Section A—Historical Sketch of the PKK
First Phase: Emergence
We began in April 1973 as a group that it would be too much to even call amateurs. At the shore of the Çubuk Dam in Ankara, this group of six talked about acting as an autonomous Kurdish group for the first time, reasoning mainly that Kurdistan was a classic colony. We began by disclosing this reasoning collectively in this group of six like a secret. Transforming the way I explained the truth from one-on-one conversations into a collective way of doing this could be considered the actual beginning. This method had a quality that led us to organize. From 1974 to 1975, the group developed under the umbrella of the Ankara Demokratik Yüksek Öğrenim Derneği (ADYÖD: Democratic University Association Ankara). In March 1977, I traveled from Ankara to Kurdistan to attend meetings in Ağrı, Doğubeyazıt, Digor (near Kars), Dersim, Bingöl, Elaziğ, Diyarbakır, Urfa, and Antep. That trip and those meetings were an attempt to bring the group to Kurdistan. After the journey, I returned to Ankara. The martyrdom of Haki Karer “three days after the meeting” in Antep came as a serious shock to us.1 Our response was to take the step and begin to build a party. At the end of the same year, I wrote a draft program in Antep. As the summer of 1978 approached, we headed for the center of Kurdistan, for Diyarbakır, which had seen much betrayal, with a troublesome marriage. On November 27, 1978, in the village of Fis, our group of twenty-two amateurs swore to found a party. Because we knew that we would not survive for long as a party in the cities, we had to make use of the two options available, namely, the mountains and the Middle East. Just as Abraham made his exodus, on July 1, 1979, I set out from Urfa to Syria in search of freedom, and from there to the land of the old Canaan.
I now want to take a closer look at this phase, which lasted for ten years—until August 15, 1984—and the ideological and political environment at the time.
The 1970s was the beginning of a period in the capitalist system’s history when a significant rupture became apparent. The system came out of World War II having recuperated, and the US leadership had grown more self-assured. Europe was once again on its feet, and in the Far East Japan emerged as a giant. The real socialist system was at the apex of its influence, and the national liberation movements were at their strongest. At this exact point, the 1968 youth movement launched a new revolution in mentality.
It may appear surprising that a historical social system that has reached such a zenith would enter into a period of chaos. But we should remember that it is always just one step beyond the peak that the descent begins. Today, an increasing number of scholars agree that a period of chaos has begun, with effects that are accelerating.2 In retrospect, it will be seen that the main factor underlying this is the realization that even though the state-oriented movements of real socialism, social democracy, and national liberation seemed to have achieved their goals over the course of the previous 150 years, they were all far from able to keep their promises to the masses. This calls to mind the question of whether Christianity conquered Rome or Rome conquered Christianity. Perhaps both are partially correct. Christianity entered into a synthesis with the imperial cult, a synthesis from which the feudalism of the Middle Ages emerged, giving rise to a different social system, although not an egalitarian or peaceful one. On the other hand, Christianity also largely lost its freedom-loving and egalitarian qualities in the process.
The socialist, social democratic, and national liberation currents sparked by the capitalist system during its “brutal” years did not succeed in breaking away from the system. Actually, they were born of it. It would no doubt be unrealistic to say that they were entirely poised to act as auxiliary currents of the system, but today we can confidently say that they never really sought to overcome the rational basis of the system and its way of life. Wherever such attempts were made, they generally amounted to nothing but empty phrases and slogans. The roots of egalitarian and
freedom-loving ideas lie outside of the hierarchical and class society. They are born of the longing for a communal and democratic life. Unfortunately, we know of numerous historical examples where they constantly degenerated to such an extent that their essence was finally lost in return for concessions or they were constantly suppressed through coercion. If we look at the collapse and dissolution of the real socialist countries, the crises of many states after successful national liberation struggles, and the dwindling distinctions between social democratic and conservative governments, we can safely conclude that all these currents are no more than denominations of the system itself. The crisis of the 1970s had to do with the increasingly obvious fact that the system would no longer be able to adequately utilize these auxiliary denominations. The 1968 youth movement was essentially an expression of this fact. What had been hoped for had not arrived. All three currents had come to power and been unable to keep their promises. Moreover, a new capitalist class and bureaucracy had emerged from their midst that was even more backward than that of classic capitalism. The crises of these models and the lack of freedom and equality within them led the people to almost long for the system they had once so bitterly criticized.
This reality represented a serious threat to the legitimacy of the capitalist state. It was soon to lose its capacity to impress the masses. The opposition would turn to currents that were not state-oriented. Even though the 1968 revolution had many shortcomings, it still paved the way for this development. With the New Left, feminism, the ecological movement, and local cultural currents, a broad new form of opposition to the state developed. This was the main factor that initiated the chaos within the system. On the other hand, growing environmental problems, a rise in wages, as a result of policy of concessions, and a deficit in demand, triggered by the poverty of the masses, led to an increase in costs accompanied by an excess in supply. The internal contradictions of the system had increased along the US-EU-Japan axis. Beginning in the 1980s, neoliberalism was seen as a remedy to this new chaotic situation. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in the 1990s was not a success for the system but a factor that served to deepen the crisis. The new neoliberal “global offensive” took place against this background. Under heavy bombardment by the media, which were increasingly becoming monopolies, an attempt was made to manufacture fraudulent paradigms. They worked feverishly on theoretical constructs that were meant to define a new goal for the system. The thesis of the “clash of civilizations” that was to replace the struggle against communism was well-received. Thus, the incompatibility of the regimes in the areas designated as “Islamic” with the interests of the system was highlighted much more than had previously been the case.
In the early 1970s, when such far-reaching developments were taking place around the world, the left-wing movement in Turkey and Kurdish movement in Turkey, which saw itself as committed to both the left and the resolution of the Kurdish national question, had not succeeded in overcoming the classic left and nationalist tendencies. Thus, it lagged quite a bit behind the world. While the left in Turkey oriented itself around the Soviet Union, China, Albania, and European communism, the Kurdish left, an intellectually weak movement, embraced a hodgepodge of primitive Kurdish nationalism and Turkish leftism. At the time, I was interested in both of these currents. I tried to become active as a sympathizer. Even though my sympathy was primarily with the Türkiye Halk Kurtuluş Partisi-Cephesi (THKP-C: The People’s Liberation Party-Front of Turkey) that had come out of the Türkiye Devrimci Gençlik Federasyonu (Dev-Genç: Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey), the Türkiye İhtilâlci İşçi Köylü Partisi (TİİKP: Revolutionary Workers’ and Peasants’ Party of Turkey) that took a more comprehensive approach to the Kurdish question continued to attract my attention. The fact that Deniz Gezmiş, the leader of the Türkiye Halk Kurtuluş Ordusu (THKO: People’s Liberation Army of Turkey), and his friends used their last words before execution to emphasize the fraternity of Kurds and Turks based on freedom was a message that we had to be committed to. At the same time, in 1970, I became a member of the Devrimci Doğu Kültür Ocakları (DDKO: Revolutionary Eastern Culture Centers) in İstanbul. In the turmoil after the coup of March 12, 1971, and the complicated organizational situation that ensued, I faced potentially being driven underground at any moment. And, indeed, after Mahir Çayan and nine of his friends’ martyrdom in March 1972, I was arrested following an occupation of the Faculty of Political Science at University of Ankara and only released for lack of evidence after seven months in prison. I experienced firsthand the disheartening situation of the organizations in which I had invested my hopes and concluded that a new organization was necessary.
The decision taken in Ankara, in the spring of 1973, to organize independently proved important, not because of the opportunities we had but because of what it signified. We neither wanted to be a primitive Kurdish nationalist current nor to resemble the left currents that were essentially Turkish nationalist, which we called social chauvinist, but to start with a distinct historical interpretation and assessment of existing conditions. At first, we called ourselves “Revolutionaries of Kurdistan.” This was a clear change in line that separated us from other organizations, and the significance of that became clearer by the day. In ideological terms, it meant we should neither dissolve into the currents of the dominant nation nor into the primitive nationalism of the Kurdish collaborationist currents that merely represented an extension of the dominant nation’s power. Taking political initiative was enabling us to attain a free identity. I still believe that this was the right choice. It carried within it the seed of a development that, to the extent of their contribution, would make Kurds and other people conscious that they were free people. Striving for the identity of a free people without succumbing to the nationalism of the oppressor or the oppressed nation was the right decision. It was also a timely and appropriate safeguard against the aberrations of real socialism, social democracy, and the national liberation movements, which had, worldwide, all become denominations of capitalism. It had the quality of a path that would lead both to the development of a correct mentality and to democratic politics. An exaggerated emphasis on national liberation could have easily led us astray. Here, the dogmatic interpretation of the principle of the right of the people to self-determination played an influential role. At the time, “a state for every nation” was regarded as the only correct interpretation of that principle. This situation, which also stemmed from real socialism’s understanding of power, was an obstacle to the creativity of the line. The founding declaration of the PKK in 1978 prevented this aberration from developing further.3 Instead of taking the approach of a typical African national liberation movement, the PKK’s line based on the freedom of the people was further reinforced. Even though we were not conscious of it at the time, this corresponded to the transformation that the left subsequently underwent all over the world, which meant our line had a chance at a real future.
Even though the ideological dimension of our line was not yet entirely clear nor particularly deep, it was open to further development and, thus, prevented major and permanent aberrations. Our insistence on calling the socialism we advocated “scientific socialism” may explain our interest in social science. We tried to be cautious of the plague of losing touch with reality that can result from ideological rigidity. Furthermore, the fact that social science also faced severe problems and had only begun to take an interest in the problematics of local cultures, ecology, and women only proved the importance of our line. Our line kept us clear of the hodgepodge of social science, which in turn rendered the ideal of freedom and equality more vivid and apparent. At the very least, it allowed us to limit the destructive effects of the crises of socialism and social science. The lines of other left-wing organizations in Turkey didn’t allow them to do this, and they were unable to prevent their own marginalization as they vacillated between dogmatism and a hollow individualist liberalism. The factional strife among these organizations deprived them of the chance to become politicized from the outset. The same process went on among the groups described as the “Kurdish left,” the only difference being that these groups experienced this process less significantly.
The successful politicization of the PKK line was closely linked to its ideological aspect, as was proven by the speed at which it was accepted by the people who constituted its potential base. Had we been infected by the disease of narrow nationalism or the emphasis on a particular class, we would have been just as marginalized as many other groups. It is known that a process of deep politicization was not experienced. This has to be seen in connection with the “question of becoming a cadre.” Because of their existing form, the cadres themselves were obstacles. Without a solution to the question of the cadres, one of the main factors that led to the collapse of real socialism, no political proposition and organizational undertaking could avoid becoming dysfunctional. Like the political line, the organizational model was also open to developments. Because of conditions at that time, legitimate armed defense, understood as self-defense, was entirely justifiable. But the lack of cadres who wanted to take this on constantly disrupted the line. We wanted to overcome these problems, which can be also seen as an organizational crisis. That some limited developments were achieved was primarily the consequence of the popular support of the movement, but to bring about bigger changes in accord with our line required professionalism.
The most important question the PKK needed to clarify about its political line was whether or not we sought an independent state. Even though we often used the slogan “independent Kurdistan,” it is difficult to say whether or not this was synonymous with the call for an independent state. As one of those intimately involved in the events, I can say that we neither reflected upon nor discussed the question of the state in general or the concept of a state of Kurdistan in particular all that deeply. Although there was a tendency in that direction in a utopian sense, we were realistic, so we were not overly interested in it. I think this had little to do with whether or not we wanted or did not want such a state but, rather, with the fact that we had no clarity about the degree to which having a state might offer a solution. That it had anything to offer was by no means certain. And we knew that this problem was also theoretically contentious. The question of whether to adopt “democratic socialism” or the “dictatorship of the proletariat” was a consistent source of disorientation. What was clear from all of the examples was that the problems of laborers and peoples had not been resolved, even though they had acquired states, and that shaped our thinking. All of this led us to intuitively feel that even though focusing on a separate state might be attractive, it would probably only create irresoluble problems for us. Moreover, the difficulties of founding a Kurdish state under the conditions in Turkey and the Middle East, combined with the new problems that would then ensue, made the issue even more delicate. As a result, instead of the “state,” we preferred the concept of Kurdistan as the “homeland”—although its status was not all that clear. Even the main slogan we chose, an “independent, democratic, and socialist Kurdistan,” included no direct reference to or preference for a state. It made perfect sense that in the end it would be concretized in the more realistic and revolutionary concept of a “free Kurdistan.” It would perhaps be better to interpret “Revolutionaries of Kurdistan” as “advocates of a Free Kurdistan.”
The real significance of this problematic would become apparent later on. After the “Federal State of Kurdistan” was proclaimed in 1992 and the establishment of “free areas” by the PKK, we had to think about state power in a more focused way.4
The fact that the problem of the state could not be completely resolved by socialist ideology made things even more unclear. This problem was further exacerbated by an interpretation of the right of the people to self-determination to mean that every nation should have its own state.
When we speak of the state, we must automatically speak of force and war. Another important problem at the time was that war was not simply considered as a necessity for legitimate self-defense but also as a permissible means of achieving political goals. The strategic position adopted was that without war, a protracted war at that, nations could not be liberated, and without the liberation of nations the liberation of classes was also impossible. The questions of war and power that had led to such far-reaching aberrations in the history of all freedom movements would now increasingly also be on the PKK’s agenda.
That the state attacked us at that time was due to us being a part of the general left and Kurdish groups. There was also nothing about us that would have required the state to react against us in particular. Nobody could have thought that we could become a distinct and long-term epicenter of resistance. All signs indicated a potential military coup on the horizon, so we had two options: we could either choose to head for the mountains or retreat abroad, to another location in the Middle East. In fact, we ended up doing both. In late 1979, the movement had the means to retreat in both directions without serious losses. But it was happening very slowly. Apart from a few regrettable arrests, like the arrests of Mazlum Doğan and Mehmet Hayri Durmuş, we suffered no serious losses in the process.
We had become a movement, we had launched a party, and the positions necessary to secure its existence were in place. Consequently, we managed to act presciently with regard to the coup of September 12, 1980, and to put in place the necessary provisions. In the beginning, expanding abroad was not considered in the long-term. We thought the “law of revolution” was that we would go through military training with a few dozen cadres and then carry out a protracted guerrilla war until liberation. We believed that everything would go according to plan.
As we had envisaged, in the beginning of 1980, groups trained in the Middle East and then returned home. Together with other organizations, we formed a political front under the name Faşizme Karşı Birleşik Direniş Cephesi (FKBDC: United Resistance Front against Fascism). The fact that this did not work as planned necessitated a fair amount of theoretical work. To this end, beginning in 1981, a number of speeches were recorded, tran-scribed, and published in book form. The first, “The Question of Personality in Kurdistan, Life in the Party, and the Characteristics of Revolutionary Militant” was soon followed by “The Role of Force in Kurdistan” and “On Organizing.” The first PKK conference, aiming at a more fundamental and lasting orientation to Kurdistan, was held in 1981, followed by the second in 1982. The Israel-Palestine war of 1982 further accelerated this process.
In fact, the revolution in Iran had created favorable conditions in East and South Kurdistan, and it became apparent that it would be more appropriate to build our bases in those areas and work from there. This is something we had already considered. Mehmet Karasungur, who had gained experience in the conflict in Siverek,5 was there at the time and was capable of making the necessary preparations. It was a great misfortune that he fell victim to his righteousness and amateurishness and became a martyr in May 1983.
Duran Kalkan and Ali Haydar Kaytan were sent to South Kurdistan in 1982 to fill the void, and they were expected to oversee things and implement the line in that area. Earlier, in 1980, our general perspective was that we should build a line of resistance that extended from Botan to Dersim under the leadership of Kemal Pir and Mahsum Korkmaz.6 The unfortunate arrest of Kemal Pir in July 1980 was a serious loss. The situation of the group around Duran Kalkan, which was actually the group we expected would make a breakthrough, was the first to trigger concerns about tampering with the line. If I remember correctly, at the time, I said something like: “To repeat what has already been done in the Middle East would be like painting a donkey and selling it back to its owner.”7 When the planned breakthrough didn’t materialize, Mazlum Doğan took action in the Diyarbakır prison, on Newroz 1982,8 the group around Ferhat Kurtay subsequently carried out a self-immolation,9 and Kemal Pir, Mehmet Hayri Durmuş, Akıf Yılmaz, and Ali Çiçek became martyrs on hunger strike. This caused me great concern, and I felt responsible. This subsequently turned into anger and rage about the expected but not materializing breakthrough. In January 1984, to address this, for the first time there was a small assembly of a limited number of central committee cadres, and the posture of some friends—primarily Duran Kalkan and Cemil Bayık—was openly and profoundly criticized.
We had reached a point, a forked road, at which we could either develop into an exile movement or a contemporary national liberation movement, that is, a movement for the people’s freedom. Our historical responsibility for the long silence of the freedom movement weighed heavily on us. The martyrs in prison and the torture were the primary factors that made it necessary for us to act. Otherwise we would inevitably be stigmatized with betrayal.
In that sense, the offensive of August 15, 1984, could be described as both belated and insufficient. The answer of the state—Özal had just become prime minister—was once more inadequate, in that its representatives always spoke about a “handful of bandits,” an approach that left no hope for any political initiative. In its boundless trust in classic military strength, the state presumed it could quickly crush us and launched its campaign with loud and rumbling propaganda. However, until late 1984, our opponents were utterly unsuccessful. The road was paved for a guerrilla war. But when, apart from the internal stumbling blocks mentioned above, the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) created additional obstacles, the expected powerful offensive did not take place, even though it had the support of the people. What was missing was a cadre of real commanders capable of leading and organizing the movement. This was a decisive problem, and it was to become characteristic of all negative developments.
Kemal Pir and Mahsum Korkmaz had realistically criticized our approach to armed struggle. They were two comrades that could have led it correctly. The loss of Kemal Pir in 1982 and of Mahsum Korkmaz in 1986 were heavy blows to our ability to effectively develop the war according to its rules. We had to partially withdraw, and that same year we held our third congress, which further deepened the crisis. The problem did not lie in a lack of means but in an excessive satisfaction with what we had already achieved with great difficulty. Our nerves were stretched to the breaking point by Kesire Yıldırım’s provocations, discussed further below. Despite all the problems, however, in 1987, we developed a broader perspective and prepared the material conditions for a new and crucial foray. But gang culture had already sunk its roots in the movement and was being organized in an increasingly conscious manner. The problem was made worse by the irresponsibility of the central cadres. Thus, work of great value, the result of many precious people’s extraordinary sacrifices, was blocked, hampered, and neutralized.
In response to this almost inexplicable situation, general leadership, which was becoming more and more difficult, increasingly fell to me. This required me to carry out more comprehensive analyses and to deepen the education of the cadres. Despite the weight of it, I was able to fulfill my responsibility successfully. Almost every prospective cadre got the support she or he needed to participate in the revolution with dignity. But instead of respecting this and contributing, some people launched an internal power struggle that poisoned all of our activities. What we called the gang of four, Şahin Baliç, Şemdin Sakık, Kör Cemal, and Hogir, set in motion a veritable massacre of cadres.10 We still don’t know how many precious cadres they murdered and claimed had “fallen in battle.” The deaths of many comrades remain “unclarified.” Many civilians, ordinary people, women, and children, who should never have been targeted, were killed. The central committee no longer had any influence, and I still don’t know how accurate the information I received from afar was.
I only woke up when Hasan Bindal, my childhood friend, was killed in the most horrible and wicked way said to be “accidentally shot in a military exercise” right before my eyes, on January 25, 1990. My unshakable belief in patriotism and socialism notwithstanding, these disgraceful and inexcusable murders gradually led to an emotional blunting within the movement. By that point, a large number of people who were quite likely innocent had already been murdered as alleged agents. If those responsible dared to act like this when I was there, the scale of such practices in faraway places had to have been all the more horrifying. These treacherous activities were followed by Talabani’s rapprochement and the KDP’s previous and continuing collaboration with Turkey in relation to the PKK. Together they clamped down on the movement. With the only option being “capitulation or annihilation,” we couldn’t find our way out of the crisis we were in despite numerous efforts, many heroic deeds, and popular support.
The decisions taken at the 1990 congress and in some conferences were thrown to the wind. Nevertheless, all these adverse circumstances did not prevent probing analyses, all of which are well-documented, and the education of several thousand cadres each year—or the participation of the population, which was joining our movement en masse.
