Member of parliament and co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) Gultan Kisanak. Photo: DIHA
By Hemin Khoshnaw
Gultan Kisanak, a leader of Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), sees “complications” ahead, as the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) insists it has fulfilled its side of the bargain in the ongoing peace process with Ankara, and a government intelligence report that only a small percentage of the group’s rebel fighters have so far pulled out of Turkey into their Qandil Mountain base in Iraqi Kurdistan. On a visit to the Kurdistan Region last week with fellow BDP member Ahmet Turk, Kisanak told Rudaw that, while engaged in the peace process with the PKK, Ankara continues to build military bases in Turkey’s Kurdish regions, and that “the Kurds have the normal right to stand against this.” Here is her full interview:
Rudaw: What was the goal behind your latest visit? With whom did you meet and did you see any changes in Qandil?
Gultan Kisanak: We went to Qandil Mountain in order to discuss the events of the past 45 days. This is a very important period and I believe that the Kurds can achieve their rights and freedom. It is a period of reform. The Kurds are waiting for amendments to the constitution in this phase. During the talks of the Turkish state with Abdullah Ocalan, a three-stage plan was agreed upon.
The first stage was a ceasefire and the withdrawal of the guerrillas, the second phase was implementing legal reforms -- which we have not seen the government doing much about at the moment. There are complications.
We believe that these obstacles must be removed before they harm the process.
We know that the Turkish PM met with the Council of Wise Men and told them that they were not working on drafting a bill that would grant the citizens the right of education in their own native language, and that they would not lower the 10 percent minimum threshold law that hinders the political parities from entering the parliament. Also, permission for regular visits to Ocalan is not being granted. Political complications are on the horizon. Military bases are being built, and in addition to all that, opening fire on the civilians by the military in Lice town has caused great reactions and threatened the whole peace process.
Rudaw: Have you met with the Turkish minister of justice?
Gultan Kisanak: We met with Besir Atalay, the Turkish minister of justice, and the concerned officials from the Justice and Development Party (AKP), in order to prevent the regression of the peace process. We also deemed it important to meet with the leadership of the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK). We believe that these obstacles must be removed before they harm the process.
Rudaw: Are you expecting a new campaign in order to push the peace process forward?
Gultan Kisanak: During our meeting, the KCK leadership in Qandil Mountain clearly stated its commitment to the peace process. They said they would not hesitate in doing all they could in order to help the peace process. They also confirmed that their commitment to this process was a strategic decision that would not be changed. Having said that, there were also criticisms and doubts. They said that the actions of the government worried them and that they have listened to some of their statements with suspicion.
We as the BDP will continue our efforts and cooperation with the Turkish government to push the peace process forward. In short, this process will face difficulties in this phase. We have presented a reform package of 25 points to the government. The government promised to read the package and said that they were in the process of preparing a similar package. I believe the result of these activities would be soon announced to the public because we do not have much time, as the municipality elections will be held in March next year. This means we have till January to implement reforms, before the start of the official period for preparations for the election. Hence, we are expecting that the government set a certain deadline for implementing these reforms.
During our meeting, the KCK leadership in Qandil Mountain clearly stated its commitment to the peace process.
Rudaw: It is said that the Ministry of Justice is preparing to write a letter to be delivered to Qandil Mountain by you. Is that correct?
Gultan Kisanak: No. This information is not true. For the sake of progress of this process, Ocalan asked for easier access to communication with Qandil. The Kurdish issue is a complicated one and it needs more than one visit by the BDP every 45 days. A new channel of communication must be given, and the government should not hinder this anymore. The deals between the Turkish government and Ocalan must reach the PKK leadership and the Kurdish citizens faster.
Rudaw: The BDP talks about new military bases built by the Turkish government, but you don’t mention the 2,200 Kurds who recently joined the PKK lines, as reported by the media. Doesn’t that show distrust in the peace process?
Gultan Kisanak: These criticisms directed at the PKK are untrue, because the PKK is not only a militant organization; it is a political organization as well. Interpreting this as a preparation for war is wrong. If you want this process to progress, you have to allow the PKK to carry out its political activities. Also, this is not a process to dismantle the PKK. This is a process to end violence. As a political organization the PKK has its own weight among the Kurds. I don’t believe that the political activities of the PKK will hinder the peace process at this stage. The PKK will silence its weapons and the peace process will progress in this way. The fact that the PKK is ending its armed activities is very important and the government should allow the PKK to be politically active. If the government insisted on dismantling the PKK, then we would have a big problem because this was not part of the signed deals, nor among the proposals presented to the KCK.
These criticisms directed at the PKK are untrue, because the PKK is not only a militant organization; it is a political organization as well.
Regarding your previous question, building new military bases should not be compared to the increasing number of people joining the PKK ranks, because the efforts of the PKK to increase its members and supporters are not obstacles to peace. But building military bases is an obstacle to peace because today there are more than 500,000 soldiers in the Kurdish regions. There is a military base in each village.
Rudaw: But the government said that the contracts for building those military bases were signed many years ago, before the start of the peace process.
Gultan Kisanak: This is not true. What is being built is not only a military base, but also a fort. The Ottoman Empire did the same by building forts in the places they liberated. I ask a question: Why are they building forts around Kurdistan and in every village to station their soldiers? If the government wants peace, then it should abandon these policies. It is not important when the contracts for building those military bases were issued. They should totally stop these policies.
We do not have the ambition of removing all the military bases in Kurdistan, but the government should take steps to reduce the number of these bases. Kurdistan is suffering from a military embargo that threatens the lives of the civilians. Our shepherds are facing military operations when they take out their sheep for grazing. I once said in the Turkish parliament that, “The government must build the same number of military bases in the west of Turkey as it does in Kurdistan.” Why are they building fort-like military bases? According to the government statements, they are building 140 military forts in Kurdistan. It sounds like a great conquering process. The Kurds have the normal right to stand against this.