A delegation from the pro-Kurdish parliamentary Peace and Democracy
Party (BDP) has been meeting with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader
of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in Imralı, a prison
Following this visit, last week Aysel Tuğluk and Ahmet Türk, the
co-chairs of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) met with various
Kurdish organisations in order to receive feedback on the process and
What has emerged is a call for a new Kurdistan conference, at which
Kurdish demands would be agreed upon, and the formation of a new
umbrella organisation. We spoke with Tuğluk about the background to the
current process, the approach of Kurdish organisations outside of the
BDP, and Öcalan’s views on the Armenian, Jewish and Greek Orthodox
In 2011 and 2012 , two separate conferences were organised
and attended by various Kurdish organisations. From these conferences
four common demands emerged: 1. Education in the mother tongue and
Kurdish to be accepted as a second official language, 2. The freedom for
Kurds to organise under their own name (i.e. using the expressions
“Kurdish” and “Kurdistan”), 3. The right of Kurds to determine their own
future, 4. The safeguarding of these rights in the constitution. Do you
think these four demands are still valid?
Aysel Tuğluk: Of course they are still valid. All
the political parties we met with say that these four demands need to be
put on the agenda. They emphasise that they support the current
process that the honorable Öcalan has started, but that this does not
mean that they will give up these basic principles. They believe that
Öcalan wants to develop an solution process within this framework.
As DTK, what is your reaction to the suggestion of a conference?
The honorable Öcalan has already expressed his interest in what Kurds
think and has asked that there be meetings with NGOs and other Kurdish
organisations and that he be informed of their views. That was the
reason for our visits. Some parties suggested coming back together and
forming a new umbrella organisation. If we can find mutual ground, this
is a possibility.
Would this be an organisation above the DTK or the BDP?
This would be an organisation that would include the BDP, and the DTK
would play a part in setting it up. It would be a formation in which
all political parties and perhaps also NGOs would feel represented.
There are some suggestions to use the DTK to this end. However it is set
up, it will be able to speak for everyone. Of course there may be a
Kurdish conference until we get to this stage. We are currently
discussing this, but it is already clear that there is a demand for
creating a mechanism.
Some of the organisations you visited suggested a federation
or autonomy. How are you going to deal with these different opinions?
What we have in common is the four demands. All organisations have
said that we can move along the lines of these demands in the current
Will these demands and views be conveyed to Öcalan?
Of course we will communicate the demands of society and different
organisations to Öcalan. If we personally can meet him, we will do so;
otherwise we will ask our colleagues who go to see him to convey these
I have the impression that many Kurdish parties, including
the BDP, have doubts about the current process. How would you evaluate
the emphasis on guarded optimism?
We also met with business people and also felt the guarded optimism
there. There is cause for optimism because peace has been put on the
agenda and talks with İmralı have started. However, there are still open
questions and doubts about what kind of peace will be made. For one,
people find it very difficult to trust the state. They look at history
and remember who was misled where. The AKP (the ruling Justice and
Development Party) is not transparent and is trying to monopolise the
process. They want to impose their own solution on the Kurds. But after
so much sacrifice and pain, the solution cannot be left to the AKP.
How do the people you have met with view Öcalan?
In many Kurdish circles, Öcalan is supported. During this process we
have hear statements we had not heard before. Now everyone expresses the
need for Kurdish unity. Even if there were disagreements before, people
now seek the possibility of cooperation. What is positive is that Kurds
have begun to trust their own power. All the organisations agreed that
even if the AKP is not really interested in a solution, we can spread
the demand for peace in society and create a real solution.
It seems that the person who is most optimistic about the current process is Öcalan…
That is because his approach is more strategic and deeper. He wants
the Kurds to benefit from and not be harmed by developments in the
Middle East. People may not have grasped this deep approach yet, but in
time they will. There is serious support for Öcalan in all different
What is the approach at the base?
We meet with women, NGOs, and the people. People support Öcalan and
also say that the AKP has to be forced to come to a solution.
