great deal by simply kowtowing to American or Russian power. Instead, we are going to rely on the people’s will to make the demands of the oppressed known to the whole world. At some point, other countries will step in to mediate in finding a solution. We can look to the Balkans as an example. For a while, the world silently allowed genocide to take place, but was eventually forced to intervene. Ultimately, I feel that we must analyze the situation as a game of chess with many competing interests at play.