"We will intensify the guerrilla's activities"
This is another translation from Lower Class Magazine, which currently has journalists on the ground in Kurdistan. The German original was published in Junge Welt; the English translation was first published on the Lower Class Magazine website.
Prologue: Since, in July 2015, Ankara abandoned the “peace process” with the Kurdish liberation movement and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkey has been leading a merciless military campaign in the country’s southeast. Diyarbakir-Sur, Cizre, Nusaybin, Silopi: Kurdish towns have been obliterated by tanks and artillery fire, and hundreds of civilians have died.
In resistance to the campaign, Civilian Defense Units (YPS) have been founded, which, together with the armed wing of the PKK, the People’s Defense Forces (HPG), act against the Turkish police and military. In the Qandil mountains, journalist Peter Schaber from Lower Class Magazine has met one of the leading PKK members, the co-chair of the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), Bese Hozat. Schaber talked with Hozat about Turkey’s war, the guerrilla’s resistance, and the refugee politics of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor.
In the past months, we have witnessed massive attacks by the Turkish state against the Kurdish movement. The Turkish government has made it clear that the military operations will continue and that it refuses to resume talks with the PKK. What is Ankara’s strategy?
The Turkish state pursues genocidal politics against the Kurds. What we are witnessing today began in September 2014, when the Turkish government presented a new plan to crush the Kurdish resistance. One month later, the national security council declared total war. Since then, the new government plan has been implemented step by step.
One consequence were systematic violations of democratic rights. A huge wave of arrests swept over Kurdish towns. Several guerrilla bases were attacked. After talks with the PKK leadership had been abandoned, the attacks intensified further. In Amed, a bomb exploded at an event celebrating the Kurdish holiday of Newroz. On July 24, 2015, there were extensive airstrikes, and in October 2015, a bombing in Ankara killed 103 people and injured many more.
The genocidal politics of the Turkish state against the Kurds is nothing new. It goes back one hundred years. On occasion, there has been dialog with the PKK, but the Turkish state has never opened up for a political solution to the conflict, which would require granting Kurdish people their rights.
Any steps towards a political solution ever proposed by Turkey only intended to pacify the Kurdish movement. The long-term goal was always to eliminate the Kurdish resistance, the PKK, and the values that have carried the Kurdish struggle. Even the so-called peace process was, in the end, an attempt at annihilation. Ankara wanted to break the will of the Kurdish people to fight and resist. While the peace process was underway, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) was preparing to extend its power and seize total control of the state.
The AKP used the peace process for its own interests. While its representatives sat down at the negotiation table, the government was preparing for war. It built many new police and army posts in Kurdistan and reformed the village guard system. Roads were built that exclusively served military purposes.
During the same period, the Kurdish people made big steps towards a democratic autonomous system. In Rojava, a people’s revolution established a canton-based administration. Under the leadership of the People’s Defense Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a great battle was fought against the Islamic State. This troubled the AKP. The Islamic State was their strategic ally with whom they share the same ideological foundation. Meanwhile, the achievements made in Rojava strongly motivated the Kurds in Northern Kurdistan. This lead to a surge of the struggle for freedom and democracy there.
In order to eradicate the achievements made by the Kurdish movement and to weaken the PKK, the Turkish state decided on total war and genocide and began to implement these decisions on the ground.
Since the state has started its attacks, we have seen different forms of resistance, also among Kurdish youths in bigger cities. The activities of the guerrilla have increased as well. Are the guerrilla units already fully involved in the struggle?
In the cities, Kurds rose up against the genocidal politics of the state and they did so autonomously. Since the guerrilla’s movements are limited during the winter months, it wasn’t involved in many activities. The resistance rather took the form of a people’s uprising, led by youths who organized self-defense. Now, with the arrival of spring, the conditions for the guerrilla have become more favorable.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the guerrilla’s activities have increased. From now on, the conditions will be even better. This means that activities both in the countryside and in the cities will increase further. The people’s uprising will also continue and intensify. We have decided to radicalize the struggle both in Northern Kurdistan and in Turkey.
Are the activities between the guerrilla and the YPS in the cities coordinated, or do the YPS act independently?
The YPS are organized by local youths as self-defense groups. Their way of organizing is very important: the YPS are formed by the people through the young generation. We absolutely support this. Kurds are victims of genocidal politics. There are massacres. In Cizre, 400 people were murdered, burned alive. In Sur, another hundred met the same fate.
In many other places in Kurdistan, for example in Hezex and Nusaybin as well as in Kerboran, Sirnak, and Hakkari, massacres occurred as well. We have seen attacks, arrests, and torture all over Kurdistan. Even dead bodies are dishonored. The AKP and the Turkish state are responsible for these atrocities, which are both war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Under these circumstances, nothing can be more justified than the people’s self-defense. Therefore, we wholeheartedly support the resistance of our people and the struggle of the youth. But we are not coordinating their resistance. The people act independently. They have autonomous structures and make their own decisions.
After massacres such as the one in Cizre, guerrilla units went to the cities to support the YPS. We provided practical and material support. But the YPS remain independent. When people face mass murder and genocide, when they suffer under fascist oppression, they must use all means to defend themselves. This is a legitimate, natural, and universal right.
