Busy travelling again these days between Ankara, Imrali and the Qandil mountains. And the topic that the media seem to get excited about is disarmament. Are the Kurdish movement and the government trying to make a deal about the PKK laying down its arms? Öcalan, after all, said a few days ago that a solution to the conflict could be reached within months. So, is he preparing for another ground-breaking speech at Newroz? Will he declare a permanent ceasefire? I’d be disappointed if he did. I remember the previous ground-breaking Öcalan speech at Newroz 2013. I admit that I couldn’t make sense of it, and that I was strolling around the Newroz grounds in Diyarbakir wondering what the hell had just happened. I asked around, bewildered: ‘Why is this? Do you support this move?’, and if people said that yes, they supported it, I asked: ‘So up until half an hour ago you supported the armed struggle, but now you support the end of it and even a withdrawal of the PKK from Turkey? Why did you change your mind?’ Most people would repeat some of the words from the leader’s speech and add with a huge smile on their face: ’We want peace’.
For the motherland
Of course, everybody in this country wants peace. Well, most of the people. Years ago on a domestic flight I talked to a very nationalistic man who was not interested in peace. He said that Turkish blood had to keep flowing for the motherland, like it always had. I threw up, mentally. Anyway, I tell myself he was a huge exception and that most men and women in this country long for peace, including me, of course.
Nevertheless, what does peace mean? Maybe for many people in Turkey the peace was broken in 1984, when the PKK carried out its first attacks. For some of them, peace has probably come already, since the PKK refrains from attacks against the army and no more soldiers are returning from their military service or their jobs in coffins. But for the Kurdish movement peace means something else. As Ahmet Türk can describe it so beautifully, they want an ‘honourable peace’. Which means not just the silencing of weapons, but a peace in which every citizen in Turkey can live his full identity and have his human rights respected. I wish the Kurdish movement would use the word ‘justice’ instead of ‘peace’, because that would make it clearer what they are after.
If there were to be justice in this country, there would no longer be any need for an armed struggle. That’s why I was so surprised at Newroz 2013: justice had by no means come to Turkey, but nevertheless Öcalan declared an armed struggle as a thing of the past. It was, I heard Sirri Süreyya Önder and Pelvin Buldan say in Öcalan’s words, time to talk. What, I asked myself, made Öcalan trust the Erdogan government so much that he deemed it time to put the Kalashnikov aside?
I talked with many people about this question, including in Qandil with Riza Altun, member of the executive board of the KCK: What reason did Öcalan have to trust the AKP and Erdogan? After all, in 2013 the years of positive reforms of the early AKP years were long over, and Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies were becoming ever more visible. Altun explained to me that it had nothing to do with trust. That the PKK has been respecting several ceasefires in its history and is dedicated to reaching peace, with whomever is in power and willing to talk about it. Two decades ago it was Turgut Özal, now it is Erdogan. The talks with the government now are basically a continuation of the talks with Özal in the early nineties. So it’s not that the PKK trusts Erdogan, it’s just that he’s the one they are dealing with at the moment. Making a bold move like a ceasefire and a withdrawal would hopefully push democratization further.
This small group
Turkey has changed a lot since the early days of the PKK and in that sense you can understand why Öcalan would plead for continuing the struggle without violence. The 1980 coup, the intense oppression in the years after that, the way any possibility to change anything at all in Turkey via the parliament was blocked. You can imagine why this small group saw no other way than to take up arms, in this republic in which the Kurds have never been able to live in peace. But that Turkey has changed in three decades and that in today’s Turkey probably an armed group fighting for the rights of people wouldn’t emerge, does that also mean that it is time for the next step and lay down the arms for good?
I don’t think so. Like Gültan Kisanak said a few years ago at a press conference which I attended: ‘Have you ever seen an armed movement which lays down its arms before the other side in the conflict has made any concessions?’ And Leyla Zana said, a few years earlier: ‘The weapons are the Kurds’ insurance. As long as the Kurdish question exists, the weapons are a guarantee for Kurds.’ And that guarantee, I believe, is still necessary. Much may have changed, but all the changes still fit into the authoritarian military constitution that aims to protect the state instead of the citizens. Fundamental change, like education in the mother tongue and decentralisation, cannot be realized before this has changed. That the changes are not rooted in the constitution also means that they can be reversed at any time. That is why some sort of back-up is needed. And for the Kurds, that back-up is the PKK.
Which does not, by the way, mean that I am a PKK supporter. As a journalist I try to understand why the PKK exists, why they resorted to violence, why they developed the way they did. My focus is not even Kurdish rights in the first place, but human rights in general. I think human rights, and securing them for Kurds and for the whole of Turkey, is the focus of the PKK as well, so I often agree with their point of view. But as a journalist I don’t ‘support’ any group I write about. And following a leader? Anybody who knows me knows I am way too stubborn for that. I remember a Kurdish-Dutch friend with whom I posed for a picture at some demonstration in Diyarbakir, and she wanted to hold an Öcalan flag in front of us. No way!
From what I know about the PKK now and about peace processes, I don’t think a permanent ceasefire will be announced any time soon. First secure rights, then disarm – that’s the natural order of things in any peace process. If there will be a permanent ceasefire before this whole blatant human rights disgrace that is still holding Turkey in its grip is solved, I will be disappointed in the PKK. Because it would mean human rights aren’t that important for them after all, and that they had even abandoned the idea that Kurds need some kind of insurance. I’d be disappointed in myself too. All these years of digging into this subject, talking to Kurds, to Turks, to colleagues and academics, reading all I could lay my hands on, and still, apparently all that time I still had no clue what the PKK was all about.