Janet Biehl: We need Öcalan's voice desperately now
NEWS CENTER- Janet Biehl is a political writer with a focus on libertarian municipalism and social ecology in USA. Janet is part of the February 14-16 Imrali delegation. She spoke to JINHA about the isolation of the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, current situation in North Kurdistan and the Geneva peace process.
* On February 15, 1999, multiple state intelligence services cooperated to capture and jail Abdullah Öcalan. Since then, there has been a policy of isolation and communications blackout against Öcalan. Most recently, since last April, prison officials stepped up this isolation, cutting off of diplomatic relations through the İmralı delegation. How do you analyze this isolation? Why is severe isolation being imposed at this particular time and what is at stake?
In March 2013 Öcalan, during his imprisonment in Imrali, called on the PKK to declare a ceasefire. For two years hopes were high that the Turkish state and the PKK could negotiate and achieve peace. Then in the June 2015 election, the HDP surpassed the 10 percent hurdle for the first time and got into parliament. The AKP, aspiring to a more authoritarian system, refused to share power and did an about-face.
It terminated the peace process and began deploying the police and the military against towns and cities of the Kurdish southeast. To justify this new campaign, the AKP needed an excuse, one that would make the Kurds appear to be the ones to initiate fighting. In the Suruc massacre, IS, enabled by the AKP, killed 32 volunteers for Kobane. Afterward the PKK, following its model of legitimate self-defense (attacking soldiers and police, not civilians), killed two Turkish police.
Thereafter all hell broke loose. The assault on the southeast evolved into a terror campaign that imposed open-ended, 24-hour shoot-to-kill curfews.
The AKP has blamed the PKK, not itself, for ending the peace process. On January 28 the deputy prime minister Akdoğan said it was the PKK ("the terror organization"), not the AKP, that had "betrayed the process." So when, for example, Vice President Biden came to visit, he could be persuaded that the PKK really is terrorist, since it "betrayed" the process and killed those police. You might not know that in the US, killing a police officer is considered a worse crime than killing a civilian.
I believe Ocalan would have been a force for peace throughout 2015, had he been able to communicate. He stands for continued peace talks. We need his voice desperately now. A friend recently pointed out that in a negotiation, Ocalan will always look for something positive to take away. It's an outrage that he is locked away, silenced when he is most needed during this downward spiral, his potential, indispensable contribution squandered. Silencing him has worked to the AKP's advantage.
* Can you give us your thoughts on the ongoing blockades of Kurdish cities?
As I understand it, the Turkish nation-state is very centralized. Öcalan had concluded that this state could never solve the Turkish-Kurdish issue, so he proposed democratic autonomy, claiming degrees of decision-making power to the local level; and he put forward the idea of the composite, pluralist democratic nation.
I think when the DTK declared democratic autonomy last July 15, it meant this kind of decentralization of degrees of power from the center to the localities. As Mardin co-mayor Ahmet Türk pointed out in September 2015, self-rule is a legitimate democratic demand. Indeed, he said, "independently of the Kurdish question, local administration is an urgent need for this country" (Firat, Sept. 20, 2015). And he said he thought "90 percent of the Kurdish question is related to the local administration issue."
And after all, decentralization is not so outrageous. Not all nation-states are as monolithic and centralized as Turkey; in not all does power emanate from the center downward. In Germany, for example, different levels of scale-nation, province, municipality-have different "autonomous" powers. The same is true in the United States.
Decentralized structure doesn't fall apart or disintegrate. It holds together. And it's something the Kurds have every right to demand. Calling for local administration in Bakur is not outrageous, and least of all is it treasonous, even though Selahattin Demirtas has been accused of treason for advocating it.
But when the Kurdish cities and towns began to declare "democratic autonomy," Ankara seems to have chosen to interpret "autonomy" mean "secession"-that is, to leave or "secede" from Turkey, is not what Ocalan meant. But again, it suited Erdogan's aims to interpret it in the most negative and threatening way, to justify the military campaign in the southeast.
We have watched in the news as dozens of people are condemned to die in a basement in Cizre, with a teenage girl named Sultan Irmak passing away just today.
What is your response to this situation?
By now, several months later, the situation has spiraled out of control. The level of sheer brutality by the state is of a different order of magnitude. It's exterminationist, a war against the Kurds as people. It is all but foreclosing any option of a peaceful solution, at least without outside pressure.
After all, how can the Kurds not fight back against the state's anti-Kurd campaign, when the alternative is to be slaughtered like sheep? To be left to die slowly in basements, with a hospital nearby? What is left when even in innocent calls for peace are denounced as "terrorism," as happened to the art teacher Ayse Celik, who asked Beyazit Ozturk only, "Please let no more people die"? What choice is left but to fight?
I think only pressure from the outside world can end the current Kurdish dilemma. The NATO countries and the EU and everyone else must demand that Turkey to end the curfews, to release the imprisoned journalists, to cease prosecuting dissident academics, to cease murdering Kurdish civilians for its own sake. The world must pay attention.
* In the current Turkish state attacks in Northern Kurdistan, we've seen women become the targets of state attacks--whether politicians who were engaged in efforts for local self-government or women trying to save their wounded children. Why is the state targeting women so aggressively in Kurdistan?
