The Kurdish Struggle in Turkey: An interview with Sebahat Tuncel, MP
Sebahat Tuncel is a Kurdish member of the Turkish Parliament. A well-known human and women’s rights advocate, she is currently the Vice Co-Chairperson Responsible for Foreign Affairs and the Istanbul Deputy of the leftist Democratic Society Party (DTP), an organization she co-founded. Prior to the 2007 general elections, she was the DTP Women’s Assembly Spokesperson and the Esenler District Chairperson of the Party of People’s Democracy (HADEP), a forerunner of the DTP.
When I asked him about Tuncel’s work, Noam Chomsky said: “The Kurdish people have struggled courageously for their elementary human rights, and have suffered miserably in defense of these rights. The record in
Like so many of her colleagues, Tuncel has been relentlessly persecuted for her brave work. She went on trial for membership of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (an armed organization dedicated to Kurdish independence) in 2006, but was released from custody after being elected to parliament from her prison cell in July 2007. Her parliamentary immunity has since been overturned, however, and the false charges are once again being brought against her; she faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted. The
The following interview was conducted in
JH: Many ZNet readers will be familiar with the Kurdish issue in
ST: The Kurdish question in
Kurds participated in the Turkish War of Independence, but after the establishment of the
Historically and currently, the Turkish system has operated on the conception of a single language, single state, single culture and nation. This is a very important dynamic in the emergence of the conflict. The PKK appeared during the 1970s, immediately after the 1968 movements, which it was inspired by. They were first involved in armed conflict with the Turkish military in 1984; this was the beginning of an intense period of conflict. As you know, almost every decade a military coup has taken place in
What the Kurdish people want is to use their rights. They want to freely practice their culture and freely use their language. They want to [achieve] their identity rights. However, they also believe that disarmament is the necessary condition for taking steps toward resolving the conflict
through democratic means, dialogue and negotiations. Suitable grounds should be created for this. Today, the Democratic Society Party [known by its Turkish initials, DTP] – even though it is small – is in parliament, and this is a great opportunity to talk about these questions, to initiate dialogue, but this option is not being evaluated or taken into consideration [by the Turkish government].
To take steps toward a solution to the problem, you must first define the problem correctly. The
depiction of the problem as a terrorist problem only aggravates the conflict and the problems. The projects for solutions have to be presented to and discussed with civil society organizations, intellectuals and democratic public opinion. And the government has to take part. We believe that the PKK can be disarmed, but again, suitable grounds should be created for this by the government. Today, many hundreds of thousands of [Kurds] are in prison. Young people are still joining the guerrilla forces, and there is still a lot to be done in the area of civil liberties and individual liberties.
Today, it is not like the 1990s. During the 1990s the existence of the Kurdish people – the fact that Kurdish people live in
JH: In the years immediately following the PKK’s 1999 ceasefire, there seemed to be some progress toward resolving the conflict peacefully. The Turkish government, partially influenced by the EU accession process, made some improvements in its respect for Kurdish human and cultural rights, and in his famous trip to Diyarbakir, Prime Minister Erdogan recognized that the Kurdish issue must be resolved politically, rather than through force. But then the reform process slowed, Kurdish armed groups re-emerged, military conflict escalated and the optimism dissipated. In your view, what accounts for this?
ST: Today, we’re facing a situation in which double authority exists in
There was a strong conviction in international public opinion, as well, that the Justice and Development Party would take comprehensive steps toward enhancing individual rights and liberties and improving the human rights record of the country; even left-wing intellectuals and democratic intellectuals in
This was influenced by the AKP’s ambitions to introduce a Turkish/Muslim synthesis of the country and the transfer of the country into a moderate Muslim country. In a very short period of time, a consensus was achieved between the AKP government and the military. As you know, in the massacre in
The DTP has been in parliament for seven or eight months, but during this time, Prime Minister Erdogan has never been involved in dialogue with us. We are the representatives of a considerable population, and these people elected us to parliament, but the AKP government consistently refuses to negotiate with us or to introduce a dialogue with us.
And furthermore, significant polarization is created within society by the AKP government. The initiation of the cross-border operations [into
JH: Discuss the major parties some more. Do you think any of them could be a vehicle for democratizing the country, or do you think more fundamental systemic changes are necessary?
ST: I do not think the existing political parties in
It is also true that the military tutelage of politics should be abolished; the military should deal with security affairs, and nothing more. We also need brave politicians who can take steps for the solution of the problem. As you will remember, Turgut Ozal took brave steps toward a solution, including the mention of a federation if necessary, but he died or was killed; there are still rumors going on.
The Kurdish people have presented their will for stopping this war and finding a democratic solution to the problem. If the Turkish people can do the same thing then the government of
JH: Talk a little about the Democratic Society Party’s ideology. Additionally, do you have links with civil society organizations and social movements in the country, and if so, what is the nature of those links?
ST: The party considers itself a left-wing mass party which defends individual rights and liberties and the free self-expression of all communities and cultures in
We emerged as a consequence of the fifteen or sixteen years of the Kurdish struggle for freedom, and therefore the Kurdish question stands at the center of our politics. However, the party is always in close dialogue and establishes alliances from time to time with the democratic and left-wing circles in
JH: Pro-Kurdish parties, including the DTP, face tremendous difficulties in organizing. The DTP, after all, is a reincarnation of several other parties which were shut down by the state. Your members have been arrested and persecuted, and now you’re facing closure by the government. Exactly what type of pressure are you facing from the state now, and how are you fighting back? Do you have any support in the judiciary or any other official institutions?
ST: We do not have an independent judiciary in
JH: The DTP is trying to open a bureau in
ST: We also have a bureau in
JH: What role do you think the Kurdish Diaspora has to play in the resolution of the Kurdish issue in
ST: In fact, the oppressors of the world are really united. Today, the
It is important that international solidarity be established in support of the right of all communities in the world to use their own culture and own identity. Only [when such solidarity exists] can oppressed people put pressure on their own governments.
There’s a certain handicap here: the Kurdish people are bound by the rules and regulations of the territories they inhabit. So we can only establish a limited alliance with Kurdish people living in other territories. However, these people share same the same traditions, they come from similar cultures; they understand each other. So, slowly, a national culture is being born.
If we elaborate the issue in terms of the right to self-determination of the people, then the Kurdish people in
JH: Is there anything else you would like to add?
ST: It is important for us to keep in touch with human rights advocates and people in
Jake Hess is a contributor to ZNet. He welcomes feedback at JakeRHess(at)Gmail.com