Turkey: Kurdish MP Leyla Zana describes
vision for a new kind of federalism
Turkey's prominent, outspoken
Kurdish rights advocate Leyla Zana MP. Zana spent a
decade behind bars in Turkey for speaking Kurdish in
the Turkish Parliament in the 90's after taking her
parliamentary oath. She was the first Kurdish woman
to be elected to Turkey's parliament. Photo:
May 7, 2012
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DIYARBAKIR, The Kurdish region of Turkey,
— In this interview with Rudaw, Leyla Zana, a
Kurdish politician from Diyarbakir province and the
first woman elected to Turkish Parliament, says that
Kurds must have a united voice at home and abroad.
Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and a
recipient of the Andrei Sakharov prize from European
Parliament for human rights, Zana says Kurds should
be able to decide their own fate and choose the type
of federalism that suits them best. Zana who
currently holds a seat in the Grand National
Assembly as an independent, is an outspoken
supporter of the PKK and advocates for the immediate
release of its imprisoned leader Abdullah Ocalan.
Q: In a previous
interview with Rudaw, you advocated federalism for
the Kurds of Turkey. What type of federalism are you
Leyla Zana: It
is either federalism or autonomy, or a provincial
federalism, which is known as a weak type of
federalism. These options are all under discussion.
Any form of federalism that politicians seek must
not be different from what the people want if it is
to succeed. I talked about this in 2011 in the
European parliament and said that the Kurds must
decide their own fate. The Kurdish issue cannot be
solved by running Kurdish programs on TV. What we
need is the unity of Kurdish voices at home and
abroad in order to achieve democracy and the
development of the Kurdish nation.
In the Ottoman era, there was the system of Wilayet
(states) and it seems we need to ask for a similar
form of federalism, but when the Kurds demand a
different form of federalism it is not accepted. Ten
years ago, every country wanted to be like Europe,
but now due to the economic crisis that system has
lost its popularity. The world, especially the
Middle East, has changed. The regimes and the
systems of this region have aged and aging systems
will eventually disappear. This change can be seen
all over the world.
Q: You do not
want to identify a certain form of federalism for
northern Kurdistan, but which form is best in your
Leyla Zana: All
forms of federalism being discussed for northern
Kurdistan have their own mechanisms. There are still
a lot of psychological barriers for Kurds in this
regard. There are some of us who say it is OK if
Kurds do not get their rights. This way of thinking
needs to change. Regarding how Kurds will demand
their rights, it will become clear after a
referendum is held. Then, Kurds might demand
something totally different.
Leyla Zana: They
might demand a new partnership with the Turkish
government. Partnership has its own terms. Kurds
want to live freely but have not chosen how to do so
yet. There are 130,000 Kurds in Turkish prisons. Ten
thousand of them have been arrested for political
reasons. There are also 3,500 demolished Kurdish
imprisonment of the six MPs from the Peace and
Democracy Party (BDP) is still a hot topic in
Turkey. Do you think they will be released?
Leyla Zana: They
shouldn't have been imprisoned in the first place,
but the release of six MPs will not change anything
while 130,000 other Kurds are still in jail. Some of
them have been jailed for 19 years without trial.
Therefore, we should not forget yesterday, or be
fooled by the release of six MPs.
Q: Amending the
Turkish constitution is in process and BDP MPs have
joined the committee that revises the constitution.
What do Kurds aim to amend?
Kurds demand that all forms of denial of their
existence must be eliminated from Turkish laws. The
Turkish state has been based on one faith, one
nation, one language and one culture. Military
domination must end. A new civil law must be
written. A new administration and political status
must be given to Kurds. Kurds must run their own
affairs. The Kurdish language must be used among
Kurds and considered a native language in the
constitution because we are not a minority.
Q: We have not
seen any major Kurdish demonstrations to attract
international attention and support. Why?
Kurds have been demonstrating on the street for 11
months, demanding language rights and their freedom,
but the Turkish government does not allow
Q: Following his
visit to Turkey, Kurdistan Region President Massoud
Barzani said that he is ready to help solve the PKK
issue peacefully, but that he does not support a
military solution to the conflict. How can this
issue be solved?
These are sound statements by Barzani because such
dialogue creates a kind of understanding.
Previously, the rhetoric of some Turkish officials
was very strong towards the PKK and the Kurdish
but recently such attitudes have disappeared due to
the efforts of some groups. If the Kurdish issue
does not get resolved in Turkey, then Turkey will
become an international problem. Now the Kurdish
issue has become an international one and is being
discussed in Turkish courts. The rest of the world
is building relations with the Kurds. Only Turkey
hinders the building of a relationship with Kurds
and wants them to be in constant conflict.
Q: Do you think
the Turkish government is sincere in its efforts to
solve the Kurdish issue peacefully? Turkey says that
if the PKK lays down its weapons, the Turkish state
will stop its military operations.
Leyla Zana: This
is not the first time. Some Turkish generals have
repeated the same thing in the past. Let the Turkish
state present its strategy for disarming the PKK and
solving the Kurdish issue. They are still unclear
about this and the Kurdish language is still not
formally recognized in Turkey.
Q: The subject
of independence is being seriously debated in the
Kurdistan Region, especially by Barzani. Has this
issue had any influence on the Kurds of Turkey and
the Turkish state?
Leyla Zana: I
have been listening carefully to Barzani's
statements. He has mentioned some interesting
examples such as how Germany was forcefully divided
into East and West but reunited in the end. He also
talked about how the Czechs and Slovaks were united
by force but eventually separated.
Q: On your visit
to the Kurdistan Region, you mentioned holding a
national conference for Kurdish women. How has that
Leyla Zana: The
first national conference was held in Diyarbakir in
2010. It was special because we had participants
from all parts of Kurdistan. The second conference
is planned for May 22 in Erbil. We will discuss how
Kurdish women participate in national conferences so
as not to let men decide our national issues; women
must participate as well.
Q: A national
conference has been discussed for many years. What
is the reason for the delay?
Whenever a decision is made, it has to create an
impact on people. If this conference is demanded
nationally, then the politicians will have no choice
but to organize it. These conditions have been met
recently by the people. However, conferences have
their own rules. We know that all political parties
have their redlines, but during conferences parties
must not talk about these lines, but about the
redlines of the Kurdish nation as a whole. They must
preserve the Kurdish identity, culture and nation.
Until recently, every Kurdish political party
claimed it was capable of meeting these conditions
on its own, but they have all failed. Hence, we need
an independent committee that does not belong to any
party in order to prepare these national conferences
in an honest way.
Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People's
Party (CHP), said that talks between the PKK and
Turkey are ongoing. Do you think this is true?
Leyla Zana: I
hope that these dialogues are continuing. The
problem in Turkey is multilateral and Turkey must
sit with all the different sides, including Abdullah
Ocalan, the PKK, the BDP and the Kurdistan Region.
If all sides join the talks, the Kurdish issue will
be solved more quickly.
Q: There is some
news about the release of Ocalan. Are there serious
efforts for his release?
Leyla Zana: I am
critical of all Kurdish groups in this regard. The
Kurds in the north and in the south must demand his
release and demonstrate for that purpose. The
leaders of Iraqi Kurdistan should demand Ocalan's
release during their visits to powerful countries.
It has been nine months since we last heard from
Ocalan. Massoud Barzani should at least mention him
in the media and ask why there has been no news for
nine months. The Justice and Development Party (AKP)
is able to take this step and release Ocalan.
By Nawzad Mahmoud
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