I N T E R N A T I O N A L C O N F E R E N C E
Democratisation of the Middle EastProblems & Perspectives
19-20 November 2005
Organized by : Kurdish Institute of Paris in partnership with Kurdistan Minister of Culture
Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, Erbil - Kurdistan
sponsored by the French Ministry of Foreign Afffairs
Democratisation of the Middle-East depends on Kurdistan's
Kurdish people has experienced the one of the biggest tragedies of the last century.
After an imperialistic project the Kurdish geography has been shared among the nation-states of the region. The totalitarian, nationalistic and chauvin ruling of these states have also performed a politics which has been directed to the assimilation and uprooting of Kurdish existence. Furthermore any Kurdish resistance has encountered extreme suppression politics which go until to mass destruction and to genocide.
Mentioned lawless and inhumane order, which resulted in this Kurdish tragedy, has been propped and supported by those great powers of the world that have meddled into the Middle Eastern politics. The Kurds were alone but were not irresolute. Kurdish people has performed a great resistance against cruel and assimilatory attacks of these powers; which made them to protect the Kurdish existence. Historically rooted nature of Kurdish culture for centuries, undoubtedly, has a remarkable effect in this process. On the other hand, another factor in this process was also the resistance of the Kurds that was embodied in the personality of the great Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani. We have grown up with the stories that have been recounted by our families with a great enthusiasm about Mustafa Barzani. He, as a figure, was also a source of courage for those Kurds living outside of Iraqi Kurdistan. Mustafa Barzani has shown the possibility of any uprising and resistance against the most powerful alliances, dictatorships and war machines of the world.
Kurdistan was a dream; the dream of all Kurds. Today this dream has reached to reality. The Kurds, spread out all over the world, are preying so that this dream gets strength, and develops itself. However, they are also aware of the fact that each of them should contribute to the establishment of the secular, democratic Kurdistan with their talent and knowledge.
Before the memory of all those who lost their lives in the path of the realisation of Kurdish dream, especially in front of the great leader Mustafa Barzani, I bend with respect and I express my best wishes to the governors and people of Kurdistan.
The history of Iraqi Kurdistan could be taken as the synonym of the history of uprisings, resiliencies and war against dictatorships and cruel sovereigns. Saddam was the most tyrannical and cruel one. Both inside and outside he caused in many massacres with his aggressive manner. He attacked to Iran in the 1980’s. More than a million of people had died in the course of one year of war while thousands of them had been wounded. The economical cost of the war for both countries was much more than 400 billion dollar. He used chemical weapons against Iranian military units. He organized air raids against civil settlements and cities. As such, he committed a war crime.
In 1988 he attacked with chemical weapons to Kurdish populated city Halebçe. Civilians were shocked and could not escape. Mothers died while suckling their babies while children gave their lives on the play. The corps of children, women and olds covered the streets. However, he was not contented with this. He exterminated more than 180.000 Kurd, Arab and Shiite. Saddam and his followers were the perpetrators of these crimes. Hitler’s spirit had took a place in Saddam. He was Hitler of the Middle East.
The world had to react against all these and to hear a case against it. This could not be possible until 2003. The Coalition Powers with the leadership of the USA, in interfering to Iraq, put an end to the regime of this blood thirsty dictator.
Undoubtedly the regard of each country and people to this event differs according to their political standing towards the USA and the Middle Eastern politics. Each will discuss the USA’s foreign policy and its intervention to Iraq from different perspectives.
In this process, the Kurds stand for a special position. Perchance the shelter of the USA and Britain had not existed, with the operation of Saddam and some states of the region, Kurds would have been exposed to massacre and destruction. Thus, it is natural to say that the regard of an unprotected society towards a protector power differs from the others.
The barrels of the artilleries, guns and weapons of the surrounding countries are directed to Kurds. Kurdish children, women and people are the target of these barrels. In the south, on the other hand, they had already become the target of Saddam’s war machines and chemical weapons. They were alone and without any effective power that would be helpful. First time in the history of the Kurds a military had came not to kill but to protect them. For the first time there was a friendly hand that was extended from aeroplanes and helicopters but not bombs thrown towards them. This was the US army.
