The first militant, the first comrade, the first martyr

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Haki Karer, internationalistic co-founder of the PKK

Interview with Mustafa Karasu, by İsmet Kayhan | Kurdistan Report Nr. 202

Haki Karer (fourth from left) as a student at Ankara University. | Photo: ANF

The years in which Haki Karer began to study at the university were the years of strong repression as a result of the military coup of March 12, 1971. The effects of the resistance of the revolutionary leaders Deniz Gezmiş, Mahir Çayan and İbrahim Kaypakkaya against the fascism of March 12 shaped Haki Karer very much. He took a place in the front ranks of revolutionary youth resistance, which spread like an avalanche from 1973. During this time, from 1973 onwards, he personally got to know the leaders of the left-wing and revolutionary youth movements. The person who shaped him most and was to change his life was the Kurdish leading personality Abdullah Öcalan.

Haki Karer met Öcalan in 1972 and from then on their paths did not part. The central reason that brought these two revolutionaries together was the ideological line that saw the liberation of Kurdish and Turkish society as a unity.

Haki Karer lost his life on 18 May 1977 as a result of a plot by the “Sterka Sor” after a year at Dîlok (Antep). His death was to deeply affect Öcalan and his friends. Öcalan called his companion Haki Karer his “secret soul”. Mustafa Karasu, a member of the Executive Council of the Community of Societies of Kurdistan (KCK), has reported on Haki Karer’s organizational activities within the workers and students of Dîlok and on the ideological struggle with the Turkish left circles. Karasu, who also took part in the funeral of Haki Karer, spoke extensively about this time.

Although there were not many, the Apoist group had created a core of cadres in Ankara in 1975. The same was to be achieved in Kurdistan’s cities. The logical step was to go to Kurdistan. At the end of 1975 the Apoists began their journey there

Dîlok (Antep), Serhat, Amed (Diyarbakır) and Êlih (Batman) are the first cities organized by the Apoist movement. Haki Karer “shouldered his blanket” and went to Adana-Iskenderun. Kemal Pir, Cemil Bayık, Mazlum Doğan, Mehmet Hayri Durmuş, Duran Kalkan and Ali Haydar Kaytan also left for Kurdistan. Mustafa Karasu went together with the later fallen Doğan Kılıçkaya to Dîlok in July 1976. There Haki Karer had returned from Êlih. He played a pioneering role in the ideological group formation of the Apoists and in the movement of the group to Kurdistan.

Where and when did you first meet Haki Karer? What impression did he make when you first met him?

I saw Haki Karer for the first time at a meeting in 1975. I don’t remember exactly which month it was. I didn’t know then that he came from the Black Sea, Ordu. I saw him as a normal member and cadre of the group. I didn’t know that he had met the chairman Apo and the movement much earlier, because I had never seen him with his friends before. So I thought he was new. He didn’t speak much at the meeting either, he listened more. But he was a quiet friend, serious and wise with a soft expression on his face. That was my observation. At first glance, he made the impression of revolutionary seriousness, determination, and commitment to the cause. We concluded this from his attitude and behavior.

Ağrı was the first city in Kurdistan he went to?

It was the year 1975, when he went to Agirî (Ağrı), I don’t remember that month exactly. He went together with Abdurrahman Ayhan, who knew Agirî well. When they left, they took quite a few books with them. At that time we sent many books from Ankara to Kurdistan, especially books about national liberation movements and Marxist classics. Among the Marxist classics there were especially the books of Lenin on the right of self-determination of peoples and national liberation wars as well as Stalin’s book on the national question. We mainly sent books about organisation at that time. I think Haki also took many books with him to Agirî. It was his first trip to Kurdistan. It was not about staying there for a long time, but about getting to know Kurdistan, making contacts and having discussions.

In the first phase, it was mainly for this reason that people went there. They stayed in a city for a few months and returned to Ankara. Friends who studied went to their towns and villages during the holidays. Haki Karer was one of the friends who had gone to Kurdistan before the decision to return to the country was taken at the Dikmen meeting in January 1976. At that time, of course, we already knew his personality, his character and his origins in the Black Sea.

It is remarkable that he, as someone from the Black Sea, was one of the first to go to Kurdistan …

I remember that he went to Agirî with great enthusiasm. He reflected on the first steps, the first attitude for the decision to develop the national liberation struggle in Kurdistan. The fact that he, as a friend from the Black Sea, was one of the first to leave shows how much importance and value Haki Karer attached to the liberation struggle of Kurdish society. He was one of the first friends of the chairman Apo. After the chairman was released from prison in 1972, he went to Haki and Kemal’s apartment at the suggestion of a friend. He then lived with them in the same house. Kemal and Haki as revolutionary youth immediately accepted that another revolutionary friend lived with them. This relationship and acceptance are also important to show the revolutionary character of Haki Karer.

A later meeting that took place was important: The meeting in January 1976, when the decision to return to Kurdistan was made, was also attended by the friends Kemal and Haki. There I got to know their character and attitude better. At this meeting, everyone spoke about their family situation, their background, the social structure of the family, the course of studies, the first discussion of revolutionary ideas and the phase of joining the group. We heard the story of Haki and Kemal and learned that they had met the chairman Apo much earlier.

