‘There are Kurds in Turkey; I am a Kurd’

In 1979, I drafted an eight-part article with a headline that read “Türkiye’de Kürtler vardır; ben bir Kürdüm” in Turkish, which translates to “There are Kurds in Turkey; I’m a Kurd.”

It was glorified in the Hürriyet newspaper the very next day. Usually we, mortal editors, should discuss presumably controversial headlines with the managing editor; and back then, to cry an eight-column declaration of the fact that there were ethnic Kurds living in Turkey and a minister of the Turkish republic was one of them was obviously more than controversial.

It was one of those dry days, news-wise – as all editors can attest that some days are barren of news stories worthy of the front page. The front-page staff was short; and the managing editor was out of town – and there were no cell phones in those days, mind you.That day, anyone who saw the page looked at me as if I was a dead man walking; one of them even joked that it was nice working with me.

The copy had been dispatched by our Ankara bureau chief Ülkü Arman, and the man who made that declaration was Public Works Minister Şerafettin Elçi in the short-lived Bülent Ecevit Cabinet.

Nothing happened to me; our beloved editor Nezih Demirkent, may he rest in peace, simply criticized it for being too wordy.

Yet, that government under the leadership of Süleyman Demirel was toppled by a military junta, and Elçi was thrown in a military dungeon for 27 months. The military court looked for me too, but by then I was doing my post-graduate work in the U.S. in Samuel Huntington’s institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Fast forward to 1996 and world-famous Turkish photographer Mehmet Biber and I were working to get beauty shots of dams in the Kurdish southeast for the forthcoming Habitat Conference. We were traveling all day and lest PKK terrorists capture us, the vehicle and cameras, the driver was parking in a garage of a local government office. After entering the garage, he was handing me the tapes we had been listening to all day because they had Kurdish music on them and it was illegal to have them. I was hiding them in the camera bags.

For some Western media workers and politicians, the PKK had been fighting for civil rights and the liberties of the Kurdish minority in Turkey. Those who could discern the difference between the violence and politics would give the honor of that fight to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) not the PKK. But for those with a keener eye, you could see the link between the two and label the HDP as the civil arm of the terrorist organization – remember the relationship between Sinn Féin and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA)? Throughout the years, these civilian branches of this “violent Kurdish political movement” had different names; but no one had engaged with PKK leadership as slavishly as the HDP.

In 2002, a silent revolution took place in Turkey. Turks, Kurds and all other ethnic minorities elected a newly established political party to rule the country. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party), with the same leader in the helm, has just won its 13th general election in its 16-year life span.

The party now has 13 elections and three referenda under their belt. The AK Party proposed to change the governmental system from parliamentary to presidential earlier this year and in the ensuing referendum, people approved the system change. As a result, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been elected as the first president with executive authority.

Since day one, the AK Party has acted as the political representative of Kurdish people in Turkey. The first political party of the new Turkish republic inherited the policy of denial and rejection of other ethnicities in the country from the last political party of Ottoman rule. Like them, the Republican People’s Party (CHP) internally exiled Kurds to maintain a lower proportion in a given area. Speaking Kurdish in public and in government offices and courts of law had been prohibited. Kurdish names were not allowed either. The CHP even replaced Kurdish names of municipalities with Turkish ones.

It was the AK Party that changed all these policies. Now anyone can buy Kurdish music and listen to it. Anyone younger than 16 years old can have legal Kurdish names; older ones have been busy re-registering their new names. The Kurdish feudalism that is still very much prevalent in Iran, Iraq and even in Syria has been declining in Turkey as the schooling years of the Kurdish people in Turkey are rapidly increasing. The accumulation of decades-old neglect of healthcare has been redressed; new roads and mountain tunnels are spreading all over the Kurdish region. The economy has been flourishing in pace with the other regions, if not faster.

Where are the PKK and its various above-the-ground embodiments in all this? Have they been instrumental in obtaining these reforms and achievements? Have they been pushing any of these so that the AK Party government had to implement them? The answer is a big no.

Look at the party programs of all those so-called civilian arms of the PKK. You will find them full of rhetorical vapor, empty of any concrete technical, economic or educational plans. Study the speeches of their members of Parliament to find any concrete demand for the people they represent. A veiled threat of separatism, a constant call for violence and heartening messages to PKK terrorists, that’s all they have done. At times the veil is strong enough to help them slip the clutches of the law; when they do get caught they start screaming that their freedom of speech is being violated by Turks.

The late Samuel Huntington used to remind us while we were studying authoritarian regimes that when there is political violence in a region or a country, the true will power of the people cannot be represented.

The true will power of Kurds has never been represented by Kurdish politicians since the PKK terrorist organization started murdering Kurdish politicians. Until then, they find shelter in the AK Party, which is the second-largest party where the majority of the electorate is Kurdish.

That Kurdish politician who declared there were Kurds in Turkey when such a declaration was quite dangerous lost his life and his fight for Kurds in 2011. The AK Party, meanwhile, named the first airport in the Kurdish region after him as a tribute to his courage.

Source: Daily Sabah

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About the author

Hakki Ocal

Hakki Ocal

Hakkı Öcal is a columnist at both Daily Sabah and Milliyet newspapers, which are based in Istanbul. He is also an advisor to the President of Ibn Haldun University.

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