Kurds are indebted to the US government and its people.
With it’s just and legitimate intervention to Iraq, the USA made it possible for the region to get rid of any obstacle in front of the democratization. The Kurds all over the world should support the alliance of secular and free Kurdistan with the USA for the sake of the establishment of peace and stability in the region. They should not be influenced by anti-US discourses and ideologies. As a people we should not forget that we are under a big threat of neighbouring countries.
We should be aware of the development trends in the world. The achievement of peace in the world and in our country goes through the establishment of democracy. Societies pursuing such an aim will find not only public opinion of the world with them but also will have the support of the greatest powers which will contribute to their development in the path of democratization and welfare.
Those societies that are prone to violence and that conserve the archaic institutions and mentalities, on the other hand, will stay under suppression and darkness. The governors of Kurdistan and its people are aware of this fact and they are on the path of paving the most advanced democracy of the Middle East. The experience of the long struggling period, talented ruling group open to outside world and capable to govern Iraqi government, has a great role in this process.
However, other Kurdish regions in the Middle East have also to recognize this fact and should make a contribution to the project of making the Kurds as the guarantee of the stability and the security in the Middle East. This goes through the constituting of the Kurds, together with the peoples of the countries where they live, a democratic and secular societal order.
The fact that the Kurds live under four different sovereign countries is a major obstacle in front of the achievement of any possible unity among the Kurds. As a part of the mentioned process, the Kurds have also constituted some common values with the societies with whom they have been living together.
While today it is not very realistic to unify all Kurds under the same nation state umbrella, it is not a claim of the Kurds either. The economical reasons that are necessary for the establishment of a nation state and the notion of national market that is the base of a nation state project have already left its place to a world market economy. In a globalizing world, making politics with out dated nation state notions would be missing of a historical advantage for the Kurds.
The Kurds should stay away from pan-Kurdist and nationalistic discourses and should not stress on the independence. They should advocate a democratic and secular system within the already existing territories together with other peoples. Stress should be made on the idea of the unity of cultural difference.
Protection of the already existing territories and of the idea of unity is a project which cannot be achieved solely by the Kurds. The other peoples should also desire it and should recognize the Kurds as a people with the equal rights which they possess. In the case where they do not fulfil the necessity of such an aim, the separation will be the only consequence that is left. As such the public opinion in the world and determining wills in the Middle East will support the Kurds, as they cannot be taken as the faulty part.
Kurdistan is a country which does not have a see coast. The development of Kurdistan is, thus, dependent on external trade and on its connection with the world markets. Since it is surrounded by enemy governments, the emergence of obstacles against such attempts is inevitable. Under the light of all these, the standing of Turkey represents an important discussion point. The most important port of Kurdistan that opens to outside world, especially to Europe, is Turkey. As long as Turkey is ruled by nationalistic powers, it will represent a threat for the existence of Kurdistan and for its stability, as a result of which the connection of Kurdistan with outside world will be difficult. Yet, a democratic Turkey with its EU membership will not only solve its internal Kurdish problem, but also will be the biggest ally of the Kurds by playing a crucial role in the development of Kurdistan. Turkey will also contribute to the struggle of the Kurds in the region by influencing neighbouring countries through its attachment to the universal democratic values. Realization of this process depends also on the politics that will be followed by the Kurds in Turkey.
Today Turkey is ruled by an Islamic government and a Kemalist bureaucracy. The common point that is shared by these two groups is Turkish nationalism. Both parties deny the Kurdish identity and reality.
The claim of Turkey for a negotiation date for the EU membership should not cloud our conscious. The fact that lies behind this concern is their claim for protection against coup d’états. This is also a way for Turkey to attract foreign investments. Just because of its nationalistic and religious characters, Turkey will not be able to produce solutions for the issues such as Kurdish and Cyprus problems and minority questions which will drag on, and even interrupt the EU process.
