Greece and Turkey...
By Michael Albert at Sep 06, 2011
Neighborhood Councils: Abdullah Ar?, a Kurdish Activist, Interviews a Group of Neighborhood Council Activists in Diyarbak?r, August 2011 Question: What are the purposes and functions of neighborhood councils? What role do they assume for establishment of the Democratic Autonomy?
Answer: Being the smallest unit of the democratic organization, the function of councils is to promote people’s organization in the ground in their own neighborhoods. They aim to create and promote an organization empowered to influence decisions at higher levels, as well as making decisions at the local level. Neighborhood councils fundamentally undertake cultural, social, economic and educational activities at their home neighborhoods. They aim to promote democratic culture at the bottom. They also seek coordination with councils working in other neighborhoods. We can accept neighborhood councils as the most important or the starting element of the Democratic Autonomy. Neighborhood councils participate in the city councils of their own towns and cities as well. We see their function as to organize and weave people’s own solidarity and practicalities outside the realm of official state operations in the spheres of public health, economy, culture, environment, education and the like. With this respect, the creation of neighborhood councils stand as the primary task in establishing the Democratic Autonomy.
Question: Can you inform us on the recent Democratic Society Congress (DTK) delegate elections? How was the scale of participation and what were the criteria used for identifying the delegates? What will be the characteristics of representation procedure along the delegates, DTK and city councils?
Answer: The DTK general meeting was held on the 14th of July in Diyarbak?r. DTK does not only involve the neighborhood council delegates. Within the DTK, neighborhood council delegates constitute the majority among other institutions of the Kurdish people in different activity domains. Delegates are elected as follows: There is the Yeniyol neighborhood council in Kayap?nar town of Diyarbak?r city. There are members of Yeniyol neighborhood council. Apart from the members, there are people passing by, supporting and working for the activities of the neighborhood council. Everyone can become a member. Everyone can become a candidate for delegation. Of course, your reputation as a participant in practical works is a fundamental criteria for candidacy. After identifying the candidates, the election date is identified. Polling is done at the People’s Assembly Association. All the citizens living in that neighborhood are entitled to participate in the elections by secret voting and open counting. Of course, we work on the ground to ensure participation. Afterwards whoever draws the maximum votes becomes the delegate. The number of delegates differs between neighborhoods with respect to their relative population sizes. Electorate’s participation also differs between the neighborhoods. We observe votes between 150 and 1,000.
Question: Can you shortly talk about the most recent operations of the neighborhood councils? How were they established? What are their operational principals?
Answer: Neighborhood councils were for long in consideration. It is fair to say since year 2000. However, untill 2007, the way they are organized was segregated and disconnected. Also, there were the customs that the legal Kurdish opposition was used to for over decades. Councils were somehow in connection with the legal parties such as DEP, HADEP, DEHAP, DTP (all continuation of each others after being closed by the Constitutional Court’s verdict in Ankara) through daily policy. The idea of neighborhood councils were clarified through the debate lead by the liberation movement so as to enhance people’s organizing at firm basis outside these legal parties. It can also be called as citizens’ movement. At the start, there were existing organizations in the neighborhoods form the past. There were the basis for neighborhood councils. Building on these structures, councils were created and new and fresh participation was sought for.
Question: What are the problems the neighborhood councils work to solve at the local level? We assume this would differ between different places, hence we would like to hear concrete cases from several neighborhoods.
Answer: Neighborhood councils work to organize aid for people who were forced to migrate from their native lands because of the war in the region. They also build solidarity with the people who have lost their close relatives in war and bring those people together who share similar experiences. Moreover, because the municipalities are won in elections, councils collaborate with them in sanitation, water and other infrastructural problems and also in occasional festival events. In some neighborhoods, poverty is the prominent problem. Naturally, the council in that neighborhood prioritizes this issue. In other neighborhoods, there may be the problems of the young for training support for university entrance exams that stem from insufficient economic resources. In such neighborhoods, young people are directed towards the Education Support Houses connected to the municipalities.
Question: How is the participation of the residents in the neighborhood council affairs? Can you exemplify the situation in different neighborhoods? If weak participation is a problem, what can be the solution?
Answer: All neighborhood councils have administrative bodies of 7 to 11 people. Mostly, these people execute the affairs. Apart from that, there are occasional large scale activities such as Newroz (the most important Kurdish fest) celebrations and funerals of militants died in armed conflicts. About 10 to 20 people at different levels in the neighborhood give support for political education. But fundamentally, the administration is more active and they are the ones who organize work. We cannot say that the participation is satisfactory. So as to overcome this problem, we pursue occasional discussions, undertake educational activities. We try to convince people one-to-one for participating the council’s affairs.