We must not forget the struggle of the democratic forces in Turkey either. The fascist politics not only target Kurds but all democrats in Turkey, all groups with different identities, cultures, and faiths.
A few days ago, you mentioned the possibility of an electoral coalition between the secular social democratic Republican’s People Party (CHP), the progressive pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), and smaller organizations. Is such a coalition really feasible given the politics of the CHP? After all, the party recently supported the move to strip HDP members of parliament of immunity.
The left-wing, social democratic tendency within the CHP is not hegemonic within the party. At this point, it cannot determine the politics of the CHP. The secular-nationalist wing remains stronger. The wrong decision that the CHP took with respect to the HDP members’ immunity is a consequence of this. By making this decision, they supported the AKP. But there are tensions within the party. We trust in the left-wing and social democratic tendency, while we clearly reject the party’s current political line.
The AKP has formed a fascist bloc. The responsibility for the current politics of the Turkish government does not lie with the AKP alone. There exists an alliance of fascist and nationalist forces that consists of the AKP, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the secular nationalists. We need to form a broad democratic coalition against this alliance in Kurdistan and Turkey.
If, under the leadership of such a democratic coalition, a civil struggle for democracy can evolve, the fascist alliance will crumble. This is why we consider a coalition of democratic forces essential and why we work hard for realizing it.
The conditions for a parliamentarian and civil struggle in Turkey do not seem promising: there is no freedom of the press, no freedom of assembly, and the powers of parliament are constantly curtailed. When people in places such as Diyarbakir demonstrate peacefully and unarmed, they risk getting shot at and being killed. How can, under such circumstances, a space for parliamentarian and civil resistance emerge?
Civil resistance only has a chance when we refuse to submit to the AKP. We need to reject the party’s politics without compromise. There is no other way. The AKP wants to disempower all of society. But everyone who surrenders has lost.
By the same token, everyone who resists will win. The only way to defeat the AKP and to create space for democratic and civil politics is a permanent radical struggle in all spheres of life: on the battle field, in civil society, in political assemblies, in the media, in the universities, in arts – everywhere.
The struggle for democracy and freedom is the only antidote to fascism. We are leading this struggle with success. If the Kurds did not resist against Turkey’s fascist politics, and if the HDP and the democratic forces in Turkey did not resist, the country would be in a terrible situation. It would be like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, or Iraq – countries known for a lack of democracy and torn apart by civil wars.
President Erdogan wants to reintroduce the Ottoman sultanate in Turkey. He wants to revive the Ottoman tradition and he sees himself as the sultan. This is why he has enforced a regime change on the country under the label of a “presidential system”. What he is trying to establish is a dictatorial, fascist, and totalitarian sultanate demanding complete obedience. A committed struggle against this is inevitable. Erdogan and the AKP are enemies of democracy.
With Abdullah Öcalan proposing a democratic confederalism, the KCK champions a political concept that is significantly different from both Erdogan’s Neo-Ottoman ambitions and the turmoil that currently characterizes the Middle East. What would a Middle East based on the principles of democratic confederalism look like?
The concept of democratic confederalism is not alien to the Middle East. Those who know the region’s history know that it is not utopian and that it fits local traditions. For thousands of years – tens of thousands, if you consider the pre-Sumerian period – people in the Middle East lived very communally.
Even after the appearance of the state in the post-Sumerian era, different peoples, social groups, and classes lived together freely and peacefully. They were organized in tribal confederations. In some areas, these systems still exist. The social structure of Kurdistan is part of this tradition.
In 1937-1938, for example, there was a confederal tribal system in the Dersim region of Kurdistan, which, apart from today’s Dersim, also included Erzincan and parts of Sivas and Elazig. The system included councils and was based on a moral code. We really are talking about a political vision that is not alien to the region and its people at all.
Ethnically as well as religiously, the Middle East is a colorful blend of different identities. Various cultural communities coexist. They have been living together for thousands of years. The notion of a democratic and confederal system is based on this history and closely connected to it. The current turmoil in the Middle East only started recently, especially with the emergence of nation states in the twentieth century.
The nation state system is nationalistic and racist. It denies all identities but one and aims to destroy them.
In Turkey, a thoroughly nationalistic state was established, denying all identities but the Turkish one. This concerned not only Kurds and Christians but also Armenians, Assyrians, Greeks, Laz, Circassians, and Georgians. Turkish identity became the center of everything, and an entire system of denial and annihilation was built around it. The genocidal politics against the Kurds, which has been pursued for 90 years, was one of the outcomes.
We see similar developments in other countries of the region: the creation of the Syrian nation state meant the oppression of all identities but the Arab one. In the Iraqi nation state, all non-Arab communities have been massacred – once again, especially the Kurds. What we have witnessed in places like Aleppo and Halabja, or during the Anfal campaign, were direct effects of the nation state tragedy. The same has happened in Iran: when the Persian nation state was established, the existence of Kurds, Baloch, Arabs, and many other groups with different confessions was denied.