Yes, I've read that on January 5, in Silopi, state forces murdered three female Kurdish politicians -- Sêvê Demir, Pakize Nayir, and Fatma Uyar. I don't know if women are targeted more than men or less than men, but surely women are targeted far more now than in the past because they are no longer silent, domesticated, subdued, stifled behind locked doors at home. They out in the open, as active political players, and that alone makes them targets.
But they are also surely targeted because they represent the Kurdish gender revolution. For a patriarchal society like Turkey, dominated, compliant women are an extremely valuable economic and psychological resource. To maintain control of this resource, fathers must be able pass daughters seamlessly into the authority of husbands, without the women rebelling. Kurdish women have found a way out of this closed loop and have grasped their destiny with their own hands, gaining autonomy from the patriarchal system. Kurdish women co-mayors and YPS fighters represent a rejection of the male-dominated social order. So the attacks on women must be intended to intimidate all women in Turkey and Rojava, be they Turkish or Kurdish or anything else
Across state boundaries, across ethnic and religious boundaries, women in the Middle East share a legacy of subordination and domination, and hence an immediate and pressing interest in transforming the region. If women could get together and form alliances throughout the region, and somehow overturn those artificial patriarchal boundaries, they could perhaps found a new enlightened social order in the Middle East. JINHA, I commend your efforts to promote the advance of women in the Middle East.
* Can you comment on the exclusion of the PYD from the Geneva peace process? What are the thoughts and approaches that are being excluded, that are not being allowed to the table with the exclusion of the PYD?
Quite clearly Turkey objected to PYD participation, and Turkey as the NATO ally had the last word. Yet the Kurds have provided precisely the model of interethnic cooperation that a reconstructed Syria will require. The example of Rojava, while it may not be perfect, is an enormous and progressive step forward. It's absurd to exclude the Kurds.
* Can you comment on what you've seen in your observations and conversations in Rojava and Northern Kurdistan that that can explain what is making states so very uncomfortable? What is the potential that so many states and international formations are scared of?
The major players are accustomed to thinking about the world order in terms of the states with territorial integrity and inviolable borders. But in the Middle East, in what were once Syria and Iraq, such states no longer exist. As a result, the geopolitical social order that prevailed for the past hundred years is in ruins.
And as these states collapse into rubble and the dust settles, what stands revealed is the continued and undeniable existence of the world's largest stateless ethnicity (30 million people). Overlooked, denied, and suppressed for four generations, the Kurds have found a place on the world stage, and the world sees them with their heads unbowed. Moreover, unlike the savage fanatics that dominates some parts of the region, the Kurds share many values that the West says it honors, such as democracy and justice and equality and secularism. The Kurds have an attractive culture and are effective military allies.
But to ally with them, according to the dominant thinking, means jeopardizing, at least for now, the remnants of the old system. After all, the Kurds follow a "third path" that defies existing dualities in the region: between Shia and Sunni, Assad regime and Islamist opposition, Saudi Arabia and Iran. These groups will reject the Kurds' third path because they have too much invested in one side or the other.
But somehow I think there is hope in Syria. After all, the war there has evolved from a civil war between domestic forces (regime and opposition), into a proxy war among regional powers (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran). And now it has final y drawn in the superpowers of the old Cold War, the US and Russia. Their involvement may bring real progress toward peace, and both have a history of decent relations with the Kurds. The US has been giving air support to the YPG/YPJ since the battle for Kobane, and it has deployed special forces there now, 50 of them. (I wish they would do more, especially in terms of humanitarian aid.) And since September 30 the Russian have been carrying out air strikes. I am not a fan of Vladimir Putin, and I don't support his ally Assad, but I'm glad that Russia has seen fit to assist the YPG/YPJ.
And maybe the US and Russia will work together. Last fall, when the SDF attacked the Tishrin Dam and crossed the Euprhates, both US and Russia supported it with air strikes, I've read. The next crucial issue, I think, will be the Jarabulus-to-Azaz stretch. Both Russia and the US want to seal the border between northern Syria and Turkey, albeit on behalf of different groups. But sealing the border will exclude Turkey from northern Syria and disrupt Turkey's supply lines to IS.
How will Erdogan react to that? He will have to accept it or else invade Syria. But he already made a huge miscalculation on November 24, when Turkish F-16s shot down that Russian bomber. Now if he invades Syria, Russian aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles will surely fight back.
My hope is that if the Russians and Americans work, in some loose way, together, they can ultimately somehow bring the conflict to an end, and create a partition of the land area that was once home to the Syrian state.
* Do you have any final thoughts or comments for our agency?
As a citizen of the US, I try to watch the actions of the US government closely. I know the US has disappointed the Kurds and betrayed them, more than once. I believe that President Obama is a compassionate man, and so I don't understand why he continues to embrace the dictator Erdogan as an ally and turn a blind eye to his savagery toward the Kurdish people.
I'm sure you will think me naïve, but I do cherish the hope that someday the US will finally behave like a friend to the Kurds, as the Kurds have behaved as a friend to the US. Most of the Americans who are paying attention to the situation have sympathy for your people. Informed Americans know that Kurdish forces, allied with Arabs and Christians, fighting with inadequate arms, nonetheless defeated the barbarous Islamic State repeatedly, at Kobani, at Tel Abyad, and at Hassakeh. One day I hope the US government will think seriously about finally supporting the Kurds in achieving their aspirations for at least a minimal degree of self-rule, which history has denied them for so long, yet which they so very much deserve.