Question: How is the relationship between Diyarbakir city council and the neighborhood councils? How do the representation mechanisms work from neighborhood councils to the city council? To what extend the preferences of the people in the neighborhoods influence the decisions taken at Diyarbak?r level? We should very much appreciate your examples.
Answer: All neighborhood councils in Diyarbak?r are connected to the city council. They are represented there. Male and female elected from the neighborhoods councils sit in the city council as representatives of the neighborhood councils. They deliver the decisions taken by the neighborhood councils coordination to the city council. Similarly, they deliver the decisions in the city council to the neighborhoods councils. All decisions concerning Diyarbak?r are taken at the city council. Nevertheless, all institutions have their authentic and autonomous structures. Decisions taken at the city council are binding for all its constituent institutions. Political decisions in the city council are binding for everyone, however, decisions regarding local governance and practices are not at the same level.
Question: Can we say that the neighborhood councils are at the same time the organs for discussions and proposals on broader political processes? Otherwise, is their primary function is to solve the problems of their home neighborhoods?
Answer: Certainly the neighborhood councils are involved in political agendas. Here as well, the broader political developments are discussed and transferred to the upper level. One can even say that broader political affairs and discussions rather than the problems at neighborhood level are the prior tasks of the councils. This of course sometimes creates impediments to the activation of the neighborhoods.
Question: What are the problems encountered in neighborhood council affairs? Please answer this question by considering a wide array of concrete experiences as possible, so that one can draw a more comprehensive picture.
Answer: Occasionally we face the precipitating oppression of the system. Moreover, lack of experience in council organization is a problem in itself. Firstly, there is the custom of legal political party organization. This has created a style. We face problems while we’re trying to transcend this style. Fellows perceive as if they are working for a political party rather than for a local council and that is the way they try to conduct the affairs. We observe that we did not succeed in describing the significance of neighborhood councils. We have the capacity to pursue social and political work, however yet we lack a comprehensive project targeting problems peculiar to the neighborhoods. For local problems, we collaborate with the municipality. That is fine. Yet, we cannot say that we control all the policies of the local government. For the time being, the flagship activities in the neighborhood councils are the education of their members and general political activities. Apart from that, from time to time, we try to solve the problems concerning the neighborhood itself.
Question: For a last question, what role do the neighborhood councils assume in economy? Can you summarize with a few examples the solutions sought for eliminating poverty?
Answer: Neighborhood councils collect membership fees from their members and build economic solidarity through occasional festivities. Apart from that, for detection of poverty in the neighborhood, Sarma??k association (an organization to fight the poverty) is advising the council.
An Outline of the the Developments Regarding the Kurdish Question During the Last 3 Years
The latest developments regarding the Kurdish question in Turkey can be commented by using two concepts: Soft power and hard power. Soft power is the means used by Turkish government (Justice and Development Party – AKP a conservative party in power since 9 years) to present itself as if it gives substantial concessions to Kurdish people never granted in the history of Turkish Republic while, on the other hand, repressing the Kurdish movement by “anti-terror” measures. Hard power means direct and violent use of police and military power in order to crash and if this is not possible to reduce the Kurdish movement into a weak position. The ultimate aim of both soft & hard power is to grant to Kurdish people the rights that are “convenient” to give without violating the founding ideology of Turkish state. The official ideology in our country insists that there exists only one nation living in Turkish territory, namely the Turkish nation and therefore the sovereignty belongs to it and can not be divided. This strategy is possible only if the Kurds can not represent themselves as an independent political subject, that is, by the elimination of Kurdish movement. Therefore the whole question reduces itself to a basic one: The state/government will accept to share the administrative power with Kurdish people or not.
“Opening” Policy in Kurdish Question: Years 2009-2010.
In summer 2009, Prime Minister R. Tayyip Erdo?an declared that they adopted a policy of opening toward Kurdish question and they would solve it by granting some basic rights. As one of the basic conditions for such a solution is to convince the guerilla (fighting in Kurdish mountains and linked to PKK, Kurdistan Workers Party) to give up arms and return to normal life, the main question was “under what conditions PKK and the guerilla forces would accept to give up armed struggle?” While the government was not clear about its own proposal, PKK declared that in case the basic human and civil rights of Kurds are granted (the more important of them are the constitutional recognition of the existence and rights of Kurdish people and to provide education in Kurdish language from primary school to universities to which the government resists strongly), the PKK members could participate in civil political life and a Truth and Justice Commission (that will explore the human right violations committed by both sides during last three decades) would be established, they are ready to give up the armed struggle.