Our democratic and confederal vision is the result of a critical examination of the nation state system. We think that the nation state system destroys peoples, their culture, their history, and their geography. We believe that the democratic-confederal system is the best alternative.
We also believe that the democratic-confederal system fits the history and the culture of our region. This is why there is a true possibility for it to be realized. It is no utopia. Or, let’s say, it is a utopia that can be realized. It is a utopia that can come alive, that can take shape. The democratic-confederal system of Rojava proves this. In Rojava, Kurds, Turks, Arabs, Turkmen, Assyrians, Armenians, even Circassians and Chechens live together in a free and democratic system governed by themselves. They maintain their respective identities, cultures, and languages. There are no problems.
The PKK, Turkey, and the other Middle Eastern countries are not the only actors in the region. What can you say about the roles played by the U.S., Russia, and the European Union, especially Germany?
None of these powers has a clear position on the Kurdish question. None of them demands a democratic solution. They pursue different politics in each country and in each part of Kurdistan. Their politics are determined by their own interests. This is what they all have in common: they approach the Kurdish question pragmatically, dictated by self-interest. This is true for Russia, the U.S., and the European countries.
But their methods differ. The U.S., for example, tolerate, or even encourage, the genocidal politics of the AKP towards the Kurds, especially since they signed the agreement on the Incirlik air base.
The same is true for the European countries, especially Germany. Under Angela Merkel’s leadership, Germany has actively supported the AKP and continues to do so. The Kurds are very angry about Merkel’s politics. Erdogan can pursue his genocidal campaign against the Kurds only because he is encouraged by Europe, especially Germany, and by the U.S.
Germany played an important role in the AKP receiving 29.5 percent of the vote in the November 2015 elections. Merkel had visited Turkey in October and was received by Erdogan in the White Palace. That was shortly before the elections. It was a big boost for Erdogan and the AKP. It also caused much attention internationally. Merkel’s visit was strongly criticized by the European public and by Europe’s civil society, by European democrats and intellectuals. There was also much criticism in Turkey. But Merkel has not changed her politics. Germany has spoiled President Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu, which made them feel safe in pursuing their genocidal politics.
Of course this is a very unpleasant situation. The hundreds of thousands of Kurds living in Germany are negatively affected as well. All together, there are 40 million Kurds. They have no rights and no self-determination. Twenty million Kurds live in Turkey alone, where their language and culture are forbidden. It is appalling.
And yet, the Turkish government’s policies are supported by European powers, even though they contradict the supposed democratic values of Europe. The European Union and European governments claim to be committed to democratic values. But in relation to the Kurdish question, they render these values meaningless.
What the Kurds are fighting for, and what they are demanding from Turkey and the rest of the world, is nothing but respect for human rights. These rights are universal and Europe is supposedly committed to them. So why is Europe closing its eyes in front of what is happening in the Middle East? Why is it not listening? Europe must change its approach to the Kurdish question. The first and most important step is to remove the PKK from the list of terrorist organizations.
This would also lead to a democratization of Turkey. If the PKK was removed from the terror list by the European Union and European governments, Turkey would be forced to resolve the Kurdish question. As long as the PKK is on the terror list, Turkey can became neither democratic nor stable.
Before the Kurdish question is resolved, there won’t be any stability in the Middle East. A democratic solution to the Kurdish question would mean democracy and peace in Turkey and the entire region. This, in turn, would bring stabilization to Europe, because destabilizing the Middle East means destabilizing Europe.
Turkey uses the refugee situation as a way to blackmail Europe. It has basically taken Europe hostage. Europe needs to know that the refugee situation cannot be resolved by supporting the Turkish politics of genocide but by a process of democratization in Turkey and a democratic solution to the Kurdish question.
That’s why Europe must force the AKP to work for a democratic solution to the Kurdish question and to democratize Turkey. The removal of the PKK from the terror list is a critical step in that direction. If the European countries and the U.S. were clear on this, if they changed their approach to the Kurdish question, and if the PKK was removed from the terror list, the refugee situation as well as the problem posed by the Islamic State could be resolved as well.
What kind of support do you expect from left-wing, revolutionary, and democratic forces in Europe?
The most important support would be to force European governments to end their collaboration with the AKP. The AKP and its politics must be criticized and challenged on all levels. Without international allies, the AKP could never go about its genocidal campaign against the Kurds as it does now.
International support is very important for the AKP. The left-wing, socialist, and democratic forces of Europe must try to bring this to an end. This is what we expect from the European people. They must not be quiet in the face of a politics that discredits the values that Europe supposedly holds dear. The European people should raise their voice and oppose this. And Europe’s left-wing, socialist, and democratic forces should launch a dedicated campaign to have the PKK removed from the terror list.
Gabriel Kuhn is most recently author of Playing as if the World Mattered: An Illustrated History of Activism in Sports. Check out his other titles including: Turning Money into Rebellion: The Unlikely Story of Denmark’s Revolutionary Bank Robbers, Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy, Sober Living For the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics, Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics, and more HERE. Gabriel is also the translator and editor of Revolution and Other Writings: A Political Reader, a collection of Gustav Landauer's writings.