For the first time, there were serious developments on the part of the state. President Turgut Özal showed an openness to discussing the problem and addressing the ceasefire we had declared in 1993. The prime minister at the time, Süleyman Demirel, said, “We recognize Kurdish identity.” This inspired hope but did not guarantee anything. The ceasefire could perhaps have led to a lasting peace if Turgut Özal had not died in spring 1993, or, as many claim, had not been killed, and if Şemdin Sakık had not shot thirty-three unarmed soldiers in reaction to the unnecessary and senseless guerrilla losses.11 But the internal nature of the state, the gang culture that took the initiative within the PKK, and the treachery of Talabani and Barzani all combined to prevent this opportunity from being seized. As a result, things got even more complicated and slid totally out of control. Between 1994 and 1998, the same approach was stubbornly repeated, leading to tremendous exhaustion on both sides. However, the unilateral ceasefire declared in 1998 in response to the events of February 28, 1997, changed the tune,12 and we hoped that the state would not remain indifferent. In the end, no solution was forthcoming, as I was forced to leave Syria as a result of the pressure exerted on the country. The state continued with its massive attacks, feeling that it could use the opportunity that had arisen to end the problem once and for all by military means. My well-known “odyssey through Europe,”13 followed by my imprisonment on the island of İmralı, marked the end of the second phase of the PKK’s evolution and the beginning of a new phase.
This fifteen-year phase, from August 15, 1984, to February 15, 1999, which could also be described as a period of low-intensity warfare, can be evaluated from various perspectives and a variety of directions. Assessments based on leadership and political-military administrative practices or from the perspective of the art of war and the art of power games are certainly possible, or we could focus on which approaches were basically correct and which were erroneous, as well as which actions were clearly acceptable and which should absolutely never have been carried out. It is also possible to examine things from the perspective of changes in the world in the 1990s, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the election of Bill Clinton as US president, the Iraq crisis, and the need to profoundly analyze the new globalization offensive. In connection with all of these we could reevaluate theoretical concepts: transcending the old left, what a new left should look like, and revolutionary utopia itself among them. Having done so would have enabled us to see the flaws in the existing assessments and recognize and correct our errors.
Some Thoughts on the PKK
I have tried to briefly summarize the history of the PKK, because this could be helpful when carrying out particular analyses. I had earlier said: “It is not the moment that is analyzed but history, not the person but society.” Applied to the PKK, this maxim becomes even clearer. What is being analyzed and disentangled within the PKK with all its positive and negative aspects is both Kurdish history and Kurdish society. We only need to read them correctly and draw the appropriate lessons.
I have never doubted that the formation of the PKK represented a contemporary milestone, a “birth,” for the Kurds. What I did not fully foresee was that individuals who are called “Kurds” could be so contradictory, meaningless, and weak, on the one hand, and so straightforward, consistent, willing to make sacrifices, and brave, on the other hand.
I had analyzed the personality many times, but still cannot claim that I completely grasped and analyzed what a Kurd is. They were thoroughly alienated from themselves. Even though they looked Kurdish from the outside, at their core they had become something else. They didn’t even realize the extent of this treachery. To them, laws regarding neither humans nor animals applied,14 as if they were some third lifeform.
The actual role I wanted to play in building the PKK clearly related to mentality. But despite all my efforts, the attempt to analyze the Kurds as individuals and as a product of their society through the lens of the existing social theories proved deficient and rife with shortcomings. As early as 1975, I had started to present the outline of my thoughts on imperialism and colonialism to Mehmet Hayri Durmuş. My conceptual paper (which I believe still exists) has lost none of its validity and would be as useful today as it was then. It was a good outline of ideas that left their mark on the revolutionary activities of the time and had the potential to make a serious contribution to the mentality struggle of the “Revolutionaries of Kurdistan,” as we referred to ourselves then.
The journey I took through Kurdistan on the basis of this outline proved to be remarkable. It began with a speech at the Chamber of Architects in Ankara, in March 1976. Thereafter, I traveled to Ağrı, Doğubeyazıt, Kars-Digor, Dersim, Bingöl, Elazığ, Diyarbakır, Urfa, Antep, and then, in May, back to Ankara. This march ended on May 15, and on May 18, 1977, came the response to it: Haki Karer was murdered in a plot orchestrated by Alaattin Kapan, who belonged to a dubious group called Stêrka Sor (Red Star). This was a shock, as if someone had poured boiling water on our heads. This was an event that changed the course of history. The possibility that this group had connections with the KDP, some remnants of Turkish groups, and several groups under the control of the state turned the development of the struggle for a different mentality against this dubious hodgepodge of a group into an absolute priority. There was, however, the danger that the struggle for a different mentality would prematurely turn into crude means of physical battle.
This was around the time of when thirty-seven people were killed at an International Workers’ Day demonstration in Istanbul on May 1, 1977, and the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit. It was a time when images of a dirty civil war were being displayed in Turkey. It was under these conditions that we decided to turn our group into a party as quickly as possible. In autumn of that year, I authored the draft program. I did so in memory of Haki Karer, while staying in Antep, where he had been murdered. From there, I traveled once more to Ankara and then, after my curious marriage to Kesire Yıldırım, we left for Diyarbakır in the early summer of 1978.
Our marriage can be seen as a great struggle of mentality, as well as a political and emotional struggle. Kesire’s personality was characterized by her Alevi and Kurdish identity and shaped by the state, making it highly provocative due to the struggle I had begun in terms of mentality. When, as a woman, she joined the group, she should have opened up new circles and pushed us all forward. But when she instead behaved like still and deep-running water, she became a dangerous vortex that mercilessly dragged everything around it under. There were only two possibilities: to totally move away from her or to take the necessary steps to prevent this danger from becoming an overwhelming threat. Totally moving away would have been too simple and would have amounted to a defeat. I offered to marry her because I hoped to reestablish calm in the group and thought that it would be better if she settled her scores with me. It was quite obviously a political, emotional, and intellectual relationship. Had she actually turned out to be a Kurdish socialist, good. On the other hand, had she been working for the state, which was a possibility, the question of who was using whom would be a matter worthy of serious thought. In that regard, I had self-confidence, however limitedly. The fact, however, is that my pride would not allow me to believe that a woman who appeared so very Kurdish was in the camp of the state. Even if that were the case, one could still wage a struggle against the state on behalf of a single woman, if necessary. Perhaps this struggle could have led not just to fierce wars but also to reconciliation and peace. That is how I felt at the time.
That she was an Alevi also encouraged me to build a relationship with her, as I didn’t take my Sunni background particularly seriously. I thought that this relationship might contribute to the unity of Kurdish Sunnis and Alevis. Her family had been on the side of the Kemalists during the Dersim genocide and later continued with the CHP, which followed this tradition and experimented with social democracy, and I saw this as creating an opportunity. Social democracy could be a gateway to reconciliation and peace. We would eventually come to better understand that the CHP’s social democracy was, in fact, only a thin layer of varnish in the service of the state, and later it would also become clear that Kesire’s left and social democratic stance was a similar thin layer of varnish. During this fierce mentality struggle that lasted for more than ten years, I never found a way to reconcile myself with this woman’s Kurdishness, Aleviness, and left-wing statism. I disapproved of the suggestion of some people in the organization that she be killed. Curiously, in the end, she was spirited away with the help of the same Greek secret service that would later participate in me being kidnapped in such a shameful manner. After her departure in 1987, she was never seen again.
Some perfidious persons within and outside of the organization have not hesitated to disseminate malicious slander, doubt, and rumors about me because of this relationship. In reality, this great struggle between different mentalities was extremely difficult and literally required a superhuman effort to endure. Perhaps the most important part of this struggle was that it led to the formation of the free Kurdish individual and in particular the free woman. This great struggle between different mentalities was a struggle for patriotism, freedom, and love.
Here, the question arises as to whether or not, in response to provocations of this sort, we should mix struggles between different mentalities with political or even violent actions. The nature of the politics of domination leaves little room for such questions. Nonetheless, it became increasingly apparent that we too were in the process of contracting these sorts of political diseases.
Once in Diyarbakır, in July 1978, I penned my handwritten theoretical piece, the manifesto titled “The Path of Revolution in Kurdistan,”15 which was my second major leap forward in terms of mapping out a different mentality. It is perhaps of interest and to some degree illuminating to know that this work was written in the war-like atmosphere of my then recent problematic “marriage.” There are those who say that when Mehmet Hayri Durmuş and Cemil Bayık (and another friend, possibly Kemal Pir) came to the house where I was living at the time and saw the state of my relationship they became extremely angry. “How can this woman treat our leader—a designation that began to develop at that time—this way?” purportedly suggesting, “Let’s kill her without him knowing about it and deliver him from this problem.” But Kemal Pir, who never lost his bearings, reacted very maturely: “Our friend probably knows what he is doing. We should not interfere.” It is also said that when he was on hunger strike to the death in Diyarbakır, in reference to this episode, he stressed, as a kind of legacy, that “the party must always be particularly cautious and never forget about it.”
“The Path of Revolution in Kurdistan” became the founding manifesto of the party, whose existence we were planning to announce at the time, and it was published in the first issue of the newspaper Serxwebûn, a publication that had been in the works for some time. When we look back at the manifesto, it can be seen as the culmination and concentrated expression of the assembly of 1973, the declaration of 1975, and the series of speeches in 1977. It obviously alluded to the Communist Manifesto. It tried to address not only the people of Kurdistan but also, indirectly, all societies in the Middle East. Its style and content point more to social freedom than to national character. It neither accepted a nation without freedom nor envisaged liberty that did not address national issues. This manifesto inevitably accelerated the founding of the party. All that was missing was a few not so important details, such as what to call the party and who would be its founding members.
At that time, founding a party was a question of honor. There was no way for us to bring about an immediate response, but with each step we took an enormous void of honor was evident. Wherever I looked, I could almost feel the debasement—as if everything had been betrayed. All dichotomies whether mountain-plain, village-city, history-present, individual-society, the state-citizen, woman-man, child-parent, the road-the traveler, in short each and every dichotomy, was blinding and treacherous. Something had to be done, that was certain. A party might be able to give meaning to these dichotomies and put them on the path to a solution. We were not founding a party in a narrow sense but, rather, as a new way of life. The transformation of identity was imposed on all of us. Such a level of discord with our country and history, as well as the contemporary world, could not be explained through any rationale. We felt obliged to intervene in this situation, irrespective of our actual weakness and rationalizations. In a sense, it was suicidal to found a party under these conditions. This was certainly not a conscious individual suicide action but simply a reaction to the unbearable situation in society and an effort to seize even the slightest opportunity to struggle for a dignified life. From that perspective, the founding of our party represented an attempt to save our honor. It was, in a certain sense, the opposite of an “honor killing.” Personally, instead of sacrificing myself to a narrow conception of “honor,” which I had refused since I was a child, I preferred an honorable act of historical and social significance. It is difficult to explain our course of action solely on the basis of class, national, ethnic, religious, or familial interests. It would be closer to the truth to see the main factor as the action of ordinary people who had educated themselves with great difficulty and gained a certain degree of clarity. We could perhaps best be compared with the Russian narodniki (friends of the people). If we look back at the impact of the PKK, we can say that the particular way that we became a party certainly played its role, and the subsequent developments showed that this decision satisfied an overall need, as well as that of honor.
The intellectual efforts made around the mindset at the beginning of the 1980s served to better clarify the relationships around and between politics and force. The speeches “The Role of Force in Kurdistan,” “The Problem of National Liberation and the Road Map to its Resolution,” “The Question of Personality in Kurdistan, Life in the Party and the Characteristics of the Revolutionary Militant,” and “On Organizing,” which were printed in book form, aimed to address more concrete problems. The experiences of the Middle East and the Israel-Palestine conflict also influenced us. Despite the many years of intellectual effort around the mentality, we had only succeeded in awakening a very small number of young people. But it seemed an overall and deep-seated shake-up of society would depend on politico-military steps that would affect everyone. Genuinely becoming a party and that party’s coming of age would be determined by taking these steps. Otherwise, it would be as if the party had died of some infantile disorder. The combination of the prison resistance and the work taken up in the Middle East made a guerrilla offensive inevitable. There hadn’t even been the smallest positive development on the opposing side to prevent this. Total denial and all-encompassing repression were the state’s modus operandi. The two realities were absolutely and irreconcilably opposed. It was futile to seek grounds for a compromise. Only later did we address the question of whether or not the very odd behavior by Kesire and the lawyer Hüseyin Yıldırım, who popped up at around this time, in Europe might actually have been directed by the state. But it was difficult to find evidence that supported that scenario. Moreover, it would have been difficult to even dare to do such a thing. The later behavior of Mehmet Şener and Selim Çürükkaya raised similar suspicions. But even if these suspicions had proven accurate, these people didn’t have the potential to be anything more than low-level agents. Therefore, we didn’t take them particularly seriously at the time.
The discussions after the offensive of August 15, 1984, basically rotated around the question of why it had remained so limited and insufficient, but not around why it had been carried out in the first place. We had not used a particularly creative military approach. It resembled anything but the guerrilla. The question we always asked ourselves was why we failed to develop an effective guerrilla line. Even the minimum requirements of becoming a party could not be mirrored inside the guerrilla. I am convinced that two factors played a role in this. First, from the beginning, the personalities involved were not ready to truly commit to either this struggle between mentalities or to the corresponding practical efforts with a deep-rooted belief and consciousness, and, second, my stubborn commitment and extraordinary efforts to keeping these people going despite their personal weaknesses. As with the Turkish left, their structures predisposed them to throw themselves blitz-like into the battle and sacrifice themselves, with not much headway being made. I, for my part, wanted them to stay alive and succeed.
At the same time, some individuals who were locals had rapidly risen to prominence and were quick to detect and fill gaps in the command structure. This tendency, which later became more tangible as the “gang of four,” didn’t respect even the most minimal requirements of being a society, let alone the requirements of being a party. These figures were to be a source of devastation that went far beyond banditry, or even anything the most sordid agent could not have brought about. This happened because a local banditry of sorts collided with influence of a party that was still weak, a situation that continued until it precipitated the failure of the second leap forward on our route to becoming a party.
The first leap forward to becoming a party was almost brought to a standstill by Kesire, Şahin Dönmez, and others while we were still determining our mentality. Our second leap forward almost perished at the hands of the gangsterism mentioned above. Every attempt to undertake countermeasures was rendered ineffective by the deep-rooted gang structures, and, as a result, these measures came to nothing. This was neither because of the inadequacies of the movement leadership nor the attacks by the state and its collaborators. It is more realistic to say that the real reason was that we underestimated the power of the gang culture and didn’t succeed in countering it effectively. Neither the movement leadership nor the state prevailed in this particular struggle—victory went to gang culture.16 The current situation of the village guards who are beholden to the state and the gang chiefs, most of whom became “itirafçı” defectors,17 better explains this phenomenon. But this weapon, which was maximally used by the state, would later have an obvious boomerang effect. The state’s decision in the 1990s to support the tribal leaders in South Kurdistan, who can be rightfully thought of as more capable gang chiefs, would later lead to the Kurdish federal state. In the north, the collaborators as village guards and tariqat established themselves so firmly within both the political and the military state structures that they could no longer be easily taken on.
I am convinced that during this period the leadership fulfilled its task, addressing ideological problems and problems with the political and military lines, providing basic education to the cadres, building relationships with the community, and organizing logistics and armaments. One might, however, criticize my choice of location.18 However, this criticism loses its edge if you factor in the possibility of doing activities safely. The most important point here is that some of the leadership responsible for implementing the line on a daily basis didn’t live up to its role—neither politically nor militarily—despite the painstakingly arranged resources at its disposal. Actually, all of the conditions for success were present. From arms to money, from bases to external relations, from relationships with the community to relations with states, with a large number of trained military and political cadres drawn from a pool of potential members, everything was in place and only needed to be properly shaped by an honest military, political, and organizational command structure. Had that happened, developments would have been very different.
We probably couldn’t have attained state power, but that wasn’t really something we had planned for. But we could easily have reached a democratic solution, and we could have done so without very many losses or much suffering on either side. The main factor in the failure to reach a conclusion was the development of gang culture both within the PKK and within the state—the central committee of the PKK, which should be held responsible, failed to address its tasks. It is clear that neither the state nor the PKK won. In fact, both suffered heavy losses, while the insidious and collaborationist feudal Kurdish upper class managed to feather its nest.
To protect their own key interests, the traditional tribal leadership in South Kurdistan dared to act in an entirely treasonous way at the most critical point of Turkey’s war with the PKK.19 An overall appraisal of this kind of treachery and the treachery in the prisons and the war zones indicates that it was planned in an extremely devious, precise, and secret fashion, and that it encouraged Turkey to rely on its policy of supporting the gang culture to an even greater degree. While the politicians by their very nature were quite open to this, the fact that the army also felt compelled to take this approach turned out to be the first step on the road that culminated in today’s federal state. Undoubtedly, the Turkish leaders hadn’t expected this outcome but had seen the relationship with the South Kurdish leaders as tactical. They were certain that this would end with the liquidation of the PKK. Moreover, they didn’t have a clear picture of the actual dimensions of the US plans for Iraq. The collaborationist Kurdish leadership was much more methodical and conscious in the pursuit of its goals. It made masterful use of its relations with both the PKK and Turkey, whereas both the PKK and Republic of Turkey’s command structures addressed the issue in a superficial and oversimplified manner. A careful evaluation of this phase would doubtless lead to a number of important insights. Of particular importance would be clarifying what the relationship between the classic state and the gang state approaches looked like within the Turkish state and what contradictions existed between the two.
Which politicians and state institutions were responsible for the true devastation of the state must be clearly established and exposed, as it was not just the work of the PKK. We need to understand how a completely different state, entirely detached from the republic’s revolutionary principles, began to be built under the rubric of “Turkish-Islamic synthesis.” What role did the war in Kurdistan play in this? We also need to understand how Kurdish tribalism, the village guard system, and the tariqa of the traditional feudal and religious circles could converge and lead to anti-republican developments and how it could lead to further developments similar to the Kurdish federal state in the future.
We must also recognize the part international developments played in this situation. None of this can be sufficiently understood if you only look at the developments within the PKK and the Turkish republic and don’t consider other developments. The dissolution of the Soviet Union beginning in 1990, globalization, and the Clinton administration policies had extensive direct and indirect effects in the Middle East, Turkey, and Kurdistan. The collapse of the Soviet Union weakened Syria’s resolve, leading to my well-known departure from that country in October 1998. Diplomatic support had weakened, and we were bereft of any potential comprehensive support.
Globalization and the enforced changes it is likely to cause in the Middle East oblige us to plan more precisely for the future, because, otherwise, the impact of developments in many countries, Iraq in particular, will be incalculable. Insistence on the old paradigms leads to conservativism and prevents an appropriate assessment of the coming challenges. We should have foreseen that following the arrival of Bill Clinton the tactics used in the region would change. If we had developed a comprehensive understanding of US policy for the region, Turkey, and Kurdistan, my departure from Syria would perhaps not have been followed by the well-known developments. Superficial and belated assessments lead to an inability to act in a timely fashion and to a loss of initiative.
The fact that the theoretical and paradigmatic shift was not carried out in time also contributed to the current blockage. We had not followed the situation of the left, the cultural movements, feminism, and the new ecological initiatives over the last quarter of the twentieth century very well. We also did not have the necessary depth of understanding of the importance of civil society and the struggle for human rights. The program, organization, strategy, and tactics of the PKK had been strongly influenced by real socialism and the national liberation movements. The corrections that we carried out at our congresses never went beyond being tactical changes. The basic paradigms remained unchanged. Even though the çözümleme, or analyses, were more in depth, the lack of a new paradigm made a radical transformation impossible.20 We still looked at social development in a schematic way. A dogmatic mentality affected our perspective on nature and society. We had overcome the mentality of the Middle Ages, but the real socialist schematic way of thinking did not lead to a creative theory of nature and society. Approaching things using these established patterns prevented us from perceiving the rich world of phenomena and the abundance of transformation and change. More importantly, an extreme concentration on the political and the military reduced the personality to single dimension. This, in turn, imposed a hierarchy within relationships. The malady of power spread rapidly, like an epidemic. The fact that the revolution was supposed to be for the freedom and equality of the people and that democratization was a necessary station on that road increasingly became of secondary importance. The political and military approach determined all relations. It was one of the basic maladies of real socialism to mirror such behavior, which might make sense in a military environment, to the people as a whole.