What role did Haki Karer play in the emergence of the Apoist movement?

His friend Haki embodied the Apoist culture, the cadre and cooperative understanding of the chairman Apo and the revolutionary attitude. He best represented the mentality, attitude, and life of the leadership in the communes and in Dîlok. He was responsible, but very modest. He was not one to base his responsibility on authoritarian behaviour, but on work, ideas and personality. His personality already created respect in one day. Those who knew him respected his friend Haki and listened to him. The chairman said about him: “He was my secret soul, we looked into each other’s eyes and understood each other”. The friend Haki did the work with his gaze, his word and his attitude. He shaped the standards of the commune with his friendship, his orderly attitude, his language and his character. He was strong in giving value to friendship. Where he stayed, he created the atmosphere of a commune, solidarity and a common spirit. This reality makes the difference between the Apoist group and other Turkish left or Kurdish groups. There were also communal houses in the Turkish left. But in the place where Haki stayed there was not only a common life, but a common spirit, an attitude of mutual respect and love, the fulfillment of work and the organization of life in collective competition.

At that time, everything was done together in the communal houses. The laundry was washed together, the food prepared together. There was no real system. If the situation was right, then the work was started. And comrade Haki was always in first place. He made most of the effort within the commune. He wore the oldest clothes. First and foremost he took care of his friends. Because he always wore the oldest clothes, the friends sometimes made jokes. Even in winter, Comrade Haki always wore the oldest clothes. There was a series on television at the time, Commissioner Columbo. The commissioner’s coat was always wrinkled, messy and old. Because Haki Karer also always wore the oldest, his friends sometimes said that he would wear Columbo’s coat.

The theoretical consciousness and ideological power of Haki was very pronounced. He explained the thoughts of the chairman and the line of the Apoist group in the best way and thereby gained reputation. When Haki spoke to someone, he gained respect and seriousness. Nobody could take a non-serious attitude towards Haki. He was a revolutionary personality with seriousness and a sense of responsibility.

The Turkish left claimed that the Apoists would not discuss, but force their ideas on them. Was this really the case?

It was necessary both in the ideological and in the anti-fascist struggle to be right at the front. The Apoists did both. They offered both a strong ideological resistance and constantly discussed and led an effective fight against the fascists. Therefore this assertion is not true. There was an intense ideological struggle with a militant attitude. The greatest peculiarity was that the Apoist group had detached itself from the system. It had broken away from the state, the family, the school, from petty bourgeois dreams and longings. There was no egoism, they had dedicated no second of their lives to anything other than the struggle for freedom, democracy and socialism. This made the ideological struggle so strong. For they were steadfast in word and deed. They were socialist in language and socialist in life. If they had been socialist and revolutionary only in their words and had not detached themselves from the system, traditional relations and traditional gender relations, they would not have been able to influence the youth.

They brought the body of Haki Karer to Ulubey … Can you tell us about the commemoration? In an article you wrote in 1991: ” We have not taken an appropriate attitude towards Haki”. Why?

When Haki Karer fell, we were not in Dîlok, but in Ankara. We heard about his death and left Ankara for Dîlok with some friends. We left with the perspective of fighting against the attackers. On the way, friends stopped us and said they would bring the body from Ankara to Ulubey. So we went from Ankara to Ordu, with over 30 friends, mainly from Ankara, and from Ordu to Ulubey.

Haki was a well-known personality in Ulubey and a youth that everyone liked. During his time in Ulubey he worked in the gardens and fields. He was known everywhere. That is why hundreds, if not thousands, of Turkish left-wing groups came to his commemoration. Every group was there. At that time there were sympathizers from China, the Soviet Union and Albania. They called each other social fascists and social imperialists. They all came to the memory of Haki. We were not able to classify this well. We were not good enough in bringing these groups, through the person of Haki, closer to the Apoist group and building cooperative relations. We were just a group whose friend had fallen and buried him. But we should have had a different approach, at a memorial service for a friend like Haki who attracted so many people.

When we told Chairman Apo about the funeral, he criticized it. Two months later he went to Ulubey himself and expressed his condolences to the family. He brought the character and personality of Haki closer to his family and people he knew.

Kemal Pir gave a speech at the commemoration ceremony?

The funeral was attended by about 30 friends. Among them were Duran Kalkan and Muzaffer Ayata. The people had gathered in front of the house before going to the cemetery and a speech was to be made. Everyone said that Kemal Pir should talk. He was an agitator. But when he stepped up to Haki’s body, he could only say, “This friend, Haki.” His neck became narrow and he could say nothing more. He cried and stepped back. They had been long friends, lived in the same house, knew each other very well. Losing such a friend had touched Kemal very deeply.

In his defense writings, written on the prison island Imralı, Öcalan writes: “Haki was my invisible soul”. How was the relationship between Öcalan and Haki Karer? Were you able to witness a conversation between them?

The chairman Apo was always very respectful in his relationship with Haki. There was mutual respect. When you look at the Chairman Apo’s relationships with other friends, his relationship with Haki was a little different. The chairman said that Haki was his invisible soul. Invisible soul meant that Haki practiced what he thought; that he knew, without saying anything, how to behave. You didn’t have to say anything to Haki. He was aware of his responsibility anyway and fulfilled his duties wordlessly. This means secret soul.