Ankara Kurdish Regional Conference summary / Levent Basturk

Levent Basturk summarizes and reviews the Kurdish Regional Conference in which took place in Ankara, Turkey on Sunday.

Ankara Kurdish Regional Conference summary / Levent Basturk

Levent Basturk / World Bulletin

Kurdish community leaders from Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria gathered in the Turkish capital city of Ankara for a conference in which they discussed and debated democracy and peace plans. The Open Society Foundation, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Chrest Foundation were among the organizations sponsoring in the conference organized by the International Middle-East Peace Research Center (IMPR). On Sunday, the panel discussed the solution process in Turkey and developments outside of Turkey.

The conference began with IMPR head Dr. Veysel Ayhan’s opening speech. Speaking on the peace process, Ayhan emphasized that every step towards a solution was ‘sacred’, and that as an organization they would not hesitate to fulfill their responsibility. ‘A new era and a new door is being opened’, said Ayhan. ‘In this era, all sections of society will have a say. If the society of a nation does not have a voice, that nation will never have peace. United, we can build a peaceful society that lives side by side without resorting to bloodshed. All steps in the name of peace are sacred,’ he said.

IMPR Director Dr. Aziz Barzani stressed that it was the first time that representatives from all parts of the the Kurdish region had met in Ankara, and that they had all gathered for the purpose of peace. He said that all solutions could be found within the framework of dialogue and that the future stability of Turkey and the wider region depended on it.


In the first session of the first of three sittings on Sunday, the Turkish parliament’s general secretary assistant Dr. Kemal Kaya monitored the conference about the Kurdish problem within the Kurdish community, the peace process and solution plans. Hemin Hemrawi of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democracy Party’s foreign affairs office, Gorran MP and party spokesman Yusuf Muhammad, the spokesman of the Kurdistan Nationalist Union Azad Cundiyan, and Ebubekir Ali of the Yekgirtu Islam Party’s Board of Directors also spoke.

Hemrawi mentioned that the Kurdish problem in Turkey is tied to the wider Kurdish problem in the Middle-East. He said that the Kurdish problem was deprived of democracy and peace plans, as well as saying that the non-acknowledgement of Kurdish existence only breeds oppression. Hemrawi stated that neither suppression against Kurds nor violence by the Kurdish movement would solve the problem. Claiming that Turkey is in need of a roadmap, not just as a tactic, but as an indispensible strategy, he said that a ‘no problems’ approach would not work, and that both sides should share the responsibility in working for peace.

Furthermore, Hemrawi went on to explain how the Kurdish people are now active players in the game to reshape the Middle-East, and that Kurdish interests do not pose a threat, rather they belong to a scenario of mutual interests in the region. This does not threaten Turkey’s stability and borders, he said, before adding that solving the Kurdish problem will only strengthen Turkey. Although Erdogan’s ‘democratization package’ was not sufficient in meeting all the needs of the Kurdish community, he claimed it would be wrong to underestimate the package, as it symbolized a change in the mentality of the Turkish state and signaled a new beginning. However, he did say that the package required developing and strengthening.

Hemrawi said that Kurdish activists should be freed and that the case of the jailed PKK rebel leader, Abdullah Ocalan, should be reviewed, stating that granting Ocalan the ability to take on more of an initiative would only be beneficial to the peace process. He warned Kurdish political leaders as well as PKK commanders to stay away from provocative speech, saying that both sides had to make sacrifices to achieve success. With Turkey now at an important intersection, he said that the Kurdistan Democracy Party would play an vital role in supporting the Kurdish cause and that a Kurdish National Congress should be established. However, he made clear that this does not entail reforming the borders of the Middle-East, and that Kurds are willing to live side by side with others as active members of society.


MP and spokesman of the Gorran Movement, Yusuf Muhammad, took the stage for the second session. The speaker drew attention to the changes in Turkey as of the last elections, and linked them to the hard work of non-governmental organizations. He said that non-governmental movements were vital in breaking the influences of bad experiences from the past between Turks and Kurds, and that Turks and Kurds wanted to trust each other again, despite the slow peace process. He stressed that if Turkey wants to present itself as a model for the Middle-East, it must demonstrate the ability to ensure unity within its society, and this cannot be done without the Kurds.

Moreover, he said that the peace process should not be left up to the ruling AK Party alone, but opposition groups should also contribute and support the democratization efforts. These efforts, he said, were for everyone’s benefit and gave hope to all. Therefore, the Gorran Movement would support such an initiative, he said. Yusuf Muhammad also said that Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government would share a long friendship, with the same going for Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan). He added that stability and peace will not be enforced by those with the biggest armies and weapons, and that nations now need ethics and cultural values.


