"The Turkish advocate of the Kurds - Dr Ismail Besikci"
Globe interviews Ismael Besikci
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Dr Ismail Besikci
By Mehmed Sabri Akgönül
Globe: You are identified together with the Kurdish question in Turkey. How would you define the Kurdish Question?
Besikci: Actually the Kurdish Question is the Question of Kurdistan which got stolen on the rights to establish an independent state after the World War I, during the period of the League of Nations, when Kurdistan got divided into four pieces.
The very first division of the Kurds and the Kurdish territory officially took place at the Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin in 1639. Secondly, at the end of the Russo-Iranian wars of 1812-1813 and then 1826-1828, northern areas of Iranian-controlled parts of Kurdistan came under complete Russian rule. Finally, Kurdistan was divided once more in the 1920s during the period of the League of Nations.
Although the Kurds were already uprising, the founder of the League of Nations ignored the demands of them. Sheikh Mahmud Barzanji was at the same time, struggling for freedom for Kurds in southern Kurdistan. One of the processes characterizing this period was the principle of national self-determination. Kurdistan and the Kurds got divided and fragmented especially at this period when this principle was supported and glorified by both the leaders such as Lenin and Stalin of Soviet Union and also U.S. President Wilson.
The division and fragmentation of Kurds and Kurdistan have created a huge negative impact on Kurds. The division and fragmentation of the Kurds and Kurdistan show us the following: When a nation faces the division and the fragmentation at a specific period of the history and it might also end up in redeveloping and reproducing situation. The exposure of division and fragmentation of Kurdistan is unique. Even the Arab nation has been divided after the WWI, but as separate independent states. There is a big difference between these two divisions, in terms of significance.
Globe: "Kurdistan is an international colony" was the definition at your previous works. Later, you defined Kurdistan as "being not even a colony." Could you please explain the difference between these two thesis?
Besikci: I'd like to thank to you for drawing attention to the concept of "being not even a colony." There are two main groups of colonies in the history of colonialism: full colonies and semi-colonies. But the political status of Kurds is far less than the status of a colony. Kurdistan is neither a full nor a semi-colony. (Of course we have to evaluate KRG separately) Colony has its border. For example, when you say that "Uganda was a colony of Great Britain" or "Angola was a colony of Portugal", you have mentioned with defined borders. In other words, the people living in Uganda were not British, neither was Uganda considered part of Great Britain and there was no attempt to transform the native people into Englishmen.
In 1950s, African countries struggled for national independence and anti-imperialism and they gained the status of being a state in accordance to the borders in 1885. This situation has two exceptions: Eritrea and Sudan. With the establishment of these states, a change was done on the borders of 1885. However, the name of Kurd and Kurdistan have been divided, crumbled and shared by eradicating these names either in tongues or history. Furthermore, another point must be underlined: colonies were not established with the intention of remaining as a colony. In the control of colonial power, such a power will give independence to the dependent colony when it comes to "particular phase", administratively, politically and economically. There was such a understanding of colonialism in 1885 and in 1920s. The properties which are stated here are not valid for Kurdistan. Kurds and Kurdistan do not have a status. There is no border. There is neither the name of Kurd nor the name of Kurdistan officaly. It is wanted for Kurds and Kurdistan to remain in such a situation. That is why Kurdistan is not even a colony. There can be a utility to reexamine these relations. For example, while colonies dependent on Great Britain such as Iraq, Jordan, Palestine or colonies dependent on France such as Syria and Lebanon are established, these imperial powers did not think of an independent Kurdistan, even a colonial Kurdistan. In this period, the foremost global colonial powers in France and Great Britain; with the two rooted countries in Middle East, the successor of Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey and the successor of Iranian Empire, which is new Iran; as four powers together descended on Kurdistan.
Globe: Before and after the World War I, there are either nationalist-intellectuals or military-organized Kurdish groups in Kurdistan. Why did imperial power designing Middle East approached Kurds as an identity element, although Kurds showed a required political willpower?
Besikci: To know the answer of this question, the relations between imperial powers in this period should be deeply analyzed. Everyone utters about the solutions on Kurdish question, but before the solutions, at first the basic feature of the problem should be elaborated in the Kurdistan question. In this respect, after the First World War, in 1920s, during the League of Nations, division, crumbling and sharing of Kurds and Kurdistan must necessarily be examined. The most important conference was the Lausanne conference but Kurds were not present there. I think that division of Kurds and Kurdistan was not documented in writing in 1923. Division of Kurdistan at those times may be a verbal agreement. At that time, destruction of Kurdistan is the product of a verbal agreement made in backstage not in tables.
