The breaking news in Turkey is: the Kurds finally want peace. At the big rally last Thursday at which tens of thousands of Kurds said goodbye to the three Kurdish women assassinated in Paris on 9 January, several Kurdish politicians expressed their support for a road towards peace. First, I thought the fact that Turkish media present the Kurdish wish for peace as news was a result of never properly listening to the Kurds before. I still think so, but now I believe the problem lies even deeper than that. There is no common ground in Turkey on what ‘peace’ really means.
The ‘peace initiative’ that PM Erdogan started by talking to PKKleader Öcalan is, it now seems, mainly aimed at convincing the PKK to lay down its arms. Other than these talks, we have seen no concrete steps from the government to achieve that goal. The process towards a new constitution is stalled, the fourth judicial reform package has still not been presented let alone accepted by parliament, the arrests of suspects in the KCK case continue, as do the bombings of PKK camps in the mountains on the border with Iraq.
How does Erdogan imagine he can convince both the jailed PKK leader and those who actually hold the weapons in the mountains to lay them down without making any political reforms? Does Erdogan think his rhetorical skills will do it? Or does it have to do with his interpretation of the word ‘peace’? Maybe he thinks ‘peace’ and ‘disarmament’ are the same thing. Well, he knows they’re not the same, but that’s how he chooses to present it now.
Maybe that’s also the delusional definition of peace that Turkish society’s support for the ‘process’ is based on. Erdogan claims his aim is for the PKK to lay down its weapons. Of course, everybody would love that. But do all these parties and groups, from the CHP and the followers of Fethullah Gülen to the groups of families of martyred soldiers and big media boss Dogan, still support the goal if it means realizing autonomy for the Kurds? If it means seriously working towards education in the mother tongue? If it means setting free all political prisoners? If it means freedom for Öcalan?
What should be acknowledged is that there was no peace in Turkey before 1984, when the PKK started its violent campaign. Ever since the founding of the republic, Kurds have been suppressed, tortured, bombed, assimilated and denied. Peace is not the absence of violence or armed resistance. Peace is when every citizen of a country feels free and equal, and when the state makes the utmost effort to ensure this for as many citizens as possible. I think that’s what veteran Kurdish politician Ahmet Türk meant when he repeatedly mentioned ‘honourable peace’ in his speech in Diyarbakir this week. That is the peace Kurds have been longing for for decades now.
I remember talking to an old man in a village in Diyarbakir province last year. The village had been burned down by the army in the nineteen nineties. He moved to Diyarbakir city, struggled to make a life there and didn’t succeed, and returned to the ghost village with his family. He built a modest house, had a few cows, grew his own vegetables – and still struggled, but he was at least back on his own lands. I asked him what he wanted. Compensation from the state? An apology? He answered: ‘No. I just want to be left alone to live my life’.
An eye for an eye
I remember the family in Semdinli, whose house was seriously damaged last year by a PKK bomb. A 12 year old boy died in the bombing, and he was a friend of the son of this family. I asked them what they wanted. Revenge? Money? They said: ‘We want all the violence to stop’.
Look at what happened these last two weeks. One of the founders of the PKK, Sakine Cansiz, and two other highly respected activist Kurdish women were assassinated by some dark power. I went to the rally in Diyarbakir and to the funeral of Sakine Cansiz in Dersim. What was the main theme of the speeches and in the words of the people I talked to? An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth? A call for increased PKK violence to revenge these deaths? No, it was peace.
Everybody, literally every Kurd I talk to, has a story connected to the suppression of Kurds. A father in jail for no reason, an uncle assassinated, a mother tortured and raped in prison, a family member leaving for the mountains or living in exile, a village burned, a political court case pending against him. Still, the word that gets crowds crazy with excitement at rallies and that is mentioned in every interview I do, is peace. Kurds don’t support peace, they demand it.
This also answers, I think, the logical question some people ask about the PKK and in recent weeks especially about Sakine Cansiz. How can you say you want peace when you decide to start a violent group? Isn’t that a total contradiction? It is when you define peace narrowly as the mere absence of violence. It starts to make more sense when you define peace as a life in dignity for all people.
Turkish media and Turkish politics have never heard the Kurdish call for peace. And now that they finally do, they interpret it wrongly. They think Kurds might be ready to call for the end of the armed struggle without getting peace in return. I predict disappointment for everybody.