[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News]
The “Democratic Society Congress,” a pro-Kurdish initiative with obvious sympathies for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, held a meeting in Diyarbakır last weekend. After some discussion, they released a “draft text for autonomy,” which outlined their political demands.
All hell broke lose in Turkey, with many commentators condemning the “separatism” of the PKK and its political wings. Yet I saw the problem not in “separatism,” but something else.
Unitary system vs federation
To begin with, we should see that the demands in question fall into two different categories. The first one is more freedom for the Kurdish language and the second is “autonomy” for the Kurdish-majority southeast.
I am a full supporter of the first cause. I see that the Turkish Republic tyrannically and foolishly banned the Kurdish culture for decades and now is the time to restore freedom and respect.
In other words, the Kurdish language should be freely used in all walks of life, in all parts of Turkey. We should have more signboards and restaurant menus in Kurdish. The Kurdish towns and villages “renamed” by the state should be given the right to adopt their authentic names. Public schools should at least have optional Kurdish language classes.
But the rights of the citizens to retain their ethnic identity is one thing, the administrative structure of a country is another. The latter, such as whether we should keep our “unitary” structure or move on to a federation-based one, or one with autonomous regions, is a matter of not rights, but politics.
Here, both the pro-PKK Kurds and some “liberal” Turks have a tendency to regard a federative structure as inherently more “democratic” than a unitary one. But they are just wrong. The Soviet Union, one of the worst tyrannies the world has ever seen, was a federation. And the all-democratic and liberal Sweden, along with many current EU-member states, is a unitary state.
Besides, what really matters here is what sort of an “autonomy” the PKK and its affiliates envision.
The “draft” they released is quite telling – and worrying. For it speaks of not liberal democracy as we know it, but a totalitarian party-state which will organize the whole Kurdish populace, beginning with “village communes.” It condemns “capitalism” (which you can read as economic freedom), and heralds instead a “collective” system of production.
In fact, as many commentators in the Turkish media noted, this is quite a Marxist-Leninist text, if not an outright “Stalinist” one. Its section on “the family” begins with speculations inspired from Friedrich Engels: the family, it argues, arose as “tool of domination.” The institution will not be abolished, it modestly adds, but “transformed” in the would-be “free Kurdistan.”
In this “autonomous” country, we are also informed that different political parties will exist, but “they will be restructured in a way that they will not be in conflict with the moral and political community.” In other words, parties will only serve the official ideology, which will be defined by none other than the PKK.
The means of this domination is also quite clear: The draft notes that autonomous Kurdistan will have “self-defense forces,” as a separate army from the national army. And these PKK-militants-turned-soldiers will “defend” their country from “all genocidal, fascist and reactionary forces.”
Dismiss the term “genocidal” here as mere rhetoric. But the other two – “fascist and reactionary forces” – can easily refer to right-wing or religiously conservative Kurds who will naturally oppose PKK’s socialist-secularist utopia.
Against other Kurds
That’s why even Kurtuluş Tayiz, a columnist for the strongly pro-Kurdish daily Taraf, opposed the autonomy plan. “This is the formula of the political hegemony the PKK wants to establish in the region,” he wrote last Tuesday. “It will establish a Kurdish tyranny over the Kurds… It will be against the Kurds who are against the PKK.”
I think so, too. That’s why I strongly oppose this particular plan for “autonomy,” which will establish nothing but a PKK tyranny in Turkey’s southeast.
This potential is evident in the brutal history of the organization. From the beginning of its terrorist campaign in early 1980s, the PKK has seen all its dissidents in the Kurdish camp as “traitors” that needed to be punished. That’s why PKK guerillas not only attacked Turkish garrisons, but also Kurdish villages that refused to join them. They still see pro-AKP Kurds as enemies within.
An additional trouble is the demigod status of Abdullah Öcalan, the organization’s jailed leader. His apparatchiks executed several prominent names in the Kurdish community, only for differing from the “leadership.” Recently, even Osman Baydemir, the mayor of Diyarbakır, was threatened by Öcalan, who, even in his cell, can’t tolerate any other authoritative voice in the Kurdish camp.
That’s why I believe that the freedom of Turkey’s Kurds lie in a Turkey that has fully adopted liberal democracy – and not in a “national liberation” that will bring them new forms of oppression.