Posted by: hevallo | March 14, 2010

Interview with Sebahat Tuncel, Kurdish Women MP of BDP.

Sebahat Tuncel:

The Democratic Opening opened the road to prison for the Kurds”

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Sebahat Tuncel, a Member of Parliament representing Istanbul in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, asserts that “if you have a criticism of the system you’re smeared either as a separatist or terrorist”

Interview with Necmiye Alpay of Radikal newspaper, 01 February 2010

Translated from Turkish by Jake Hess ( / Original text available at

Member of Parliament Sebahat Tuncel, who joined the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) when the Democratic Society Party (DTP) was shut down, said the following about the new party and the ‘democratic opening’ before the BDP congress: ‘In our program we won’t focus solely on the Kurdish issue. The state wants to confine us to the region.

We won’t allow this.’ ‘The PKK is a result of the problem, not its cause. The PKK will cease to be an issue when the issue itself is resolved…if the Kurdish people’s language, identity and cultural rights aren’t secured then even if the PKK disarms the Kurdish people won’t give up their rights’

Sebahat Tuncel is one of the parliamentarians who joined the Peace and Democracy Party (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi – BDP) following the closure of the Democratic Society Party (Demokratik Toplum Partisi – DTP). Last year we spoke on a panel together. We met in Istanbul on Sunday, 24 January to talk about the BDP and its congress scheduled to take place on February 1.

Sebahat Tuncel is a good speaker, one who undertakes her duties with energy, an important public figure. She uses very few clichés when articulating her parties views and doesn’t take it as an opportunity to opportunistically separate herself from her party while articulating her own. We chat a little bit before the interview. It doesn’t seem like the dreams and aspirations she’s brought up won’t be shared.

The other young, female BDP activists accompanying her are also like that.

There are many questions, however, and we have to start somewhere.

The difference between BDP and DTP

Necmiye Alpay: With regard to being ‘a party for all of Turkey’ will the BDP have a different thrust than DTP?

Sebahat Tuncel:
The AKP (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi – Justice and Development Party, the current ruling party) and state protocol were what prevented the DTP from being an all-Turkey party. But actually the DTP – with its program defending a democratic and peaceful solution to the Kurdish issue, women’s emancipation and ecologically-friendly lifestyles – actually was a party for all of Turkey.

If you look at its two and a half year-long tenure in parliament you see that it played the major oppositional role on issues from poverty and the question of women’s rights to ecology and democracy.

However, only our views concerning the Kurdish issue were reflected. We pointed this out at every opportunity. The democratization of Turkey will pass straight through a solution to the Kurdish issue. Most of the time we were faced with the criticism that we didn’t present ourselves as an intermediary [in a possible conflict-resolution process]. If that’s the case the truth is that we didn’t see another intermediary regarding a solution to the Kurdish issue with whom we could share our views and suggestions.

Our requests for meetings were vehemently rejected. They behaved as if we weren’t there. They repeated and stopped with confused refrains such as ‘our negotiating partners are the people.’ The prime minister met with us once — that was a result of public pressure — and he met with us not as prime minister but as ‘Chairman of the AKP’. You know, there’s a phrase; ‘spring doesn’t come with the opening of a flower.’

This meeting could have been a positive step for Turkish democracy and solutions to its problems, but unfortunately the prime minister wasn’t able to show the bravery to meet with the Kurds’ political representatives, and democracy was postponed to another spring.

To be a party for all of Turkey means to see all of the country’s problems as the party’s own problems and to generate policies in light of that. In that sense, while doing politics with the DTP we were an all-Turkey party. When we decided to carry on with BDP we tried to build our party program and statutes in accordance with that. In my view, the parties which aren’t for all of Turkey are those which have the mentality which ignores the country’s Kurdish issue or sees it as a ‘terror problem’. We’re one of the rare parties that sees the solution to the Kurdish issue and the self-expression of differences as questions of freedom and democracy and generate projects in that regard.

At the moment we’re preparing for our February 1st congress with a program on this topic which is more developed. We don’t only focus on the Kurdish issue in the program. Generally speaking we’re a party which sees everything from freedoms, labor issues, sexuality, nationalism, militarism, to ecological issues as all being Turkey’s problems and we adopt the most progressive posture on these matters. Although the programs aren’t read we consider what we write there to be important.

For example, our programs show the importance we attach to our forty percent gender quota for women, implementation of a joint party presidency comprising one man and one woman, and attitudes toward sexuality.

I want to stress once more our insistence on the struggle for democracy and freedom and that as BDP we’re going to meet the future in light of our past experiences.

The state wanted to confine us to the [southeast Anatolian] region and cut off the space in front of us. We as the BDP won’t allow this. Our understanding is that to be an all-Turkey party means if there’s a problem with a power plant in the Black Sea region, to deal with it, to resolve it; if the region has a different problem, for example an unemployment problem, to pay attention to it, to come up with a solution.

We deal with ecological issues in a way detailed to the same extent that no other party deals with them. We’ll continue to see our differences as a guarantee of democracy and peace and challenge those who view them as a danger. And we believe that we’re going also going to grow. Look for yourself, many intellectuals who didn’t join DTP have joined BDP. We consider this participation very important.