PKK also took an initiative and formed a peace group. This peace group consisted of some guerilla members and some Kurdish immigrants. PKK declared that this group will come to Turkey as peace envoys and the manner they will be treated by Turkish government will determine their attitude toward the “opening policy”, the content of which war far from clear.
The group came in by a border crossing in Southeastern Turkey. They were not arrested, which was a good point. However maybe one hundred thousand or more Kurds welcomed the peace group and this turned into a big mass demonstration with people waving Kurdish flags, signs etc. The very nationalistic parties in the parliament reacted with rage to the government “opening policy” and accused it of “selling the country to terrorist forces”.
The government withdrew in face of these nationalistic reactions and this marked the end of the “opening policy” in practice. The government threatened the Kurdish movement, “if you continue to turn this process into political shows, we can abandon our opening policy”. The opening policy was already abandoned after the coming of peace group because the AKP government had not any concrete project. Some months later, some members of peace group were arrested.
The only significant concession made by the AKP government during this soft power process was that the state TV institution opened a channel broadcasting in Kurdish 24 hours (TRT ?e?). If one considers the very strict state policy in Turkey regarding the use of Kurdish language, the creation of the channel in a state TV network was not a minor step. However one can also claim reasonably that this was due to a three decades long struggle by the Kurdish people and the Kurds have already more then ten satellite TV channels broadcasting in Kurdish (one of them is Roj TV, broadcasting from Denmark and operated by Kurdish movement). In any case, the establishment of an official Kurdish TV channel was far from meeting the basic rights of Kurdish people.
As for the “power” side of this “soft power” policy, a mass detention campaign of Kurdish politicians and activists was initiated by government even before the declaration of “opening policy”. In spring 2009, hundreds of Kurdish politicians, elected mayors and activists were arrested under the pretext that they were members of KCK (Union of Communities in Kurdistan - the most comprehensive organization of Kurdish movement). KCK is organized in Kurdish cities and towns, but it’s pursuing non-violent means. So, even this accusation were true, that would not render Kurdish politicians and activists criminal. Since spring 2009, this campaign of mass detention of Kurdish politicians and activists continued in several waves and some 2,000 people have been arrested in about one year. Obviously AKP government and Turkish state was trying to weaken Kurdish movement while pursuing an “opening policy” in Kurdish question. This process was widely called “Kurdish opening policy without the Kurds”.
Constitutional Referendum in Autumn 2010
AKP government decided to change some articles in Constitution (mostly concerning the election of members of judicial body) and it had to organize a referendum across the country. While there were two kinds of vote, yes or no, Kurdish movement called people Kurds in Southeastern Turkey and in western cities to boycott the referendum. Their argument was that the revision envisaged in the Constitution didn’t include any improvement toward the official recognition of the Kurds and any reform with regard to basic rights. The government won the referendum across the country; however in Kurdish region boycott was also successful. In some Kurdish cities 50 per cent of voters didn’t participate to voting and in a number of cities this rate reached to 80, 90 per cent.
Civil Disobedience as a New Tool in Kurdish Struggle
In 2010 and 2011 we also witnessed a new trend in the political tactics of Kurdish movement. In autumn 2010 when the schools began, BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) called Kurdish people to boycott official education system for one week. The reason was the constitutional prohibition on the education with mother tongues other then Turkish. This education boycott was successful.
With the beginning of 2011, BDP began to organize broad campaigns called “democratic solution to Kurdish problem”. One of them was setting up “democratic solution tents” across Kurdish region and in western big cities where millions of Kurds have migrated. “Democratic solution tents” were set up in many Kurdish cities, towns and in big western cities like Istanbul. People were visiting these tents, demonstrating around them, listening to political seminars, panels, Kurdish music etc. As this campaign caused a significant mobilizations demanding a democratic and peaceful solution to Kurdish question, they became target of violent police attacks. Many of these tents were removed by police, many Kurdish activist were detained and people re-set up the tents several times .
Then came a very interesting and also highly dangerous form of disobedience: On Fridays (a sacred day for Muslim people) every week, especially in Kurdish region, Kurdish religious people didn’t perform their prayers in mosques obeying to the guidance of state appointed official priests, but performed their prayers in open areas with the guidance of their own independent priests and the latter gave his sermon in Kurdish. This religious civil disobedience continues also today.
