The PKK: war, peace, and supreme emergency – part 2

By Meer Ako Ali*:

When observing the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey, one can mount a strong case accusing Turkey of what is known as constitutional discrimination or the systematic prejudice by a government against a part or group of its population. There is much evidence of ethnic discrimination in the Turkish constitution, and it can easily be observed that the government still practices Turkification, a process first started by the defunct Ottoman sultans to coerce the transformation of other identities into Turkish.

The Turkish constitution contradicts the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. This document which was adopted by the United Nations on September 27, 2007 “emphasizes the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and to pursue their development in keeping with their own needs and aspirations.” (UNPFII 1). The Kurds who are indigenous to the area constituting the southeastern part of Turkey are forbidden from recognizing themselves as Kurds and from practicing their identity, culture, traditions, and language. The most vivid instance of Turkification in the constitution can be found in Article 66 which states: “Everyone bound to the Turkish state through the bond of citizenship is a Turk” (Turkey 21). This article forces the Turkish identity on all citizens of the country in an attempt to Turkify the population and deny indigenous people their right of self-determination; it goes against Article 8 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People which states that “[i]ndigenous peoples have the collective and individual right to maintain and develop their distinct identities and characteristics, including the right to identify themselves as indigenous and to be recognized as such” (UNHCHR). Furthermore, Article 3 of the constitution which states that the country’s “language is Turkish” (Turkey 2) and Article 42 which affirms that “[n]o language other than Turkish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institutions of training or education” (Turkey 14) deprive the Kurds from the right of practicing, making use, and teaching their “mother language.” This is a right which is guaranteed to them by Article 14 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People: “Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures” (UNHCHR). Besides discriminating against the Kurds, the Constitution of Turkey does not offer any opportunity to bring about or negotiate for reform of rights. They are allowed no chance to lobby for their rights in the fields of politics (Turkey 27, 35, 38), academics (Turkey 45), culture (Turkey 46), and in any other field (Turkey 4, 8). The constitution forces every individual in Turkey to protect the “indivisible integrity” of the country, which means that the whole of the country should be kept as a single Turkish nation with no “separatist” inclinations which includes forcing the Kurds from being recognized as who they are and from practicing their culture.

The cases to be raised against the Constitution of Turkey for discriminating against the Kurds are abundant, but the history of the Kurdish population in Turkey over the last century includes more significant atrocities than allowed for in the constitution. The persecution of the Kurds is not abstract and confined to government papers, but it has been a major part of the Turkish life since the last century. According to Cultural Survival, an organization which helps “indigenous peoples around the world defend their lands, languages and cultures” and has consultative status with the United Nations, the Kurds “have been the victims of persistent assaults on their ethnic, cultural, religious identity and economic and political status by successive Turkish governments” (Cultural). Not only have there been multiple instances of massacres carried out against the Kurds (for instance between 1925-1939 1.5 million Kurds were deported or killed) but the parts of the country with mostly Kurdish residents have been deliberately kept undeveloped (from 1968 to 1975 only 2.4% percent of the national investment was spent in East Anatolia and the Southeast) (Cultural). The number of the arrests in Kurdish provinces comes up to 81,634; Kurds have been captured for selling Kurdish music, writing publications in Kurdish, protesting against government policies, and not being able to speak Turkish (Cultural). Leyla Zana, a former Kurdish MP in the Turkish parliament who was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize and awarded the Sakharov and the Rafto Prizes, was sentenced for 15 years in prison and labeled by the Turkish court of law as “traitor” and “separatist” for saying “I take this oath for the brotherhood between the Turkish people and the Kurdish people” in Kurdish; she was only released after intensive pressure and criticism from the international community (NNDB).

The persecution of Kurds has been integrated into the fabric of society. Cultural Survival reports that in 1930 the Turkish Minister of Justice said, “I won’t hide my feelings. The Turk is the only lord, the only master of this country. Those who are not of pure Turkish origin will have only one right in Turkey: the right to be servants and slaves.” (Cultural). This mindset survives and is still popular with Turkish officials even after more than 80 years. To bring it closer to today, on January 12, 2012 CNNTurk reported Anıl Çeçen who is the head of the State Law Chair of the Law Department in Ankara University to have proposed in front of the Turkish Parliament that the Kurdish question no longer be looked at in terms of human rights (Boyutu). He suggested that it is expedient to start a “legal” war against the Kurds by imposing on them birth control and arresting part of them and exiling the rest (Boyutu). The situation of the Kurds in Turkey has been and still is one that is marked with persecution. Kurds in Turkey have been massacred, deported, arrested, and degraded for practicing their inalienable rights and their areas of settlement have been kept underdeveloped. Their “deepest values” and “collective survival” have been in imminent danger for a century.