There’s a situation now in which all state institutions seem to have declared war on the political will of the Kurds. They closed our party. A prohibition on political participation has been imposed on 37 of our friends, including our co-chairperson Mr. Ahmet Turk and one of our parliamentarians, Ms. Aysel Tugluk; some of our elected mayors and members of city council have been handcuffed and arrested; as you know the number of arrests has surpassed one-thousand.

[The state] is trying to close democratic political channels to Kurds. However, in my opinion the state and its spokesperson, the AKP, is forgetting something: the Kurds are an organized people, they know what they want and what they’re struggling for, and for thirty years they’ve exerted enormous labor and paid a dear price, and after that they’re still ready to pay. The state must see this reality and recognize the Kurdish people, and the rights the Kurds derive from being a people must be constitutionally secured.

Otherwise the cause of the resulting chaos and tension will be the AKP government.

KCK operation created fear

NA: The KCK operation was a pretext, presumably. I assume that this KCK incident has frightened many people, it’s created concerns such as that a new illegal organization has emerged.

ST: Yes, in the March 29th local elections our people showed at the ballot box that they accept our politics. This situation caused the state to re-examine its policies toward the Kurds. For that reason a process like the ‘democratic opening’ was begun. But this process isn’t about resolving the Kurdish issue. It’s about looking at how requests can be dealt with at the absolutely minimal level. The fundamental definition of the problem hasn’t changed.

As President Gul said, this is a joint project of all state institutions. The understanding of dealing with the issue as a matter of ‘terror’ hasn’t changed; this is a project of elimination with a democratic cloak. That’s why the political representatives of the Kurdish people and human rights defenders were portrayed as KCK members and arrested on that basis. And there’s a desire to put the Kurds under pressure by shutting down a political party which constitutes their organized power.

There’s a desire to isolate Kurds in both Turkish and global public opinion by saying ‘these aren’t DTP members, they’re PKK members’, and to some extent this has been successful.

For example, when the PKK is the topic in question everyone choose to keep a distance and stay silent in the face of human rights abuses and state violence, and moreover most of the time criticisms which need to be made of the state are directed toward us. We see ourselves as being responsible to the Turkish people, the Kurdish people, and the 72 million people who live in Turkey.

For that reason, at every opportunity we point out a truth which is hidden from our people, namely that the Kurdish issue isn’t a ‘terror’ issue but rather a matter of a people existing with their culture and identity. In other words the PKK isn’t a cause but a consequence of the issue. In that regard when the Kurdish issue is resolved the PKK will also cease to be an issue. We’re saying that a solution to the Kurdish issue won’t be a solution in a true sense if the PKK and Mr. Abdullah Ocalan aren’t taken into account. This is a reality.

Today the PKK has thousands of guerrillas and the state is saying ‘you’re in the mountains, stay there.’ In other words, instead of solving the problem the state is imposing deadlock as a solution. It’s saying the PKK should disarm and dissolve itself and submitting [its plan] to the people like that. But that’s not valid.

If today the Kurdish people’s language, identity and cultural rights aren’t secured then even if the PKK disarms the Kurdish people won’t give up their rights. This has to be properly understood both by the state and our friends. If this reality isn’t acknowledged, every opening which develops in Turkey will haul the country’s bright future into darkness.

NA: There were journalists who understood and wrote this. Those who know the region and closely follow the issue…

Could the BDP together with all democratic-minded individuals from Turkey exert more common effort — especially regarding a solution to the Kurdish issue — than it is now, and if so what forms could that common effort take in your opinion? Intellectuals have joined BDP, a group joined together with Zeynep Tanbay and Busra Ersanli. But what can be done aside from this?

ST: We as the Peace and Democracy Party are going to continue the struggle for democracy and peace with decisiveness. We’re going to carry on this struggle together with all forces on the side of democracy, peace and freedoms. All of this country’s problems are our problems.

We’re also going to develop a solution together. As you know there are various platforms and initiatives such as the Turkish Peace Assembly, United Movement for Democracy, Women’s Initiative for Peace. In other words, democratic individuals and forces such as women’s organizations, youth organizations, leftists, socialists and feminists are our fundamental allied forces.

You know that it’s not very easy to wage a struggle for democracy in Turkey. If you have any criticisms of the system, the system smears you as either a ‘separatist’ or ‘terrorist’ and imposes this view on society through the facilitation of the media.

For that reason the media is an important sphere and this sphere needs a certain language in accordance with peace, equality and democracy.

Most of the time the grounds for racism, militarism and sexism are laid with the language used in the media. The fact that the Kurds’ demonstrations, democratic demands, actions and activities are portrayed with such language causes more emotional ruptures to emerge between the Turkish and Kurdish peoples, those who wear headscarves and those who don’t, religious people and non-religious people, and Armenians and Turks.

And of course we’re the ones who suffer the most from this.

The state is not only trying to obstruct our domestic work, it’s even exerting considerable pressure to disrupt our international projects.