In the third session, the spokesman for the Kurdish Nationalists Union, Azar Cundiyani, spoke. He began by criticizing the conference for not inviting a PKK representative as he believes that they are a part of the peace process and without them the conference would not be able to achieve its objectives. He said that Kurds should be seen as a part of Middle-Eastern life and that instead of a threat, they should be seen as an indispensible part of the nation.

He said that the democratization package was a golden opportunity bearing strategic fruits. Reminding the audience of the Iraqi Kurdistan president Jalal Talabani's meetings with Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as former Turkish PM Turgut Ozal in the past, he said that the peace process should not be exclusive to Kurds in Turkey and Iraq. Turkey’s ability to solve the Kurdish problem within its own borders will set an example for the entire region, as the Kurdish problem is a regional one, he said. He claimed it was time to take more inclusive and fearless steps, especially for Syrian Kurdistan, which was the center of Kurdish life during the Ottoman era. Mentioning that Turks and Kurds both share the same hopes for peace, he said that he supported the process in Turkey and believed it would have a positive affect for Kurds in the Middle-East.


Ebubekir Ali, a member of the Board of Directors for the Yekgirtu Islam Party, spoke in the final session on Sunday. In issues such as terrorism and lack of development, Ali pointed the finger at the lack of a solution to the Kurdish problem. Mentioning that Kurds are the fourth most populous people in the region, Ali said ‘Kurds are not a minority. We need to abandon ideologies, reasoning and political attitudes that have led to bloodshed. According to the basis of the Qur’an, once justice prevails this problem will be solved. We need to stop using strong nationalistic language. We should not remain trapped in old modes of thinking and prejudices. Everyone is entitled to God-given honor. Human beings are sacred. AK Party has put forward important steps in starting the negotiations. Bloodshed, oppression and violence must end.’

He also added that solving the Kurdish problem in Turkey should not be left entirely up to the government. Rather, everyone must play a role in the process. Like his counterparts, he said that the case of Abdullah Ocalan must be reviewed to ensure that he too plays a more active role in the process. In saying that the Kurdish-led Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) had to put forward a more positive stance, he said that a federal solution was a possibility for Turkey and that this was not a strange idea in Turkish and regional experience. He further went on to say that the PKK should continue its struggle as a legal political civilian movement, noting that the path to this could be paved with a new constitution, before saying that the AK Party had to take on more responsibility and be more decisive in the process.


Taking AK Party member Prof. Mazhar Bagli's place on the panel was Yuksek Yeni, an advisor to the Ministry of Social Security. He sat alongside the BDP minister of the Agri province, Halil Aksoy, who was filling in for BDP deputy chairman Idris Baluken. Seydi Firat from the Democratic Society Council and former MP of the Bingol province, Husamettin Korkutata, were also on the panel. Prof. Dogu Ergil chaired the session.


Halil Aksoy began the session by demanding satisfactory answers as to why representatives from the Syrian Kurdish PYD were not present at the conference. He then told the audience that the resistance did not need to be armed, but it was simply a response to an armed struggle against them. He stated that over 40,000 people had died in the 30-year conflict, of whom 17,000 were unidentified, and that 4000 villages had been destroyed.

Despite the fact that the country is still controlled by a nationalist, militarist constitution, he said it was time to silence the guns and begin peace talks. In saying that the democratization was insufficient, he said that it had brought the state’s genuineness in negotiations into question. He criticized Turkey for its policy on the Kurds of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), who he claimed were just trying to defend themselves, and accused Turkey of wanting to divide the Kurdish region.

Aksoy also said that security concerns would not be solved via politics, and that Kurds in Turkey were still struggling to gain recognition for their language and status. He also pointed out that they still had not had their stolen rights returned to them. This, along with Turkey’s policy in Rojava, would put the peace process in great difficulty, he said, adding that the Turkish government was void of an all-inclusive vision, and that no peace deal could be reached without solving the Rojava crisis.


The second session was hosted by Husamettin Korkutata. As the head of the Unidentified Murder Victims Research Commission, he said that his organization was presenting the state with its own sins for the first time. The Kurdish problem is not just for the Kurds, but it also includes the Turks, the Arabs and the Iranians, he said. In saying that war was easy but peace would be difficult, he said that no one should underestimate the point that had been reached in negotiations.