In reality, there was no interest in new theoretical models or in a paradigm shift. Perhaps this can be explained by the fear that our views might prove incorrect and a certain hesitation in the face of the consequences that this could have.
However, the dissolution of the Soviet Union made a fresh look at socialism inevitable. Even though our interest in the women’s question and environmental problems had increased, our theoretical depth remained limited. A more realistic approach to the question of ethnicity could have led to a break with the economist and narrowly class-oriented tendencies and to a rich communal and democratic perspective. Although over time there was more interest in that direction, this interest was not sufficiently deep to overcome the existing blockage. In reality, the PKK carried on with the 1970s paradigm until 2000. Even though that paradigm had not completely collapsed, it had lost significant functionality.
No phenomenon is ever exclusively negative. The history of the PKK is also the story of major changes and transformations in the history and social structure of the Kurds and Kurdistan. We can safely say that the last quarter of the twentieth century in Kurdistan bears the mark of the PKK. The transformation of the mentality and the political and social upheavals that this brought about have made history.
Despite all the damage it has suffered, the organization still asserts its existence to a great extent. In Turkey, abroad, and in all parts of Kurdistan, there are logistical possibilities, cadres, and numerous groups and civil society organizations that represent a potential base for organizing in various ways. The political consciousness of the people is highly developed. The PKK has a mass base that is prevalent throughout Kurdistan. In addition, it has the support of millions of sympathizers abroad and in the neighboring metropoles. There has been an enormous awakening and a remarkable organizing process among women. A new world is emerging with women at its center. The essential elements of the new theoretical approach and paradigm is anchored in women’s freedom. The youth is in a similar situation. A youth that has not lost interest and enthusiasm is the most determined driving force for achieving the ideal of a free society. The slogan “a free life or no life” has become a banner that the youth will not surrender.
As such, founding the party was not completely in vain. Based on its enormous experience, its thousands of cadres, its tens of thousands of sympathizers, and its hundreds and thousands of supporters, the party can easily reconstruct itself both in essence and in form as it sees fit. The guerrilla maintains its presence, with thousands of fighters in the center of Kurdistan and at all the strategic points, despite the undeserved losses and the gang culture. As it frees itself from the severe maladies of the past, that, together with the wealth of experience that it has acquired and a more realistic program, mean it is readier than ever to be successful. Despite being regularly besieged by its opponents, the PKK has friends all over the world and continues to build upon this network. Thousands of martyrs count on comrades who can represent them correctly in terms of mentality and practice. Efforts undertaken in the name of freedom will never be a source of regret. The pain we feel is due only to senseless losses, blind obstinacy, and tasks not fulfilled on time. But for all who know its value, such pain has always been the best teacher. This time, valuable lessons can be learned from this teacher: deserved lessons of goodness, truth and beauty in the best way possible.
Section B—Critique and Self-Critique in the Name of the PKK
According to the sages and prophets, the greatest struggle is the struggle of humans with their nefs, or ego-oriented impulses. A story about Alexander the Great is instructive: the wise Brahman Calanus had come from India and voluntarily accompanied Alexander. He wanted to self-immolate in a ceremony. When Alexander the Great was unable to persuade him to drop the plan, he said of Calanus: “This man has defeated bigger enemies than I have,” even though he was perhaps the greatest warrior of all time. Even he knew and accorded greater significance to being a warrior for wisdom.
The Prophet Mohammad felt the same way. He called the struggle between armies the jihad sughra, the little war, but termed the struggle of the human being with her or his “nefs” or ego-oriented impulses—a form of inner mentality struggle—the jihad akbar, the big war. A consistent and truly transforming self-critique is actually the greatest struggle any individual can be engaged in. Self-critique is the struggle against one’s own weaknesses, errors, and flaws. In scientific terms, it is the struggle of analytical intelligence to overcome the false impulsive traces of emotional intelligence in order to correctly orient this intelligence. This is the development of reason. In effect, the difference between humans and animals is rooted in a development of analytical intelligence into wisdom.
It is perfectly obvious that Kurdish identity cannot be defined as something extremely different from the identities of other human communities. Even though we can identify particularities, in the final analysis we can divide the history of the Kurds into the same phases as that of other human communities. The particularities constitute differences, but a great deal of overall similarity is apparent. The specific traits of the Kurdish identity are determined by the way it was historically and socially shaped. I devoted a large part of my defense writings to these traits. The extreme oppression and being shaped at the hands of the ruling power have incalculably crippled the Kurd’s freedom and the unfolding of particularities to a great extent. The result is a society that we could describe as crippled, even pathological, rather than as marginal.
In the past, I tried to identify these pathological traits by analyzing the personality and developed far-reaching educational and practical measures to remedy them. In that sense, the PKK represents a normalization that has contributed to the formation of a contemporary human being—the transformation of the Kurds into contemporary human beings. To what extent this has been successful is an open question, but that undoubtedly has been one of the ways the PKK has proven to be socially significant.
If transformation has been particularly painful in the concrete example of the PKK, the main factor is the social base on which it must rely. If the organizational structure has democratic characteristics, one can expect many of the negative elements from that social base will permeate the organization and influence the newly emerging individual, making that individual an extension of that social base. If this occurs, the organization will have no impact on social characteristics and will remain indifferent, and the isolation of the organization from the society will be inevitable. Alternately, at the other extreme, members of the organization might be completely unable to extricate themselves from social influences, in which case the organization will directly mirror society, i.e., it will be nothing more than an appendix. In that case, the organization would either be rife with diseases, or there would be no difference between it and the society it wants to change. The desirable and balanced situation is to synthesize the influences coming from the social base with the organization’s revolutionary aspects and influences for change and to make a dialectical leap to a richer and higher level of development. This is the framework in which the dialectical development between a revolutionary organization and the society it wants to change takes place.
The concept of “critique” is related to the dialectical nature of the development. The purpose of critique is to reveal and eliminate factors that don’t contribute to this dialectical mode of operation. Criticism should correspond to the course and nature of development. On the other hand, self-critique expresses the opinion of the agent of development—the person who is in a position to actively bring about development—in terms various situations, events and processes that do not correspond to what should be achieved and desired or help accomplish one’s goals. In other words, it means putting an end to unsuccessful thoughts, concepts, behaviors, and actions that do not correspond to dialectical development and committing to correct ways of thinking and developing an appropriate practice.
We can hardly claim that the PKK’s attempt to achieve a normalization appropriate to our own time was a total success. On the contrary, the analysis presented here shows that not only were there important flaws and errors, but that there were also far-reaching cases of treachery, both within and outside of the organization.
The conclusion to be drawn is that comprehensive critique and self-critique are always necessary. If critique and self-critique don’t lead to the desired result in practice, then what the sages called the “struggle against the nefs or the ego-oriented impulses” has not really taken place. Thus, people deceive themselves and those around them knowingly or unknowingly—in the name of what the sages called “keeping up appearances.” This puts the person in question in an even more difficult situation—the position of being guilty, hypocritical, and a liar.
If this is the case, resorting to more severe sanctions may be necessary. These take many different forms, including acknowledgment, exposure, isolation, imprisonment, and being given various practical tasks. Until the goal is reached, such corrective approaches will continue. If a given organization fails to do this, it will come into conflict with its essence and be disrespectful of its goals and its practice. If the person goes much further that will exacerbate the situation, and the person will be considered a traitor. Being a traitor is the worst and most dangerous state one can find oneself in in terms of society or the organization one belongs to. If an insistence on betrayal does not end with desertion, the result will be open warfare, which in turn means physical or intellectual killing and death.
Defining the reality of critique and self-critique in this way and applying it to the PKK leads to some conclusions of historical consequence. We should say in advance that persons or organizations who dare to carry out critique and self-critique in a consistent way are by no means weak but, rather, will find themselves in a stronger position. Only organizations and individuals who are weak and lack self-confidence try to evade critique and self-critique. For them, critique means destruction, and self-critique is tantamount to total collapse. Those with self-confidence will be strengthened by critique and self-critique and will be able to pursue their goals much more successfully—overcoming whatever is blocking their success and achieving their goals through decisive and increasingly effective steps.
In the following critique and self-critique, which I make in the name of the PKK, I will refrain from addressing certain secondary topics that I have repeatedly elaborated upon elsewhere.21
The Concept of “the Party”
We must begin with our concept of “the party.” Contemporary parties as we know them generally emerged in the capitalist societies that developed in the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. They based themselves on the classes and social categories of these societies. Most of all, they focused on the bourgeoisie and the workers as the fundamental contrasting classes. In addition, there was often talk about the petit bourgeois parties representing the intermediate class. The main goal of all these parties is to arrive at the state. Whether by revolutionary means or through elections, the ability of each party to gain the exalted position of state power and secure a position in parliament or government represents success. This is true for all states, both existing ones and those yet to come. To become part of the state or even the state itself is seen as tantamount to being exalted, to sharing in the state’s blessings, and to control the rudder of progress. This holds equally true for all classes.
We can say that this tendency to “become the state” was among the motives that led to the founding of the PKK. Although this was not explicit, there was a basic unspoken assumption that all our hopes would be fulfilled by the state, either through accessing the already existing state or by building a new one of our own design. All activities in all dimensions, including ideology, politics, the military, organization, and propaganda, were ultimately state-centered and had the goal of arriving at the state. Even though the theoretical emphasis was on a classless communist society without exploitation, the preconceived assumption was always that without the state that is called the long-term “dictatorship of the proletariat” this could not be attained. Therefore, gaining state power was one of the PKK’s key objectives, just as it was for all of the twentieth-century parties. It can hardly be denied that like all other parties the PKK had an interest in the state and wanted to attain state power and represent the state.
We can discuss the degree of consciousness and skill with which the PKK fought for that goal and whether or not it could have reached this goal. One could also evaluate whether the PKK is closer to a “bourgeois state” pole or to a “proletarian state” pole—but claiming that the PKK never aimed at a state would simply not be true. The question of whether or not “becoming a state” meant a Kurdish state or a state under the name of another nation or country changes nothing essential. The decisive question is whether or not we were state-oriented. And since this quite likely was the case, it was only natural that the personality of the people involved, of the organization, and of the modus operandi of “becoming a state” left its mark on the PKK’s practice and its secondary goals. Given this situation, the main focus of theory inevitably became politics and the state, and the main strategic and tactical issues addressed how to position classes in the short- and long-term, how to pick friends and allies, and what forms of organization and action to choose to conquer or arrive at the heights of the state. Thus, all daily work was carried out on the basis of these theoretical, strategic, and tactical guidelines.
Because all other parties and fronts in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries shared this orientation, the question that arises is whether or not these goals were achieved by becoming this sort of party. Now that parties built in the name of classes or nations succeeded in founding states and have had sufficient time being in power, we cannot claim that they achieved their goals. In fact, it is not necessary to provide much evidence to prove that they didn’t.
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, wars, inequality, oppression, and destruction were more extreme than ever before. The use of atomic bomb posed a huge threat to humanity. Assimilation, oppression, and massacres took numerous forms. As a result, at the beginning of the third millennium we see a civilization overrun with increasing inequality, war, lack of freedom, environmental destruction, and sexism and an ever growing abyss between the rich and the poor. In spite of all the lofty ideals that inspired their founding, the proletarian parties share at least equal responsibility with the so-called bourgeois parties for this outcome. As is well known, the real socialist experiments bore fruit that was far inferior to that produced by the bourgeois experiments. It only makes sense for the communist parties, as vanguard organizations, to accept responsibility for this outcome.
Thus, the party itself, as the expression of a state-oriented will, runs contrary to the ideal of freedom and equality, which we can call socialism—it squarely contradicts that goal. Parties that aim to become a state cannot be expected to reach the ideal of freedom and equality. On the contrary, that they are actually leading us even further away from that goal can be considered proven by the practices experienced. To resolve this contradiction, we must, at long last, renounce this orientation toward a state. In other words, if we definitionally agree that the state stands for inequality and unfreedom, we can finally go beyond being the state-oriented party, at least in principle. Being a party in the name of a state or founding a party to create a state must be seen as fundamental errors. Honest self-critique and the renunciation of parties of this sort would be the best way to deal with these insights.
The goal of becoming a state and the ideal of freedom and equality are mutually exclusive. Each requires that the other be overcome. Please note that I am not talking about demolishing the state or disrupting it. The concept of “overcoming” is related to the concept of the “withering away of the state” that Engels developed at the end of the nineteenth century.22 For socialism, the state is like a ball of fire that must slowly be extinguished. I call this “the snowball theory or the pomegranate ball theory.” This snowball—the state—has not only greatly extended its sphere of influence for millennia, without in any way bringing about liberty and equality but, rather, further developing inequality and unfreedom for those under its domination. The state cannot be chosen as a means to achieve freedom and equality, because it is the oldest tradition of hierarchical and class society.
Opting to use the state to implement socialism and any ideal of equality and freedom has proven to be the gravest of errors. When we look back into the depths of history, we see even more serious errors to this end. Even Christianity, which fought the Roman Empire for three centuries, diverged from the ideal of freedom and equality for the poor once it became the state, becoming an empire with a class-based society in the process. The people of the Migration Period, who were organized communally and democratically, also quickly departed from freedom and equality once they became states. The great nomadic societies of the Teutons, Arabs, and Turks gradually lost their communal, democratic, and egalitarian structure after their upper classes transformed themselves into states. There is no shortage of historical examples of freedom and equality lost in this way. The answer to the question of why opting for the state continues to prevail is related to the essence of state power.
Power and Violence
It’s necessary that we untangle power.23 What is power? It is the concrete realization of the state institution. Power is the state at a given point. It is the construction of the state from the respective classes, from the social strata of a given period, as well as from the upper strata of ethnic, religious, and tribal groups. It is the domination of state institutions by organized groups from a new class, an ethnic group, a dynasty, a denomination, or a nation. The emergence of the relations, organization, and action of any of these categories as domination and exploitative force implies the state. The state is neither God himself nor the “shadow of God,” as statist ideologies claim; it is neither the holy mother nor the holy father, neither a god-king nor the supreme embodiment of reason. It is the activity of tyrannical and dishonest groups seizing the laboriously accumulated values of societies, especially their surplus value and products and has been ever since the first hierarchical and class-based society in history. The state is the aggregation of institutions and rules where these activities are carried out. Power underlies the action of such groups, which permeate and manage the existing institutions and rules at their whim.
Since we have discussed the general definition of power extensively in the section on societies, I will only briefly touch upon it here. Power is attractive and advantageous because of the extent of control over the accumulated social values it permits. Being in power means being in possession of the accumulated wealth, with the institutions, rules, might, and methods to further expand them, which is to use fancy words to say that claiming to use this power to achieve freedom, equality, and development is to deceive and hinder not only ourselves, but also our immediate environment and the society we rely upon, knowingly or otherwise. You cannot bring about revolution or achieve any change through power. The only thing power can do is usurp and divide values among the rulers. Furthermore, power consumes value rather than producing it. Whether in the form of taxes or by force, it takes from society and distributes what it has taken among its members. When it invests and produces, that is, when it runs a state economy, this is little more than a way to plunder and confiscate values.
We can, of course, ask: Why was a working-class politician like Lenin unable to recognize this reality? A detailed explanation is in order. In this connection, we should briefly note that the 150-year history of socialism was built on the paradigm of coming to power. Lenin’s contribution was to apply this paradigm with no further ado and to determine the right ways and means to succeed. Even though in The State and Revolution he stressed that the road to socialism goes through the most advanced form of democracy, he and his party regarded establishing socialism by the shortcut of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a basic tactical approach. One of their most fundamental convictions was that under the conditions of imperialism it would not be possible to survive without a party and being in power. History, however, has disproven this—even if it took seventy years to do so.
This does not mean that everything about Marxism-Leninism was wrong. It only shows that the theses about power and the party were false, and that socialism cannot be achieved in this way. It is impossible to say precisely how Marx and Engels understood this issue, because they basically acted solely as theorists. But they also talked about the necessity to use the state as a tool of domination against the bourgeoisie at least for a short period. Apart from them, there were the anarchists, who were not statist, and a number of utopists. Non-statist democracies have, of course, existed at various times in various places, and after the Russian Revolution, many socialists were critical of the socialist state and demanded that it wither away posthaste.
As a result, we can conclude that using the state and state power to achieve freedom, self-determination, and equality does not work but, rather, takes us further away from our goal. If there is a commitment to these aims and their success are desired, it is essential that we work out new political models for parties and coalitions as fundamental tools of struggle and develop them into the necessary theoretical and paradigmatic view. New parties will only make sense if they provide a meaningful response to this problem.
Thus, we must pose the following questions regarding power: Where do the political power holders get their enormous strength? How do they succeed in confiscating and commanding so much value? These questions lead us to force as the foundation of power, and to the fact that force is determined in war. We must not forget that the basis of the state and, therefore, of power is not social reason but force and war. The state and power do not emerge as instruments for the solution of social problems. If we don’t distinguish between the public sphere as the source of problem-solving and the state and its power as the force for domination and exploitation, we will tumble into utter confusion.
There is no social activity that power doesn’t meddle in. Even the family is not spared state interference. The stage reached by global capitalism, has turned the state into both the most intensely applied and the most superfluous instrument of all. The fact that it has become superfluous does not, however, mean that it has grown weaker. On the contrary, it still strives with full force to secure its influence—when necessary, using policies that offer the most concessions. We can describe such state power as totalitarianism. It can perhaps be said that the time of the earlier fascist variety of totalitarianism and its real socialist variation is in the past. Nevertheless, the state as such is totalitarian. This is true of all states that exist today. This is a response to the needs of capitalism, its current crisis, and the emergence of alternatives.
Essentially, the force that the state has been based on since its establishment, i.e., the phenomenon of war, continues to this date. War is the foundation of power. Being in power means shaping society on all levels based on the culture of war and maintaining the status quo. Most of all, however, state power is incongruent with the ideals of freedom and equality, which if realized would mean its negation. Its practices do not serve these ideals. To carry on operating, it must ensure just the opposite in its starkest form. That is why, regardless of good intentions, the ideals of freedom and equality promoted by the parties come to nothing once they constitute the state.
If the new parties acting for freedom and equality want to be consistent, they will have to orient their program around political and social forms that are not state-centered. The alternative to the state is democracy. So far, all attempts to challenge the state with nondemocratic alternatives have failed. In addition, no regime other than democracy limits, restricts, legally constrains, and minimizes the state. Destroying a state in no way equates with transcending state culture. In its place, a new state will immediately be set up or another state will fill the void. Only democracy can share the field with the state and extend society’s realm of freedom by constraining the state. Only democracy can reduce the state’s seizure of values and bring society a little closer to equality.
Democracy is not a form of the capitalist state, as one might think. I define democracy as the self-governance of a non-state society. Democracy means governance that does not become the state—the capacity of communities to govern themselves without a state. Contrary to popular belief, since the emergence of human society, states have been far less common than democracies. It may well be that up to now no complete democracy has ever existed in any country or nation, but, even so, the way in which society exists is communal and democratic. Without communality and democratic reflexes, it is impossible to manage a society using the state alone. The state can only rule by growing at the expense of communality and democracy. The ground from which it emerged and upon which it maintains itself is society’s communality—the need for coexistence—and a democratic stance. There is a dialectical relationship between the state and democracy. Therefore, when society and civilization coalesce, the fundamental contradiction is between the state and democracy. The less there is of one, the more there is of the other. Full democracy is a condition of statelessness, whereas total state sovereignty means a complete lack of democracy. As a result, we can say that the relationship between the state and democracy is not based on destruction but on democracy transcending the state.
Only a state can destroy a state. Democracy doesn’t destroy the state, because this can only lead, as in the case of real socialism, to a new state. Thus, only democracy, by constraining the state and making it smaller, by limiting its excesses in society, and by cutting off its tentacles, can further increase the possibilities for freedom and equality. The basic function of democracy thus emerges. When all is said and done, the state may perhaps become superfluous and wither away. Engels, and also Lenin, to some degree, thought that would be the case, but, unfortunately, they didn’t develop this theory completely.
In states where there is democracy, there are certainly also important changes in the state’s form. The state is gradually forced to give up all unnecessary institutions and rules, retaining only those that serve the “general security” of society and the “public sphere,” i.e., areas of the common good of society. In the EU countries in particular, this relationship between the state and democracy has been acknowledged and implemented, if only belatedly and very slowly. Thus, in a sense, on behalf of all humanity, Europe has performed a sort of self-critique with regard to state and democracy.
