10 March 2008 | Yonca Poyraz DOĞAN
Abdülmelik Fırat, the founder of the pro-Kurdish Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR), has said military operations will not be enough to deal with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) unless democratic measures have been taken.
"I've always stood against PKK violence, but their violence has been created and nourished by the deep state. As long as the deep state is alive, the PKK will not vanish. If democracy prevails in Turkey, the PKK will be no more," he said in an interview for Monday Talk.
Fırat thinks the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP) deputies have been "squeezed between the PKK and the deep state," while Kurdish deputies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) have become politically too mainstream to criticize the system and therefore have been unable to bring about reforms to deal with problems Turkey's Kurds face. Himself a grandson of the Kurdish rebel leader Sheikh Said, Fırat's family history is full of persecution, exiles and executions. A harsh critic of PKK violence, Fırat remained on the political scene and established HAK-PAR in 2001.
However, citing health problems, he left the post of his party's chairmanship three years ago and has continued to be a critic of the current political scene.
For Monday Talk, Fırat explains how the PKK has been supported by the deep state and why he finds a democratic solution to the Kurds' problems so difficult.
Should we expect a new Kurdish party to form as talks continue about a dissolution of the DTP (a party with seats in Parliament and whose deputies are Kurdish)?
I should first talk about the structure of the PKK. We now have former generals and intelligence officers saying in the media that they had a role in the establishment of the PKK. Its leader, Abdullah Öcalan's wife, Kesire, served in the Turkish intelligence service (MİT). Her father, Ali, was an informant. Öcalan himself had served in the sub-agencies of the MİT. We see Kurdish village youth finding a decent place in the PKK. They did not have any money or arms but, supported by the MİT, went to Diyarbakır to wipe out other Kurdish factions. With provocations from Syria also, the PKK started an armed struggle in Turkey and have formed several political parties over the past 20 years, including the DTP.
Don't Kurds support the PKK?
Kurdish intellectuals do not like the PKK's military-like structure but are intimidated by it. Other Kurdish political formations were not possible because the deep state did not allow it. In 1997 I was invited by Öcalan and Iraqi Kurdish groups of [Massoud] Barzani and [Jalal] Talabani in Iraq to mediate a truce between them. At the time, the United States had intervened in Iraq and the PKK was fighting with Barzani and Talabani's forces. Also, the Turkish military staged operations in northern Iraq against the PKK then. We saw that a truce was not possible between the Kurdish factions.
Because there are very many actors involved in the Kurdish issue, including the United States, Israel, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and the European countries. The Kurds did not have the maturity to realize games were being played through them.
Did you develop the idea of forming a new Kurdish organization after the realization that the Kurdish factions wouldn't reconcile?
About 150 Kurdish intellectuals, including liberal, pro-Islamic and socialist, came together in İstanbul to establish a group called Demos. It was not a party. Later, however came Öcalan's arrest, after which, Kurdish intellectuals gathered around three groups. One was loyal to the PKK, comprising the members of the closed DEP [Democracy Party]; another one was Şerafettin Elçi's now defunct party (Democratic Mass Party); and the last one was Kemal Burkay's Peace Party [BP]. I was in touch with all of them. We sought ways to find a common ground, but the pro-PKK party wasn't warm to the idea, although Elçi insisted on his own leadership in the new party, but his followers supported unity with all other non-PKK supporting parties. Members of Burkay's party also supported such unification. So HAK-PAR was founded at the end of 2001. They wanted me to be the president because they believed I could maintain unity. I was the president of HAK-PAR until I had serious health problems.
And recently there was talk about a merger between HAK-PAR and Elçi's KADEP [Participatory Democracy Party]…
I wasn't involved in direct talks but Elçi proposed making an alliance with HAK-PAR. He later insisted on being president, which is against HAK-PAR's principles. One should not pre-condition presidency in these matters.
So there is no agreement among Kurds to unite?
There is no agreement. Kurds in Turkey are dispersed. Usually left-leaning groups are involved in politics, and they say nice words. However, when it comes to action, they are mute.
When do you think unity can be possible for Kurds?
When politicians deal with the deep state and when Turkey becomes more democratic. Kurds cannot engage in politics if there is no democracy.
Do you think the Ergenekon [a deep state-linked criminal organization] operation in which police recently detained about 35 people was a start to cleaning up the deep state?
Retired Gen. Veli Küçük [who was jailed and seems to be the head of the organization] is not the mastermind of the Ergenekon organization. This is something we can understand just by reading the newspaper articles [on the issue].
When do you think the PKK could come to an end?
Unless the deep state has been exhausted, the PKK will survive. It is the deep state that supports PKK violence. I've always stood against PKK violence, but their violence has been created and nourished by the deep state. As long as the deep state is alive, the PKK will not vanish. If democracy prevails in Turkey, the PKK will be no more. It is not solely in Turkey but also throughout the world that people feel sympathy toward those who seem to be defending their rights against oppressors. Kurds have been suppressed for years. They have even been regarded as non-existent in the Turkish Republic.
