25 August 2015
by Deniz Yücel
This interview with Cemil Bayik, Kurdistan Communities' Union (KCK) co-president, was conducted for German daily Die Welt and published on August 23rd. It was republished in the Turkish daily BirGun and translated from the Turkish into English to be published on Kurdish Question.
- Turkey began operations against ISIS and the PKK a month ago. Has ISIS got weaker since then?
Cemil Bayik (C.B.): ISIS had suffered heavy blows. One of the reasons behind Turkey’s attacks against the PKK is to defend ISIS. Turkey is not fighting against ISIS.
- Are they not fighting?
C.B.: Definitely not. Erdogan wants to be sovereign in the Middle East, he wants to be the caliph. ISIS is a part of the Sunni front against the Kurds and against Assad. And ISIS is not only a tool for Erdogan, they have an ideological closeness. The only thing is, there was a lot of pressure building on Turkey and they had to do something to save their reputation.
- But ISIS has just released a video threatening Turkey.
C.B.: In that video, ISIS is saying that Turkey has been surrounded by the PKK and the ‘Crusaders’. The AKP says almost exactly the same things. ISIS is protecting Erdogan and warning Turkey of the same enemies.
- Did the PKK suffer any blows?
C.B.: No. We took the necessary precautions. However, the war does affect us and our struggle against ISIS.
- Who ended the ceasefire?
C.B.: Erdogan did. This war did not start with the shooting of two police officers in Ceylanpinar. After the 5th of April they cut off all meetings with our leader Ocalan. Erdogan denied and rejected all the steps that had been previously taken: He said “There is no negotiation, no sides and no Kurdish question”. Then he thought that he could win the elections by raising tensions. He thought that the guerrillas would take revenge for the bombing of the HDP election rally in Diyarbakir. He was going to use this as an excuse to cancel the elections. But we never fell for that trick. In the elections the HDP ruined Erdogan’s dreams of becoming President and even managed to ensure the AKP couldn’t form the government on its own. They are now continuing their attacks as revenge for this.
- Did the PKK kill those police officers in Ceylanpinar?
C.B.: No. A group calling themselves “Apocu” (Apoists) did.
- But you never condemned the killings.
C.B.: To condemn those killings amongst all those attacks could have had bad results for us.
- But now have entered into a war.
C.B.: We have not entered into a war. We are only using our right to reprisal.
- There were scenes of war in some Kurdish towns such as Silvan.
C.B.: Civilians and the youth are trying to protect themselves from the attacks of the state. The state is attacking them will means at its disposal. This is why we warned the state: If you attack the people as you are doing, we will order the guerrillas to enter the towns to defend the people.
- Does this mean you will enter into war?
C.B.: If Turkey insists on these policies, then the guerrillas may enter into war. But this is not what we desire. Because we are aware that the main objective behind these attacks are to nullify the HDP project.
- How do you mean?
C.B.: All identities in Turkey were about to be annihilated with Turkey’s policies of denial. Only the Kurds were left. But the Kurds resisted and revitalised the other identities along with themselves. Finally, all these identities were able to represent themselves in parliament. Now, Erdogan is behaving as if the elections did not exist and is trying to demonise the HDP so that it won’t pass the election threshold.
- Does the gaining of significance of the HDP mean that the PKK loses significance?
C.B.: If we were uncomfortable of the rise of the HDP we wouldn’t have shown any effort in making sure the elections are held. The HDP has come about as a result of the struggle of the PKK. Our leader Ocalan has carried the democrats, leftists and Kurds into parliament in order to solve the problems of the country. This is the HDP’s mission. This is why there can be no solution without the HDP.
- Is there a hierarchical relationship between the PKK and the HDP?
C.B.: There isn’t. The Kurdish movement is made up of three fundamental units: Our leader Ocalan, the PKK and the HDP. Each has a different role.
- When you say “our right to reprisal” are you not harming the HDP?
C.B.: No. Tayyip Erdogan’s plan was: “I can attack and the PKK can’t do anything against this. If it does, I will use this against the Kurds.” In other words, the plan was both against the HDP and the PKK who have gained international acknowledgement for their success against ISIS. They think they have pulled us into a trap. They’re mistaken.
- This is a successful plan.
C.B.: No. Because everyone has understood why Erdogan began to attack the PKK. But he unwillingly initiated a new process. Erdogan’s snubbing of the parliament has pushed the people to establish their own local democracies.
- The HDP Co-chair Selahattin Demirtas has called upon both sides to take their fingers off the triggers.
C.B.: We believe that all such calls are valuable. Because we are well of the fact that neither us nor Turkey can solve our problems through war. Until now, we have declared eight unilateral ceasefires, during the last one we even began to withdraw our guerrillas. However, the state first delayed everything then completely denied all the steps that had been taken as part of the solution process.
- What needs to happen for you to declare a ceasefire?
C.B.: From now on there will no longer be any unilateral ceasefire. The state must also declare an official ceasefire. A committee needs to be formed to monitor the ceasefire on both sides. After this, the negotiations must be carried out in a free and equal atmosphere and our leader Ocalan needs to be accepted as the chief negotiator. There needs to be a third party involved, too. All operations need to cease and all those arrested in recent operations be released. Otherwise how can we be sure that Turkey will not just deny everything as it did before?
