In January 2014, KCK* co-chairman Bese Hozat claimed that in Turkey there were inimical governing bodies besides the official Turkish government. Among these enemies, she pointed at ‘nationalist Armenian and Greek pressure groups’ along side Fetullah Gülen’s cult and Israeli pressure groups. Turkish version of her inteview could be found in the following page:
Hozat’s claim started a dispute. Following that dispute, historian Taner Akçam was interviewed by Ferda Balancar of Agos. Turkish version of this interview, first updated in 23.01.2014, can be found in the following link in Agos Newspaper (An Armenian newspaper based in İstanbul):
In this interview Akçam and Balancar discusses Kurdish politics and Armenian Issue in connection with Hozat’s claims. Akçam, as a historian who has observed Abdullah Öcalan and PKK** since the 70s, also comments on the changes in Kurdish politics.
I have translated this interview upon request of an academic study group. I am not a professional translator and English is my second language. I do apologise for all my mistakes in advance. If you happen to notice any (a part that is not clear, a better way of saying, a simple grammatical error, etc), and let me know, I’d be grateful and happy to correct them. I hope it proves useful and helpful for others as well.
*KCK (Koma Civakên Kurdistan – Group of Communities in Kurdistan)
**PKK Partiya Karkerên Kurdistani – Kurdistan Workers’ Party
Kurdish freedom does not guarantee justice for Armenians or Syrian-Orthodox
Does this declaration make Bese Hozat unique among PKK governors? Or, does it show us a typical view of political culture in PKK/KCK?
We have to be very careful with ‘political cultures’ in Stalinist structures like PKK. I am not sure if Bese Hozat and Rıza Altun knows what they are talking about. I guess they simply repeat whatever they hear from Leader Apo (Öcalan), ‘because there must be some wisdom in it.’ We can claim that repeating him is gradually becoming a political culture. But tomorrow, Leader Apo might say that he hasn’t meant that. Then, Hozat and Altun will correct their stance according to their leader’s explanations. However, I think this view is totally new for PKK. Not only PKK, it is altogether foreign to Kurdish political movements in general. It seems as though there is Turkish government behind it. I believe the government have Öcalan say this.
Why should the government have him say this?
In recent years, it is known that AKP (Justice and Development Party) and PKK seek a strategic partnership that is united in Sunni Islam. Thus, Öcalan might be asked to say such things and he might not have any objection to this. As 2015 approaches, he means to say ‘I am not going to give you a hard time over the genocide issues, on the contrary I am with you.’ That’s what it is. I believe this view is a by-product of AKP-PKK’s strategic partnership. We are now facing a totally foreign view. It is highly strange because PKK itself has been a similar pressure group in Europe after the 80s and as well as PKK, BDP (The Peace and Democracy Party – Partiya Aştî û Demokrasiyê) has recently been a similar pressure group in the USA. I certainly know that BDP took Armenian organisations as an example.
What do you think about Öcalan’s approach to Armenian Issue?
Armenian Issue is not very important for Öcalan, just a minor detail. Consequently, he will take a stance that is practical and convenient for his own movement. In this respect, his attitude has similarities with Mustafa Kemal’s in 1915. Mustafa Kemal was calculating his moves in connection with National Oath. Öcalan does that, too. Öcalan wants to take the Kurdish region under his leadership and PKK’s control. Armenian Issue is only an extraneous part in this big picture. His attitude might change according to his needs. However, I’d like to add that before Öcalan reached Syria, PKK had established some connections and started communications with ASALA for a possible partnership. Öcalan did not like this at all, severed all the connections immediately. From his perspective this was wrong and ‘childish,’ he told me that.
It’s claimed that such enmity is caused by the collaboration between AKP and PKK (and Kurdish politics) for the sake of the Solution Process (Turkish-Kurdish Peace Process). How would you comment on this?
Solution Process shouldn’t be about ‘saying nice things to save appearances.’ Nobody forces PKK to do this. It’s their choice. They could have been lead far more democratically. However, I think that their structure does not allow democratic inclinations. There is a cultural resemblance between Turks hanging on to what their leader Tayyip Erdoğan says and Kurds hanging on to Öcalan’s every word. From a political perspective both groups are limited with what their leader approves of. This is very unhealthy for democracy.
From time to time people talk about a certain ‘Kurdish Kemalism.’ What do you think about this description?
No doubt, PKK is the Kurdish version of the CUP (The Committee of Union and Progress – İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti) and in that sense, they surely represent Kurdish Kemalism. So, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with saying that. Öcalan looks up to Mustafa Kemal. However, PKK is not as progressive as the CUP. The CUP was a coalition, they didn’t have a leader as such. The CUP had armed men and they were killing whoever they think is their enemy. But this was limited to very small numbers. On the other hand, PKK has killed a disturbingly large number of people from Kurdish and Turkish left and their own. We need to talk about this frightening political culture. People, even self-proclaimed leftist and socialists, cannot and are afraid to talk about this fact. There are many things to be said about a comparison between Mustafa Kemal and Öcalan. I’d like to underline one of the greatest differences though; Mustafa Kemal, since the beginning, has given utmost importance to legitimise his power and establish a parliament despite all its inadequacies. Öcalan has never tolerated any other voice than his. To see this, we need to look at the Kurdish Parliament experiment in the 90s. The violent and oppressive atmosphere in Kurdistan might have a role in this, but, I believe Markists-Leninist (Stalinist) thought has an influence, too.
How does Kurdish role in Armenian Genocide effect the discussions in general?