What has the Turkish military offensive against the PKK in northern Iraq achieved?
It was a display of military strength. The operation cannot bring an end to the PKK. Even the US military cannot get out of the mess in Iraq. If Turkey insists on military measures, if Iranians and Arabs still try to impose restrictions on Kurds, Kurdish nationalism will be renewed. Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and even in the Caucasus are in the process of nationalistic unification.
Do you think the government will be able to realize social, cultural and political reforms concerning Turkey's Kurdish population?
It's not the government which is powerful, it's the deep state. The deep state is the one to decide whether or not there will be reforms. The government would like to adopt reforms, but the Turkish Gladio [deep state] within the state does not allow it. The AK Party [ruling Justice and Development Party] government may not be able to digest each democratic step but would like to adopt reforms pragmatically to make advancements in that regard.
Look at what our intellectuals write. Please do not omit this from the interview. There is Zaman columnist Mümtaz'er Türköne, who wrote "we are a military nation." I would like to ask him why he wrote this. If we are a military nation, we cannot be a civilian and democratic society. And look at what the intellectual, socialist and professor, Murat Belge, wrote in his column. He said Kurds should make publicly known what they want. His words are shameful. Kurds are asking for their identity, culture and language. These are human rights. These are like air and water. Can you think of a constitution which bans the use of a language? It happened in [Gen. Kenan] Evren's constitution. [Former Prime Minister Turgut] Özal removed it and restrictions were eased. But using a language means having newspapers, television channels and schools.
Do members of the DTP come to you and ask for your advice?
Some of them do.
What do they ask you?
They want me to support them. They want me to go out and say that Kurds have been oppressed. But I cannot do that knowing the PKK has caused the deaths of more than 40,000 young people. And the PKK's leader, Öcalan, gives directives to the DTP. Öcalan is not a man who acts of his own will. He's been directed by the deep state. How else is it possible for someone on death row to give statements to his lawyers? His words are the words of the deep state.
Do the members of the DTP recognize this claim of yours?
They have been squeezed between the PKK and the deep state. I call on all deputies to understand that they are all part of this Kemalist system and that they do not have the power to stand up against this system. The DTP does not have the power to stand up against the PKK. It is not the United States which will bring an end to the PKK. Let me reiterate: If Turkey gets rid of its deep state, if it goes after the Ergenekon gang, the PKK will be no more.
Some in Turkey think that if the PKK is eliminated, the Kurdish problem will end.
How come? If there is no rule of law, if there are no rights given to the Kurds, the PKK could be gotten rid of, but another PKK-like group would thrive because many Kurds think the PKK is defending the Kurds' rights.
What do you think of the Kurds in government, in the AK Party?
Every party in Turkey makes its members "toe the line," toning them down to internalize the mainstream discourse in politics. I call this castration, like gelding animals. And the deputies need to protect themselves against the system. For example, Mir Dengir Fırat, who used to visit me before becoming an AK Party member. Some newspapers wrote that I am a relative of his and he filed a lawsuit, saying that he is not. Journalists asked me if he was my relative and I said, "No," explaining Fırat's family tree. In his lawsuit, Fırat said he was not related to Sheikh Said. I told journalists that he was right. Sheikh Said was considered a traitor by the state, so Fırat is right to protect himself against the system.
Do you expect a solution to the Kurds' problems to come from the AK Party's Kurdish politicians?
I do not. One of those deputies -- I will not disclose his name here because he might be frightened -- did not even dare to present a letter I gave him to the prime minister.
You sound like you have no hope for reform…
I do not have much hope from the people as they are, but I have hope from God. God has power to change the hearts of the oppressors of the system, the deep state and the rectors who rise against the wearing of a headscarf at universities. In Kurdish, we say "berxwedan jiyan e," which means "living is struggling." My grandfather lived and struggled, my children have been living, my grandchildren will live and I've been living and struggling. We haven't submitted to the system. But we haven't been ruthless like them, either. I have great love for the Turks, for all people of all religions. This is also an Islamic belief. I do not have the right to tell anyone what to do and how to preach.
A grandson of the Kurdish rebel leader Sheikh Said, Fırat's family history is full of persecution, exiles and executions. A revered sheikh of the Naqshibandi Sufi Order and originally from Diyarbakır, Sheikh Said was captured in 1925 and hanged with most other rebel leaders. His family members were sent into exile and were given the last name "Fırat."
With Turkey's transition to a multi-party regime, Fırat became a deputy in 1957 from the Democrat Party and was sent to prison following the May 27, 1960 military coup d'état, which resulted in the execution of the prime minister and two of his ministers. Fırat was also sentenced to execution but his sentence was later commuted to imprisonment.
In 1991, he entered politics under the True Path Party (DYP) but subsequently left the party because he did not agree with its policies toward Kurds. He was sent to prison again for two months on charges of helping the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
A harsh critic of the PKK, he remained on the political scene and finally established the Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) in 2001. He left three years ago because of health problems and handed over the post of his party's presidency to Sertaç Bucak.