Feb 12, 2016 Updated 02:12pm
On February 10, 2016, the Washington Kurdish Institute hosted Mr. Osman Baydemir, the Parliamentarian of People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in Turkey for a media round-table. Mr. Baydemir is the former mayor of Diyarbakir (Amed) province in southeastern Turkey.
In the presence of a number of journalists, Mr. Baydemir discussed the current political, security, and economic situation in Turkey in general, and in the southeast of the country (Bakur or Northern Kurdistan) in particular.
Mr. Baydemir said, “Now Turkey is experiencing the most totalitarian and the most autocratic period that it has ever experienced throughout its history. All laws and all semblance of legality and rule of law have been suspended. There are conflicts in seven different provinces and twenty different counties of Turkey. There are indefinite curfews that have been announced; curfews that have been going on without interruption. 1.5 million have been negatively impacted by these curfews. Within the last eight months, a total of 458 civilians have lost their lives in attacks carried out by the government”. Mr. Baydemir went on to say, “Babies who are three month’s old have been killed. 5 babies who were aged 3 were killed. People aged 70 have been killed.”
He added, “The conflict Turkey is not a war between the government and the PKK. The current war is a war that has been declared on civilians by the state.” Mr. Baydemir said, “prior to 2013, most of the fighting took place in the countryside and rural areas between [PKK’s] guerillas and the Army, but currently the war is taking place in the middle of cities populated by civilians alone. For example, Cizre, which is a province with a population of 120,000, about half of the buildings there have been destroyed as if it is Aleppo! Out of that population of 120,000, currently 6 to 7,000 remain. In the past, villages were destroyed and people migrated to the cities, but now the cities are being destroyed and emptied.” He went on to say, “In the western part of Turkey large cities like Izmir and Istanbul have big Kurdish populations and if the war continues in its current state in the Kurdish region, there’s going to be a war erupting between Kurds and Turks in the west of Turkey.”
Mr. Baydemir stated, “In Turkey there are about 20 million Kurds and the most basic demand of the Kurds is they want to be autonomous within the framework of a unified Turkey. Between 2013 and 2015, for the first time in the history of the modern Turkish Republic, there was a period of negotiations between the Turkish state and the Kurdish opposition with the goal of settling the Kurdish issue without violence. Within that period of two and one half years of discussions between the government and the Kurdish opposition, there was a mutual cease-fire and as a result there were no serious clashes and minimal casualties.”
In response to a question on whether there are certain risks of an armed uprising by the people, Mr. Baydemir stated, “There is a big risk of internal conflict, internal war. Let me give you an example; bus companies that carry passengers from Diyarbakir, which is the biggest Kurdish city in Turkey, to Istanbul are subjected to stoning and various sorts of attacks. These are attacks against civilians by civilians.”
“Another example of civilians attacking civilians comes from Antalya, which is a tourist city in southern Turkey. We had a situation where a Kurdish shopkeeper was attacked by his Turkish neighbor. A Turkish shopkeeper attacked a Kurdish shopkeeper in Antalya. Erdogan thinks that anybody who appeals for the rights of the Kurds is a traitor and publicly declares this; and whoever requests rights for the Kurdish people are traitors to the motherland. The level of anger as a result of this has reached grave levels.”
HDP role in peace Process:
Mr. Baydemir said, “As the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), we don’t think that the solution to the Kurdish issue lies in guns, clashes, or war. We think the solution will be achieved through negotiation, democratic measures within the peace process. The HDP has offered many proposals to the Turkish Parliament concerning efforts to stop war and to protect civilians from harm incurred during the war, none of which have been opened up for discussion by the parliament.
Clearly now we are in a situation where we are threatened with the possibility the war in Kurdistan could spread to the west of Turkey. Step by step, Turkey is becoming a version of Syria and by extension, Erdogan is also becoming more like Assad. Two years ago, Erdogan made a certain appeal to Assad. He said [to Assad], “Listen to your people’s voices. Don’t kill women and children. Don’t bomb civilians’ settlements.” Today Erdogan is doing all of these things in Kurdistan”. He added, “I definitely believe that the Kurdish issue cannot be solved with violence or warfare and that the government must return to the process of negotiations ASAP. Now we believe something can be done to bring the government back to the negotiating table.”
President Erdogan and AKP policies:
Mr. Baydemir said, “Now in Turkey, anybody who opposes this war is a terrorist in the eyes of Erdogan. Academics opposing the war are also declared terrorists! Athletes and soccer players who declare their opposition against the war are terrorists! According to the government, whoever loses their lives in the course of this war is a terrorist!”
Mr. Baydemir also added, “Turkey is no longer a democratic country, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) today is not the same AKP of ten years ago. Erdogan is not the Erdogan of five years ago. We are facing a leader of wants to be a Sultan.
