1 October 2013
Mr Adil Zozani, Member of Parliament for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), was recently in the UK to attend the Labour Party Conference and address a public meeting with members of London’s Kurdish community. Peace in Kurdistan Campaign spoke with him about the conference, the BDP’s role in current peace negotiations for the resolution of the Kurdish Question, and about Turkey’s questionable role in developments in Rojava, northern Syria.
How has your message been received so far in the UK, and in particular, at the Labour Party Conference, where you spoke at a meeting that was attended by the Turkish Ambassador to the UK?
The Labour Party Conference was very interesting, and it was clear they are very excited about the possibility being in leadership again. I met many people who were in solidarity with the Kurdish movement and found that the Kurdish question was well known amongst them.
At our fringe meeting we didn’t talk about the past, we talked about the future. We discussed how to build the future and we value their support in this. I was very happy to see a positive approach from them. In addition, out of the many meetings that we have had outside of Turkey this was the first time the Turkish Ambassador, Ünal Çeviköz, was present to listen to us. So we had a discussion with him and thanked him for being there and being part of our meeting.
The Turkish government has been moving very slowly in addressing some of the Kurdish demands, leading the peace process almost into a deadlock. What has been the role of the BDP in continuing to mediate in the negotiation process between Ocalan, the PKK and Ankara in this stalemate? And how do you see the process moving forward?
The BDP is the solution for the Kurdish Question and we are on the side resolving the question. The meetings from our side that we have had with Abdullah Ocalan at Imrali have revolved around how we can guarantee the wellbeing and welfare of the Kurdish people – that has been the main focus of our discussions with Ocalan.
Unfortunately we don’t believe that we are dealing with a government that is genuinely supporting a process for peace. We don’t have that in front of us. This is one of the reasons why the government is being very slow.
We, as the Kurdish political party within Turkey, have always said that the movement uses arms because it was forced to use arms, not out of choice. Within the scope of the negotiations, we have said from the start that the movement will lay down weapons as part of the peace process.
In this process we are faced with two key issues. First, there is no tradition in the history of the Turkish government of actually providing a resolution to issues like these. They don’t have a tradition of negotiation. They instead have only used force, regardless of whether the result was negative or positive. But they never sit down in dialogue to resolve the issues. If we do manage to succeed with this process, it will be a first in the history of the country. Secondly, we Kurds are not very experienced in negotiating either. When you put both these problems together it inevitably means that we will come up against obstacles.
But we still believe that the peace process will be a success.
There are several examples of negotiated peace processes, such as South Africa or Northern Ireland, which bare resemblances to the Kurdish-Turkish conflict. How do you view these?
We know about these cases and we have considered them carefully in an attempt to learn from their example. Nevertheless, if we succeed with the negotiations, it will be a first for the world.
This is because we are trying new type of negotiation process. Other negotiations proceeded by attempting to bring ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ ends together – a lineal process where two opposing sides concede enough to eventually meet in the middle, having both made compromises.
This is not the system we are using. Instead we look at the negotiations like a pyramid. We are trying to think not only about our own goals but about all other aspects and we want to build upwards, step by step. We do not want a situation where one side ‘loses’ and the other ‘wins’ – we want both sides to win and be satisfied with the result.
We are not trying to build a resolution where there are losses for Kurds or for Turks. We want the successes to be parallel, this is how we propose to resolve the Kurdish question. That is why we can say that if we do succeed in this process, we will have shown the world a new approach for resolving conflict.
It is clear that the anti-terror legislation is highly repressive and has been used to justify the arrest of thousands of people. Turkey now has the highest number prisoners on terror charges in the world, and is the world’s worst jailer of journalists also. Sebahat Tuncel has called this wave of arrests ‘political genocide’ – would you agree with that assessment? How important do you think the issue of the anti-terror law is for peace and democratisation of Turkey?
Since April 14 2004, thousands of our politicians have been arrested – this is certainly a political genocide. And not only politicians, but also lawyers, members of civil society groups, and NGO workers. But it is clear we as a party have been victim of this political genocide. Politicians in Turkey have always said that the Kurds and Turks are stuck together like the tip of a finger, but the Turks have been the flesh while we have been the nail – however much we grow, they will cut us.
This is not often spoken about, but even in the most repressive countries there are no child political prisoners. In Turkey there is. But this is not only down to anti-terror legislation. Even if the government lifts the legislation, there are articles in other sections of the penal code that are even worse.
Putting the laws themselves to one side, what needs to happen most urgently is not a change to the law, but a change in the logic that creates this law. The state must transform the rationale it uses to approach such issues, because it is this rationale that has pit people against each other.
Over the last few months, conferences have been held across Kurdistan to democratise the process and unify the movement. Can you comment on these?
This is also part of the negotiation process. We used the time to unify the Kurdish movement as well as negotiate with Turkish side. In the future, in order to unify the four parts of Kurdistan, we will have further conferences. In fact, we believe that across Kurdistan people have already united in the streets. We want to bring this success, this unity, into the political sphere.
We have also included other minority groups in these conferences, in order to unite the many groups that we have been living with across Kurdistan. These conferences will continue. We want to bring all Anatolian people freedom and peace, and we think this will happen as a result of the conferences. We are not happy seeing a Middle East that is so corrupt. But we are working for a peaceful Middle East, a Middle East where people can live together, be free and live in peace. This way we can build and grow together.
The person who put this perspective forward is Abdullah Ocalan, and we are happy this has been welcomed by all four parts of Kurdistan.
How do you view the role of international actors, such as the UK, France, Germany, the EU and the US in the peace process?
I must answer this by going back to the Oslo talks [in 2011]. There was a third actor who coordinated the Oslo negotiations. But in Imrali there isn’t a third actor. These are direct negotiations between Ocalan and the Turkish government. We prefer this because we are directly involved with building the future of the communities on both sides. But this doesn’t mean the international actors do not have a powerful role to play. Not just the UK, France and Germany, but Russia also has been involved in the Middle East.
We tell these countries that you ruined our fate, but we will rebuild it ourselves. We are not against anybody, and we value any actor that may have positive role to play in the negotiations, but we do see that some countries in the West are not very happy with this process.
I’d like to remind everyone that we aren’t the ones who started this fire. They started the fire and they left. But we, and the rest of the Middle East, are struggling to put the fire out. We are not fighting a war, we are fighting to end a war. Nelson Mandela once said: ‘Peace is not an aim, it is a journey’. And Middle Eastern peoples, especially Kurds, are determined to take this journey for peace.
Anyone who wishes to stop this will be condemned by history – regardless of whether it is the UK, the US, Germany or anyone.
Lastly, it has been clear for nearly two years that Turkey has supported rebel groups operating in Syria diplomatically, financially and militarily. How do you interpret Turkey’s support for the rebels?
Turkey is very mistaken about what is happening in Rojava. The opposition supported Turkey in the past, but are now against them. There are so many rebel groups now fighting in Syria that you simply don’t know where they are coming from. Some come from Iran, some from Turkey, some from Saudi Arabia – the situation is now so complex that we don’t know who is fighting whom.
The growing strength of Rojava is something that the Turkish government will view negatively and they will worry about for the future. In the meetings we have had with the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmed Davudoglu, we have told him to open his eyes. The Kurdish people are not going to let go of what they have succeeded in achieving in Rojava. The Turkish government will not get anything out of supporting these rebel gangs because we know that nothing in Syria will be how it was before. The future is being rebuilt and the Kurds will be very visible in this new future. Anyone who doesn’t think so is very mistaken.
Interview by Melanie Sirinathsingh
Interpretation by Aysegul Erdogan