by editor | 30th August 2010 8:23 am
’Decentralization’ remains central aim of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish party
GÖKSEL BOZKURT – SERKAN DEM?RTA?
ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News
Urging decentralization of the Turkish state, the co-chairwoman of the country’s largest pro-Kurdish party says it is a possible solution to the Kurdish question that should be explored in-depth. ’Turkey’s strong centralist structure causes problems. There is a need to transfer some authority, responsibility and financial resources to the local governments,’ says BDP co-chair Gültan K??anak
Turkey could face intensified ethnic conflict and potential dissolution if it fails to take advantage of current opportunities to resolve the Kurdish question, the co-chairwoman of the country’s largest pro-Kurdish party has warned.
“We have to be hopeful [about the future] because the continuation of the war or conflict is a very dangerous thing that could risk all our futures. Turkey could face ethnic conflict and ethnic separation,” Gülten K??anak, co-chairwoman of the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, said in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review late Friday.
“Everyone should see this responsibly and act accordingly without thinking of daily political gains. We are at a crucial stage in which the people will determine their fate. Shelving plans to solve this question would certainly be the gravest betrayal to this country,” she said.
Saying the entire Turkish public was also ready for a solution, she called on all politicians and other influential persons to give correct messages to the people.
The BDP, which currently has 20 seats in Parliament, is perceived by some circles as the political wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has fought for Kurdish rights since the early 1980s.
Although the BDP does not acknowledge links with the PKK, its predecessor parties have been shut down by the Constitutional Court due to alleged connections with the banned group, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The PKK announced a one-month cease-fire on Aug. 16 at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan as a gesture to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government ahead of the crucial constitutional reform referendum on Sept. 12. The BDP has decided to boycott the referendum but signaled it could change its position if their demands for a reduction of the electoral threshold and the release of incarcerated Kurdish politicians are taken into consideration.
At the heart of the BDP’s call, however, is the party’s strive for “democratic autonomy” in Turkey.
“In fact, this is not a new proposal. It dates back to three years ago. However, due to our imperfection, it could not be sufficiently discussed in public,” K??anak said.
Underlining that the proposal was a political one and did not contain technical details on how it could be implemented, K??anak called on all politicians to actively discuss the matter in an effort to solve the Kurdish issue.
“Turkey’s strong centralist structure causes problems. There is a need to transfer some authority, responsibility and financial resources to the local governments,” she said. “[Strengthening local administrations] was already a matter of discussion in the country as part of its negotiations with the EU. But the government came out against it.”
According to K??anak, the project envisages the creation of 26 political and administrative regions, each with the democratic means to self-govern. “There are 81 provinces and thousands of districts. They can no longer be ruled from one center,” K??anak said.
The party has also proposed the establishment of regional parliaments that would have their own flags and symbols.
Last month, Diyarbak?r Mayor Osman Baydemir brought the idea to the public’s attention when he said having the Kurdish flag fly next to the Turkish flag would be a good method of solving the problem. A prosecutor, however, launched a probe against him for the statement.
“In almost all European Union countries, there are such regions that have their own symbols or flags. We do not offer this model only for a certain part of the country. It’s valid for the entire country. There is a need for a new political and administrative model. Under this model, there will be a need for each region to symbolize its parliament through a flag or a pennant. The municipalities already have a symbol,” K??anak said.
“What would be the harm if a region where Kurdish people live predominantly would choose a flag with their own color? For example the Istanbul region will determine its own flag and perhaps the region where Rize, Trabzon and Samsun are will have its own flag,” she said.
‘Changes would make the country more democratic’
For K??anak, the project should not be discussed through technical details but through its advantages that would make the county more democratic. An organized society where people actively engage in the decision-making process is one of the most important aims of the project, according to the BDP co-chair.
“There is an important disparity between the regions. This project will also help in leveling this disparity,” she said.
“Kurds are located in a certain area where they constitute the majority of the population. This brings about social and psychological differences. Policies designed for a certain region could be meaningless for other regions. For example, it would be nonsense to open Kurdish schools in Samsun. In this kind of issue, the local government could produce policies to meet the needs of their own region,” she said.