Responding to a question about what caused the change in Turkey, Mr. Baydemir said, “Erdogan has to know that we will be asking for an accountability for all of these civilian deaths. He has to know that this is a crime! He needs to see and understand that none of his allies are totally in favor this war.”
Responding to a question about what causes these attacks after period of peace time, Mr. Baydemir said, “The Kurdish demand for autonomy and freedom is described as terrorism by Erdogan and Erdogan said he will bring the weight of the world down upon the heads of those who request autonomy. When the civilian leader speaks in such a way, of course normal civilians will throw stones. The main cause behind Erdogan’s adoption of that sort of rhetoric and policy is certainly the Kurds of Syria. Erdogan’s current policy is that there should not be any status for the Kurds of Rojava regardless of the cost.”
A question was asked if anyone could put leverage on Erdogan and if Mr. Baydemir thought the U.S. could effectively do anything to Erdogan given how tough he was. Could it be the Kurds of Iraq who seem to have a relatively good relationship of all the Kurds with Erdogan? Do they have any role to play in this issue?
Mr. Baydemir responded, “Turkey is an EU candidate and its process of negotiations has continued. Turkey is also the southeast flank of NATO and this war is currently happening in the southeast of NATO. Erdogan basically trapped Europe by directing refugees from Syria to European cities even when the European Union complains that the faucet of refugees is again opened. Erdogan is basically using refugees as a threat against Europe. Now there is no country in Turkey’s surroundings that [Turkey] has reasonably cordial relations with. The country that has the most potential to get results by saying human rights abuses should stop and attacks on civilians should stop is the United States. United States government is the one who has the potential to create the results by insisting that Turkey stop the war, stop the violence, and return to the process of negotiations. There is certainly a lot that President Obama and the Congress could do on this matter; there is certainly a lot that the State Department could do as well.”
Independence of Iraqi Kurdistan and Syria talks:
Mr. Baydemir said, “When we looked at the process of the formation of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), there was a giant reaction from Ankara and the reaction that Ankara currently shows towards the Kurds of Syria is the same reaction they showed to the Iraqi Kurds back in the day, but now the region in the Middle East where Turkey has the diplomatic and trade ties is, in fact, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. This is a result of diplomatic activities that were undertaken by the United States. As a result, a similar initiative could be undertaken with regards to the Syrian Kurds by the United States. We could also say that such a diplomatic initiative could also encourage Ankara to return to the negotiating table.”
When he was asked about what would impact some of the calls for independence by some of the Iraqi Kurds might inflame tensions even more in Turkey, he said, “We will support and accept all decisions that are undertaken by southern Kurdistan (Iraqi Kurdistan) parliament and by the Kurdistan Regional Government. Every nation, every people, has the right to determine its own fate. If the parliament of south Kurdistan, its representatives, and people decides to declare independence, then we respect that. If I had a vote in this referendum, I would without hesitation say yes. Five days ago Erdogan made a statement; he said, ‘in 2003 the parliament of Turkey made an incorrect decision. He said ‘if Turkey entered Iraq in 2003 then today there would not be something such as Kurdistan.’ Erdogan said in Syria, he will not make the same mistake. Erdogan threatened, ‘we are going to go [to Geneva talks] we are going to be at that table and we will not allow the Kurds to be there.’”
Baydemir added, “Now Erdogan’s policy is a policy of opposing Kurds as anti-Kurdistan. Looking at Iran and Russia policies in Syria, their policy is to maintain and keep the regime’s existence. Turkey’s policy in Syria is that Asaad must go and anybody can come to power as long as it’s not the Kurds. Ankara’s policy in Syria is to see ISIS as preferable to the Kurds. He [Erdogan] does not want to have Kurds as neighbors but he would like to see Al Nusra, Al Qaeda, and ISIS as his neighbors. Of course, Kurds want the regime leaving but we want a democratic administration to take its place. We also know that if the regime defeats all of the opposition forces they will certainly turn their weapons on the Kurds; we know that.”
Relationship in between Kurdish people in Syria and Turkey:
Mr. Baydemir said, “We have a house that has been split into two, or a village that is been split in half, or a city, or a county where the people also have been split up. I was elected from Urfa city in Suruc district where in one family half live in the north (Turkey) and the other half in the south (Syria). At the time when Kobani was under attack by ISIS, hundreds of Kurdish youth went to Kobani to defend the city from ISIS attack. Hundreds of other Kurdish youth came from Irbil, Sulaymaniyah, Duhok [Iraqi Kurdistan], and Mahabad [in Iran]. We are talking about one family [all the Kurds].”
Note: A Translator was used during the media round-table for Mr. Osman Baydemir.