The General Election of 12 June, 2011 and Labor, Democracy and Freedom Block
Kurdish movement adopted an intelligent and politically correct strategy for the general election of 12th June, 2011. It called to other Kurdish political circles and to the Turkish left to build up together a progressive block (called Block for Labor, Democracy and Freedom). With the participation of more then 10 political organizations, the block established itself. In Turkey, any political party which can not collect 10 per cent of total votes can not enter into the parliament even it obtains 90 per cent of the votes in a particular region. Thus, not BDP but the block participated to the legislative election and presented independent candidates. The 10 per cent barrier is not applicable to independent candidates.
The block elected its PM candidates also in an intelligent manner. For Istanbul and Mersin (the latter is a big city with a dense Kurdish immigrant population) there were three socialist candidates, from Turkish Left. For Diyarbak?r, a candidate well known among the Kurds with his nationalistic tendency and another one with his democratic-Islamic tendency were put to the PM candidates list. For Mardin (a southeastern city with many ethnic groups) an Assyrian candidate was presented (Assyrians are a very ancient people and one the first ones who adopted Christianity.) Some other PM candidates were in prison by reason of “KCK detention campaigns”.
The Block for Labor, Democracy and Freedom has won 36 seats and all of the candidates mentioned above (with socialist, religious tendency etc.) were elected. This was a great success. In Istanbul they won 3 seats. In some Kurdish cities they increased their votes significantly. In a number of Kurdish cities the block won parliamentary seats for the first time (Kars, in northeast, Agri in east, Mardin and Urfa in southeast, for example.) The percentage of Block’s votes was 6,5 per cent across the country, referring to about 2,5 million people in Turkey.
The election of Altan Tan, an Islamic Kurdish democrat, three socialist candidates (two of them from Istanbul) and very popular political figures among Kurds (Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle from Diyarbak?r) were particularly important and threatening for the state and AKP government. Moreover the block could build a parliamentary group since it passed the barrier of 20 PM for building a group.
After the General Election: How to Prevent the Kurdish PM’s from Entering into the Parliament?
Obviously the election victory of Kurdish movement was both an opportunity and a threat for the established system. It was an opportunity for a government which was willing to solve Kurdish question peacefully, since for the first time representatives of Kurdish people were entering to the parliament so strongly and in such a diversity. On the other hand, it was a threat because as the elimination plan of the civil Kurdish movement didn’t succeed in spite of about 3,000 activists detained during the electoral campaign (this figure doesn’t include about 2,000 people already arrested in “KCK operations; so the total number of Kurdish activists in prison is about 5,000 people now), the government had to openly discuss in the parliament whether the basic human and civil rights of Kurds will be recognized or not and if yes, to what degree. Moreover the governmental party AKP had to put forward a draft for a civil and libertarian constitution. (Since 1961 all the constitutions have been prepared by the military after three main coups d’état. So, there is a widespread consensus in Turkey’s society for a new and really “civil”, libertarian constitution and AKP has promised to prepare one.)
Since the governmental party didn’t have any concrete project to solve the Kurdish question, it attempted to prevent the participation of Kurdish PM’s to the parliamentary and succeeded. A supreme court (Supreme Court of Elections) declared that Hatip Dicle (one of the selected PM very much popular among Kurds) didn’t have the necessary conditions for being a PM and cancelled his deputyship. On the other hand, local criminal courts all decided that the other 5 elected Kurdish PM who were in prison could not be released. So, 6 PM out of 36 elected PM couldn’t enter to the parliamentary.
The reaction of Kurdish movement, indeed of its most comprehensive body in civil political arena, the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) was to call the elected 30 PM’s to boycott the parliament until some concrete steps are took by the government. The PM’s accepted this call and demanded from the government to take the following steps: i) modification of the legislation for the entry of the 6 PM’s, ii) abolition of the “anti-terror law” (due to which mass detentions could have legal ground) and iii) to accelerate the preparation of a civil constitution in which diversity of ethnic identities in Turkey would be recognized.
The government didn’t take any significant measure and the Block’s PM’s are still boycotting the parliament.
A Major Step in Kurdish Opposition: The Declaration of Democratic Autonomy
As the government prevented the democratic representation of Kurdish people’s will in parliament and didn’t take any meaningful step, DTK (Democratic Society Congress) on July 2011 declared that Kurdish people should not wait for a solution from the Turkish state, but begin to build up the solution itself. This meant that, even not recognized officially, Kurdish people should create its own institutions from bottom up in 8 dimensions of life: polity (beginning by the neighborhood councils toward city councils), social life, law, cultural life, economy, self-defense and diplomacy. So the Democratic Autonomy project is declared by DTK. It envisages that Kurdish people would have local parliament and they would also participate to the grand parliament in Turkey’s capital, Ankara. They would have autonomous budget etc. (we have sent you the text of the declaration of democratic autonomy).