The current and historical situations of the Kurds in Turkey seem sufficient to have pushed the Kurds into feeling their identity threatened and starting an armed struggle. It is useful to look into Abdullah Ocalan’s writings which reflect the ideologies behind the creation and management of the PKK. Ocalan is the founder of the PKK. He led the armed struggle until 1999 when he was arrested in Kenya by a coalition of secret services and sent to Turkey where he was first sentenced to death but then to life imprisonment. Even though in prison, he is the de facto leader of the PKK and its most prominent figure. I studied two of Ocalan’s recent publications, War and Peace in Kurdistan and “Democratic Confederalism,” to determine the crises that have led to the creation of the PKK and the ideologies that have sustained its growth. Unlike popular belief, Ocalan does not deify the PKK and its actions but is critical of its history. He does not see politics in terms of good and evil. In War and Peace in Kurdistan he admits that violence “has been used by both sides to an extent that goes clearly beyond legitimate self defense” (Ocalan, War 38). He also writes, “[The PKK’s armed struggle to win rights for the Kurds] is neither socialist nor democratic, although the PKK saw itself as a democratic party. A really socialist party is neither oriented by state-like structures and hierarchies nor does it aspire to institutional political power, of which the basis is the protection of interests and power by war” (Ocalan, War 29). The PKK did start an armed struggle in spite of its founding principles because, as Ocalan writes, “The ban on Kurdish language and culture, education and broadcasting is in itself a terrorist act and practically invites counter violence” (Ocalan, War 38). They felt that “without the unifying element of language the uniting quality of collective ideas also disappears. Without this common basis the collective ties within the ethnic group break up and become lost” (Ocalan, War 38). For the PKK, “war was understood as the continuation of politics by different means and romanticized as a strategic instrument” (Ocalan, War 29). They believed that their “armed struggle would be sufficient for winning the rights that the Kurds had been denied” (Ocalan, War 29). But even during their armed campaign, the PKK did not believe that violence will solve the Kurdish question; however, their attempts at a peaceful resolution were answered with more violence from the Turkish government. Ocalan writes:

“We have declared unilateral ceasefires several times, we have withdrawn large numbers of our fighters from Turkish territory, and thus refuted the accusation of terrorism. […] Our efforts for peace have wrongly been interpreted as weakness. There is no other explanation for statements like ‘the PKK and Ocalan are practically finished’ or, that our initiatives were only tactical. So they claimed they only needed to proceed a little bit tougher in order to smash the PKK. So they increased their attacks on the Kurdish liberation movement. Nobody asks, however, why they never succeeded? It is impossible to solve the Kurdish question by means of violence”. (Ocalan, War 38)

Besides denying the PKK a peaceful resolution, the Turkish government has also labeled them as a “separationist” group. Conversely, the PKK’s ideology is not one of separatism but of coexistence. Ocalan offers the Turkish society a “simple solution.” He writes, “We demand a democratic nation. We are not opposed to the unitary state and republic. We accept the republic, its unitary structure and laicism. However, we believe that it must be redefined as a democratic state respecting peoples, cultures and rights. […] This would allow Kurds, Turks and other cultures to come together under the roof of a democratic nation in Turkey” (Ocalan, War 39). The PKK’s “idea of a democratic nation is not defined by flags and borders” (Ocalan, War 39). They aim at “realizing the right of self-defence of the peoples by the advancement of democracy in all parts of Kurdistan without questioning the existing political borders” (Ocalan, Democratic). Still, the Turkish government was not willing to approach the issue politically (Ocalan, War 27). All the while “the clashes grew into a war, which demanded numerous victims from either side” (Ocalan, War 27). Both sides have suffered, but the PKK has lost far more fighters than the Turkish army. According to Turkish government statistics, between 1984 and 2010 6,653 Turkish security forces, 29,704 PKK fighters, and 5,687 civilians have been killed (Nedim). According to the International Crisis Group’s statistics, between the years 2008-2010 267-337 Turkish security forces, 795-865 PKK fighters, and 136 civilians have been killed as a result of the conflicts (Ploughshares).

