Exclusive Interview by Harem Karem:
Bryar Gabar is a member of the PKK (Parti Krekaren Kurdistan) leadership council, currently based in the Qandil mountains.
Photos by Kardo Hassan.
HK: What do you think about the slowing-down of the peace process? Isn’t it one-sided, with concessions made by the PKK/Kurdish side only?
BG: As you are aware, the peace process was announced through Apo’s* letter which was read out to millions of participants in Amed during the Nawroz celebration. The need for the peace process was not and is not one-sided: it’s different from previous peace processes, this time it’s bilateral. Previously, there have been unilateral peace announcements on many occasions but the Turkish government hasn’t come forward and therefore the processes have failed. One of the preliminary steps the Turkish government has taken this time is acknowledging our leader Apo and starting the political dialogue at Imrali prison. This is an historical event for the Kurdish movement.
HK: Do you not think the process is slowing down?
BG: This process has three stages. The first stage was the ceasefire followed by the withdrawal of our guerrillas to Southern Kurdistan. On the government side, a committee has been formed in parliament and it included the so-called wise men to follow up and oversee the process. The second stage is changes in the constitution and laws of the Turkish government – which have paved the way for discrimination, oppression and invasion of Kurdistan – and in the current, undemocratic state. As you know, there are many projects submitted but, so far, the government hasn’t taken any practical steps to implement them. Furthermore, there are developments, for example: the parliament committee for constitutional amendment has debated numerous points, agreeing on some while disagreeing on others. I would imagine these debates will continue for another month or two.
Furthermore, there are a few specific laws with regards to security that need to be abolished. All those extra forces that are stationed in the Kurdish area – used for suppression and terrorisation and that have turned the region into a military state – need to be removed, as well as ending the systematic recruitments of Kurds to fight Kurds.
On the contrary, the Turkish government continues to increase these activities. These are the reasons for slowing-down the process and Erdogan’s AKP government doesn’t seem to be serious enough about the peace process. So, yes, the slowness of the process is a result of not taking practical steps instead of rhetorical remarks.
HK: But what do you think the reasons are for not taking practical steps?
BG: If we round them up, there are generally two reasons:
First: The Turkish government isn’t fully committed to recognise the Kurds yet and put an end to the oppression. This also makes it difficult in the political and legal fields to implement necessary changes.
Second: The current AKP government wants to approach this process based on its own interests and well aware of the fact that the Kurds no longer tolerate oppression. This is all connected to the democratisation process, hence the AKP government is aiming to persuade the Kurds to agree to certain concessions with minimum sacrifices.
HK: You previously mentioned three stages – what is the third stage?
BG: The third stage is normalisation but, until the first and second stages are complete, it’s wrong to mention the third stage because, when the first and second stages are complete, there can be a constitutional, political and legal base to end this forty-year old conflict as well as ending the oppression while, through a democratic system, the Turkish government can normalise those institutions that are discriminatory and are used to oppress the Kurds.
BG: Trusting Erdogan or his government isn’t only verbal-based, it’s connected to practical steps. Other than this, there is no such thing as trust, and there shouldn’t be either. Furthermore, the Turkish government geographically has control only over North Kurdistan but, as a state, it’s known for denying Kurds internationally. During any developments and success for Kurds in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world, it has had a negative reaction. For example, in Western Kurdistan (North Syria), following the recent political developments and the liberation of the Kurdish area, as well as the establishment of a self-governance body, Turkey’s opposition to this was very clear.
HK: Is this denial and reaction the same towards South Kurdistan? What about the current cooperation between the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and Turkey and Iran?
BG: With regards to Southern Kurdistan, it’s the same but with a slight difference. And this difference again can be applied to the greater Kurdistan. The invaders have always tried to use individuals or entities within for their own benefits. We cannot deny the fact that there are clans and parties in South Kurdistan that have mutual interests with the neighbouring countries. Though it’s not like before where all relations were based on this. South Kurdistan now has a political system which practises foreign relations with other countries, but we cannot say the clans’ and parties’ connections no longer exist. The relations between Southern Kurdistan and Iran or Turkey are based on mutual interests – this is while both countries are oppressing the Eastern and Northern Kurds. In other words, those Kurds who have mutual interests with them are embraced, while those who don’t have those interests are oppressed or killed.
HK: What should the AKP government do this year to progress the peace process? What should it then do next year?