As long as Turkey is ruled by such a power regime they will neither be able to solve Kurdish problem nor let Kurdistan to find a way to open its doors to the outside world. Thus, Kurdistan will always stay under the threat of its northern neighbour.
Yet, Turkey possesses a democratic potential which would replace the present political power. There is also every stipulation for constituting an oppositionist democratic movement which will be an alternative to the existing power. However, the achievement of this process is possible only in the condition where the Kurds take an important place in this democratic and legal movement. None of the democratic movements can be successful without the Kurds. But, unfortunately, the energy of the Kurds has been wasted in the field of violent armed struggles which also contribute to the survival of today’s nationalistic, suppressive and anti-Kurd power.
A brief history of these problems and some suggestions for solutions:
In the democratization process of the 60’s, with the raise of Turkish oppositionist movements, Kurdish struggle had also accelerated rapidly. This had alarmed the state power. As a result of this, the state started to manipulate the oppositionist movements by pushing them into the illegal and violent spaces. A rebellious atmosphere was organized. Armed Kurdish youth made their ways to the mountains whereas Kurdish people found itself at the heart of this scene. This was the time which resulted in the birth of the PKK movement which coasted a lot for both peoples. Thousands of people have died, wounded and handicapped and many of them disappeared. Villages were burned down and millions of Kurds have been forced to migration. They have been imprisoned into the ghettos of the big cities in poverty and miser. The Kurdish children have been used by crime organizations as snipers or thieves.
This reality also affected the education. An important part of a generation did not meet even the alphabet. Those, who had the opportunity of education, have met a variety of obstacles in front of them.
Who was the guilty? Of course the guilty was those power focuses that created this rebellious and anti-democratic atmosphere. Who was faulty? They were Kurdish politicians who were insufficient in organizing an effective Kurdish oppositional movement, and they were Kurdish intellectuals who misinterpreted the political developments. One should not have expected much from those young inexperienced people in such a chaotic political atmosphere. The PKK cannot be taken as the only responsible for these circumstances; neither can we accuse those people that took place in the PKK.
In this point, while it is important to discuss about the responsible of all these; I find it more important to understand the situation today.
While the power put a strict limitation on the development of Kurdish legal movement, the PKK on the other hand “cleaned” the legal scene from Kurdish politicians and intellectuals. A group of Kurdish politicians monopolized the political arena. The share of the profits that came from the Kurdish movement attracted a variety of interests. The intellectual level of this group was quite poor. They did not have either the capacity of interpreting the events in the entire world and in the Middle East, or they were able to produce formulas for the realisation of the political projects.
These groups that have isolated the Kurdish intellectuals made negotiations with nationalistic Turkish left and analysed the events through this latter’s lenses. For example, they oppose to the positive developments in Kurdistan by naming it as second Israel. The Kurds could have got into the parliament with 30-40 deputies who would bring the Kurdish question to the parliament. This professional group and the PKK accused those candidates with a betraying and interfered into their election. This resulted in the isolation of the Kurds from Turkish politics.
The intervention of the Coalition Powers to Iraq abolished a great obstacle in front of the Kurds. However, if the Kurds had not possessed the will and the leaders for governing both themselves and Iraq, they would have already been under the mandate of other countries.
In Turkey, on the other hand, in order to monopolize the profitable spheres, professional Kurdish politicians and some intellectuals did not accept the other Kurds to the political scenes who did not share the same opinion with them. The elected deputies, just for the sake of a show in the parliament, could not use the opportunity of making politics which had an important role in solving Kurdish problem. The elected majors, except some exceptions, could not have been successful.
Indeed no one would take the claims of a society seriously who is unsuccessful in self-ruling.
Kurdish identity is not recognized. The politics of assimilation continues. Our people has been imprisoned into hunger and joblessness, they are in the need of education and health service. Thousands of Kurdish people spend their lives in prisons, on the mountains and on diasporas.
Today none of these problems are discussed. No one is looking for a solution for the problems of the Kurds.
With the support of the Turkish power, the Kurdish politics has been made dependent on Ocalan. His followers have been focused on his pardon as if it were the only problem of the Kurds.