Today, while there are even some countries which have the population of 30-40 thousand or 100-200 thousand, it is a remarkable situation that Kurds which has the population of nearly 40 million in Middle-East do not have a political status. Because of the fact that League of Nations could not create a peaceful ambiance, World War II began. After the World War II, during the period of League of Nations, many changes occurred politically all around the world. For example, before the Second World War, while there were two independent countries in Africa, today this number is 57. However, there has been no change for Kurds and Kurdistan and same "the sacred status-quo" which did not give a political status to Kurds was sustained.
Globe: States that share Kurdistan acted in a political-military coordination against to Kurdish nation at all times. However, in recent years, the emerging new developments in the Middle East and enter in the process of state-formaton and state-building in south Kurdistan has left those states in a very difficult situation. What will these new process bring Kurds of other part of Kurdistan?
Besikci: In the 1920s the status quo, which has left the Kurds without a political status, cracked after the U.S. intervention in Iraq in 2003. In that time, the imperial powers created "the sacred status-quo" and left Kurds stateless in the 1920. In the early 2000s, it seems that another imperial power has opened the breaches among these status quos and increasingly has distinguished them. This is also an irony of history. There are no states or powers in the Middle East satisfied with this intervention. They were against this intervention but the Kurds benefited from the results of it. At the end of it, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was established. KRG emerged as a result of the Kurds? stable approaches and struggles because America did not want any big changes and desired to continue the layout with someone who would closer in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam. In other words, the USA did not think a federal Iraq. However, it is a very important that political development in current Middle East makes Arabs accept the concept of a federal Iraq by Kurds, emerging KRG and regulation of the constitution in this direction. Turkey, Iran and Syria also had to accept these current affairs. Naturally these circumstances affected the other parts of Kurdistan positively and will impact anymore.
Globe: As you know President Massoud Barzani began to declaim independency demand loudly. How will this manner and possible independency decision reflect the Kurds in other parts and states governing other parts?
Besikci: If we made this interview in 1998-99, I cannot guess that Jalal Talabani would be the president of Iraq. The reason for giving this example is to underline that external dynamics are the essential factors for Kurdish issue. Internal dynamics of Kurdistan have already broken up in 1920s. Determinant external dynamics have functioned for the sake of Kurds since 2003. Afterward, serious relations have been lived between Turkey and KRG in trade and energy sector. A relation between turkey and KRG is related with external dynamics.
Globe: Well, what is internal dynamic?
Besikci: It is the national conscience of Kurds. The threats that the Kurds have been subjected to, can be overcome as long as Kurdish national conscience improves.
Globe: Are the policies of PKK/BDP, the essential actor of Kurdish policy in North Kurdistan, consistent with Kurdish national conscience that you described as internal dynamics?
Besikci: As I mentioned, a lot of Kurdish political cadres are talking about the resolution of Kurdish issue. However, it is the quality of the question that we have to talk about. How Kurds have been lead to this cursed situation? The essential question is this. But the PKK/BDP is no interested with this question. If you look the manner of the PKK/BDP, as if this situation the Kurds are subjected to were living in another country. Such statements of PKK/BDP as "Nationalism is a bad ideology, all kind of nationalism is bad", "nation-state is dead", and "each ethnicity does not need a state", are the slogans trying to blunt, reroute the improving Kurdish national conscience.
How the 40 million Kurds are compared with an ethnicity only 3- 5 thousand around the world. If the nation state is dead, what is the reason for the struggles for the Palestine in order to be an independent state? Why Turkey struggle so much for recognition Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as an independent state? If nation-state is dead, why the South Sudan was founded? Why Kosovo, Montenegro was founded, If nation-state is dead, why Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and so on, came out? Why did Czechoslovakia split into two parts? Why will Scotland make referendum in 2014 in order to be an independent state? The aim of such statements is to prevent the Kurdish state. These statements are not beneficial for Kurds, but function for the sake of the states governing Kurdistan.
Globe: How do you evaluate the Democratic autonomy which was unilaterally declared in north Kurdistan in 2011?
Besikci: In my opinion, Kurds should demand federalism as the minimum status.
Globe: Most of political cadres from north Kurdistan explain that they are not secessionist or separatist. What do you think about these expressions?
