Co-Chair of DTK: “When you speak of ‘Kurdistan’, you are a labeled as a separatist”

The Co-Chair of DTK, one of the most targeted non-governmental organizations in Turkey, which has been the address of constant police raids especially after the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process, shared the significant voice of the millions of Kurds they stand for amid the ongoing prosecutions against DTK:

The Democratic Society Congress (DTK) took on the task of carrying the will of peace and the existential demands of the Kurds into the civil society of Turkey as well as introducing a pluralist democratic approach to the politics. As the biggest civil society platform in the Kurdish populated region of Turkey, DTK received an official invitation from the Speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Cemil Çiçek, for the preparation of the new constitution in 2012.

However, after the Kurdish peace process ended in 2015, DTK has been the address of frequent police raids whilst most of its activists had –and still have- to defy case files raised against them as part of a massive witch hunt, mainly crucifying the Kurdish activists and politicians along with all dissenting segments of the society who try to give voice to peace demands in Turkey.

Berdan Öztürk, DTK Co-Chair and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP for Ağrı speaks to Medyanews to share his assessment of the smearing campaign blasted by the Turkish government against DTK, which tries give voice to the demands of the millions of Kurds they represent, and to share their address for the solution of the Kurdish question.

The Democratic Society Congress (DTK) favors the implementation of ‘Democratic Confederalism’ on Turkey’s political stage since 2007. In light of this idea, how would you describe the main purpose of DTK’s founding, and the significance of DTK’s existence in the democratic politics of Turkey for the solution of the Kurdish question?

If you’re trying to establish a democratic society, you cannot disregard the rich diversity in the Mesopotamian territories and Kurdistan, the lands on which not only a single community lives alone. However, the very problem of democracy and equality in this country is the Kurdish question, because using Kurdish question as an excuse, the current government in Turkey targets all diverse communities and dissidents through jurisdiction and policing. As long as the Kurdish question is not solved, a democratic, equal and free life in Turkey is impossible.

The recognition of the vital significance of an organization in all territories of Kurdistan, through which people can express themselves without stripping off their own beliefs and identities gave birth to DTK. The political works, conferences and workshops carried out by DTK aim at solving the Kurdish question and establishing democracy for the Kurdish unity, but are not limited to the Kurdish question only. We talk about a Congress that encapsulates an extensive effort to organize a society which can detect and solve their own problems in economy, law, ecology, education, language and so on and so forth. In this way, DTK is a great chance for Turkey in relation to the solution of the Kurdish question, and could pave the way to democracy.

The headquarters of DTK in Diyarbakır has been a target of multiple raids launched by the police. How do you see such criminalization of DTK by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) since the end of the “peace process” in 2015?

I want to underline that DTK is not alone in being the target of these policies. In the past, hey have tried to portray an image of the Kurds as terrorists, but today all dissidents are terrorists for them. Their attitude towards DTK parallels their approach to the Kurdish question: Whenever there is a small attempt for the solution, Congress is one of the first institutions that the state gravitates to. Our former Co-Chair Hatip Dicle was indeed a member of the official committee to meet with the Kurdish people’s leader Abdullah Öcalan. Similarly, we have been a part of the constitutional commission, which worked on a new constitution.

Those who hate democracy, those with a capitalist mentality and the monopolists are annoyed by the existence of DTK, because they want to keep the status quo. The later aggression towards DTK is a message to all peoples of Turkey. Because the unique way in which its system works, the Congress has been seen as a threat; they have been trying to gradually criminalize DTK, which finally resulted in the closure of our headquarters in Diyarbakır.

However, DTK is not just a building that you can close down. The ideas of the Congress cannot be squeezed between the four walls. If it is the Congress of Kurdistan, then all parts of Kurdistan is our headquarters.

How many of the activists and politicians of DTK were detained until today, and what are the grounds for detentions?

Almost all our friends have cases filed against them. Almost all delegates, our guests, participants and friends, who have attended to one of our conferences, have been detained at least once.

They try to portray us as an ‘alternative state’, but we have never talked about an alternative state organization. They denounce DTK as a terrorist organization, but cannot come up with any evidence for this in the files they suit. The only charges they show is attending a workshop or a conference we have organized; nothing illegal is in question. We have friends, who were sent to prison because of a simple press conference. A press conference. This is the ground on which they detain people.

How does DTK see the involvement of Abdullah Öcalan in the peace and democratization discussions in Turkey, along with his isolation today?

Many institutions and segments of the society defend human rights. We defend democracy and law -at least this is the discourse- and yet there is this unique example of heavy isolation at İmralı Island since 1999. They might not like the ideology or the thoughts of Mr Öcalan, but do we defend law based on persons? Law has universal principles by which we must act regardless of the person in question. So, we have to take a joint stand against the attacks on humanitarian values if we call ourselves democrats. You cannot say, “I do not like Abdullah Öcalan, that is why isolation can be imposed on him,” and be a democrat at the same time.

Are there any other suggestions developed for the solution of the Kurdish question other than those of Abdullah Öcalan that we missed? No. On one hand there is a lack of solution, on the other we have Abdullah Öcalan, who proposes ways and methods for the solution. He represents the will of millions of Kurds. The address for the solution is not Russia or USA, or the blackmailing of European countries over refugees, the address is right here, the İmralı Island and Abdullah Öcalan. That is beyond dispute.

What about the Middle East? Because there is a dense Kurdish population outside the borders of Turkey, how would your struggle in Turkey find a reflection there?

Look at Iraq, look at Syria, look at Iran. People of the Middle East need a solution, but the system never offers a solution. Mr Öcalan makes a great effort for the solution of these problems, his vision is not just limited to the Kurdish question. As an organization in Kurdistan, we value his ideas and his proposals, because we know that the methods he proposes are key for us to live in freedom and equality in the Middle East. Rojava is an example of a solution. In Rojava, a life is being built in parallel with Mr Öcalan’s suggestions, and the biggest enemy of Rojava is Turkey. Rojava has become a land where Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians take part in the governance equally, where women and man can join in the struggle equally with equal participation. Is this not what we call a democracy?

DTK issued a proposal in December 2015 for a political solution in which a democratic solution in the form of ‘Democratic Autonomy’ was proposed. Autonomy is a well-known and applied model around the world, but do you think the political circles in Turkey understand this idea? How do you relate the discussions of autonomy to democratization?

Discussions of autonomy are directly related to the discussions of democratization. In a democratic regime, you can support, challenge or debate over the idea of autonomous models, you can make a discussion over its many advantages -especially in such a multi-cultural country like Turkey. However, when it comes to us, the Kurdish, they label our minor demands as ‘separatism’. The education system indoctrinates the idea that whenever you say the word ‘Kurd’ or speak of ‘Kurdistan’, you are deemed and labeled as ‘separatist’. You cannot find any discourse, any activity, any single word of our Congress that is related to separation.

Of course, there can be many other discussions and solution proposals, it does not have to be only autonomy. Discussing any idea such as autonomy in a democratic atmosphere does not result in the separation of the country, but strengthens the country. Autonomy itself would not give us the water and the bread, but it would supply the grounds for an equal life. An equal life, free life is the prerequisite for democratic solutions the humanitarian problems.