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Testing Opinion In The Kurdish Street – OpEd

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By Ihsan Bal

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) has been unable to win the votes of even half of Turkish voters and so is destined to give way to new political actors in the period ahead. They will be braver and people who do not stuff their mouths with empty words.

A vigorous debate is underway over who enjoys the right to speak in Kurdish politics and whom dialogue over the Kurdish problem should be addressed to.

When it comes to the Kurds, the terrorist organization, the PKK, swaggers and the BDP makes it clear that they will not put up with anyone on the stage except themselves. This duo says that they are in constant contact with the pulse of opinion on the Kurdish street. However, a large number of people have recently criticized this notion and they mostly consist of the Kurds. It is not just that the criticisms originate with the Kurds, it should be recognized that there is considerable intellectual force behind the alternative views and they possess a considerable capacity for generating fresh discussion.

For many years, there have been only two addresses in Turkey for the Kurds, since the BDP has stayed within the shadow of the PKK and its ability to engage in politics has not developed. The first group is the Kurds, discussed in my earlier articles, who vote for the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), while the other is those Kurds who show the courage to raise their voices against PKK violence.

The Kurdish opposition to PKK violence began as a trickle but is rapidly growing larger and its discourse, if one looks at the excitement it is creating on the Kurdish street, looks likely to find more supporters. The terrorist attacks that started in Silvan and then spread to Bitlis, Siirt, Ankara, and Hakkari and cost the lives of more than 150 people appear to have strengthened the moral base on which this latest initiative rests. A Kurdish civil society internet website, opposing PKK violence with the slogan “Do not kill in my name” has been able to collect 50,000 signatures in a day—a great success.

The Alternative Kurdish Opposition

Elsewhere, a lot of Kurdish intellectuals like Kemal Burkay and Ihsan Aksoy are each day stepping up their dosage of criticism of the PKK. The arguments of this block of Kurdish intellectuals rest on a very serious moral basis. Kemal Burkay, the leading figure in this, writes sentences which criticize the BDP for taking shelter in the shadow of the PKK, pressing for Kurdish politics to be rescued from monopolization by the PKK and insisting that for the BDP to have any impact it must have an upright and truthful political stance. According to Burkay’s message, the BDP must make this transition and it must tackle the real problems of the Kurds. It should not be making politics on the basis of formulas coming out of Imrali (the prison island where the PPK terrorist leader Abdullah Öcalan is held) and which keep on altering.

The hold of the PKK on Turkish politics resting on violence is being supplanted by a challenge from Kurdish intellectuals. Kurdish intellectual Ibrahim Aksoy believes that it is a mistake to interpret the silence of eastern Turkey as support for the PKK. According to Aksoy, “Towns in eastern Turkey are not like Ankara and Istanbul. Everyone knows everyone else. Local pressures and threats are very different from the big cities. Houses and homes are burnt down, children burn and [families] live with enormous material and moral losses.”

It is extremely important that the person depicting the situation in the Kurdish street so clearly should himself be a Kurdish intellectual. The BDP receives only 29% of Kurdish votes and it is not possible to know what proportion of these are cast voluntarily and reflect a political preference and how many are cast out of fear and from local pressures.

But there are many Kurds around who openly articulate the idea that this support derives from compulsion and trickery. One wonders if, when the BDP declares that it has the same base, what it is really referring to is less voluntary support and more a policy of accumulating strength via the “forcible role in the east” which the PKK has applied from the beginning in the shadow of guns. Could it be that this political party is extracting benefits from clashes and is not interested in a stable Turkey which would bring more advantage to the Kurds?

There are many other indicators to encourage suspicions of this kind. For example, the BDP has done everything it can to put a spoke in the wheels of the Kurdish initiative process. The famous scream of “the Kurdish opening is finished” by Emine Ayna is still ringing in people’s ears. This was a political mentality which remained silent while civilians were being killed in the streets of Siirt or an innocent Hakkari imam was being murdered, while a Diyarbakir businessman’s factory was being burnt down, and teachers, doctors, and service workers were being carried off into the mountains, and the fact that when the soldiers of the state and the police began to pursue the perpetrators of these events the BDP engaged in human shield demonstrations is very striking. It shows where they stand.

The New Address of the Kurdish Street

Another important section of Kurdish opinion is now comprised of various civil society organizations. During last year’s September 12 referendum campaign, Kurdish civil society organizations rejected the decision of the PKK and the BDP for a boycott, and recently they have begun to denounce the spate of terrorist attacks with strident and increasingly loud voices. They have a more constructive slogan: “We set out not to kill but to make people live.” They plan a “convoy for life” to go from Istanbul to Hakkari.

They give people the work and food they need. They provide their health and educational facilities and meet their daily needs. They do whatever is necessary to enable them to carry on with life. That being the case, these civil society organizations have done work which is more realistic and more honest than the utterings about peace and human rights by an illegal organization which murders innocent people and by a political party which does not shrink from standing beside it.

When words and actions overlap and hypocrisy and bad intentions disappear, then it is only a matter of time until a movement succeeds. Each passing day Kurdish intellectuals, civil society, and business circles gauge the mood of the Kurdish street better and better and advance rapidly toward becoming a Kurdish opposition to the PKK.

Ihsan Aksoy says the following in a reply to those who, despite these developments, still try to play up the importance of the PKK and its allies and claim that they are the sole representative of the Kurds: “There is an attempt to create a sense that the PKK equals Kurds and Kurds equal the PKK. But it is a bad mistake to think that all Kurds are PKK.” Interestingly, Aksoy refers to people who play up the PKK, think that the road to the heart of the Kurdish people passes through it, and believe it represents the mood of the Kurdish street, as “poor devils.”

The new style of Kurdish politics views the PKK’s violent operations as the greatest obstacle in the way of the political, social, economic, and cultural development of the Kurds, and you should not be in any doubt that it will find a place for itself in the Kurdish street. If there were to be a Kurdish version of Tahrir Square, it will happen when crowds can freely assemble on Kurdish streets to able to speak their thoughts freely.

The new Kurdish politics rejects the tutelage of the PKK even more than that of the BDP, and it will open the way for the Kurds defending emerging democracy and genuine human rights against indiscriminate violence. Perhaps, as Kemal Burkay puts it, the BDP, a party which has not even been able to win the votes of even half the Kurdish voters, will in the period ahead of us leave the political scene to political actors who are more courageous and do not stuff up their mouths with empty words.

Ihsan Bal
Head of USAK Science Committee

Turkish version of this article was firstly published in November issue of USAK’s monthly journal ANALIST.

JTW

JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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