With this brief assessment, we hoped to show that being a state-oriented party constituted a fundamental error in our worldview from the very beginning. Regardless of whether or not such a party founds or arrives at a state, it cannot achieve democracy, freedom, and equality by using the state. Unless it rejects this option, it cannot become a libertarian and egalitarian party of a new type. The path to a democratic and socialist party is to ensure renewal by transforming state-oriented theories, programs, strategies, and tactics. We need democratic and socialist theories, programs, strategies, and tactics that are not state-oriented. Self-critique makes sense if developed on this basis. Otherwise, a relapse into the old in the name of renewal is inevitable. The situation the parties of real socialism, social democracy, and national liberation find themselves in clearly demonstrates this.
Self-critique of the PKK
Restructuring the PKK will be meaningful if the party carries out a comprehensive self-critique along the lines elaborated above and shows the strength to then apply its conclusions in practice. Looking back at the past once more, we can see that what was behind all of the PKK’s mistakes and shortcomings was the classic statist understanding of what a party is. If we imagine Kurdistan either as a separate state or as part of a common, federal state, accept this state as the actual goal, and direct all efforts toward that goal, we predetermine how the cadres and the organization will work and what actions and propaganda will look like. The PKK cadres were faced with the oldest historical state traditions. The power relations they entered into without a particularly deep understanding of political science very soon led them to use their power ruthlessly. I have frequently and publicly criticized this.
Today, we have a better understanding of why even after seventy years Soviet socialism slipped back into brutal capitalism: it lacked a democratic education. An overhasty statism sowed the spirit of totalitarianism within society. When that repression was removed, the previous backwardness sprang back to life. It was the backwardness of Czarist Russia that had not been democratized and continued to surreptitiously exist—the gloss of state capitalism only succeeded in hiding this for seventy years. That being the case, we, the PKK, should have known and anticipated that if the cadres are put in a relationship of power, arms, and politics, the possibility always exists that they might lose themselves and become ruthless despots, especially within a society that is constantly on the brink of a massacre—I have frequently strongly criticized the practices of Şemdin Sakık for exactly this. The cadres who took part in the institutions we created were either completely unaware or turned into little despots. The primary underlying reason for this was a lack of political education and, above all, absolutely no familiarity with democracy. These cadres did not even want to know anything about how democratic institutions worked or about their rules and processes. Because of the traditional culture, shirking democracy was a habit that facilitated an easy life. However, democracy requires social consciousness, knowledge of political science, a scientific approach, and experience in social guidance. These virtues cannot be attained easily but require rigorous education and experience.
Because they were based on the state tradition, the politburo and the central committee turned themselves into a hierarchy and made themselves inaccessible and untouchable. Becoming a state starts with having authority, which requires an approach whereby one deals with the people harshly and coldly. One of the first acts of the Median chief Deioces when he had created the first Median Confederation was to break off all past humanitarian relationships and refuse to meet with anyone.24 Then he had the newly erected capital of Ekbatan encircled by seven city walls—a truly strange situation. It proves, however, that identifying with the state means that you must curtain yourself and embrace a mask. The Ottoman sultans continued that tradition, appearing only behind a curtain. Essentially, the socialist parties, starting with their senior leadership, were forced to do the same thing, because this is a necessary corollary of the state.
I must admit that this was the issue that I found the most difficult as a person who played a role in the practice of this movement from the beginning. I was never able to make my peace with the state form and its protocol. I wavered between my democratic composition and a composition that was becoming statist. I was torn between the two. As the PKK grew, I began to understand the power play better, and I have to say that I didn’t like it. At the core, the biggest battle I fought rotated around the question of whether or not I should conduct myself like a statesman. The greatest challenge to maintaining my enthusiasm as we approached 1995 was an increasing awareness that I was drifting away from my goals. I realized that even if I was becoming a statesman, there was not much good in it, as it was reducing the stature of the people around me. They would behave servilely around me, but I knew that they were not being sincere. I also presumed that they could be dangerous if the opportunity arose. This was a development that bothered me. It did not at all correspond to my ideal for relationships. For the first time, I became convinced that this approach could not be successful, that any successes we scored would correspond to entirely undesirable goals. This basic truth is the core of the difficulties that have haunted the PKK since 1995.
A flimsy “civil servantism” emerged in all of the relationships and structures of the cadres and the institutions.25 Having a utopia, being very enthusiastic, pursuing and creating new things every day was no longer an issue. Everybody was carried away by the desire for a mediocre life based on the revolutionary values that had been acquired with so much difficulty. This was one of the most dangerous maladies. The fact that the revolutionary PKK had developed a degenerate gang culture and ruthless despots, on the one hand, and was behaving like a civil servant, on the other hand, also meant its end. All of the immeasurable effort I had put in produced nothing but stunted people.
I have devoted a lot of energy to untangling this phenomenon. My analyses since 1990 indicate how intense these efforts were. I made extensive use of critique as a weapon. If the disorder was not correctly diagnosed, there was no reason to expect a successful treatment. Under the conditions that Kurdistan was in, that the cadres of a party, which from the central committee down to our base, idealized statehood would deteriorate into brutal gangs if they were of peasant background and into despotic civil servant–like posture if they were semi-intellectuals was only to be expected. This type of deformity was inherent in the party’s very goal.
This is what I mean when I say that the second phase of building the PKK failed. It is not a question of whether or not this leap forward was foiled militarily or technically. These are secondary questions. If the PKK had transformed itself even ever so slightly into a state, it would have drawn to a close, that is, its revolutionary essence would have been extinguished. It would inevitably have turned into a formation like the KDP and the PUK. From 1995 to 2000, I did not have the capacity to fully address this problem. Until 1995, the PKK was primarily a utopian movement, with a lot of enthusiasm and profound beliefs. As we approached the end of that phase, we realized that something was seriously wrong, that things were repeating themselves endlessly, and that we were unable to see what the remedy was, so we simply held on to our existing positions, adding a few new ones. We had fallen into a situation of trying to keep up appearances.
The process up to and including my time on İmralı Island has contributed to me finding a solution to this problem. This is the result of having had the opportunity to look at the nature of the sciences and, therefore, social reality more realistically. Moreover, it proved advantageous to be cut off from intense practical work. Had I too been profoundly afflicted by the malady of dogmatism, like most of the cadres, I would probably not have mustered the later strength to untangle problems and resolve them. I have come to untangle not only Marxism but also all utopias addressing freedom and equality and, in addition, the phenomena of state and democracy. Moreover, I also deciphered the relationship between power and war.
The malady of wanting to conquer power and the state is particularly likely to result in an extremely dangerous despotism in individuals from a reactionary social background who have not enjoyed a serious scientific and humanitarian education. To satisfy their desire for power, they will try to solve even simple problems with armed violence. This was explicitly clear in the case of some individuals. During the process of becoming gangs in particular, some brutal characters emerged. Their style of leadership and command consisted of treacherously shooting the most precious comrades they were annoyed with in the back like they were killing particularly annoying bugs. This was the biggest horror. Sending friends they wanted to get rid of on suicide missions, or even doing so simply to meet their simplest of needs, became common practice. Of course, this form of decay was only understood much later. Being in power, being a commander, became very attractive. There was total recklessness. Because these people could get anything they wanted with this kind of power, the eternal malady of power played its evil hand once again. The game of power was their favorite game, and they masterfully played it against each other with plots and counterplots. This was the most dangerous form of decay within the PKK. The effect on the people was much worse. Even loyal people who were invaluable to us were overwhelmed. Actions were accompanied by activities that never should have taken place. People forgot that women and children are entitled to particular protection. Even animals were squandered. All of this was clearly inhumane and unacceptable. On the other hand, we must not forget that the practices of the ruling power often included the total removal of villages and cities from the map—they were simply leveled. Becoming civil servant–like was no less common a malady. Taking refuge in a civil servant–like career in the midst of a life and death struggle was one of the worst forms of deterioration. The others wasted time in inadequacies that included cronyism, minding one’s own business when that was not what was needed, and making do with what had already been achieved. Thus, an era in the history of becoming the PKK came to an end.
Obviously, the reason for all these negative developments was the fundamentally statist nature of the party. Advocating freedom and equality but taking the state as the means for getting there made this aberration inevitable. One way out of this situation is to abandon being a party based on this fundamental quality and to surpass it, and this is the path that we have chosen for the reconstruction of the party.
A second significant error on the part of the PKK was its definition of the nation and the national liberation struggle. Like a quasi-religious prayer, we had learned by heart that the path to becoming a nation was via a national liberation war. After all, both the classics of socialism and the examples of contemporary wars seemed to dictate this. Without becoming a nation, we could achieve neither freedom nor equality, and the path to being contemporary human beings would remain closed to us. The road to achieving this passed through a national liberation struggle fought with full force, a struggle that had three strategies: defense, equilibrium, and offensive. With this goal in front of us, we went everywhere: abroad, into the mountains, to prison, to the villages, to the towns. Because we approached our task with a dogmatism that has become integral to the people in the Middle East, we felt that we had to carry out a national liberation war. There was no other path to becoming a dignified nation. By this point, “war” had become a sacred concept. Fighting for national liberation was even more important to us than the concept of “jihad” is to Muslims. Clearly, just as in our approach to other phenomena, we had relapsed into the illness of dogmatism.
If we analyze the phenomenon of war, we can only conclude that it is a malady that should not be compatible with human society. Apart from mandatory self-defense, no form of war is acceptable. It is extortion and rapaciousness at its very essence. Irrespective of the ways in which its traits may be hidden behind masks, thievery, domination of others, and plunder are an inseparable part of its nature. War is based on the belief that conquest confers upon you every right. Therefore, war is the biggest disaster and the worst evil of human society. We had not fully grasped that war only makes sense if there is no other way to protect and ensure our existence, freedom, and dignity. What we understood by national liberation war involved conquering everything anew. It could easily go beyond legitimate self-defense and become a retaliation campaign and a mutual attempt at conquest. At the time, we did not worry about any of this. If we had thought more about the war of legitimate self-defense and distinguished between the theory, strategy, and tactics of such a war and all other kinds of war, we could undoubtedly have avoided many mistakes and losses, as well as much suffering. Investing all our hopes in winning a national liberation war had major drawbacks given the actual reality.
Given the international situation, the deployment and organization of forces, and factors like logistics, winning a foolhardy national liberation war would require luck. Because we failed to recognize this, we engaged in low-intensity warfare for more than fifteen years, which could maintain its existence after 1995 only by excessively repeating itself. It would be incorrect to argue that this war didn’t produce anything positive, but it is still the case that conceiving of it as the only possible option and acting accordingly led to many senseless losses and to failing to gain the results we might have had if we tried other approaches. Our three-stage strategy was a typical example of dogmatism. Although a more realistically organized defensive war with support bases and tactics appropriate to the geographic conditions of Kurdistan and our relations with the people might not have led to a state, it could, nonetheless, have led to a coherent democratic solution.
Personally, I believed in the leading cadres in the country and thought they could achieve this. I was very supportive and made numerous sacrifices. But the same malady of power had emerged even more dangerously in the inlands where they were. The gang culture had reached a level of vileness and decay that cleared the way to easily eliminating even the most precious comrades. The decisive issues were not whether or not there were intentional provocateurs in our ranks, the treachery of collaborators or betrayal in our midst. The fact that the art of war was a dirty art in general and that in particular national liberation was understood dogmatically engendered such an outcome. The danger arose that all sorts of nationalism would be stirred up, that tendencies toward separatism and blind violence would increase and would, as a result, further deepen the social chaos.
If we had refrained from fetishizing the concept of “the nation” and instead defined it as a loose form of society and concentrated on the much more important point of living as a democratic, egalitarian, and free national community, we could have achieved results that would have demonstrated a greater understanding of reality. Possessing a unified nation and an all-encompassing state of our own should not have been seen as a nation’s best, most beautiful, and most fitting ideal. In addition, the important thing was not being under the roof of a state but being democratic. That would have meant that the path to achieving our goal was not a war with any manner or method, but if war were to be necessary, only a defensive war would make sense. From that perspective, efforts toward a democratic society and the most varied kinds of organizing and solidarity that served that goal would have been possible, and we could have developed freedom and equality without falling into the nationalism of either the oppressor or the oppressed nation and without allowing for separatism or excessive violence. But a dogmatic approach based on an interpretation of the right of the people to self-determination prevented us from recognizing the numerous possible alternate solutions. It also prevented us from paving the road to the democratization of Turkey. The flames of oligarchic nationalism were fanned in a truly horrible way, and those doing so regarded this as a wonderful opportunity to profit both economically and politically.
If through our policies and actions we had proven how much of a strategic and indispensable element the Kurds were for the unity of the country and for the nation-state of Turkey, namely, as a free national community in a common homeland and under the roof of the same state, there might have been a positive solution for both sides. That this sort of rich path to a solution was never actually considered has to do with the understanding of the party, power, the state, the nation, and the war to achieve all these that I talked about above.
I hope I have largely overcome dogmatism, and in doing so have contributed more realistic dimensions to definitions of the state, power, war, the nation, and the nation-state today, thereby paving the way for a solution based on a renewed foundation of the party for a democratic society that is also open to a comprehensive and legitimate war of self-defense, if necessary. This is not just a strategic and tactical transformation. Behind it lies paradigmatic and theoretical considerations solidly rooted in a scientific mindset that enable richer political thought and a different approach to party building. Integral to this radical transformation is overcoming the malady of statism that has characterized socialism for 150 years, turning away from the bourgeois understanding of the nation, accepting the communal and democratic approach to sociality that has been seen throughout history as our fundamental reference point and, correspondingly, linking the ideal of freedom and equality to these radical shifts.
This critique and self-critique in the name of the PKK inevitably raises the question of the reconstruction of the party. We face burning problems and tasks that must be resolved urgently: a renewed foundation of the party based on a brief summary of the current situation, legitimate self-defense, and the foundation of a congress as a fundamental organizational form for the people.
Section C—The Questions in the Restructuring of the PKK
In the early 2000s, I had already said that the PKK’s stagnation was primarily due to internal problems and that carrying on with the existing framework would not lead to a solution but would, on the contrary, prevent it. I suggested that it would, therefore, be better to dissolve the PKK and to continue to pursue its legacy under another name with a different framework. In my submissions to various courts, I evaluated the new situation, as well analyzing both history and the age we are in, to elucidate what the form and content of the possible new structures might look like. On the basis of these analyses the KADEK was founded, followed by the Kongra Gel. The extremely limited information I received in prison suggested that a sincere a self-critical examination of the past had taken place, and that as a result these new formations offered a way forward. At the same time, I tried to act in a sensitive manner during the İmralı process so as to contribute to the ceasefire that we had been trying to implement unilaterally since 1998 and if possible transform it into a permanent and meaningful armi-stice.26 Through various letters and dialogues that represented an indirect continuation of the dialogue that began during my interrogation, I made proposals for a responsible course of action to both sides. Until the events of September 11, 2001, I did my best to remain hopeful of a solution. But, apparently, the leadership of Turkey regarded the US’s new “anti-terror” offensive as a golden opportunity and bet on the option of annihilating us, ending the phase of indirect dialogue at that point.27
Meanwhile, the November 2002 parliamentary election came onto the agenda. Before determining the new orientation of the movement we wanted to see the election results. The AKP won an absolute majority, enabling it to govern alone. I wrote a letter to the AKP government and the new prime minister requesting that the Kurdish question be resolved through dialogue. Their response would determine our course of action. At least, I would be able to give clear responses to the expectations PKK members had in me. Even though I extended the deadline several times, I never received a response. Finally, I stated that our declaration for a “democracy and peace reconciliation” would end on September 1, 2003. After that, the KADEK was to decide for itself how to proceed. The KADEK announced a new initiative for November 1. Prior to this, I had suggested a unification of the Kongreya Neteweyî ya Kurdistanê (KNK: Kurdistan National Congress) and the KADEK so that there would not be two separate centers but instead the creation of a Kongra Gel. The proposal was well received, and, in autumn 2003, the Kongra Gel was founded.28 But then, instead of the anticipated new initiative, there was a split.29
To be honest, I had not expected anything like this, but because I knew the organization and the cadres, it was not difficult for me to assess the situation. The cadres who had been members of the leading PKK group since its official founding proved unable to take on the necessary personal renewal and development, even though, in the direst of conditions, we always made theoretical and practical support available to them. Their training in the Middle East, together with the new possibilities and circumstances and the experiences they had gained were supposed to enable them to advance, but instead of undertaking the leap forward expected of them, their lack of clarity about their own intentions led them to scuttle all plans. The fact that they delayed offensives similar to that of August 15, 1984, and when they did implement them they did so in quite a different way than intended, steadily increased my concerns.
Since 1981, I had tried at numerous conferences, congresses, and educational meetings and with many instructive speeches to induce them to base their practice on the party line. I have also made harsh criticisms. More often than not, they chose to force me to take up their ways. They insisted on the modes of behavior I described earlier, when I tried to briefly explain how this behavior eventually led to the liquidation of the PKK.
The way that the split came about clearly shows that their self-critique of the early 2000s had not been sincere. Their new initiative for the people and the fighters was nothing more than irresponsible, ugly, and liquidationist wrangling (I am trying to avoid the word treason here) that in no way corresponded to history, society, companionship, the martyrs, our morals, or the crucial political developments. According to the press—my lawyers, for whatever reason, didn’t deliver the expected explanations to me on time—these horrible developments were instigated in late 2003 and early 2004, and this ugly conduct was fueled and spread without me becoming aware of it. I should note that at the time I had been cut off from the outside world for extended periods.30 I was subjected to an even greater isolation within the already imposed isolation. From the limited information available to me, I concluded that there were certain far-reaching calculations being made about me. They (I do not want to talk about a “faction”) assumed that I did not have much control over developments, and that I was unlikely to get out of prison alive, so they had already written me off. They did, perhaps with the best of intentions, what the gangs had previously done within the guerrilla. But this time, they expanded into all areas: the political, military, and ideological realms, as well as the grassroots level.
I am not in a position to know the intentions and the true roles of the friends who took part in this process. I also consider this of relatively minor relevance. For me, it is obvious that these friends regard themselves as standing above the historical, social, ideological, political, and organizational line and its implementation.
They did not participate wholeheartedly in the existing organizations nor in the restructured ones, or muster the necessary intellectual power or willpower this requires. They have not participated with passion in the people’s sacred cause for democracy, freedom and equality. They have either let themselves go and, thus, given in to objective defeat or have, with their extremely egocentric behavior, sacrificed or tied the cause to their personal whims. They have exploited the possibilities offered by the movement to puff themselves up. But, most of all, they have failed to understand the true value of my efforts in Turkey and the Middle East and, finally, throughout the İmralı process, and, thus, haven’t acted accordingly. They haven’t behaved like true comrades. They haven’t understood that becoming a party requires devotion and self-sacrifice in the implementation. They have never really come to know the world of true politics, organization, and thought. And they have never appreciated the value of women and women’s freedom.
Can there be any explanation other than that they consider my extraordinary efforts a weakness and have behaved accordingly? Can I still stand by idly while they, as they recently did, not only act against the party but also against the democratization efforts of the population? It is well known that our electoral potential in Turkey is certainly not less than 10 percent of the vote. The fact that the results stagnate at around 5 percent because of their machinations is less a quantitative than a qualitative problem. It proves that they have no interest in what democratization entails. Just as they didn’t want to understand war or how to become a party, they now do not want to understand that with their unfounded impositions from the outside they leave the people—who came together with great effort—in the difficult situation of having to abandon the struggle. Even the ablest provocateurs could not have achieved what they did during the last municipal elections. Apparently, they really have internalized their role as little despots. I eventually grasped that some of these scoundrels were actually angry about my contributions to the democratization efforts of the people over the last six years, even when it meant neglecting my own legal defense.
It is known that there are one or two volumes of my speeches in which I have criticized and condemned Osman Öcalan. Before my mother died, I didn’t phone her even once to ask how she was doing, because that might have harmed the people’s cause. It is well known that I have been acting very responsibly and sensitively in terms of family cronyism. Nevertheless, recently there has been a slanderous campaign targeting me. Of course, there is more behind this than the usual behavior. It is not understandable that some of these wretches display the sort of crude behavior that even the state shies away from. There have even been incidents in which some of my sick family members have been treated badly that could be described as being terrorized. I cannot understand what the perpetrators expect to achieve by this. If this is about gaining more influence, the connection with me is clear. But, actually, I didn’t criticize them because they became leaders but because they failed to become leaders! What then do they want revenge for? What was it that they wanted from me but failed to get?