A Remarkable Election to Institutionalize DTK
Toward the end of July, DTK organized an election across Kurdistan and in some big cities like Istanbul. This move was also very important for a movement whose capability to represent the Kurds is continuously questioned by the system. In 43 cities, mostly in Kurdistan, people participated to this election and put their votes in ballot boxes. The goal was to elect 484 “people’s delegates”, that is, delegates coming directly from neighborhoods. The total number of delegates is 850. The rest of the delegates are comprised of “natural delegates”, the delegates proposed by different Kurdish movement’s institutions (from media to cultural organizations) and some intellectuals, artists and lastly from ethnic or religious minorities communities. The delegates would participate to the general congress of DTK in last days of July.
War: The Hard Power Option
Of course state and government’s officials, mainstream media reacted very negatively to this project and blamed DTK and BDP for dividing the country. Meanwhile the mass detention of Kurdish politicians and activists never ended. On the other hand some very ominous developments took place after the general election: Turkish military operations re-started and accelerated after the general elections. PKK had declared a ceasefire for more than one year in order to create a peaceful medium for the discussion and solving of Kurdish question. It fulfilled its commitment and didn’t realize any military attack. However, with the end of the election period, Turkish armed forces escalated its operations by killing some 50 guerilla hiding in their positions.
Besides the continuing of police detention of Kurdish activists, by using as a pretext an attack by PKK in retaliation to escalating military operation, state power organized “civil” demonstrations” in more than 30 cities and mostly fascist participants shouted anti-PKK and even anti-Kurd slogans.
A campaign of lynching targeting the Kurds living in western Turkey begin. These lynching events have been organized by secret state power. In several cities, Kurds who have been there working in constructions subjected to serious lynch attempts by local Turkish population, of course with the leading of fascists organized by state security forces. The biggest lynching campaign was in Zeytinburnu, a district of a significant Kurdish presence and where BDP has increased its votes remarkably. During 5 days groups attacked to the cafés, houses and workshops of Kurds. They destroyed them. Even tough Kurdish residents were numerous enough to react and protect their property, they didn’t do so by respect to BDP’s instructions.
More importantly, the dialogue started by high rank Turkish security officials since a couple of years with the Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan in prison stopped without turning into a negotiation process and evidently without any consequence.
In these circumstances, the ground for civil non-violent politics narrowed and PKK also escalated its military attacks (which can not be of course compared with the operations of Turkish military which uses high technology F-16 plans, Cobra and Skorsky helicopters with hundred thousands soldiers. Turkish military even re-started to use chemical weapons with limited scope toward the Kurdish guerilla. And by using as pretext the attacks of PKK (mostly in retaliation to those of the military), Turkish government declared its new anti-terror strategy with the claim that it would continue to the “opening” policy in Kurdish problem.
This new anti-terror strategy (indeed nothing is new with it and peace defenders in Turkey are afraid that “we are back into 90’ies” when very severe human right violations took place in Kurdish area. N. Chomsky wrote a lot about this ominous period) consist of I) established a professional army to better deal with the “terror”, ii) using anew so-called “special operations forces” (which are in reality counterinsurgency troops) and increasing their numbers.
By the beginning of August 2011, relying on a secret collaboration, Iran troops started an operation against PJAK (the pro-PKK organization fighting for the rights of Iranian Kurds). The aim was a place called “Kandil”, in Northern Iraq, a very broad and mountainous area where PKK’s main guerilla camps are. Iran troops couldn’t succeed militarily to occupy this area.
Toward the end of August, Turkish Air Force bombed very heavily the same area (Kandil) targeting to eliminate the guerilla camps. However civilian Kurdish people in Northern Iraq were also targeted, the residents in the villages surrounding Kandil. A family of 7 persons, 3 of them are children are killed savagely by air bomb. The photo showing the massacre published in some international news agencies.
Nowadays, with its “new strategy” in mind, the AKP government is preparing for a ground operation toward Northern Iraq, aiming to eliminate the PKK camps and probably to cerate a buffer zone. Indeed more than 25 across borders military operations had been organized by Turkish military since the beginning of the conflict in mid 80’s. No one has reached the envisaged goal. Iran troops already begin to bomb a few days ago this mountainous area “Kandil”. It’s supposed that Turkey and Iran are in collaboration in this military attack.