“This would not only help Kurds express themselves but also all other identities would find a platform where they could do the same. In order to realize a multicultural Turkey with multiple identities, this democratic autonomy should be implemented,” K??anak said.
The government, the opposition parties and the military, however, have remained strongly opposed to the idea of dismantling part of the unitary state system.
Despite this, some political observers have said the issue will be intensely debated following the referendum and the termination of the PKK’s cease-fire on Sept. 20.
“We have not come to this point easily. We have suffered a lot and paid its cost. But I can say that the Kurds’ political struggle has found its legitimacy,” K??anak said.
She said her Kurdish was not good enough to campaign in the language in Kurdish-majority areas, adding that her inability to fluently speak the language was the result of long-standing repression of Kurdish.
“But now, thanks to this legitimacy, we could remove some of the legal obstacles for the use of our native language,” she said.
“However, we cannot say that we have been able to reach a desired level of social dialogue with the entire country. For example, some issues discussed in the [Southeast] region within the scope of liberties are seen in the western regions as ‘dangerous and [leading to] dissolution,’” K??anak said.
PKK is a result, not the main problem
One of the central factors polarizing opinion between the different regions of the country is the action of the PKK. Tens of thousands of civilians, soldiers, and PKK members have been killed during the nearly three-decade-long fight between the organization and the Turkish state.
While the locus of its activity has been in rural areas, the PKK has occasionally targeted cities as well, leading some sectors of Turkish society to label its actions as “blind terrorism.”
The group’s activities have fueled already-strong Turkish nationalism and caused occasional street battles between Turks and Kurds.
“The Kurdish question did not begin with the PKK. And it won’t finish after the PKK [lays down its weapons],” K??anak said. “That’s why we say we should discuss the Kurdish issue. Tying the issue to the organization laying down weapons is not a democratic attitude. The PKK is a result. Let’s first talk about problems.”
Recalling that the state has defined everyone living in this county as a “Turk” since 1924, K??anak said the current legal system had been in conflict with the society for the last 86 years. “The state has caused conflict since 1924. We have to resolve it.”
Arguing that the PKK shifted its position in 1999 after its founder and leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was captured and imprisoned, voicing the need for a peaceful solution to the matter, K??anak said it was wrong to question the PKK’s objectives.
Noting that the PKK withdrew its forces from Turkey in 1999 and did not attack for five years, she said, “The PKK asks for dialogue and wants a peaceful solution. It’s time to do whatever we have not done before.”
K??anak’s statement came as the opposition argued that the cease-fire was a result of negotiations between Öcalan and the government and that there had been constant dialogue between the organization and the government.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an denied the allegations but said the National Intelligence Organization, or M?T, had been having meetings with Öcalan since he was arrested 11 years ago.
“This is a political problem and can only be solved by politicians. We need courage to take responsibility if we will launch dialogue. We cannot reach a solution if the government delegates [everything to] the M?T,” she said.
“If you want a solution, you courageously should appear and say, ‘The bloodshed was stopped by Öcalan. We can meet with Öcalan.’ A month ago there was bloodshed in this country. Now there is someone who can end it. This is nothing to feel ashamed about,” K??anak said.
Despite the call for dialogue between the government and Öcalan, K??anak said: “We do not say Erdo?an should go and meet with Öcalan. What we mean is that Erdo?an should take all the responsibility. He can send his representatives to the meetings.”
K??anak, however, is not very hopeful that such discussions will occur since she believes the AKP’s single objective is to eradicate the PKK.
“The steps taken regarding the Kurdish question were not for the democratic rights of the Kurds, but were part of a plan to eradicate the PKK,” she said.
When reminded that Erdo?an will be in Diyarbak?r this week as part of his referendum campaign, K??anak said: “We do not care what he will say in Diyarbak?r. What is important is what he says in Ankara. Almost all prime ministers have given promises of democracy during visits to Diyarbak?r.”
K??anak also criticized Republican People’s Party, or CHP, leader Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu’s suggestion of a general amnesty for PKK members.
“If it is considered as part of a general understanding for the peaceful and democratic solution of the Kurdish question, then it could be useful. But if it is put with the condition that the PKK drops its weapons, then it won’t work. There is already an existing [law for that],” she said
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