Within a movement, there may be fools, idiots, scoundrels, conspirators, traitors, and provocateurs, just as there are heroes, sages, and honorable, honest, and dedicated people. But I absolutely don’t understand what we have seen here recently. I think it is akin to political gangsterism. This wouldn’t matter much if the effects were limited to these people themselves. But if these extend to military, political, and ideological issues, there will be extremely dangerous consequences. At the same time, these people are too dimwitted to realize that they are even stupider than Abu Jahl.31 How can they approach the values that nurture their own honor, dignity and everything else? I don’t intend to elaborate by providing a list of issues.
The most recent situation goes beyond factionalization, aberration, flight, or similar issues. We need another way to understand this situation. They denounce Osman to obfuscate the real situation. In my opinion, Osman is a donkey who has been ridden into a minefield. They are all allowing themselves to be used by others in the worst way, none of this has any other meaning. I also won’t keep my opinion to myself about another matter. How can we explain that people like Cemil Bayık and Duran Kalkan were repeatedly unable to stop some of the most useless people from fleeing the organization, when all the while under their rule many honest people committed suicide, fled, or were arrested and punished by them merely because they had ignored orders? How long can the constant division that is causing people to flee and getting them killed go on? I will refrain from providing the names or elaborating on the actions of those they were responsible for bringing to the forefront. Do they not know how much damage they have done to us?
I don’t intend to discuss the good intentions of these two friends and the sacrifices they have made in their own way. But how can they reconcile their consciences with the price of their actions done in the name of the people and thousands of values ? Can our political and organizational standards tolerate such things? If they have any concerns, however slight, for the development of the struggle and the war, do they think it can survive the negative impact of their actions? My point here is not the degree of anyone’s responsibility. Political reason demands that we avoid such situations. What is meant by leadership is not only openly exposing such attempts with extraordinary foresight but making sure that they never actually materialize. Could this be the result of the oaths you have taken? How could engaging in consistent self-critique about political and organizational topics, as well as the actions undertaken, end in such developments? I’m not asking who is right and to what degree. No one who is not a provocateur, a scoundrel, or totally vacuous would tolerate such things, let alone become an instrument in such developments. Our movement, our people, and all the values we are fighting for deserve better. I want to remind the comrades and our friends and enemies once more that I have given my word before history, the people, and my comrades that I will never allow anything like this to happen on their behalf.
Given my circumstances, all that can be expected of me is that I draw my red lines very clearly. These red lines will above all else clearly determine what my opinion about party building, organization, action, and grassroots work is to the friends who have been following their own line in party building, war, and grassroots work for more than twenty years. Someone like me cannot be expected to capitulate to them. How can they dare do something that even the state has not dared to do? They should at least approach the matter with the same degree of seriousness as the state. Even if they see me as their enemy, they should at least show the seriousness that this requires. But if they, as they claim, want to be friends and comrades, given their age, they must at least fulfill the minimal requirements for this. I am sincerely ready to accept them as a tendency within the congress. And if they are in any way sincere, they should at least be able to take steps in a manner that allows them to live up to their tasks in the congress. An overwhelmingly awakened majority of our people want me to contribute to the cause to my last breath. If these people can’t help in that process, I demand that they at least cease being an obstacle.
In conclusion, I respect the right of those who see themselves as a side in a conflict to organize themselves as a tendency. They can express themselves on ideological, political, military, and social issues and implement them. They can even found their own party. But the minimal precondition for this is that the statutes of the congress are respected. Everybody should respect the will of the congress and embrace their tasks in that spirit.
Of course, it follows that I too have the right and responsibility to continue on my own path. To retain my human dignity, I consider it necessary to make use of my right to free speech and to tackle my responsibility and, most of all, to enter the discussion about the reconstruction of the PKK based on intellectual foundations that I have been pondering for a long time. The best path to reconstruction would be for the existing tendencies to get to know themselves better, so they are in a position to reunite should the opportunity arise. Because of the high expectations of thousands of comrades, millions of our people, and the many thousands of martyrs have in me, I think this is the right attitude to adopt.
To repeat what I have said above, I want to ask these friends not to become inordinately emotional in the face of the problems but to prove themselves worthy of the people and of humanity through not only displaying wisdom but a true political, military, and organizational personality. It is never too late. Let us be successful in fulfilling the historical obligations of the moment. Unity and success through big truths and big deeds is more valuable than accidental achievements gained by fragmented attitudes and personalities in their thousands. Everyone, including those in the former gangs, should know that I regret the position they have slid into even more than they do. Even though our social reality imposes its cursed features, trust in people is essential. Moreover, if my friends, who have endured the most difficult circumstances for such a long time, really know and respect themselves, it is unthinkable that they won’t be able to develop a political, organizational, and practical approach suitable to the situation. I hope that they will have much future success and declare that if they pursue the right path they can count on our support.
The key to resolving the Kurdish question lies in Kurdish-Turkish relations within Turkey. The Kurds in Iran, Iraq, and Syria only have a limited potential to achieve a durable solution on their own. That they can only play a secondary role in achieving a resolution, has been proven by the various phases of the Kurdish question in Iraq. The current Kurdish federal state is a formation that emerged in exchange for the US and its allies declaring the PKK “terrorist,” at Turkey’s behest. If Turkey hadn’t accepted it, this solution would not have been possible. The result has been the endless chaos in which Iraq finds itself today, with the final outcome being entirely unpredictable. In this connection, the long-term course of the federal state of Kurdistan, with its feudal-bourgeois character and, in particular, its affect not only on Iraq but also on Iran, Turkey, and Syria, is unforeseeable. There is a danger that an Israel-Palestine-like conflict will develop and become more entrenched throughout the region. If a Kurdish nationalism is developed as an ideological derivative within the capitalist system, it could potentially amplify the region’s Arab, Persian, and Turkish nationalisms, creating a deadlock that would prevent the resolution of problems. On the other hand, a solution that accepted the political borders as an established fact, would be based on the legal recognition of Kurdish status accompanied by a deep commitment to cultural freedom and democratization. This distinctive approach to a solution could find its place on the agenda as a fresh non-nationalist model for a solution. Since this could be realized peacefully, while respecting the integrity of the states and nations of the countries involved, it is more compatible with historical and social realities. A comprehensive presentation of the bases and consequences of both approaches to a solution would contribute to our understanding of probable developments in the near future.
The history of Turks and their relations with the Kurds and the Greater Middle East Initiative that the US dusted off and put back on the agenda compels the Republic of Turkey to adopt a more practical approach to the reality of the Kurds and their relationship with the Turks. In this context, the historical dimension of Kurdish-Turkish relations also gains importance. We can now clearly see that the denial policies of the recent past are giving out distress signals. If, hereafter, we want to avoid experiencing a Kurdish-Turkish tragedy similar to the Israel-Palestine tragedy, then we must approach the problem with a historical and social perspective in a creative and democratic manner. However, despite some recent token statements about democratization, the practice of denial still binds together the entire system of the state and society—everyone from the right to the left—and not only in terms of discourse but also intrinsically. This gives rise to a tremendous concern and an atmosphere in which even bigger conflicts might once again arise. Based on our experience, it is of great importance that we offer ideas and suggestions so that these concerns can be convincingly dispelled, leading to an atmosphere that promises a genuine solution.
Between 9000 and 7000 BCE, some of the South Siberian tribes, among them proto-Turkish tribes, moved south into today’s China, Korea, Japan, Mongolia, and Central Asia, as well as going further west. Others migrated across the Bering Straits that connected Asia to the American continent. There is convincing scientific evidence for this migration, including the results of etymological and genetic investigations. At the same time, the Neolithic Revolution reached the coast of the Pacific and the South China Sea. It is assumed that the productiveness of the Neolithic revolution set these tribes in motion. The long-term population increase that accompanied this new system was a causal factor for this ongoing migration.
The first known urban civilizations in China emerged in the third century BCE. The Yellow River played the same role as the Nile, the Euphrates, the Tigris, and the Punjab did elsewhere in these tribes creating civilizations.
As civilization developed along the Yellow River, the attacks by the tribes in the surrounding area likely became a chronic threat. Indeed, the first written Chinese sources, from the third century BCE, report attacks by the Uighurs, a tribe from the surrounding area that is generally regarded as the ancestor of the Turks. The official chronology of Turkish historiography begins with Metehan, in 209 BCE.32 A number of sources document a major migration of proto-Turks to the south: to China, Afghanistan, and India, as well as to the west, today’s Kazakhstan, and from there to Europe. For the most part, these people are now concentrated in today’s Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and the autonomous Uighur region of Xinjiang, in China.
The fourth century CE saw a major migration of the Huns to Europe, when many of those migrating were unable to make it to China and changed course. Apart from this expansion north of the Caspian and the Black Seas, there was an increase in the expansion to the Aral Lake region and south of the Caspian Sea in the direction of Afghanistan. Population increase and droughts accelerated migration, and in the sixth century this pattern of migration exerted pressure on the Iranian border. This kind of pressure goes back to the times of the Persian Safavid Empire. The stories about Afrasiab and Turan date from this time.33
With the expansion of Islam into Central Asia toward the end of the seventh century, a new stage in the history of the Turks began. Since the Göktürk states and the later Uighur state were more like confederations, it can be assumed that they lacked the experience of a strong centralized state. At that point, there had not been a centralized state in Central Asia for long durations. The confederations that emerged under the influence of China and India never lasted for more than one or two generations. Even the world empire of the Mongols only endured for about half a century.
The Turks adopted Islam for political rather than religious reasons. Had they not converted to Islam, they would not have been able to continue with their traditional pattern of migration. Their increasing Islamization beginning in the ninth century further accelerated with their first political formations. After the princedom of the Karahan, the earliest state of the Turkish tribal aristocracy emerged with the first Seljuk princedom in Merv, in today’s Turkmenistan. The victory in the Battle of Dandanaqan, near Merv, in 1040 CE, led to the foundation of a Seljuk dynasty in the Iranian state tradition. After the Islamic caliph in Baghdad declared the Seljuk prince the sultan, the dynasty’s borders expanded from the Mediterranean to Afghanistan.
It was at this point that, for the first time, the Turkish migratory tribes saw the far-reaching emergence of feudal class division. While the aristocrats became the state and founded a large number of princedoms that spread to the Middle East, most Turkmens, who were the poorer part of the population, continued their independent migratory life at the bottom. The tenth to the fifteenth centuries saw the intertwined development of urbanization and class divisions within the growing Turkish population in the Middle East, on the one hand, and of the state, on the other hand. After the sultanate of the Great Seljuks, which lasted for about a hundred years, they founded princedoms called beylik and atabek in its place. Among them, the princedoms in Anatolia unified and established the Anatolian Seljuk state, with Konya as its capital. As a result, in 1076, the first Islamic state in Anatolia was founded.
Around two hundred years later, in 1308, the Ottoman princedom emerged further to the west on the foundations of the Byzantine Empire. Later on, this became the largest feudal center, the empire of the Turkish Ottoman dynasty. This empire ended up in a position to defend the East against the West in the era of capitalism’s development and rise. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw the development of Turkish bourgeois nationalism. In 1839, the Tanzimat reforms were introduced. These were followed by the first and second constitutional reforms, in 1876 and 1908 respectively. Later, with the war of national liberation in 1920, Turks exited the ruins of World War I and founded a state. Thus the era of the Turkish nation-state had begun. This republican era was a historical phase during which the Turks took an enduring form as a nation in Anatolia and made the transformation from a feudal society system to a capitalist society system. This approximately millennium-long Middle East adventure allowed the Turks to consolidate and build a state, primarily in Anatolia, while transforming themselves from tribes into the nation of Turkey. Their relationship with the Kurds played a strategic role in all of this.
Relations between Kurds and Turks can be traced back to the legendary discourses of Zoroaster and Turan. The military campaigns of the Persian-Median Empire against the pro-Turkish provinces brought a legendary dimension to the relations with the Scythes. At the time of the Parthians and the Sasanians, the Turkish tribes, primarily concentrated in the Khorasan province in the northeast of Iran, forged relations with the Kurds who had also migrated to the area for various reasons. But the significant contact took place during the rule of the Great Seljuk sultans. From the tenth to the fifteenth centuries, Turkish and Kurdish tribes lived side by side in today’s Iraq, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Mesopotamia, with a complex web of relationships and contradictions.
After the Great Seljuks, many Turkish princedoms, including the Aq Qoyunlu, the Kara Koyunlu, the Artuqids, and the Atabeqs of Mosul, lived side by side with the Kurdish princedoms. The shared Islamic religion, the fact that they faced the Christian states of Byzantium and Armenia, and the later crusades played a strategic role in all of this. Sultan Sancar, the last great Seljuk sultan, used the word Kurdistan to refer to an administrative unit in 1155.
Historians agree that the Kurds supplied the second largest army in the victory of the Battle of Manzikert, in which Sultan Alp Arslan defeated the Byzantine emperor Romanus, a victory that definitively cleared Arslan’s path to Anatolia. On May 15, 1071, before the battle, Alp Arslan went to Silvan, then the capital of the Kurdish Marwanid state, and, in addition to the almost ten thousand ready forces, he gathered an equal number of tribal forces. What does this tell us? Without the support of the Kurdish political formations, Turkish existence in Anatolia would have been impossible, or, if possible, it would not have avoided very serious threats. We must remember that whatever equilibrium a society is founded on, it will continue to exist by relying on that equilibrium into the future. Whenever this balance is disturbed, it will face ongoing serious threats to its existence until a new equilibrium is established.
Beginning in 1071, there were two different dimensions to the relationship between Kurds and Turks. First, the political and state dimension, meaning the relations and contradictions between the Kurdish and the Turkish princedoms. Those relations and contradictions began around 1050 and continued until the collapse of the Anatolian Seljuks in 1308. The second dimension concerned the social and cultural realm. The tribes intermingled and underwent a natural assimilation, primarily into Kurdish sociality and culture. It was a peaceful and culturally enriching period. With the founding of the republic, the result of intense Turkish nationalist political pressure, a period of forced assimilation of the Kurds into the Turkish nation began. Kurds experienced tremendous social dissolution in the face of the political, social, economic, military, educational, and artistic policies implemented during this period.
The Strategic Alliance
The second phase of Kurdish-Turkish relations began in the sixteenth century as a strategic political relationship, when, during the rule of Sultan Selim I, the Ottoman Empire turned to the East. To be able to cope with the Safavid Empire in Iran and the Mamluks in Egypt, Sultan Selim needed the firm support of the Kurdish princedoms, which were in a strategically important position. Historians report that he sent baskets full of gold and blank sheets of paper bearing his signature to create an alliance. He concluded separate alliances with twenty-three Kurdish princedoms. Selim would have preferred for all Kurdish princedoms to unite under a beylerbeylik—a primary Ottoman administrative division—but internal contradictions made this impossible, so he appointed a beylerbey—a lord of lords—based in Diyarbakır. This relationship and the participation of all of the Kurdish princes guaranteed Selim I victory against the Safavids at the Battle of Chaldiran, near Van, in 1514, and the Battle of Marj Dabiq, north of the Syrian town of Aleppo, in 1516, as well as against the Mamluks at the Battle of Ridaniya, in Egypt, in 1517, thereby establishing the largest empire in the Middle East. Without this strategic relationship not only would the victories over the Iranian and the Egyptian states have been unlikely, but it would, in fact, have been almost impossible for him to have moved an inch beyond central Anatolia. Had the Iranian and Egyptian states allied with the Kurdish princedoms instead of choosing confrontation, that might well have spelled the end of the Ottoman state. Indeed, in 1402, the Turkmen sultan Timur the Lame delivered a crushing defeat to the Ottoman state in the Battle of Ankara, because he had nurtured exactly these relations.
Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Kurds always maintained privileged relations with the Ottoman sultans. The Kurdish princedoms in which many local governments, principalities, and sanjaks—districts—had a privileged system in place, with power transferred from father to son. This privilege was not granted to any other group of subordinates within the Ottoman Empire. They enjoyed complete autonomy in terms of their domestic affairs, and any limitations regarding language, cultural existence, or the arts were simply unthinkable. Kurdish language and culture produced much of its literary work during this period, for example, the epic Mem û Zîn. The social and cultural superiority of the Kurds remained a reality at the time. They sent the Sultan gifts or participated in his military expeditions only if the Sultan asked and of their own free will. The Sunni Kurdish princedoms had good relationships with the sultanate. These Kurdish princedoms, whose relations with the state remain good today, were, largely part of the Naqshbandi tariqa system. On the other hand, the Alevi Kurds, who wanted to defend their cultural autonomy, turned to the Shiite Iranian-Safavid state. This, but even more so their strong devotion to their freedom, made them a permanent target of the Ottomans. During the rule of Selim I, who was called “Selim the Grim” because of his cruelty, his general Murat Pasha, also known as “Murat the Well-Digger,” had forty thousand Alevi thrown into wells, in the hope of destroying a strategic threat root and branch.
The beginning of the nineteenth century marked a new stage in Kurdish-Turkish relations. The growing demand of the Ottomans—who were being pushed into a corner by the West—for taxes and soldiers led to a radical course of action against the Kurds. The result was a period of bloody uprisings led by the Kurdish princes, who had a significant amount of autonomy. The first of these uprisings started with the Baban principality’s uprising in Süleymaniye, in 1806.
The uprisings continued in 1878, this time under the leadership of the sheikhs. With the suppression of the uprisings led by Sheikh Said in 1925 and Seyid Rıza in 1937, this stage ended in defeat. At no point had all Kurds participated in any of these uprisings. They all began as local uprisings, and none sparked a national uprising. The feudal structure proved to be an obstacle to such a development. Nonetheless, the uprisings led by Prince Bedirhan in 1846 and by Mahmud Barzanji in 1923 might have been successful if the British had not supported the respective ruling states. Today the leadership of Barzani and Talabani, the most recent representatives of this line, have roots in both sheikh leadership and tribal chiefdoms. The fact that they underwent a bourgeois transformation and enjoy the strategic support by the Western countries provides them with a final highly risk-fraught opening.
During this long political phase from 1071 to the end of the Ottoman Empire, Kurdish-Turkish relations essentially consisted of a strategic alliance based on mutual needs. If they abandoned this relationship, a strategic loss for both sides was inevitable. With the Ottomans wedged into Istanbul and Central Anatolia, the Kurdish princedoms would have lost most of their existing autonomy and ceased to represent a meaningful political and social force. Thus, this strategic alliance has a strong historical and social foundation.
No social or cultural relations were prohibited; in that sense the atmosphere was free in a way unimaginable today. The forced dissolution of ethnic groups is the result of biopower policies of the capitalist age.34 Even though we rightfully reject feudal regimes today, they were not a source of cultural assimilation, which would have been considered unethical. This is reflected in all forms of political organization in the Middle Ages. The dissolution and annihilation of peoples’ languages and cultures is an immoral practice of the capitalist system, facilitated by capitalism’s lack of ethics. This is why, prior to the influence of capitalism, Turks did not interfere with the linguistic, religious, and cultural life of any people.
As soon as the nationalist ideology of capitalism was adopted, the devious policy of forced dissolution began. Natural assimilation, however, has always led to an enrichment on the basis of a mutual synthesis of cultures. In terms of respect for the religion, language, and culture of others, the Ottoman Empire was more advanced, free, and humane than any Arab, Persian, or Turkish nationalist state today. It would, therefore, be a major error and distortion to think of capitalism as superior to and more liberating than the Middle Ages in every way. On this issue, capitalism is actually modern barbarism.
Capitalism in Turkey
There were several phases to the process of becoming capitalist and bourgeoisification in Turkey. The Ottoman Empire, with its centralized feudalism, was perhaps one of the last of the great precapitalist civilizations in history. It was a regime that fiercely resisted the transition to capitalism, thereby slowing capitalist development in the Middle East for several centuries. As a consequence, the Middle East was not completely colonized; it retained its Islamic identity, and the worsening problems of modernization were held at bay until the present. Now, however, problems are escalating, with no solution in sight.
The Greek, Armenian, and Aramean bourgeoisification and adoption of capitalism occurred more easily because of their Christian identity. This also led to an early nationalism, which, given the extreme power imbalance at the time, quickly resulted in conflict and, finally, in their liquidation. The real cause of this process must be sought in capitalism’s propensity for profit and accumulation.
