Below is an interview with Kurdish intellectual and veteran political activist Mr Ümit Fırat, it was first published in the Turkish daily newspaper Zaman. As political tensions rise throughout Turkey and northern Iraq due to the possibility of a major incursion into this mainly Kurdish region by the Turkish military, I thought readers might be interested in what Ümit Firat has to say as he looks at the issue from the perspective of a Kurd who is a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. By publishing this interview, Organized Rage is neither endorsing the interviewee’s opinions nor opposing them, simply allowing this democratic space to be used to enhance an understanding about the Kurdish reality in Turkey.
Firat is an author and editorial board member for the Kurdish political magazine Serbestî, published in Turkish in İstanbul, he also writes for the Turkish daily newspapers Zaman and Radikal as well as the Bianet Internet news site. Originally from Bingöl, Turkey, he had a bookstore in Ankara between 1973 and 1979 and was sent to jail for four years by the repressive regime that emerged after the 1980 military coup. An İstanbul resident since 1989, he has been active in the formation of many Kurdish organizations, including the Helsinki Citizens Association and Kurdish Intellectuals Initiative, which organized a sizable conference that was allowed by the Turkish authorities to have “Kurdish” in its name for the first time. [The Necessities of Recognizing the Kurdish Reality] That there was such controversy about the title of a conference show the lengths the State has gone to in the past to deny the Kurdish reality in Turkey. In the early 1990s, he worked actively in the New Democracy Movement (YDH). He was also active in 2004 promoting a signature campaign in Turkey for the text “What Do the Kurds Want in Turkey?” published by the International Herald Tribune, Le Monde and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspapers.
Question/ What would happen if Turkey entered Iraq?
Ümit Fırat replies/ Turkey will have to deal with two actors if it enters Iraq: the autonomous Kurdish administration formed under the Iraqi constitution and the peshmerga units subordinate to this administration. The peshmergas are considered part of the Iraqi army; therefore conflict with them will automatically mean opening war with Iraq, and this inevitably carries with it the possibility of confrontation with the United States. This will all eventually lead to abandonment of Turkey’s six-decade-long international policy.
Q/ But isn’t the region home to the PKK?
ÜF/ The actual sphere of influence of the PKK is in Turkey, and if a solution were sought, measures should be implemented inside the country. Those who are settled on Kandil Mountain in northern Iraq got there through Turkey and return to the same territory. Turkey would not be able to resolve anything in Iraq through a military intervention.
The PKK would fulfill its goal of dragging Turkey into northern Iraq if Turkey launches a military operation. It will not be easy to present a cross-border operation as part of a comprehensive combat against terrorism. Above all, there is a general assumption that combat against terrorism is executed by special forces — not by regular army units. Besides, for such an operation against terrorism [to be successful], the consent of the country where the operation will be carried out is required.
Otherwise, Turkey will be considered an invader. And even though the military and the government seek to present a cross-border operation as a matter of internal security, this action is declaration of war under international law. In that case, it will not be possible for you to call your opponent a terrorist organization as they become the other party of the war. In a possible conflict, international organizations will refer to the terrorist organization as warring party. In that case, calls for cease-fires and calls for implementation of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions might come into consideration.
Q/ Don’t you think that an army operation would have a role in preventing further PKK attacks?
ÜF/ The only benefit of the operation would be proof of military superiority Turkey already has. Besides, it is obvious that no social problem can be resolved through military methods. Attempting to test whether this is the case once more would be too expensive and risky. I want to emphasize that a climate of killing and ending lives has emerged in the region, and attempts should be made to change that and ensure normalization.
Furthermore, a military incursion by Turkey into northern Iraq would possibly de-align the Kurds in the region from the PKK, whereas it would strengthen Barzani’s KDP [Kurdistan Democratic Party]. Turkey should be determined to resolve the Kurdish question if it really seeks to eliminate the PKK terrorism. A Turkey committed to resolving the Kurdish question will have the chance to overcome the obstacles in time.
Q/ What was the difference between the Beytüşşebap and Dağlıca incidents?
[On September the 29th of this year, 12 people, seven of whom were Kurdish village Guards in the pay of the Turkish government, were massacred in the Beytüşşebap district of the southeastern province of Şırnak, and then on October 21st at least 12 Turkish soldiers were killed near the village of Dağlıca in the Hakkari province of south-east Turkey. The Ankara Parliament shortly after passed a motion authorizing a cross-border military operation into northern Iraq to hit the PKK bases there if diplomatic efforts fail.]
ÜF/ There is no similarity between the two. In Beytüşşebap, the victims were working on the construction of a canal to transport water to their village. They were killed on their way home for iftar [fast-breaking meal during Ramadan]. I cannot help but remember a very similar massacre that was committed in Şırnak-Güçlükonak in 1996. In that massacre, 11 villagers, including some village guards, were forced to get off the minibus and were killed at the scene. The terrorists burned the bodies. Despite this, the identification cards were found in good condition. The authorities took journalists to the site, but they were not allowed to talk to the local people, who disagreed with the security forces on who had committed the murders. They thought that the massacre was committed by some State agencies.