Besikci: As you say, most of them are saying that "we are not secessionist, separatists." There is no any historical conscience and social conscience in these statements. This means not to be aware of the cursed situation that Kurds have been subjected to in 1920's. Because Kurdish nation is the one who have been fragmented and divided and also Kurdistan is the country which has been split and shared.
Globe: The most important insolubility in north Kurdistan is the politic view trying to govern a national issue with minority politics. How do you describe the national politics or Kurdayeti (Kurdishness)?
Besikci: It is described as having respect for the nation-country reality of Kurds. The aim of this policy is that Kurds should have their own state. The projects apart from the ones that will give political sovereignty to Kurds will legitimize the states that exploiting them, rather than Kurds.
Globe: There has been discussions on Kurdish national conferrance for few years. According to you, what does that national conference mean in a country divided into four pieces and what should be the agenda of this conference?
Besikci: The national conference should be a conference that feel obligated to overcome the situation of being shared, separated and divided of Kurdistan. If there is an aim like that, this conference can be meaningful. But I am not sure whether Kurdish politicians have this awareness about this separation, division and sharing this situation. It is being said that this conference will take a decision to say to the PKK "lay down arms." I think it is not a right attitude. It is not rational while arming Syria National Council in this period, to say on the other hand to the PKK "lay down arms." How did Kurdish people gain the actual gainings until today? How many requisitions did they gain to lay down arms? It is wrong to take decisons like that on behalf of the PKK. But also it will be wrong not to talk about the reasons of division of Kurdistan and how Kurdish nation will be independent and united.
I think Kurdish national conference can not take considerable decisions because there is no resemblence between parties pariticipating in conference.
Globe: What do you mean when you say "resemblence"?
Besikci: For example, PKK has no trouble with the fragmentation and division of Kurdistan. Kurds also has not a policy of becoming a state. On the other hand, Barzani targets national politics. Since these two aims can not go well together. I dont think any considerable solution would be offered in this conference.
Globe: There has been an uniterrupted struggle in the north Kurdistan for the last 30 years. In your opinion what are the tactical and strategical faults of this struggle?
Besikci: When this struggle began in 1984, I thought that this struggle would develop the national and homeland conciousness of Kurds. But it did not. National conciousness of Kurds developed in some degree but homeland conciousness never developed. Still the most important aim of democratic autonomy is living with Turks in a "common homeland" this "common homeland" refers to Turkey not to Kurdistan. In this situation the reality of a country for Kurds is being denied. The most important mistake is not having evolve the conciuosness of homeland. Guerilla struggle should have developed this conciousness however there has not been any positive development.
Globe: Lately, statements like "staying out of the Turkish sovereignty system" have started to being uttered loudly. According to you what does it mean for Kurds being inside of Turkish sovereignty system and staying out of it?
Besikci: Turkish sovereignty system should be criticized and if Kurds stay in this system and struggle with it they will be a simple iner-opposition element.
Globe: In your opinion what kind of opportunities do Kurds have if they stay out of that system?
Besikci: First of all the conciuosness of national, homeland and language of Kurds will develop. For example they will at least discussing the system of federalism. When Kurds in north Kurdistan get united, they will start to discuss the realities of Kurdistan and its needs-- not the realities of Turkey and its needs.
Globe: Recently Kurdish Hezbollah took the decission of getting politicized. How do you think this decision will change the political face of north Kurdistan?
Besikci: In 1990s when the guerrilla struggle increased Turkey created Kurdish Hezbollah. Hezbollah is an organization founded by Turkish state. They never fought against Turkish police or soldiers instead they always fought against Kurds. Hezbollah firstly has to auto-criticize itself. But I need to say that the decision of conservative Kurdish community's getting politicized includes the potential of reducing AKP's votes.
Globe: As you know some remarkable changing occured in Middle East during last year. What do you think about the attitude of Turkey towards the events in Syria and also the attitudes of Syrian Kurds?
Besikci: It can be said that Syrian Kurds can gain de facto autonomy. I think this status would remain whether Al-Assad's regime would fail or not. Turkey struggles for organizing the Syrian opponents and endorsing the Free Syrian Army. The main purpose of these aids is to prevent any status that would be gained by Kurds in Syria. Turkey has negotiated to be the main actor of a military intervention in Syria or at least creation of a no-fly zone on Syrian soil in order to prevent a possible Kurdish regional government. To me, if this choatic condition goes on, this would provide some advantages to Kurds. In this context, the more crises in Syria would bring more gain to Kurds.
Additionaly, Syrian Kurds surely have to improve their alliance. They should perform a common policy towords both al-Assad regime and Syrian opposition groups.