At the end of the nineteenth century, the İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (İTC: Committee of Union and Progress) began the actual state capitalist transformation.35 Using its Pan-Islamist identity, this party first tried to force this transformation on all Muslim subjects of the empire, but because of the growing nationalism among the different Muslim peoples they failed, which only served to accelerate the disintegration of the empire.
We can divide the capitalist transformation in the era of the republic that rose on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire into three phases. The first phase primarily focused on building the necessary superstructure and developing the mentality of capitalism. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s republic and all its institutions were inspired by the French Revolution and based on what was fundamentally a Western mentality. Although quite belatedly, he attempted to use revolutionary methods to jumpstart a process of Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment. While the attempt to very rapidly replicate a development that had taken several centuries in Europe and to do so within a narrow nationalist framework produced significant results, it did not succeed in creating a revolutionary bourgeoisie. This first phase basically resulted in a bureaucratic capitalism largely concentrated in the hands of the state. Until the 1950s, this bureaucratic and collective state capitalism continued to develop, but when faced with the balance of power between the East and the West it turned toward the West and, as a result, went through a phase dominated by private capitalism.
In this second phase, the era of the Demokrat Parti, private capitalism gained momentum. The military coup of May 27, 1960, was an attempt to restrain this monopolistic private capitalism, which initially developed in some of the big cities, primarily Istanbul, İzmir, and Adana. This coup was basically a product of the contradiction between state capitalism and private capitalist transformation. Even though the transition from authoritarian state capitalism to oligarchic private capitalism was painful and conflicted, it continued to accelerate. During the era of the Demokrat Parti, it was primarily exponents of trade and agrarian capitalism who were represented in the oligarchy, while the industrial sector dominated during the rule of the Adalet Partisi, from 1960 to 1980. Then the financial capital sector grew much more powerful from 1980 to 2000, under the governments dominated by the ANAP. Within the state, the influence of the army increased and civil forces gradually grew weaker. From 1995 to 2000, the Kurdish upper class, which had been suppressed during the first phase of the republic, secured its place within the oligarchy, albeit through quite varied and different groups, and then sought to defend it. Those who best proved their loyalty to state ideology could count on special privileges.
While the ideology of the first two phases was primarily characterized by nationalism, beginning in the 1950s, the Turkish-Islamic synthesis, chauvinist-fascist circles, and tariqa-type Islamism gradually gained influence within the state. While the national consciousness during the times of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and İsmet Inönü was primarily fueled by Western culture, after 1950, due to the anticommunist policies of the US, it relied increasingly on nationalism, fascism, and reactionary religious ideologies. The Kurdish upper class could only survive by transforming itself into a tool for mediating this intense denial and assimilation.
At that time, the classes excluded from both state and private capitalism were unable to overcome their traditional resignation to fate. A push for democracy could not be developed. The classic left-wing attempts were crushed without gaining much resonance among the people. After the Kurdish uprisings, the cultural erosion of the Kurdish people accelerated to a point where Kurds almost ceased to be themselves. The PKK was the most pronounced reaction to this development. But it would be too narrow to regard the PKK as nothing but a Kurdish movement. Essentially, it emerged as a countermovement against all statist, political, and ideological forces in Turkey and the other parts of Kurdistan.
We can characterize the third phase of capitalism in Turkey primarily as “Anatolian capitalism.” It was distinguished by the development of small and medium-size enterprises and medium-size capital. One could also speak of an “Anatolian capitalist revolution.” This is a third-generation Turkish way of becoming capitalist. The first generation was a bureaucratic collective Turkish capitalism, the second generation was the monopolist private capitalism in the big cities, and, finally, with the generation of Turkish “Anatolian capitalism,” the system is complete. The AKP aspired to be the main boss of this Anatolian capitalism. Even though Anatolian capital also developed during the time of the DP, AP, and ANAP-RP, it is trying to consolidate itself as the true master of the political center through the AKP, acting as an independent political movement. In the process, it is also making a considerable effort to integrate the developing Kurdish bourgeoisie into the overall scheme.
The Era of the Republic
The most critical phase of Kurdish-Turkish relations began during the republican era. The traditional Islamic ideology was replaced by nationalism as the mindset for relations. Turkish nationalism was fed by two external sources: first, the historical and social knowledge acquired from the intellectuals among the Kazan Turks, who were subjected to the repression of Czarist Russia, via Europe. They, for the first time, tried to show that there was a Turkish history outside the history of the Ottoman dynasty. The second source was the German Empire, which was a latecomer in the colonization process. Germany wanted to use the Turkish communities to expand east toward Central Asia, and, therefore, tried to entice both Pan-Islamist and Pan-Turkish currents, including supporting their respective doctrines. The idea was to use both of these ideological currents to foster Islamist and Turkish chauvinist uprisings against Czarist Russia to create opportunities for expansion. Beginning in the 1880s, Germany dislodged England and France from their place at the side of the Ottoman Empire and continuously expanded its influence. As a result, the defeat of Germany in World War I also destroyed the Ottoman Empire.
Feeding on German and expatriate Turkish sources and inspired by German nationalism, the nationalism of the İttihat ve Terakkiperver Fırkası (İTF: Party of Unity and Progress) had a racist character. At that time, German historians pursued and held in high esteem ideas like “purity of race.” The İttihadist nationalism aimed to rally the whole Turkish world around a similar racist nationalist flag, clearly befitting the intended route of German expansionism. The fact that this approach was detached from historical and social reality would later cost the Ottoman Empire dearly.
The nationalism of the movement led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who led a national liberation war, founding the Republic of Turkey on the ruins of the empire, had a different orientation. We can describe his nationalism, which referred back to the cultures and civilizations of Anatolia, beginning with the Sumerians and the Hittites, as cultural nationalism or Anatolian patriotism. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk understood the difference between these nationalist concepts. He openly rejected the frequent suggestion to call the newly founded republic Türk Cumhuriyeti, i.e., Turkish Republic, or Republic of the Turks, preferring the name Türkiye Cumhuriyeti, that is, Republic of Turkey—a name that refers to the country and not to any race or ethnic group. Nationalism or patriotism of this sort cannot be called racist.
But some intellectuals in the tradition of the İttihat continued and elaborated upon the racist discourse. Most extremely, the nationalism of Nihal Atsız ominously pointed to the Jewish dönme and the devşirme from among other peoples,36 defining them as the most dangerous groups, alleging that they had undermined the state and Turkishness during both the Ottoman and the republican eras.37 This position was advocated by the Millet Partisi (MP: Nation Party), founded in 1948, and, since 1960, has been the position of the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP: Nationalist Movement Party).
Anatolian nationalism, for its part, was first very rigid within the Cumhuriyet Halk Fırkası (CHF: People’s Party),38 and, since 1960, although accompanied by a social democratic discourse, has not lost its essence or undergone any transformation. Nationalist ideology continues to be used to various degrees by all left, right, and Islamic parties. As capitalism developed in Turkey, nationalism continued to develop and spread from the state to the society to become a prevalent mentality, even replacing the dynastic mindset within the Turkish patriarchy.
Turkish nationalism has, in fact, taken on a highly patriarchal character. Being a backward capitalist country played a clear role in this development. Of equal importance, Islamic ideology was never entirely abandoned. For example, the Office for Religious Affairs was established as a ministry during the republican era. The Office exercises control over Islam, Sunni Islam in particular, and works to control society, using an alleged laicism. This laicisim is not a sociological phenomenon but is part of the official state ideology. In a way, this ensures that religion becomes compatible with modernism in a controlled manner. Other ideological variations of the republican era are represented by the not so well developed statist (all left- and right-wing parties of the Republic of Turkey are statist) liberal and socialist currents. Alongside this, there are the Islamic tariqat, whose sociological character is more closed and semisecret. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk made a great personal effort to give the republic’s ideology a firm scientific base, but he was not particularly successful. The end result was a blurry mix of left- and right-wing capitalist discourses of doubtful scientific value, intertwined with the feudal Islamist tradition.
The military and political foundation of the republic was based on an interesting balance of power, both internally and externally. Externally it found support from the still lively backdrop of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the first revolution against capitalism. Internally, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk united the Kurdish and Turkish popular masses, who feared a complete fragmentation and annihilation at the hands of the victorious powers led by England, behind the Misak-ı Millî (National Pact) strategy.39 In this way, Kemal Atatürk organized the liberation movement both on the local and the national levels. Using these external and internal balances of power he achieved both a political and military victory. He put an end to the sultanate and the caliphate, and adopted the French Republic as his model. This was clearly a serious political revolution. Smashing a state structure based on dynasties and religion, with roots reaching back thousands of years, and declaring a republic was a serious revolutionary step and an unprecedented event in an underdeveloped and occupied country. From the 1920s to 1945, the republic developed by taking advantage of the struggle between the capitalist and socialist systems. When capitalism, under the leadership of the US, gained predominance after 1945, Turkey adapted to these external developments and tried first to militarily integrate into NATO and then economically, socially, and politically into the system in general, a process that accelerated during the DP’s rule.
The political development from authoritarian republicanism to an oligarchic republic was accompanied by the development of industrial and financial capitalism. With the global neoliberal offensive that took place around the world after 1980, it reached a new stage as a result of external dynamics and a departure from the nation-state model. Subsequently, Turkey was entirely drawn into the chaotic period of the world capitalist system under the leadership of the US in the aftermath of the Soviet dissolution. Integration into the system seems to be complete in the military, economic, political, media, and cultural areas. Previously Turkey played the role in NATO’s anti-Soviet section. Now it is a frontline state in the Greater Middle East Initiative and must once again confront its historical and social foundations “on the basis of the clash of civilizations theory,” as it tries to emerge from the chaos with a new structure by revitalizing its relationships and contradictions.
Kurdish-Turkish relations can be divided into three phases in connection with the developments in the republican era.
The first phase lasted from the war of national liberation until 1940. When the national liberation phase began, the main body of Kurdish society was still under the spell of the classic understanding of the umma and loyal to state culture. There was a joint reflex of resistance among Kurds and Turks against English and French occupation in the south. The resistance in Urfa, Antep, and Maraş is a typical example of this joint resistance, the continuation of a historical tradition. Both felt connected to the other religiously and nationally in terms of kavim.
Nationalist ideology was not openly articulated during the war of liberation.40 Based on a certain understanding of the umma, the Islamic brotherhood played a more prominent role. When parliament, the Türkiye Büyük Millet Meclisi (TBMM: Grand National Assembly of Turkey) convened in 1920, it was regarded as the common assembly of both peoples. The Kurdish deputies were officially called People’s Representatives of Kurdistan. There was no national (kavim) contradiction between the two peoples. In this spirit of fellowship, there was even an attempt to end the Kurdish Koçgiri rebellion that erupted during that period.
The strategic role of the Kurds in founding and proclaiming the republic was at least as clear and pronounced as their role in the strategic victories at Malazgirt in 1071, Çaldıran in 1514, and Mercidabık in 1516. The strategic and tactical thinking of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk played a decisive role in this. In his view, a division between Kurds and Turks and especially hostility between them would lead to catastrophic consequences for both. Thus, he argued that both people had to act together. Apart from a few limited provocations, the Kurds reacted positively to this call, both the population at large and the aristocratic upper class. However, various factors led to a deterioration of the situation by 1925. First, it became clear that the republic would be based on Turkish nationalism, that the abolition of the caliphate and the sultanate were permanent, and that the umma would, therefore, not be returning. Second, Kurdish collaborators lost their former privileges, and it became increasingly clear with every passing day that there would be no place for them as Kurds in the Turkish nation-state. Third, there was incitement from various sides, be it from the English because of the Mosul-Kirkuk question or from remnants of the Ottoman dynasty around the idea of a return of the sultanate and caliphate. In the case of the uprisings, the Kürt Teali Cemiyetleri (Society for the Rise of Kurdistan) founded by some Kurdish intellectuals played a part. After the second constitutional period, at the end of the nineteenth century, a primitive Kurdish nationalism emerged that led to the founding of several associations and journals; the hope was to win a few reforms in support of the Kurds.
Objectively, these uprisings could be understood as a continuation of the internal uprisings in the conflict between the understanding of the umma, based on the feudal remnants of the Ottoman Empire, and the republican version of Turkish nationalism—the Aznavur and the Yozgat uprisings are examples.41 The conflict between Ottomanism and republicanism was projected in this manner onto the Kurds lasting until around 1940.
The Kurdish uprisings of the time can also be divided into three phases. The first was the uprising led by Sheikh Said, which broke out in 1925 in the region of Hani and Genç. It continued until 1928 as a local conflict. It was strongly influenced by the late Ottoman understanding of umma, and the influence of the Sunni Naqshbandi tariqa was evident. The loss of privileges from the Ottoman period also played a role. Rather than making the establishment of Kurdistan their goal, the stronger objective was the return of the Ottoman caliphate and sultanate. There was a clear tendency to strive for a state based on religious belief. Because its leading members were arrested, the Azadi Cemiyeti (Freedom Society) founded by Kurdish intellectuals under the leadership of Xalîd Beg Cibranî in 1924 was unable to play a vanguard role. The British influence, for its part, was indirect. The British used the uprising as a trump card in an extortionist manner during negotiations in Lausanne, telling the Kemalists they would support the Kurdish rebellion unless the Kemalists withdraw from the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, in today’s Iraq. This was an important factor in the deterioration of Kurdish-Turkish relations, even though Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had declared only shortly before, in early 1924, that he recognized the problem of Kurdish freedom and had said at a press conference in İzmit later that year that efforts were being made to find a solution.
The uprising destroyed any possible attempt at a solution. From this point on, the tendency toward a complete liquidation and assimilation of the Kurds prevailed. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk saw a serious danger that the caliph, the British, and the advocates of the umma would use this uprising to pool their efforts to abolish the republic. This was the main reason for his very violent suppression of the uprising. Rather than seeing it as an expression of the Kurdish question, he saw it as an attempt to destroy the republic and replace it with a sultanate collaborating with imperialism. All the uprisings that followed was seen through the prism of this perceived threat, a mindset that has continued until today, acquiring an almost paranoid quality along the way.
This was the most fundamental rupture in the history of the republic in terms of the negative approach toward the Kurds, whereas the Kurds were a primary constituent in the founding of the republic. That this deep-seated rupture led to exaggerated and aberrant repression has much to do with the perception of threat described above, which was turned into a political line aimed at making it impossible for the Kurds to breath. Even when seeking their basic rights, Kurds were silenced to the point that they could not even say who they were. The role of the British was extremely destructive, in that it provoked both sides. The same was true of the other big Western states, which played a decisive role in the liquidation of the Armenians and the Arameans. Had it not been for the interventions of those powers, the catastrophes these people suffered would have been unthinkable.
The uprising of the second phase was the Ararat uprising of 1928–1932, under the leadership of Ihsan Nuri Pasha, with the organization of intellectuals, the Xoybûn, jointly founded by Armenians and Kurds in 1928, exercising ideological influence over the movement. This uprising was triggered by factors similar to those that had sparked the previous uprising, but it had a more nationalist character. However, it failed to develop beyond the local level.
The third phase was the Dersim uprising. The Dersim region had largely been able to preserve its freedom until that point. The central authority of the republic was seen as an end to this freedom. While there had always been uprisings of varying magnitudes in the region, the final uprising in 1937–1938 represented a climax with effects that continue until today. The region is distinguished by its Kurdish Alawi tradition. Kurds in this region had not joined the Sheikh Said uprising in 1925, because it was a Sunni Naqshbandi uprising. This is a fundamental division between Kurds. Because of the Hatay problem, in 1936, the French began to exert an influence similar that exerted by the English in 1925,42 one of the factors that contributed to the brutal suppression of the Dersim uprising.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and İsmet İnönü were well aware that the problem of the uprisings could not be solved by military suppression alone. In his memoirs, İnönü writes that executions in particular went too far. They fully understood that this had seriously hurt the republic. Nevertheless, they opted for a cover-up rather than a genuine solution. At any rate, it was unthinkable that the nationalism of the dominant nation’s state, a form of nationalism that had just reached its climax around the world, would allow for any other solution. Moreover, the pain of the losses engendered by the demise of the empire lingered in the background, and it seemed that the only remaining option was simply to swallow the Kurds and Kurdistan whole, even though this exact approach had been one of the main reasons for the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. Great Britain, for its part, reacted with liberal solutions to the loss of its empire and has, therefore, been able to maintain its influence around the world to this day. We can see the uprisings and their suppression as two historically mistaken actions that mutually promoted and provoked each other because of their ideological character and class structure. The most important factor was undoubtedly the framework of the capitalist system, which produces nationalism, fascism, and colonialism.
The second phase of Kurdish-Turkish relations during the republic was the phase of the great silence from 1940 to 1970. Under the difficult conditions of World War II, one could hardly expect any movement. But under the rule of the DP, things developed in a different direction. When the aristocracy regained power, with the takeover of the government by the DP, the Kurdish nobility was not forgotten. The Kurdish feudal, religious, and tribal leaders offered a great opportunity to organize an intense reaction against the CHP. The DP used this potential as an important force to create and develop the oligarchy. The Kurdish upper class was all too willing to shed its Kurdish character to take their place within the state. To rid themselves of the scourge of Kurdishness and become a good example of Turkishness suited their historical character perfectly. Contrary to similar examples in other countries, they did not even play the role of bearers of the Kurdish language and culture. Since the time of the Sumerians, it has practically become second nature for them to live using the language and culture of the dominant ruling power of the day. Even their role in the various uprisings, was never anything but a trump card that allowed them to expand their share of power through blackmail.
Apart from a few weak intellectual voices, in this phase, there was no activity on the part of the Kurds. There was only indirect influence from the Kurdish uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as from some Kurdish radio programs broadcasting from abroad.43 Without them, the Kurds would have scarcely been aware of themselves. On the other hand, the state pursued an intense assimilation policy, with the maxim “Citizens, speak Turkish!” that reached the level of thinly veiled threats. It was impossible to publish even a single Kurdish newspaper, magazine, or book. It was presumed that this would be enough to have the issue resolve itself by simply fading away. In the 1970s, this policy eventually backfired. Nonetheless, examining all these policies with all of their subtleties at some point would doubtless prove enormously enlightening.
1970 to Today
The third phase, which continues to this day, began with the youth movement of 1968. The influence of the movement of ’68 on Kurdish youth came primarily through the Turkish left. At that time, the Marxist position on the national question was intensely discussed. At the end of the 1960s, Kurdish intellectuals and youth created the Devrimci Doğu Kültür Ocakları (DDKO: Revolutionary Eastern Culture Centers), which later split into different factions that proved influential. The PKK emerged stronger from the intense ideological struggle between 1970 and 1980 and left its mark on the later developments throughout Kurdistan with the breakthrough that August 15, 1984, constituted. For the first time, there was an attempt to develop a Kurdish freedom movement based on the ideological and political perspective of working-class Kurds. This movement continues to act effectively, both in terms of the problems that it has raised and the solutions that it has proposed.
Section D—Reform and Social Transformation in Turkey
This short summary of Kurdish-Turkish relations in the era of the republic exposes what lies behind the fundamental stagnation and introverted nature of the state and society. The state, for its part, sees all social problems as security issues. For a better understanding of how such a situation came about it would be useful to conduct a more detailed evaluation under the heading “Turks and the State.”
Since their departure from Central Asia, the Turks have fully understood that they can only protect themselves by being warriors. Furthermore, they have also led a life of constant tribal conflict among themselves. In every step the Turks took toward the Middle East, they needed to find allies and fight foes. This was necessary if they were to make any headway, or even to retreat, and any progress was determined by the laws of war. War seemed to be the only way to assert your existence, because the Middle East is one of the key areas that has been ruled by war and power since the Sumerian era. To control even an inch of land required war and power. When the Turkish tribes advanced into this region for the first time, this law proved more severe than ever before. The war-based expansion of the Seljuks differed from the previous, more limited tribal social migrations. Beginning with the Seljuks, the Turkish tribes were advancing by becoming a state. This is how they advanced from Merv, where they first intensified their political and military power, to the most western outpost, the Székesfehérvár castle in Hungary. Retreating was also only possible through warfare. During every retreat from the second siege of Vienna in 1683 to the Second Balkan War of 1913, the rules of war were in force. Not only was internal Turkish rule primarily based on military authority, the same was also true for the communities they ruled over. Political power had not developed. The sultan was a soldier emperor who directed the state and society with daily orders called ferman.