A while back one of our friends joined a meeting of the European Left Party in Germany, and he was supposed to meet with someone else following that meeting but had to leave because something urgent came up. Instead of cancelling the meeting I joined. By saying ‘don’t meet with the DTP, it was closed in Turkey because it’s the political wing of the PKK’ the Turkish embassy there wanted to interrupt our meetings in Germany.

In any event it shows that the embassy makes its own decisions about who the parties we meet with will or will not speak to. Of course it’s an interesting situation, to inform another country about your own parliamentarians in that way…

We’re aware that the struggle we’re going to wage with our new allies who will join us at the party congress will be a difficult one. However we find it very meaningful that these new participants are joining us in the face of those who wish to simply confine us to the southeast Anatolian region or suffocate us.

Democracy, peace and freedom is necessary for everyone in this country. For that reason I’m saying a joint struggle is inescapable. In our Party Assembly there’s going to be a working 80-person committee developing policies on this matter in particular. In light of the fact that we live together and are going to live together, for us it’s very important to come together in all areas.

Many intellectuals from all of Turkey will have a role in our Party Assembly, and as they should.

The benefit of the left

NA: Ufak Uras’s behavior has been important. Also, leftist parties, the New Left initiative, and the Freedom and Solidarity Party…Don’t you think all of these could be beneficial for joint efforts, especially on such matters as resolving the Kurdish issue and democratization?

ST: We identify ourselves as a leftist party and we’re identified with the people. And we consider cooperation and dialogue with democratic and socialist forces in Turkey important.

However, in a general sense the left isn’t very strong in Turkey. The left has big problems, such as establishing relationships with the public. It’s going through a period marked by division. If the left were more powerful in Turkey it’d be easier to democratize the country and solve social problems, above all the Kurdish issue.

Our work in our Party Assembly can secure this connection. This congress taking place on February first is an extraordinary congress. The BDP is going to begin with a congress. Our real work begins after this.

NA: Ahmet Insel has an article in today’s Radikal Two

ST: Yes, I read it. Now, the PKK and Abdullah Ocalan are realities of the Kurdish question, and this is one of the points that just can’t be understood. It’s an informative situation. What are the PKK members in the mountains going to do, how will it be done, how will they come here? No one is saying anything about this topic. Policies aren’t being created, existing laws are being mentioned. Effort must be made to change existing laws. We’re making such effort.

This is also a topic that intellectuals from Turkey haven’t been able to deal with, in my opinion. In other words debates on the Kurdish issue are undertaken within the confines of official ideology. Of course there are others who take a different, more realistic approach. Everyone wants to leave this violent situation. If you can’t see the sources of this and if you set a course according to daily developments, the issue won’t be settled and will become even more insurmountable.

As I said before I see the correct approach as to deal with [the PKK] not as the source of the problem and to try to get them to come down with that in mind, but to see them as a result of the issue and to work from there. In that respect, steps that the state must take regarding peace and democracy are most of the time expected from the Kurds, which is something the Kurds don’t understand.

In my view the source of the issue isn’t Kurds but the state’s ‘one nation’ approach that ignores the Kurds. As long as this approach doesn’t change, not only Kurds but all social actors who criticize the system will suffer from the approaches in which the state labels others ‘enemies’ and ‘separatists’.

There’s still hope

NA: Do you think hopes related to the Democratic Opening have finished, what do you think?

ST: The Democratic Opening opened the road to prison for the Kurds. Their political will was assaulted, handcuffed. It caused the incarceration of our party leaders. The democratic reactions people showed on the street were terrorized. Our people were lynched. [The Opening] died in the middle of the street. The Opening’s turned into an effort to eliminate the Kurdish movement.

However, despite all of these experiences, if not today then definitely tomorrow peace and freedom will prevail in this land. The AKP is trying to crush our hope, but the actual hope that will be crushed is the AKP’s. By generating policies aimed at eliminating this people’s struggle for freedom the AKP is going to eliminate itself. Everyone knows that this isn’t the AKP’s project. The EU and USA are behind it. They’re also trying to reach success in their plan by getting the Kurdistan Regional Government on their side.

I want to say this on the topic of democratization: Today a large segment of the population in Turkey is in favor of democratization and peace. A very wide segment is again raising their voices regarding a solution to the Kurdish issue. In my view this is the fundamental point. The AKP can’t secure democratization in Turkey.

The AKP’s character isn’t suited for that. However, because a powerful leftist option hasn’t emerged the AKP is trying to lead this process. For that reason society needs leadership and a dynamic force for change. A revolutionary dynamic. Whoever is the core of this dynamic will expand the Opening.

In my view, in Turkey the state is redesigning itself. In other words it feels that it needs to redesign itself in accordance with the current age, because it won’t be able to carry on with its old form and administration. The Ergenekon investigation, searches carried out in the cosmic room, and the military’s assertion that ‘we decoded and canceled the [coup] plans’ are part of this redesigning.

In other words, when the dynamic of change in Turkey in question is the AKP and the state that has commissioned it, it doesn’t represent a change or transformation in a true sense; rather, the system is removing the structures that are obstructing its way. If there could be a powerful, democratic, leftist dynamic, Turkey could experience a reckoning with the past in a true sense and there could be a positive beginning.

Unfortunately, we’re very far from that.


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