Yuksel Yeni said that using terms that date back from the 17th century no longer served a purpose, as they had only left the people in a state of chaos and conflict. He turned the conference inside out by saying that there was no Kurdish problem, but rather a Turkish one. He blamed the problem on Turkish Baathist elements. He said that terms like 'mother-tongue', 'representative justice' and 'democratic autonomy' were being used to sew division. In proposing that Muslims use different terms, he said that an ethno-centric world was not suitable for them and that they needed to think outside of the box.


The final speech was provided by former guerilla fighter Seydi Firat. He said that Kurds had to work hard to develop a shared strategy for the 21st century. Referring to Rojava and the peace process, he said that AK Party’s attitude towards Rojava was not in anyone’s interest. He praised the Kurds of Rojava for keeping their arms open to peace in the most difficult of circumstances, and suggested that this attitude should be met with a similar one. Furthermore, he criticized the leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government, Massoud Barzani, for demonstrating an outrageous approach that threatened to divide Kurdish unity.

He said that Abdullah Ocalan’s call for the retreat of guerilla fighters from Turkey in his March 21 declaration was purely strategic. However, he criticized the government for using the debate as to whether or not they had actually retreated as an excuse to manipulate and delay the process, saying that they are not taking advantage of this golden opportunity for peace.


Ergil said that although a regional Kurdish government had been established in Iraq, he did not know how this would become a reality in the other three states (Turkey, Syria and Iran). He criticized the Kurdish parties in Turkey for not sending any observers to the conference in Ankara, to which representatives from outside of Turkey had all gathered. He then said that if there was anyone who still had hope for a solution, that person should be greatly congratulated.


Three speakers who had been scheduled to speak at the third sitting sent others in their place. While one member of the PYD was prevented from entering Turkey at the border, another speaker was unable to get a visa. Iran’s Kurdistan Democrat Party’s Erbil representative Muhammad Salih Kadiri, the Iranian Kurdistan Azadi Party member Huseyin Yazda Pena, Rojava activist Fehime Ali and Iranian journalist Oramar Kaksar were on the panel, which was chaired by Bayer Doski of Dohuk University, Iraq.

First to speak was Fehime Ali, who claimed that what was happening in Rojava was a revolution in which the Kurds were taking charge of their own destiny. She also stated that Turks, Armenians and Arabs were playing a similar role in Rojava, claiming that their struggle was not just against the Assad regime, but also against armed groups who had come to raid them. She added that Turkey’s policy in the region was being greeted as a show of animosity, although the region could in fact be a place of peace and brotherhood along Turkey’s border.

Huseyin Yazda Pena said that Turkey had reached an important point in talks, and that it was now clear that up until today that Turkey had been the cause of the problem in the first place. However, he said that Turkey should be praised for its positive attitude towards the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government, and also praised the AK Party for presenting an alternative approach to the peace process, which he said was an opportunity rather than a threat. This, he said, would work for Turkey’s benefit. He also called for the PKK to show patience.

The two other Iranian speakers mentioned that Kurds had been left in a dire situation due to oppression, with Bayer Doski agreeing that Turkey's approach to Rojava was wrong. While Iraqi Kurds now feel themselves drawn to Turkey, he said that Turkey had still not got over its phobia of Kurds.


The first sitting with the guests from Iraq was the most interesting one, especially Hemrawi’s contribution, while the other three speakers just quickly skimmed over their notes. With both English and Turkish translators present, the Kurdish language was translated to English only for the English translation to be later translated into Turkish, so for Turkish speaking attendees much was in fact lost in translation. However, gaining the perspectives of all parties involved was beneficial. It also showed that the differences between the four major parties involved were small and that beyond the petty disagreements they all shared the same ideas. It was also interesting to see that the Iraqi representatives held Kurdish parties in Turkey in such high esteem.

When it comes to the sitting about a ‘new vision,’ very little vision was actually portrayed. Aksoy’s speech, which was more like a complaint, stemmed from painful experiences in the past. Korkutata’s speech was more history-based, with very little talk on current affairs. Yeni’s speech, on the other hand, could have started a healthy debate, but posed little relevance to the topic at hand. Firat was very Rojava-centric.

Fehime Ali, who was added to the program in the last minute, presented a more dreamy world only found in the movies, as she avoided questions in expressing her romanticized version of a Rojava revolution. From Pena’s speech, the audience was at least able to gain an Iranian perspective, while the other two Iranian speakers failed to mention much about the reforms in Iran.

Lastly, it is important to note that the conference did not attract much attention from Turkish politicians, think-tanks, academics and journalists. While the Turkish press was present, popular commentators and columnists were not spotted among the audience.

Translated by: Ertan Karpazli

Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Mayıs 2014, 11:51