The era of the republic is also primarily characterized by military leadership. After all, the republic was founded in war, and all the subsequent basic political and social institutions were realized under strict military supervision. This plays a more important role in the relationship of the Turks to the state than is the case for other countries, peoples, or nations. It is as if statism had become ingrained in their genes. Statism not only became central for the class of state leaders and bureaucrats. It is a phenomenon that no group in society seems to be able to do without anymore. Just as one is unable to live without Allah, one is also unable to live without the state—or at least that seems to be the common conviction. The stronger and more violent the state, the more secure people feel. The weakness or collapse of the state would be tantamount to their own annihilation and death. This might be an exaggerated approach on their part, but there are very obvious historical social reasons that necessitated such an approach. Since Turkish rule was never established within Turkish structures but was always wrested from others, it was also always feared that it could, in turn, be wrested from them by others. Therefore, there could be all kinds of danger lurking, including annihilation and death. This should clarify for the reader why we present this relationship as a historical and dialectical reality for Turks.
Because the republic was built on this culture and emerged as a consequence of a war against the “powerful nations of the world,” security will always be the highest priority for both the republic and society. Turkish development is in many ways different from that of Western societies. In the West, many societies have asserted their existence not through war but by resisting and constantly attempting to constrain the warrior ruling power bloc. The existence of such a culture facilitates the emergence of a civil society and democracy and gives priority to human rights. Nonetheless, the tradition of war and power is decisive for all social relations. The difference lies in its intensity and how it is philosophically understood.
Among the Turks, the state is experienced in an intense manner, with the most sacred philosophical and religious interpretations. Therefore, anything that could put limits on the state—civil society, human rights, or even universal legal and political norms—is regarded as a threat. Trust and faith in democracy are still very weak. It is feared that democracy could weaken the state and lead to its collapse. Since 1945, there has even been an effort to exercise complete control over the pseudo-democratic interplay between the two oligarchic parties. Because democracy is seen as a trap for the state, very strict controls are all but omnipresent.
This state-oriented social perspective is palpable in every institution. Progress and personal advancement are believed only to be possible through a state position, particularly in the military. Therefore, working for a state institution is both an honor and the best way to make a decent living. It is clear that in a state-oriented society like this, there is little room for the development of self-confidence and creativity. A society that literally discounts itself in the name of the state and regards itself as unworthy will, of course, be unable to develop civil society, the rule of the law, economic power, and creative political institutions. This attitude of the Turks in relation to the state has its worst consequences during times of crisis. Whenever the state enters into crisis, it is seen as catastrophic. Because there is no alternate solution that will come into play, a crisis like this is considered a life-or-death moment. For both the state and society, it is a criterium of modernity not to expect everything from the state and to curb the state in ways that would prevent it from becoming a burden. Europe has been able to establish an efficient position for the state by arriving at an understanding of state within this framework.
We must treat the problem of the relationship between the state and the political parties separately, because it runs even deeper. All parties without exception have a subjective or objective fixation on the state. Just as is the case for society, by conceding priority to the state, political parties lose their purpose from the outset. Parties are the foremost institutions that are there to create a balance between the demands of the society and the state, and, thus, should always give priority to society and are responsible for raising its awareness and increasing its level of organization. Instead, they are always either expecting revolution from the state or seeking to gain the state’s political support. First and foremost, however, like rentiers, they regard the state as a source of unearned income. Even though parties are indispensable to democracy, this particular approach gives the parties an antidemocratic character from the outset, turning them into secondary shadow states. As if one state were not enough, each party represents a mini-state, with every politician regarding himself as a “statesman.” By nourishing themselves and their environment on the state, they weigh down the state and make the damage it does even worse. There is perhaps no other country where the tradition of “state parties” is as strongly internalized as in Turkey, and even if there is another country, it is probably not as widespread and wholehearted. Putting the state at the center of all values blunts the ability of the parties to generate politics, develop economic policies, promote and strengthen democracy, or provide society analytical tools—to at least the same degree as is the case for the state. As a result, they become useless to both the state and society. Because the people understand this, all parties hoping to rescue the state are delivered a sound beating at polling booths.
The parties have become instruments for developing crises not solving them. This has been a fundamental factor in the failure of democracy to develop to contemporary standards in Turkey after World War II. This has in turn led to the failure to cultivate a democratic culture in society and to a belief that it falls to the state to address everything. The statism of the parties, which they shed only when they are in the opposition, is the main cause for today’s political and economic crises. The CHP—the founding party of the republic—is the main source of the contraction in the political arena and the inability to develop an effective oppositional policy. This is because it has voluntarily defended all state policies, especially against the PKK, and, before that, against the revolutionary left movements. Instead of coming up with a policy for addressing problems it has preferred to function as a state propaganda and agitation squad. This led both the state and the CHP into a dead end and allowed for a mountain of problems to accumulate.
The clearest consequences of the way the state emerged and functions among the Turks reveal themselves with regard to Kurds and the Kurdish question. Anyone who wants to understand the Turkish state can gain insight from this situation, because it is both one of the most hidden and one of the most obvious symptomatic features. The Turkish state perceives any distinction, any articulation of the problematic of the Kurds, as a security problem. On the one hand, the state claims there are no Kurds, while, on the other hand, when the Kurds make even the smallest possible demand for freedom, it perceives them as a terrifying threat that must be immediately crushed.
This approach is the result of the impasse of nationalist ideology. If the state were not so infected by nationalism, it would not feel obliged to confront Kurdish reality as it does. As we saw in our historical reflection, there is a strong preference for a close association on both sides. Even though their attitude toward the state differs from that of the Turks, the Kurds are inclined to accept the state as a joint tool for defense against external threats. We saw this during the Ottoman era and in the early years of the republic. The one history, one language, one nation, and one state understanding based on nationalism—and the influence of rebellions—meant that forced assimilation became the Kurds lot, resulting in them being excluded from the economic, social, and political development of the system. At this point, the Kurds have been declared an overarching source of danger. “The best Kurd is a dead Kurd.” Even a solution that was 100 percent favorable to the Turks would be insufficient for them to stop seeing the Kurds as a grave danger. The smallest stirring among the Kurds, every social and political demand, is labeled “separatism.” This approach has nothing to do with science or modernity and would have been an anachronism even in the Middle Ages. It is pure nationalism, which considers even the smallest difference as a threat and/or a reason for eradication. Therefore, the state cannot imagine any solution other than a full-on military, political, economic, social, and cultural assault.
During the time of the Kurdish freedom movement under the leadership of the PKK, this policy was embraced as a sacred goal by both the state and society across the spectrum of left- and right-wing politics. Under the slogan of “national unity and national integrity,” even the most democratic initiatives and demands were stigmatized as separatism. To this was added the policy of denouncing everything as “terrorism.” In the last quarter of the twentieth century, foreign policy and all available state means were mobilized to have the PKK declared “terrorist.” The result was the crisis and chaos that began in the 1990s. A total mobilization was declared. As a result, the area of law totally collapsed, the economy was bogged down in a quagmire of debt, and politics in general was reduced to nothing more than an instrument of security policies. The build-up of a structure of village guards and the fostering of the tariqat led to a renewed and strengthened tribalism among the Kurds.44 The primitive nationalist groups were supported in South Kurdistan, which led to a Kurdish federal state. At the same time, Kurdish Naqshbandi sheikhs were carried over into the Turkish state. The republic’s most important institutions were handed over to its opponents. This cannot even be called a pyrrhic victory but is a declaration of the bankruptcy of blind nationalist policy. With the US’s Greater Middle East Initiative, we’re back to square one: either cooperate with the Kurds or you will be stopped. Under the new conditions in the world today, it is impossible to make headway in any other way.
There is no need to present further observations about what is happening; if there is no immediate reform of the republic, not only progress but even the preservation of the existing structures will be impossible. The last couple of years have clearly shown this. The state initiated some supposed reforms. However, since these reforms do not address the most necessary central reform, they cannot avoid losing value as long as the fundamental obstructions to reform remain in place. In fact, the society, which is on the verge of a great development, cannot free itself from the constrictions imposed by the Kurdish question. Society is thereby forced to veer steadily to the right, which prevents the necessary historical transformation. Again, because of this question, the state-fixated parties are also constantly liquidated one after another, and rather than being democratic instruments they become obstacles to a real democratization. The point has been reached where the stagnation prevailing in the republic and in society is now shaping individual mentality, including that of children. It has still not been grasped that right-wing conservatism cannot be the fate of the republican revolutionarism. We are experiencing the pain and loss that comes with making changes to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s policy, which might have been reasonable at the time, being entirely taboo. The lack of meaningful policies and leadership has brought the rage perco-lating within society to a boiling point. Clearly, if a real democratization is desired and reform of the state and transformation of society are to make sense at this historical stage, it must be understood that we will only get there if the Kurds, who represent one of the founding elements of the republic, gain their freedom.
There remains a historical necessity for an initiative based on the free union of Turks and Kurds that is concurrent with the strategic periods seen in the past. The most realistic model in overcoming the chaotic situation in the Middle East is based on a free union of Kurds and Turks. Any solution engineered by the US-led global coalition would very probably become the source of new problems. The situation of the Arabs is closer to producing a deadlock than a solution. Thus, the current political and economic status quo can lead to nothing but deepening contradictions. It is also clear that the policies around Israel, which have become a knot are unlikely to be resolved in the near future. Iran, for its part, has its own conflict with the dominant world system, which will very probably grow more intense.
This leaves us with Turkey. As long as Turkey fails to positively overcome its “Kurdish obsession,” it will repeatedly and unavoidably slide into crisis. The result is the deepening of US policy based on the Kurds, which could lead to a situation that will be no less problematic than that of Israel-Palestine. Both history, including the most recent history, and the present show that the most immediate option for the democratic transformation of the region necessitates the establishment of a new Kurdish-Turkish relationship that could lead to a democratic solution to the Kurdish question. If this option is approached scientifically and sociologically, it should be obvious that it wouldn’t pose any danger to a genuine national integrity and state unity in Turkey but would make a lasting contribution. This is why a “reform of the republic” that frees the state from useless ballast and limits its purview to general security and the maintenance of public space, with an understanding of “Turkey” that is free of national chauvinism and that views differences as enriching, and a “social transformation” based on a democratic society and democratic politics that includes women’s freedom and an ecological society is a key objective. With a transformation of mentality in these core areas, it would be entirely possible for political reform and social transformation to provide the best and most moral solution and help us to exit the chaos in the Middle East.
The Kurdish question will be central to any process of reform in the Republic of Turkey and Turkish society. There are three tendencies that will try to establish a long-lasting presence through the struggle around the relations and conflicts of the different parties to the conflict. Which will gain the upper hand and become permanent will be determined by the intellectual, moral, and political—education, organization, and action—struggle among the parties.
The first tendency is determined by the nationalist paradigm and practices and defends the status quo. This particular tendency, which was dominant in the recent past and continues to be very influential, brings with it insularity, secession, and violence. On the Turkish side, this means a hardline conservatism overrun with racist nationalism and rigid statism on both the left and the right. The state and the nation, as well as society itself, share a certain paranoid and schizophrenic apprehension that the last bastion of Turkishness is about to fall, and that everything will soon be lost. Drowning Turks in round-the-clock Turkish propaganda is seen as a primary responsibility. In addition, the requirements of Islam are not neglected, in the hope that that particular mentality will bring with it salvation. On some occasions, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Kemalism are unhesitatingly embraced, in spite of the role of Kemalism in the most important twentieth-century projects for change. However, this essential aspect of Kemalism is overlooked, because a fetishized variety of Kemalism is seen as preferable. Although it starkly contradicts many facets of genuine Kemalism, particularly its modernism and its position on women, science, and republicanism, this use of Kemalism is key to this current’s particular approach. Alleged Kemalist platitudes that actually have nothing to do with the true essence of Kemalism are widespread, both in state institutions and in the social arena.
This tendency has become even more conservative in the parties from both wings, in the CHP and DP tradition, that have been playing a role in the political arena. Since the 1990s, with the rise of the Kurdish freedom movement, these parties have become political extensions of the counterguerrilla campaign. They have tried to cover up a number of extralegal attacks. The idea that politics should be carried out in the name of society has been completely lost, and, instead, they have committed themselves to “saving” the state. The result has been an even deeper crisis of the state and society. The wave of crises spelled the end of the previous representatives of this tendency, primarily the CHP, the DYP,45 and the MHP. However, some capitalist circles that assessed the situation more realistically started a new process with the AKP.
Finally, the exponents of this tendency were strategically abandoned and left to their fate by the US, in which they invested so much trust. The US had supported this tendency’s fascist escalation since 1950. This was true for the AP, the MHP, and a whole number of anticommunist institutions. But with the new global offensive in the 1980s, their extreme conservatism and statism were seen as obstacles, and support for this tendency was withdrawn, first partially, and then entirely. The US updated its approach, initially by supporting the ANAP and, since 2000, the AKP. The statist ruling circles remained the most conservative bloc in the republic. They opposed reforms of either the state or society, and one might call them “republican conservatives.” Most recently, the fashionable name “Red Apple Alliance” has been coined for them.46 They have effectively turned the once revolutionary republic into a national chauvinist, state capitalist, and conservative bloc that is anti-people. Thus, much like the authoritarian republic of the Atatürk era before it, the oligarchic republic with its two-bloc power structure came to an end.
Regarding the Kurds, this tendency had a policy of denial and eradication, complete systemic marginalization, and immediate suppression of any stirrings of dissent. An important element of this policy was the use of traditional collaborators who had betrayed their Kurdishness to gain control over the people. This system, from the left to the right, carried out concerted action against the Kurdish freedom movement the PKK was trying to develop. Speaking as one voice in domestic and foreign policy was adopted as “sacred politics.” The judiciary, the economy, politics, sports, and the arts became aspects of a general military mobilization. The whole society was turned into an aggressive national chauvinist bloc. The result was an era, path, and tendency in Turkish and Kurdish relations like none before. None of this had anything to do with the frequently invoked Kemalism. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s Kurdish policy was a product of his anti-imperialist stance. Furthermore, he left no documents that suggest any hostility toward free Kurdishness, although he may have overestimated the role that the Kurds might have been able to play in the destruction of the republic and the restoration of the sultanate and caliphate were they instrumentalized by imperialism. There can be no doubt that this is what underpinned his Kurdish policy.
The overall policy of these conservative national chauvinists who posed as republicans contradicted Atatürk’s attitude. Their attempts to secure foreign support against the freedom struggle of the Kurds in order to quash it increased their dependency on the US and the EU in particular, with their economic, political, diplomatic, and military dependency developing to a great extent as a consequence of their opposition to the PKK. Finally, they turned the leadership of Turkey into the midwife of the Iraqi federal state of Kurdistan, which was founded by the primitive nationalist and feudal Kurdish circles in Iraq in cooperation with the US and Israel. They also gave the followers of the tariqat the opportunity to organize themselves within the Turkish state. All these practices are very clearly anti-Kemalist.
The Liberal Bourgeoisie
The second tendency emerged from the first. It could be described as the weak bourgeois liberal path. It mainly developed after 1980, during the global capitalist offensive. The ANAP, led by Turgut Özal, was the first version of this tendency.
While the status quo can be summed up as insular, ultranationalist state capitalism, this new opposing tendency is characterized by an openness to the outside, liberalism, and a tolerance of differences and seeks a place in the transnational global tendency. It superseded the DP and the AP but acted as their contemporary version, insofar as it was no more anti-oligarchic than they were. It is by no means completely open to democracy but is, nonetheless, more solution-oriented and readier to take a contemporary approach to problems than the conservative republican defenders of the status quo. Although it is mainly the tendency of the industrial circles of Turkish capitalism, it is capable of bringing together other circles of capital on common ground. The entrepreneurs’ association Türk Sanayicileri ve İşİnsanları Derneği (TÜSIAD: Turkish Industrial and Business Association) is among the most important advocates of this tendency. With the support of the US, the EU, and Japan, the AKP is well on its way to becoming the second version of this tendency. But even though it is still aligned with these powers, it is, nonetheless, still far from making a serious start to tackling the reform of the state or launching the projects necessary for social transformation. It recoils in the face of the state’s most important power centers and cannot overcome the bureaucratic apparatuses. It is possible that the AKP will prove to be just as effective as Turgut Özal was in his time, but this is far from certain. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan displays neither Özal’s courage nor his sophistication. It is by no means unlikely that Erdoğan will capitulate to the bureaucracy, especially in relation to his approach to the Kurdish question. Nonetheless, he can’t put off addressing the Kurdish question indefinitely, and his mask will very probably slip.
This tendency’s Kurdish policy offers only a limited possibility of a solution. Turgut Özal in particular intended to take some steps, motivated by an attitude that was unusually liberal in the history of the republic. This promptly brought about his end. The chaos Turkey experienced after his death is the result of this contradiction. This process and the related crisis, which have long been described as a conflict between representatives of the “First Republic” and representatives of the “Second Republic,” have grown more intense since my incarceration on İmralı. The policy of the DSP-ANAP-MHP government under Bülent Ecevit,47 which relied on the traditional denial approach, only succeeded in inciting the opposition of society in its entirety. As a result, our unilateral ceasefire was not put to good use. It became apparent that the state was far from grasping what was happening. The status quo tendency had to absorb yet another heavy blow when it was buried at the polling booth in November 2002.48
There are no clues as yet about the Kurdish policy of the AKP, which replaced it. Even though it strives for harmony with the US, it does not have the strength on its own to develop and implement a Kurdish policy. It hangs its hat on the US acting against the PKK and the Koma Gel.49 In addition, the fact that a number of Kurdish collaborators are members of the same tariqa (Naqshbandi) as AKP politicians and have considerable weight in the federal state in South Kurdistan and could snap up influential positions in the Turkish state, as could collaborators in North Kurdistan, might make the AKP receptive to a US-sponsored solution. In the mean-time, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the AKP is trying to effect some developments based on a semisecret and taqiyyah logic.50 Due to the extreme sensitivity of the Kurdish question, they can be expected to act under economic, social, and religious cover to keep their plans secret both from the Kurdish revolutionary popular forces and the Turkish conservative-statist institutions. The tacit alliance between the AKP and the Kurdish collaborators was to some degree visible in the municipal elections of March 2004, when Talabani and Barzani openly supported the AKP. It is very unlikely that the Kurdish question can be resolved by such an underhanded and obscure foray. Rather, this approach could lead to violent eruptions at any moment.
The most dangerous aspect of this tendency, which is receiving massive financial and diplomatic support from the US and the EU, is that it wants to impose the model of the federal state of Kurdistan in North Iraq, to Syria, Iran, and Turkey by fueling primitive Kurdish nationalism. Just as the US and the EU declared the PKK terrorist, they also try to defame the Koma Gel as terrorist, presumably to assuage Turkey. They make various pronouncements and give various guarantees in this regard, but in so doing they are actually increasing the danger twofold. On the one hand, this will give primitive nationalism a major boost, and, on the other hand, the PKK and the Koma Gel will benefit from the current contradictions, leading to major new developments. The result of this path could well be the development of a second much feared Israel-Palestine-style confrontation that implicates Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The potential for the nationalist tendencies to become stronger on all sides only increases the likelihood of such a development.
The third tendency is society-oriented, based on the people’s quest for freedom and equality within a shared democracy. The notion of a “Nation of Turkey” as a superordinate identity could break through the chauvinist and racist understanding of nations and function as a common denomi-nator for all cultures. In many countries of the world, there is a territorial rather than lineage-based understanding of “the nation.” Even though the large majority of nations are multilingual and multicultural, the different language groups and cultures are able to unite under the shared umbrella of a single nation-state, e.g., the US, Switzerland, and Great Britain. In these cases, it is not a problem that the most commonly used language is also the official language. However, not restricting the right to use other languages either in daily life or in any kind of education is the common contemporary practice around the world.
The basis of state reform would have to be its transformation from an ideological instrument into a technical service tool. The understanding of a historical redeemer and conqueror serves as an obstacle to the self-confidence and creativity of society. This understanding leads to the expectation that the state will take care of everything, like a god might. Therefore, radical reform requires the state to withdraw from all areas apart from general external security and the necessary public services required by all segments of society.