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party has acted in response to the looming danger of annihilation the Kurdish population of Turkey was exposed to. They endured their indigenous rights stripped away from them, their culture and traditions banned, their ability to bring about reform limited, their ancestors massacred, and their areas underdeveloped. They have been arrested, given long sentences, and called “separatists” for demanding their rights. So it was very much a “do or die” situation, and the only “do” left for them was violence. They had the choice of either letting the case of supreme emergency they found themselves in strip them from their identity and possibly their lives or to fight back the repression. The PKK chose the latter and has consequently “turned the Kurdish question into an international issue which affected the entire Middle East and brought a solution of the Kurdish question within reach” (Ocalan, Democratic). Therefore, the PKK’s armed struggle has been carried out to end persecution and to demand rights for the Kurdish population of Turkey; they are involved in what can be called a “just” war and they are by no means a terrorist organization.

The research and writing processes for this paper has been nothing but exciting. It was a self-defining process and I embraced it with gusto. However, the research has to keep moving forward and I am ready to pass down the baton to anyone who is willing to write on the implications that rise from this paper. It is necessary to write on the factors that make wars “just” and “unjust.” How do we decide which battles to fight and which one we should refrain from getting involved in? Can other doctrines beside supreme emergency be developed? A second implication for further research closer to the Kurdish question would be to try and find solutions for the continuing conflicts between the Turkish government and the PKK. How can they come to terms? Furthermore, it will also be of great advantage to study the psychology of the weak to see why violence appeals to the oppressed.

The oppressed people of this world: how should they free themselves from the shackles of persecution and discrimination? The Kurdish population of Turkey chose to take up arms to save their identity and to demand the rights they have been deprived of. They were in a state of supreme emergency with no retreat except for violence. The cause of their armed campaign is therefore just and not terroristic. Anyone denying this will not only revoke the process of peace in Turkey but also in the whole world. After all, “Peace at Home” means “Peace in the World.”

* The author would like to thank Nate George, Instructor at the American University of Beirut, for his helpful suggestions and insights on this paper.

Citation of Resources:

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Cultural Survival. “Kurdish Repression in Turkey.” Cultural Survival Quarterly, Summer 1982. Web. 12 Jan 2012.

Günbeyi, Murat, and Tarkan Gündoğdu. “Looking Into the Fighting Against Terrorism from the System Theory Perspective.” University Of Gaziantep Journal of Social Sciences 8.1 (2009): 4961. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Dec. 2011.

Held, Virginia. “Terrorism and War.” The Journal of Ethics (2004): 59-75. Springer Link. Web. 12 Dec 2011.

Nedim, Şener. “Balance Sheet of the Bloody 26 Years.” Agenda, 24 Jun. 2010. Web. Jan 14, 2012.

NNDB. “Leyla Zana.” People Profiles, 2012. Web. 13 Jan. 2012.

Ocalan, Abdullah. “Democratic Confederalism.” International Initiative, 2011. PKK Online. 3 Jan. 2012.

Ocalan, Abdullah. “War and Peace in Kurdistan.” International Initiative, 2009. PKK Online. 3 Jan. 2012.

Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language.” Classic Arguments April 1946: 707-718. Print.

“Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan – PKK Official Website.” PKK Online. 2011. Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK). 21 Dec. 2011.

Ploughshares. “Turkey (2003 — first combat deaths for this phase of the conflict).” Armed Conflicts, Feb 2011. Web. 14 Jan 2012.

Reitan, Eric. “Defining Terrorism for Public Policy Purposes: The Group-Target Definition.” Journal of Moral Philosophy 7.2 (2010): 253-278. Academic Search Complete. Web. 11 Dec 2011.

Rodin, David. “Terrorism without Intention.” Ethics 114.4 (2004): 752-771. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Dec 2011.

RT Anchorman. “Depleted Morals.” Interview with Chris Busby. Russian Times. Moscow. 25 Oct 2011. Television. 12 Dec. 2011.

Turkey. “The Constitution of the Republic of Turkey.” Constitutional Court of the Republic of Turkey, 17 Oct 2001. Web. 5 Jan 2012.

UNHCHR. “United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” 1994/45 Draft, 2000. Web. 10 Jan 2012.

UNPFII. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Declaration on the Rights of indigenous Peoples. N.d. Web. 10 Jan 2012.

Walzer, Michael. “Arguing about War.” New Haven, CT, USA: Yale University Press (2004). 11 Dec 2011.


One Response to The PKK: war, peace, and supreme emergency – part 2
  1. […] Kurdistan Tribune describes how the Turkish constitution forces citizens to protect the “indivisible integrity” of the […]

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