I wish we could discuss ‘Kurdish role in genocide’ somewhere else than this frame. This can be seen as a confirmation of Kurdish role in genocide. I don’t find this connection healthy. I must admit, compared to Turkish majority, PKK as a political group and Kurdish society in general are far more constructive in discussions of genocide. Some BDP municipalities did some respectable work on the subject. Moreover, PKK is not the only structure we need to address concerning these issues. There are big religious bodies such as AKP and Hezbollah. Kurdish role in 1915 needs to be discussed in a wider frame including all these other organisations.
Mustafa Karasu, a prominent name from KCK, made an explanation after Hozat. What do you think about his explanation?
I’d like to underline three elements about this. Firstly, at this point KCK had to issue an official declaration on the matter. Secondly, it appeared that Karasu perceives everyone who criticised Hozat as an enemy of ‘PKK and Kurds.’ PKK and KCK need to learn to take criticism, but, I have no hope. Thirdly, Christian groups’ pursuit of justice has been handled as a sub context of Kurdish pursuit of freedom. In summary, what is said is if Kurds gain freedom, Christians’ problem will be solved! However, their problems with respect to freedom and justice are different. Even if Kurds become free the way they have been expecting, this does not guarantee justice for Armenians or Syrian-Orthodox. For example free countries like Canada, Australia and the USA still struggle with justice issues concerning their indigenous peoples. Freedom does not guarantee justice, it can only be a ticket to a possible solution. Briefly, Karasu’s explanation brought more questions to mind, instead of explaining one.
Kurds’ confrontation will be with Syrian-Orthodox
If Kurds become autonomous or independent, how do you think they will confront with Armenian Issue and the past?
I believe that every right step in Kurdish problem will bring us closer to a solution in Armenian problem as well. These two problems stem from the same root: They are not accepted as who they are and both are perceived as threats because of their differences. Armenian problems in Ottoman Empire and Kurdish problems in Turkey have generated from this mentality. Consequently, any change in Kurdish situation is a sign of a changing mentality and surely, this will be a step forward for Armenians as well. In addition to this, it is possible to claim that Kurds are far more open to understanding Armenians’ problems because their rights have been violated throughout the history of Turkish Republic. There are examples to prove this understanding. I believe Armenian Issue is not a practical problem for Kurds. Today, there is no Armenian population in Kurdish regions. In today’s Turkey, Armenian Issue should be handled by the government, around recognising the genocide and compensating it. It is more of a ‘Turkish’ problem. Because of this, it is highly unlikely that there will be problems with Armenians in Kurdish regions of Turkey and Barzani’s region similar to the problems with Assyrians. That is, Kurdish political groups’ have comfortable circumstances to deal with Armenian Issue. Their major confrontation will be with Syrian-Orthodox. Because firstly, the Syrian-Orthodox genocide is undeniably ‘Kurdish made’ and secondly, today Syrian-Orthodox land is occupied by some people among whom there are people from BDP. Consequently, Kurds’ important confrontation will be with Syrian-Orthodox…
Kurdish intellectuals often say that ‘Kurds did not have willpower in 1915.’ What do you think about this argument?
I hope that Kurdish intellectuals will abandon these theses as these matters are discussed more often. ‘We have been used’ is an inconsistent argument for a number of reasons. Anyone who knows a bit of history knows that this is not true, especially for 1894-96 massacres. We also know that, primarily in Abdülhamit era, it is the local Kurdish groups who pushed the central governing bodies towards such politics. Even in Treaty of Berlin (1878), Armenian Issue is not described as between Ottoman Government and Armenians; it is between Kurds, Circassians and Armenians. And, powerful governments asked Ottoman government to protect Armenians from Kurdish attacks. In addition to that, for example during the era of the CUP, the progressive centre of the CUP wanted to solve the land ownership problem – that is the biggest part of Armenian Issue – however, everybody knows that it couldn’t be solved because of Kurdish feudal structure. Likewise, Syrian-Orthodox genocide is forced mostly by Kurds. The CUP didn’t even had an agenda as such. At least not that I know of. However, they willingly followed Kurds’ wishes. That is, if Kurds wanted, most Syrian-Orthodox could have survived.
If you ask me let’s leave that ‘who used who’ arguments to Kurdish and Turkish nationalists. We need to take a stance that does not discriminate among the Muslim groups who partook in the massacres. Because, at the time, Turks, Kurds and Circassians were united in their Muslim identity. Central decision makers had specific preferences when it came to ethnic backgrounds; their politics were shaped by the needs of a Turkish nationality that could not differentiate itself from their Islamic identity. The problems were caused not because of different ethnic roots but because of different religions. There is another reason why ‘We have been used’ does not make sense. The same people who claim that they have been used, also claims that ‘they were a structural component of the republic.’ When they think something is nice, they take responsibility for and they are proud of it. But, when they don’t like what happened they say that they ‘have been used.’ This is not consistent. Kurdish component should take responsibility in both processes. It is as simple as that.
Unless KCK makes an official declaration, a new culture is born
What do you think about Bese Hozat’s response to the reactions?
I have read Hozat’s explanations in Agos News. She seems to have recited some lines that have little or no meaning. She claims that there is an evil-capitalist-modernisation on one side and there are some good and beautiful peoples on another side. These peoples have no problem with each other, apparently. The problem is the capitalist-modernisation. She also says that whoever criticises her is an enemy of PKK and Kurdish people. As far as I understood, she stands by her word about Armenian and Greek pressure groups being enemies. Apparently, these groups commit ‘terrible deeds’ but this has nothing to do with Armenians. Consequently, she repeats that these pressure groups work against peace and democracy. After what Öcalan, Hozat and other governors say, if KCK isn’t going to make any other official explanation, we can say that a new culture is born. Now, we have one more group working against ‘Armenian and Greek pressure groups’ other than Turkish officials. Happy for us!