The bloated state in Turkey lags very far behind society and plays a hugely conservative role. But because of the generally exaggerated expectations in the state, a bureaucratic and social conservatism has developed that can only be overcome by radical reform. This reform must abolish the discrimination against any group of citizens. It must give all individuals the opportunity to freely express and live their cultural identity, as is guaranteed in international treaties. The state must not define itself in terms of a specific ethnic group and must not discriminate against any religion or denomination. It is essential that any reforms are undergirded by amendments to the constitution, as well as by the necessary changes and additions to the law.
An essential element of social transformation would be dropping sexist social attitudes and women becoming free and equal. Artificial discussions like the one about the hijab must stop. What is instead necessary are effective measures against attitudes and practices that treat women like property. Women’s centers must not merely be “shelters” but should be developed extensively as the cultural centers that are necessary for women’s freedom.
Another increasingly important topic is the ecological transformation of society. A free society is only possible if it is also an ecological society. In the light of the latest scientific insights, a society that is compatible with ecology should be included in the constitution as a goal.51 An economic system based on the healthy sustenance of society with natural foodstuffs must also be a priority. We have to make a transition from a profit-based economic system to an economy based on use value, one that sustains health and a contemporary life, with a gradual decrease in commodification. A free society will put an end to phenomena like unemployment, the impoverishment of entire regions due to a lack of investment, and a massive income gap.
The tendency of state reform and social transformation that I have outlined here, is closely connected to resolving the Kurdish question. The projection of this tendency onto the Kurdish question would mean the acceptance of peace and a democratic solution. The first thing necessary for peace is a bilateral ceasefire. As to a democratic solution, we must look at two possible options.
The democratization of Turkey would clear the way for one possible approach to a solution, as it would require the sort of state reform I attempted to outline above. There would need to be an end to both the open and hidden roadblocks to Kurdish democratization, including the removal of all legal obstacles. The fact that it is still forbidden to use the Kurdish language when demonstrating is one indication of the degree of legal obstruction. There are, however, more serious de facto obstacles. In particular, the practice of recruiting cadres for the state from the traditional denialists and collaborationists of Kurdish, Arabic, Aramaic, Armenian, Greek, and Caucasian descent must stop. Recruiting from the dönme and devşirme cadres, contemporary Janissaries of a sort, fuels a racist nationalism mindset that is conceptually similar to being more Catholic than the pope. Furthermore, this practice also fosters nationalism among minorities. In this way, true patriotism, the free and democratic unity of the people, is destroyed. The contribution made by individuals of a similar character to the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the current contribution to the degeneration of the republic cannot be underestimated. With cadres like this, no democratic solution will be possible. Democratization is incompatible with cadres that have a tariqat identity. This form of sectarianism makes use of democracy but rejects its virtues. Thus, much has to change for Turkish and Kurdish people to come together around a common democratic platform, and in this context, minorities must be protected.
The second approach to a democratic solution would be for the Kurds to establish a democracy of their own. If the first approach continues to be blocked, it is only natural that the Kurds will choose to develop their own criteria and the institutions necessary to pursue their own democratization. The most recent parliamentary and municipal elections again showed that even when Kurds elect their own candidates, the state’s antidemocratic laws and financial obstacles, as well as its coercive measures, ensure that election results are not respected and implemented.52 Should these restrictions remain in place in the coming period, the self-democracy experiments of the Kurds will gain momentum. The process that began with the foundation of the Koma Gel will take shape a step at a time. Methodically establishing their own local governments, with the Koma Gel as their overall coordination tool will constitute the core of Kurdish democratization. This democratic movement bears no resemblance to the Kurdish federal parliament in Iraq. Its federalism is based on a feudal-bourgeois concept of “the state”. The Koma Gel rejects statism on principle. There is a dialectical contradiction between democratization and becoming a state. The theories and institutions emerging from the Koma Gel initiative will constitute not a federal but a democratic Kurdistan.
A democratic Kurdistan would not challenge the integrity of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria as states and countries. Those states are only being asked to enable a unity based on democratic reconciliation. Therefore, a democratic Kurdistan would mean a democratic Turkey, a democratic Iran, a democratic Iraq, and a democratic Syria. This is the only way we can prevent a slaughter based on various nationalisms and the creation of new Israels and Palestines. Any approach besides the democratic approach will mean oppression and denial and, in reaction, revolt and war. History provides ample instructive lessons on this matter.
Even though voices calling for democratization and a democratic solution are increasing in Turkey, they have not yet gained a sufficient place on the political agenda, whereas, many European countries, and even many countries in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, have applied the democratic model to solve the question of people and culture. This is always the course of the world. The latest example of this general trend is Cyprus. A problem that has been festering for many years is approaching a solution in the form of a democracy with two partners. This could be highly instructive for the democratic solution of the Kurdish question. The models found in the Basque Country, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Switzerland, and Belgium could also contribute to the solution.
The Turkish administration must finally comprehend that it cannot continue to rule over the Kurds as it previously has. If they do not want a second Iraq, they must seriously consider peace and a democratic solution. It must be clear that such a solution in no way contradicts a realistic implementation of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s approach to freedom. Any claim that Atatürk was an enemy of free citizenship for the Kurds and joint or separate democratic organs, so as to assert that Kemalism was hostile to the Kurds, would be tantamount to falling into the nationalist trap. A democratic and free Kurdistan is a permanent, fraternal, and genuine guarantee of the unity of the state and the territory of Turkey. It is a strategic pillar in the present, just as it was historically. A continued denial of the Kurds and Kurdistan, however, will inevitably create an ongoing problem and a constant danger of rebellion and external intervention. It would mean squandering all of the material and immaterial resources of Turkey and its society and drifting into crisis. It would mean a loss of prestige and power in the Middle East, in Europe, and worldwide. Amid the chaos in the Middle East, an initiative based on the joint democratization of Turks and Kurds would be at least as important as any comparable strategic initiative over the course of history. Those refusing to see and implement this are either enemies of the people or traitors of the homeland. All the developments in the world, in the region, in Turkey, and in Kurdistan urgently call for peace and a democratic solution.
There is a great desire to push forward the new capitalist process in Turkey that has gained momentum since the 2000s by maximizing relations with the EU and the US. It is considered necessary to take refuge in a token democratic drive similar to the one seen when the DP was in office. This tepid democracy is the veneer necessary both for gaining the sympathy of the EU and for acting against the army. The AKP is not equipped—either intellectually or substantively—to implement a coherent democratic line. Presenting adherents of Islamic ideology as “conservative democrats” falls far short of being completely free from the influence of taqiyya, which have attained a great deal of weight within the state as a result of the rupture caused by extended periods of internal and external struggle. In the upcoming period, the AKP will clarify its social and political bearing and find its true place.
In the face of Turkish capitalism’s latest move, all the people in Turkey, especially the Kurds, need to think and act in a highly sensitive way. As the continuous losers in the first two stages, this third stage opens the way for a process that could at least allow for partial success and offer the only way out of an avalanche of unemployment and poverty.
The main item on the agenda for the people of Turkey is to transform their democratic stance into an organized movement capable of acting. In all three phases described above the left nationalist and real socialist currents, such as the TKP, proved unable to go beyond their state orientation and play an objective role other than strengthening the capitalist process. But, on the other hand, there is, in fact, a strong freedom-loving and egalitarian legacy. The challenge is to use this legacy to build a coherent democratic, free, and egalitarian grassroots movement. A democratic Kurdish movement that is active and moving forward would be in a position to make the greatest possible contribution to this process. What is really necessary, however, is for left-wing groups in Turkey to cease being state-oriented, develop a coherent understanding of democracy, and create unity on this basis.
Seen from that perspective, the Demokratik Güçler Birliği (Unity of the Democratic Forces) recently formed by the five parties, the Sosyaldemokrat Halk Partisi (SHP: Social Democratic People’s Party), the Demokratik Halk Partisi (DEHAP: Democratic People’s Party), the Emek Partisi (EMEP: Labor Party), the Sosyalist Demokrasi Partisi (SDP: Social Democratic Party), and the Özgürlük ve Dayanışma Partisi (ÖDP: Freedom and Solidarity Party), was a step in the right direction.53 However, they were not successful because they could not rid themselves of the negative aspects of contents and structure they inherited and make a radical break with statist ideology and bureaucratism. The correct starting point would have been a radical break with bureaucratism and the creation of an umbrella organization relying on a broad base of the poor and unemployed, particularly those in rural areas and the suburbs, and launching something new based on the diverse grassroots civil society, human rights, and feminist and ecological movements. Given the dynamism of the Kurdish democratic movement, a new departure of this sort could provide a real response to the democratic, free, and egalitarian aspirations of our people and ensure their victory against the oligarchic rulers complemented by Anatolian capitalism.
1 Together with Abdullah Öcalan, the students Haki Karer and Kemal Pir, who were not ethnically Kurdish but Laz and Turkish, formed the core group from which the PKK later emerged.
2 See Immanuel Wallerstein, Utopistics or Historical Choices of the Twenty-First Century (New York: New Press, 1998).
3 Unlike other Kurdish organizations, the PKK did not just fight for an independent state but for a socialist “Federation of the Middle East.”
4 “Free areas” was the name given to regions that were under the de facto control of the guerrilla.
5 The first armed actions against the Bucak tribe took place in Hilvan/Siverek in 1979.
6 Mahsum Korkmaz (Agit) became the first commander of the Artêşa Rizgariya Gelê Kurdistan (ARGK: Kurdistan People’s Liberation Army). He was killed under suspicious circumstances in a battle in 1986.
7 This remark probably refers to the relative lack of success of the Palestinian groups and the necessity for the PKK to develop its own distinct guerrilla strategy.
8 Mazlum Doğan was cofounder of the PKK and a member of the central committee. In the night of March 20 to March 21, 1982, he set fire to his cell and took his own life to protest against the torture practiced in the Diyarbakır military prison. This was the beginning of the 1982 resistance actions. For more on the conditions in the Diyarbakır military prison, see Muzaffer Ayata, Diyarbakır Zindanı—Tarihe ateşten bir sayfa (Cologne: Weşanên Serxwebûn, 1999); Mehdi Zana, Prison No 5: Eleven Years in Turkish Jails (Watertown, MA: Blue Crane Books, 1997); Fuat Kav, Mavi Ring (Yenişehir/Diyarbakır, Turkey: Aram Yayınları, 2013).
9 Ferhat Kurtay, Eşref Anyık, Mahmut Zengin, and Necmi Önen were cellmates who immolated themselves on the night of May 17 to May 18, 1982, to protest against the prison conditions. Also see Muzaffer Ayata, Diyarbakır Zindanı; Fuat Kav, Mavi Ring; Mehdi Zana, Prison No 5.
10 Guerrilla commander Cemil Įşık (Hogir) was noted for his extreme cruelty. He later defected and worked for the notorious military secret service the JITEM. Among other things, he participated in the murder of the Kurdish intellectual Musa Anter.
11 This unauthorized massacre led to the end of the 1993 ceasefire.
12 This intervention by the Turkish army, in which “Islamic reaction” was pronounced the biggest security threat in the country, led to the resignation of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan.
13 See Abdullah Öcalan, Özgür İnsan Savunması (Cologne: Mezopotamien Verlag, 2003).
14 Allusion to Enkidu of the Gilgamesh epic, who was part human, part animal.
15 The title was also an allusion to Mahir Çayan, The Path of Revolution in Turkey.
16 Early on, Öcalan pointed to the parallel between the excesses of the warfare on the part of the state in the form of the “deep state,” the Jandarma İstihbarat ve Terörle Mücadele (JITEM: Gendarmerie Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism), the Turkish Hezbollah, and the Ergenekon terror network, on one hand, and the excesses of the gang culture within the PKK, on the other hand. In the course of the investigation against Ergenekon, a number of interconnections between the two structures emerged.
17 İtirafçı, a “defector” or a “repenter,” is a former PKK member who has shown
“active remorse,” that is, has provided extensive legal testimony to the judiciary. A particularity of Turkey is that the itirafçı are sometimes released from prison to participate in military operations against the guerrilla. They were also often used to do the extralegal work of the security forces, particularly in the case of JITEM.
18 Öcalan resided outside of Kurdistan after mid-1979, at first in Lebanon and then in Syria.
19 In 1992, the KDP switched sides and joined the Turkish army to fight against the PKK. This two-front war, which the PKK called the “southern war,” led to enormous losses for the ARGK guerrilla.
20 These would-be talks held together with the cadres that have come from different areas of praxis, from the mountains to the cities, and this education would include visiting civilians. These analyses would concentrate on expanding upon the ideological issues and political developments and, ultimately, would include an analysis of the reasons the circumstances were not overcome.
21 Abdullah Öcalan, Declaration on the Democratic Solution of the Kurdish Question (London: Mesopotamian Publishers, 1999); Abdullah Öcalan, Sümer Rahip Devletinden Demokratik Uygarlığa: AİHM Savunmaları I. Cilt (Neuss: Mezopotamien Verlag, 2002); Abdullah Öcalan, Özgür İnsan Savunması (Cologne: Mezopotamien Verlag, 2003); Abdullah Öcalan, Kutsallık ve Lanetin Simgesi Urfa (Neuss: Mezopotamien Verlag, 2001).
22 Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1947), part 3, chapter 2, accessed August 7, 2021, https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring.
23 In Turkish, the word iktidar refers both to power in general and the persons who are in power. In this translation, it is rendered by the words power and ruler. But the reader should also keep in mind that both meanings are often simultaneously intended.
24 See Herodotus, The Histories, trans. George Rawlinson (Moscow, ID: Roman Roads Media, 2013), accessed July 24, 2021, https://files.romanroadsstatic.com/materials/herodotus.pdf.
25 In the Middle East, Turkey in particular, holding a job as a civil servant is seen as a guarantee of lifetime employment that offers significant protection. However, it demands bureaucratism and a colorless life that leaves no room for any radical change and obliges one to always mind one’s own business and never challenge the ruling power.
26 The ceasefire had taken effect on September 1, 1998. After Abdullah Öcalan was abducted, he affirmed that the ceasefire was still in force. In August of that same year, he had called for the guerrilla units to withdraw from the national territory of Turkey. What followed was a phase of relative détente that lasted for several years. When this book was first published in 2004, the ceasefire was still in effect.
27 From 1999 to 2002, Öcalan made various efforts to bring about a solution of the Kurdish question in talks with representatives of Turkey’s military and political leadership, including writing letters to the prime ministers Bülent Ecevit, Abdullah Gül, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and engaging in talks with representatives of the military and the secret services on İmralı Island.
28 The KNK, however, did not join the Kongra Gel but carried on as an autonomous organization.
29 Within the KADEK, a group formed around the former central committee members Nizamettin Taş, Osman Öcalan, Hıdır Yalçın, Kani Yılmaz, and Hıdır Sarıkaya. It advocated a rapprochement with the US and the South Kurdish parties. The present book was written at a time when this conflict was still limited to the formation of an internal tendency. During 2004, the group around Nizamettin Taş split from the tendency and founded the Partîya Welatparêzên Demokratên (PWD: Patriotic Democratic Party), which, however, soon slipped into obscurity. In the course of the split, around 1,500 members left the PKK, but only a small number of them joined the PWD.
30 In the autumn and winter of 2003–2004, Öcalan was unable to receive visits for six months and was thus completely isolated from the outside world.
31 Amr ibn Hishām, a pagan Quraysh leader whose epithet, Abu al-Hakam, meant Father of Wisdom, rejected Mohammad’s message. He showed relentless animosity to Islam and, therefore, Mohammad referred to him as Abu Jahl, meaning Father of Ignorance.
32 Metehan, or Modun Chanyu, (234–174 BCE) was the ruler of the Xiongnu Empire, which put incredible pressure on the Chinese army. His ascension to the throne is eternalized in the emblem of the Turkish army.
33 Afrasiab was the name of a mythical king of Iranian popular mythology. Afrasiab, the king of Turan, was a descendant of Ahriman and the bitterest and most powerful enemy of Iran and Ahura Mazda. He conducted several campaigns against Iran and was, among other things, responsible for the death of the hero Siyâvash. Finally, the Iranian king Khosrow personally confronted Afrasiab, who was defeated and killed following a long battle with Rostam. The name Afrasiab is mentioned several times in Avestan. The word Turan originally comes from Persian and is the name of the southern area of South Asia. It is probably derived from the Old-Iranian word stem târ/ tur ( dark/ black). The battle between Iran and Turan, the land of light and the land of darkness, is an important part of Iranian-Avestan mythology. Turan is also regarded as the mythological aboriginal home of the Turks.
34 Biopower is a term coined by French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault and relates to the practice of modern nation-states and their regulation of their subjects through “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations.”
35 The İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti, also known as the Young Turks, existed from 1860 to 1918 and as a government party had a decisive impact on the final phase of the Ottoman Empire. None of the five founders of this Turkish-nationalist movement was Turkish. Their protagonists, Enver Pasha among them, played decisive roles in the genocide of the Armenians and the Arameans in 1915.
36 Members of Christian peoples who were recruited into the regiments of the Janissaries through the so-called “blood tax” or “boys’ recruitment” and Islamized in the process.
37 This was a particularly explosive claim, because during the time of the Janissaries, the leading cadres of the military and the secret services were, for the most part, recruited from these non-Turkish ethnic groups. Paradoxically, these services have often advocated a particularly radical Turkish nationalism.
38 The Cumhuriyet Halk Fırkası was found by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and was later renamed Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP).
39 The Misak-ı Millî pact defines the settlement areas of Turks and Kurds as the “national border” and, therefore, reaches beyond today’s Turkey and into Mosul and Kirkuk in Iraq.
40 During the war of liberation, there was only talk about “nation” (millet) and “fatherland” (vatan). Both are Islamically tinged concepts with which both Turks and Kurds could identify.
41 Ahmet Aznavur (1834–1921) led two uprisings in the west of Turkey in 1919 and 1920, both of which were suppressed with much bloodshed by the republican national liberation troops.
42 After World War I, Syria became a French mandate area. This mandate ended after twenty years. The area around Antakya (Antioch) and İskenderun was claimed by both Syria and Turkey, and on July 23, 1939, was turned over to Turkey following a dubious referendum.
43 Here we must mention in particular Radio Erivan, which regularly broadcast Kurdish music.
44 The village guards ( köy korucusu) are paramilitary Kurdish tribal militias armed and paid by the state whose task consists of fighting the PKK. Many of the approximately 4,500 villages were depopulated, because the inhabitants did not want to become village guards. According to human rights activists, this system, which at times involved more than one hundred thousand village guards is a big problem, because at this point a large number of people are financially dependent on this system.
45 Süleyman Demirel, Tansu Çiller, and Mehmet Ăgar’s Doğru Yol Partisi (DYP: True Path Party) was regarded as a counterguerrilla party with close ties to the mafia. At the end of the 1990s, it declined in importance.
46 This is a reference to a book of poetry titled Kızıl Elma (Red Apple), by the nationalist theorist Ziya Gökalp.
47 Bülent Ecevit’s left nationalist Demokratik Sol Parti (DSP: Democratic Left Party) split from the CHP and was the ruling party from 1997 to 2002 but has since shrunk to a small splinter party.
48 In the elections in November 2002, none of the three governing parties, the DSP, ANAP, and MHP, were reelected. Bülent Ecevit’s DSP, which was the strongest party in 1999, with 22 percent of the vote, only got around 2 percent of the vote in 2002.
49 Öcalan suggested to change the name of the Kongra Gel, founded in 2003, to “Koma Gel” or “Koma Gelan” (Commune of the Peoples), a change in which the word “Kurdistan” would not have been included, but this proposal did not receive majority support at the Kongra Gel.
50 In Islam, the practice of concealing one’s belief and foregoing ordinary religious duties when under threat of death or injury.
51 This concept, which draws upon the work of Murray Bookchin, goes beyond environmental protection and aims at a society that is free from hierarchies between sexes, classes, and peoples, and in which there are no power relations between humans and nature; see Murray Bookchin, Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy (Buckley, UK: Cheshire Books, 1982).
52 In Turkey, to be represented in parliament a party must garner at least 10 percent of the vote, the main purpose of which is to prevent Kurdish parties from entering parliament.
53 In the communal elections of March 28, 2004, the Unity of the Democratic Forces alliance ran on the SHP list. The pro-Kurdish DEHAP is the successor party to the Halkın Demokrasi Partisi (HADEP: People’s Democracy Party) and the predecessor to the Demokratik Toplum Partisi (DTP: Democratic Society Party). Parties in Turkey that address the Kurdish question are regularly banned and have to found themselves anew under new names.