Q/ Are you convinced that Beytüşşebap massacre was committed by some clandestine powers in the Turkish State?
ÜF/ We know through our experience that we have no reason to believe the official statements, considering past explanations that followed many similar incidents. It may come as no surprise to see the “good guys” who were behind the Semdinli incidents two months ago. Actually, the conclusion I want to draw here is not to single out who the perpetrators of the incident were — that’s not something I can tackle at any rate. But why aren’t these events being illuminated through official [Turkish] investigations? Why are the people who question these events warned or threatened? Why does Turkey insist on this policy?
Q/ Who do you think are the “good guys”?
ÜF/ The powers organized by the “good guys” might include former PKK informants and village guards who became stronger and then turned into gangs that threatened society. It’s possible to get an idea about this through documents submitted to the courts and the memoirs and interviews with retired military men. In the current environment of violence and conflict, nobody would question why this country has one of the largest armies in the world. While some make calculations to increase the influence of the army in politics considering the consequences of the prevalent environment of violence, others seek an opportunity to establish absolute authority by the PKK in the region through the same environment. An organization whose purpose of existence is war and armed conflict may preserve its political survival through the existence of an environment compatible with its goal.
Q/ And what would you say about the Dağlıca incident?
ÜF/ The military unit attacked in Oremar [Dağlıca] was there for a military operation; the PKK militants, acting based on the intelligence on the presence of the military unit at the site, carried out the assault. The Turkish troops would have done the same if they had similar intelligence. That is, if there is a conflict, it is inevitable for one of the parties to suffer substantial losses. For instance, a few days before the Beytüşşebap incident, nine PKK militants were killed in a conflict. I want to emphasize again that a climate of killing rules, and moves are needed to change that.
Q/ What should be done?
ÜF/ The post-Saddam developments following the US occupation in 2003 seriously damaged the “stability” policies of Turkey to preserve the status quo in the region. The new situation in Iraq was perceived by the status quo actors of Turkey as a threat. These actors never accepted the new state of affairs. Turkey should abandon its policy of rejecting an entity that emerged under Iraqi law and its constitution and instead recognize it under international legal instruments as something generated through the internal developments of Iraq. It should view the northern Iraqi autonomous Kurdish administration as a friend. This is the way to end the current tension — a friendly state would not support hostilities. Increasing the tension will not resolve the problem; quite the contrary, it will make it chronic. Effective measures should be taken immediately before further Beytüşşebap-like incidents are committed. Northern Iraq needs peace, and a strong and stable northwestern border.
But the discourse promoted by Barzani and Talabani does not imply peaceful actions from Turkey’s perspective.
In such delicate times, even ordinary actions may fall outside reason and rationale. Considering that the editor-in-chief of a major daily newspaper in Turkey provokes the nation to exhibit a strong reaction and that Barzani makes provocative statements, it’s only normal if the regular citizens of the country act in accordance with their basic instincts rather than reason. History tells us that such statements are of no use. These remarks and statements usually speak to the excessive sentiments of the masses, and they do not transform into permanent policy. Fortunately the initial outrage is gradually being replaced by reasonable action and words, anyway.
Q/ What would you say about the role of the pro Kurdish DTP [Democratic Society Party] deputies on some vital issues, particularly on the release of the soldiers held captive by the PKK?
ÜF/ There is nothing they can do on their own initiative. If the PKK agrees to make a gesture by handing over the eight hostages to DTP deputies, at that time they may be involved in the process. It does not seem possible for them to assume a role at present to determine the PKK’s actions.
Q/ What would happen if the DTP deputies recognized the PKK as a terrorist organization?
ÜF/ Nothing. Let’s say they did. Would the PKK’s strength decrease? No, on the contrary DTP deputies’ power would decrease because these deputies were elected by those who have an affinity or allegiance with the PKK. The DTP deputies have to consider their demands and political views. The deputies have to be influential within the party in order for them to detach from the PKK. However, they are aware how they have been nominated. It now seems impossible that they will have a proper position to attract the moderates, particularly given the latest developments.
Q/ So you’re saying that the DTP deputies cannot have an independent sphere?
ÜF/ Following the 2004 election, Abdullah Öcalan [the imprisoned leader of the PKK] gave a start for the formation of a new party because he was threatened by the autonomous policies of DEHAP [the Democratic People’s Party] and gave orders for the establishment of the new party, naming it the DTP. I don’t think the DTP could be an address — apart from the PKK — in solving the Kurdish problem in Turkey. And I don’t think the Turkish government needs such an address to solve the Kurdish problem as long as it says this is a problem of Turkey.