Are Kurds worried about “being cheated”?
I think Kurds have overcome this fear. People have become very self-confident.
Do you think that a new direction will be taken after Newroz?
A new direction has already been taken, but it will bring new
structures. Both the Turkish and the Kurdish public are excited about
the process, but it is also necessary to remain careful. If the
government can overcome certain hurdles, then that will already have
brought us into a new direction.
Has anyone from the government offered to meet with you?
No, since the last visit at İmralı there has been no dialogue.
Notes from the meeting with Öcalan were published and
contained statements about Armenian, Jewish and Greek Orthodox lobbies
that made the non-Muslim communities of Turkey uncomfortable. Are you
making any efforts to dispel their fears following these statements?
The honorable Öcalan will most probably clarify this. However, when
you look at the statements of Öcalan, you can see that his politics is
not only based on a struggle for Kurds. The same is true for the PKK.
Those who are worried should look at the system that Öcalan would like
to create; they will find an approach that calls for the protection of
the basic rights, autonomies and authenticities of all people, beliefs
and groups. In any case, Öcalan does not call for an independent
Yes, he has expressed his view that nationalism is a “cancer” in several articles.
Yes, Öcalan is a leader who has dismantled nationalism. There is no
need to worry on this account. Quite the contrary, people should view
Öcalan as a guarantee because he is a leader who foresees freedom for
everyone. His evaluations of some lobbies should not be understood as
comments on all non-Muslims. That would be an unfair interpretation.
In recent years, the Kurdish movement has organised around
the idea of democratic autonomy. What do you think about Öcalan’s
statements that this demand may be postponed?
For Öcalan, certain principles are very important, but in practical
politics he is very flexible, very realistic. He believes that
ultimately, there is a need for a transition phase. I don’t think that
Öcalan has given up his demand for education in the mother tongue. He
doesn’t use the classic expressions we are used to when he talks about
Kurdish self-rule. He uses a wider approach. I believe that Öcalan is
telling the government, “I will recognise you, and you should also
recognise me.” Öcalan believes that once the freedom to organise and the
freedom of speech have been achieved, the system he envisages can be
created. He sees the EU condition of local self-government as a basis
for this. In fact, even if Turkey withdraws its reservations from the EU
charter on local self-government, Kurds will not just sit back; they
will continue to struggle for self-rule.
This might not happen today or tomorrow, but in the end it will. I
also don’t think that Öcalan has dismissed the problem of status.
Rebellions started because of denial. The end of denial comes by
recognising this people. Öcalan believes that if a democratic basis is
created, then a people can recreate itself on this basis.
Does that mean that the democratisation of Turkey is seen as the beginning of a new period of struggle?
Of course! We foresee using our own power in democratic politics to achieve these ends.
As far as you can see, what does the government foresee in the long term?
The government is reducing it to disarmament. There won’t be any
solution like that. Disarmament has to be accompanied by a programme for
a solution. That is why the government needs to adapt to this process
and take a new position. Unfortunately this has not happened yet.
Why do you think the AKP has come to this point?
We think that political and economic developments have pushed them
into a unity with Kurds. They have seen that it is to their benefit both
domestically and in the wider Middle East to ally themselves with the
Kurds. They cannot stop the political development of Kurds with policies
of war and destruction. Despite all kinds of pressure, there is a
growing Kurdish movement. I believe the government has decided, “The
Kurds are winning and we are losing, let’s find a way in which we can
both win.” I believe that Öcalan also thinks like that. Because he has
seen that the war is repeating itself and cannot be won, he has chosen
Turkey as an ally. There are many balances in the Middle East and the
Kurdish movement could position itself among them. However, the Kurds
have chosen to ally themselves with Turkey instead. Öcalan has foreseen
that this will bring success.
Is there no possibility that the new alliance with “Turkey” will work against Kurds, just as it did in the 1920s?
The Kurds are not living in the 1920s. We are organised and
effective. We are no longer a people that can be cheated. (İA/HK/AG/KU)