- Who can be this third party? The USA?
C.B.: We have proposed this on numerous occasions.
- Do you really believe this?
C.B.: Why not? The USA was an intermediary in Northern Ireland.
- Do you have relations with the USA?
- The American government rejected this.
C.B.: The USA is trying to persuade the Turkish government to take part in the war against ISIS and this is why they are using diplomatic language in order to cater for Turkey’s sensitivities.
- Did the USA approve of the operations against the PKK?
C.B.: They are not openly accepting this, but I think if they hadn’t given the green light then Turkey could not have conducted such a comprehensive operation. On the other hand, the USA knows that the most effective force against ISIS is the Kurdistan freedom movement. The international coalition needs both of us: Turkey and the PKK. This is where the contradiction is coming from.
- How can a permanent solution be achieved?
C.B.: Before everything, Turkey must accept that there is a Kurdish question. Erdogan has always talked of “the problems of my Kurdish citizens”, but never has he acknowledged that this is a question of the freedom of a people.
- But today there are state TV channels that are broadcasting in Kurdish, Kurdish is being spoken in local councils…
C.B.: We have been struggling for almost forty years. Of course, the Turkish state has had to take certain steps. However, all of these small steps were to prevent bigger steps from being taken. In other words, the Kurdish question must be constitutionally acknowledged. Kurdish culture must be allowed to flourish, Kurdish must be accepted as a language of education and the Kurds must be allowed to administer themselves through local government. We don’t just want these for the Kurds, we want this as a model for the whole of Turkey.
- If all of these happen, will you disarm?
C.B.: To call an end to the armed struggle and disarmament are different things. Without a solution to the Kurdish question and the eradication of the ISIS threat, no one should expect us to disarm. We are not only fighting for the Kurdish people. To fight against ISIS, is to fight for humanity.
- You set out on this path to establish an independent, united and socialist Kurdistan. What is left of these objectives?
C.B.: At that time there was a real-socialist paradigm that dominated the world and the PKK accepted this paradigm. However, in practice we saw the defects of this paradigm and developed a new paradigm. For example, we saw that to form a free society, free personalities the state is not an appropriate tool, the proletarian dictatorship is definitely not.
- What is the biggest success of the PKK to date?
C.B.: Its biggest success is the liberation of women.
- On the other side, what is its biggest mistakes?
C.B.: Everyone that struggles is bound to make mistakes.
- According to former PKK commander Selim Curukkaya, more PKK militants have died in internal executions than in war or torture.
C.B.: These aren’t true. Yes, internal executions happened. However, most of our friends who were victims of these executions have had their names and statuses restored. And do you know who conducted most of these executions? Those that are now accusing us of these. But at the time, they were in the PKK. However, we take responsibility for these.
- Do you also take responsibility for the village guards and their families that were killed, as well as the teachers?
C.B.: None of those people that were responsible for the killings of the village guards are in the PKK today. In our 4th Congress, in 1990, we gave an extensive self-criticism for all these actions and openly apologised. We are now proposing for a truth commission, just like the one that existed in South Africa. We want these to be investigated: What did the PKK do? What did the state do? What did secret agents that infiltrated the PKK do? But it is only us who brings these proposals to the table, never the state.
- What language is spoken in the PKK?
C.B.: Before it used to be mostly Turkish. Today, 70% of the reports are written in Kurdish.
- Are reports written often in the PKK?
C.B.: Yes. Everyone writes reports: Administrators, fighters… I do too.
- Are these reports then destroyed or are they put away in an archive?
C.B.: They are our history. How can we destroy them?
- Is it true that you yourself learnt Kurdish later in life?
C.B.: Yes. I studied at a boarding school and I was Turkified. However, after my friend Kemal Pir introduced me to our leader Ocalan I learnt that I was Kurdish. I have always felt indebted to Kemal Pir for this.
- Kemal Pir was Turkish and died in a hunger strike in prison in 1982.
C.B.: That is the moment I have felt the most pain.
- Did you cry?
C.B.: A little. But I didn’t show this to our friends.
- You have been on the mountains for 35 years. Have you missed your country?
C.B.: I haven’t left my country. But I would like to go to my village.
- You were 23 when the PKK was founded. What is the difference between your generation and today’s youth?
C.B.: Differently to our time, the effects of tribes and feudalism is almost non-existent in Kurdistan. Today’s youth are more aware of what is going on in the world, they are more self-confident. They sometimes stand up against us too much. This generation is more radical. Many of them have been forced to flee from their villages along with their families and have grown up in poverty. This is why they are filled with rage and sometimes they channel this rage in the wrong direction.
- In this war, at least 35 thousand people have lost their lives of which most are from your ranks. Do you take responsibility for this?
C.B.: People have died from our mistakes, we take responsibility for these. But fundamentally, the Turkish state is responsible. If Turkey had not denied the existence of the Kurdish people, none of the hurt would have occurred.