BG: Beyond optimism and pessimism, we expect a constitutional amendment and a favourable change to those laws that are currently debated by end of this year – making preparation for 2014, when there will be several elections held. This must be done if the Turkish government is serious about the peace process. But, if the government isn’t serious about the peace process and the constitutional amendment isn’t according to what the Kurds require, then we will understand and reconsider our position.
HK: And this brings me to the next question: In what circumstances would the PKK resume its armed struggle?
BG: Armed struggle shouldn’t be viewed as a classical method like before. The PKK started its armed struggle on August 15 1984 in response to the Turkish coup d’état on 12 September 1980. That was when all other civil and democratic options were exhausted. In our new perspective, the armed struggle isn’t like before, we now see the armed struggle as a ‘legitimate protection’ to defend ourselves. Legitimate protection has many aspects, and arms is one of them. Armed struggle therefore is directly proportionate to the level of attacks by the opposite party – which in this case is Turkey – including threating our national values and institutions. When all civil and democratic doors are closed on us, then we will have no choice but to resume armed struggle. Therefore, weapons, in our view and strategy, are seen as legitimate protection and their use shall be proportionate to the level of attacks or restriction of democratic engagement by the opposite party. Even in the past, these measures have been applied. But, if we successfully reach stage three of the peace process, which is normalisation, then we shall revisit the question of weapons, whether to keep them or discard them: we shall decide then.
HK: If the peace process progresses, will the PKK change into a political party? Would that mean a merger with the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) – or what?
BG: I will only say this: the entire obstacles that have been put before the PKK are illegitimate – whether its place on the terror list or its being banned from taking part in the political process. When these illegitimate restrictions are removed, the PKK shall be one of most effective entities in the political process. Whether it will change its name or take another form, that’s a matter for future consideration.
HK: What will happen to the PKK’s fighters if the peace process succeeds?
BR: As I mentioned, the fate of our guerrillas shall be based on successful completion of peace process stages. Abandoning weapons at this stage isn’t a matter for discussion, but the way in which they are used is a different matter. Ultimately, whether we keep the weapons to defend our nation or discard them is a matter for political dialogue between us and the Turkish government.
HK: What role do you envisage for a freed Abdullah Ocalan?
BG: Apo is our leader and the nation has accepted him as their leader. When he is free, the nation will place him where he deserves.
HK: How is Ocalan’s vision of democratic autonomy – a solution that goes beyond the nation state – realistic?
BG: Realistically, working towards this vision is already underway. We are trying to overcome the shortcomings, and it doesn’t matter whether the opposite party will recognise you officially or not. If within the democratic principles the system is recognised, then it’s good for both sides; if not, it isn’t a big deal. It’s not in our ideology to establish an independent state, neither now nor in the future. We think state is not the biggest issue, rather we think resolving the issues democratically is the best model for the Middle East, including the Kurds, where we can all live together.
BG: Kurds must not be an enemy or ally of any entity in general. Kurds in this region have a strategic position and all entities to Kurds are equal. The only thing that makes the difference is the level of democratic engagement by the opposite party and the way in which rights are recognised. Other than this, if Kurds unbalance their politics by getting involved in the Sunni-Shia disputes, it will jeopardise almost two hundred years of struggle. We are therefore against this view. We think Kurds should see all entities with an equal eye and negotiate with them according to their own interests.
HK: The role of women in the PKK’s struggle has been striking, especially given the power of tradition and fundamentalism in the region. How did it come about? What lessons are there for Kurd, Turk and Middle Eastern societies?
BG: Women have participated in this movement since the beginning. It’s now at its best and should be taken as an example internationally. Women are at the forefront of this movement and the backbone of this movement. No liberty shall be meaningful and complete without the freedom and equality of women. We have practically demonstrated that women are equal partners of this revolution on every level, in every organisation and institution; they make up almost half of us. This is a very good example for international organisations to learn from.
HK: What is happening about finding out who was really behind the murder of the three PKK representatives in Paris in January?
BG: This terrorist activity was an international conspiracy. The preliminary investigations show that the Turkish and French secret services are behind this while backed by NATO. Besides, there is also a legal investigation in France which, other than a single arrest, hasn’t revealed anything because of the political and economic interests with Turkey. During our last conference, one of the topics was this terrorist activity and that France must shed some light on it and reveal the truth. We will obviously not give up and we will pursue this until we get some answers.
*Apo = Uncle: The imprisoned PKK leader Abdulla Ocelan is often referred to as Apo.