The only thing that the others do is blaming Ocalan.
The weakest point of the Kurdish movements in Turkey is that they are reaction movements. Reaction against the state, against the PKK, against the USA, against Ocalan. These reaction movements are obstacles in front of the development of any movements that could produce more realistic solutions.
The general landscape is not optimistic. However, this should not create desperation among us. The Kurdish society in Turkey is not composed of these professional Kurdish politicians.
Our people learn the truths by suffering and by facing disasters. There are also leaders whose personal concerns are not their priorities. They are able to make the analyses of the new political developments in the world.
It is not a dream to see them as one of the elements of the political power in the democratic Turkey with its EU membership. However, today there exist difficulties that come from the war and from the violence. The leadership fetishism and the isolation of the Kurds are the obvious obstacles in front of the Kurds. The PKK’s leader team and Kurdish politicians have created a “leader cult”. Without any discussion they have accepted the opinions of Ocalan as the absolute truths. It was not necessary to think and to produce since it was enough to obey to the leader and to follow his orders.
Obviously in such an atmosphere, the people cannot have the will of self ruling.
Leader fetishism is moreover a great barrier against the institutionalization. An institutionally backward society cannot advance.
Even the most backward societies of our time are aware of this fact.
A major part of Kurdish people in Turkey has been isolated in the ghettos. The pressure on Kurdish language and on Kurdish identity has enforced this isolation.
All these have created a totalitarian and a narrow minded worldview among the Kurds. This is an obstacle both against the democratization of Turkey and against the advancements of Kurdish society. In such a country one cannot speak about the existence of democracy.
The abolishment of all these obstacles is closely connected with the solving of the PKK problem. The families of the PKK members, who are in the prisons and who die for the cause of the PKK have an emotional attachment to this group. Thousands of people, in a solidarity spirit, support this organization without making any critique of it. The politics is determined by those who take benefit from these families and from their children.
For the establishment of the peace and the stability, Turkey has to solve this problem. The only way of solving this problem goes through a general political amnesty. The annihilating plans of the nationalistic focuses will bring many more problems. These people on the mountains are our children. We will of course protect them.
They should leave off the guns and support the democratization of the country by having a role in the political scenes as free citizens.
Kurdish people has to force its limits, has to meet other peoples and moreover has to achieve the democratization in any area of social relations.
We are in the age of knowledge. The knowledge is the most effective power. The Kurds have to bring the great power of knowledge and technology together with the Kurdish youth’s productive talents. We should not waste such an important opportunity in the sake of a utopia.
As a result of the 80 years of the nationalist system, the words like “Kurdish” and “Kurdistan” are seen as dangerous words in Turkey today. Kurdistan is, moreover, described as a tribal region where the Turcomen are suppressed. The Turkish media and some nationalistic groups make the propaganda that Kurdistan is the second Israel. The Kurdish media and some Kurdish groups also contribute to this image.
Yet a secular, democratic Kurdish federalism will not only be helpful for the re-structuring of a stable-democratic Iraq but also will be an important neighbour for the Turkish state.
For Turkey, Kurdistan is a port to be opened through Arab world. For Kurdistan on the other hand, Turkey represents a country that can bridges the Europe with Kurdistan. With the awareness of such advantages both countries should establish a relationship that can meet the standards in the world.
For the realisation of this, the image of Kurdistan in Turkey has to change. The Kurds has to make a good representation of the pluralist, democratic and laic aspects of Kurdistan. Especially the Kurds should be able to show the privileges and rights of the Turcomen in the region. Finally, it is important to show the importance of the stability and the unity of Turkey in the eyes of the Kurdistan’s governors. Both Kurds from Turkey and the statesmen of Kurdistan have to make the necessary effort for that.
No one should have any doubt of the position of Kurdistan in the region as the guarantee of the peace and the stability.
While concluding my speech I express my best wishes to the Kurdish people and to its rulers.
(*) Lawyer, former President of the Workers Party of Turkey (TIP)