Finding a solution to the long-lasting Kurdish problem will not be possible unless there is a hard and genuine look at the root causes of the issue, poet and writer Bejan Matur has said, adding that everybody should look behind the mountain to understand what it is that takes people there.
“Once the label ‘terrorist’ is given, then the solution is about eliminating it. This book is about the story behind a ‘terrorist.’ We can solve the problem only if we can understand what this story is about because then we will be able to empathize with it,” she said about her recent book “Dağın Ardına Bakmak” (Looking Behind the Mountain) published by Timaş.
“I’d like the book to reach those people at the top – chiefs of police, chiefs of the gendarmerie, chiefs of general staff, bureaucrats, prosecutors — because they have the utmost responsibility to understand the problem,” she pointed out.
For the book, Matur went to the Kandil Mountains, where members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are hiding and staging attacks against the Turkish military. She also interviewed former PKK members who live in Europe. Hers is the first attempt to tell the personal stories and traumas of those people.
Answering our questions, Matur elaborated on the issue.
You say in your book that you were shocked in Kandil when you went there on a day of “bayram” [Feast of the Sacrifice in November 2010]. Why were you shocked?
There, I saw my childhood friend. She was the first person I met there. We were born in the same village; we grew up together. I had last seen her 19 years ago in Ankara. We’ve known she was in the mountains, but you never know if people in the mountain are still alive. She knew that I was going to be up there, but I didn’t know she was there. Seeing her was a gift for me on that bayram day. I was grateful she was alive.
You indicate a few times in the book that you have had a strong desire to bring her and other people in the mountains back, that you’ve felt uncomfortable leaving them in the mountains. Why?
First of all, this is not a normal division. Second of all, I am against violence. I think the armed struggle should come to an end. Yes, they have an ideology, and that’s one reason that they are up there. But they also know that they have to come down. It can’t last forever. Additionally, we are not a complete society without them.
Your book came out while we are in the middle of some new developments. The PKK recently announced an end to the unilateral cease-fire that was declared on Aug. 13 of last year. How do you feel?
I feel very bad that the war still continues. Everybody should ask this question: What have I done to silence the guns? When guns go silent for months, there is no urgency to find solutions to long-lasting problems. But when there is an announcement about returning to armed struggle, there is panic. This has become a vicious cycle that has been continuing for 30 years.
‘Turkish society has been militarized’
You said in another interview that the book should be read especially by chiefs of general staff, chiefs of police, bureaucrats, prosecutors and so on. Why?
A security-centered approach to the Kurdish issue has long been dictated to society. Turkish society has been militarized. One of the guerillas that I spoke with told me everybody has a police station in his or her head in Turkey. We have a military mentality, although we think we are civilians. Once the label “terrorist” is given, then the solution is about eliminating it. This book is about the story behind a “terrorist.” We can only solve the problem if we can understand what this story is about because then we will be able to empathize with it. If we are able to say “What a story, what pain!” then we can start thinking about how to solve it. Yes, I’d like that book to reach those people at the top – chiefs of police, chiefs of the gendarmerie, chiefs of general staff, bureaucrats, prosecutors — because they have the utmost responsibility for understanding the problem.
Have you received any feedback from such officials about the book?
Yes, a deputy chief of police called, weeping. He was from Diyarbakır. He was shaken. A rector called with similar feelings. A bureaucrat sent an e-mail saying that he has cried twice, once when he heard an elegy from Şivan Perwer in the 1990s, and now while he was reading the book. If the book can reach such people, ice between us would be thawed.
Who else is reading the book?
People from the publishing house said that sales in the Black Sea region were fantastic – especially in Trabzon and Samsun. In Anatolian cities like Konya, sales are very good. The book sells well in Hakkari, Diyarbakır, central and western Anatolia. We are now into its fourth edition.
You also mentioned the book will be sold at Migros [supermarket with many branches in the country]. What is the significance of this?
When people see this book on the shelf while they are buying milk for their children and then they put the book into the basket — that is important. Even if that person does not read or buy the book, it is important just to look at the picture on the front cover and then read a few sentences from the back cover. It is important to be able to think without labeling people “terrorists.” Why did those people go to the mountains? Why do they live there? Why did some of them return? Why do some of them live in Europe? People who have been involved in armed conflict, lived up in the mountains, captured or surrendered give answers to those questions.
‘Sometimes their heart, sometimes their honour or both were wounded’
In basic terms, you humanize those people. This is an attempt that will anger some people and provide relief to some others.
In the book, I did not put any of the political propaganda that some of those people who I interviewed tried to convey. When we first started to talk, most of them would start their sentences something like “Our struggle against the Turkish Republic…” but they would always mention a personal wound that pushed them to radicalism. If their hearts were not broken, they would not have gone to the mountains. Sometimes their heart, sometimes their honor and sometimes both were wounded. I tried to feel and capture this and concentrated on those stories in the book. It is possible to understand the PKK by reading those people’s stories; for example, Brusk’s story. Nobody would be able to understand the PKK without reading Brusk’s story. I tried to look into their hearts to reveal their very strong emotional reasons for going up to the mountains.
Where is the process of dialogue going as violence seems to return?
As long as the approach is security-centered, we will not be able to solve the problem. We should concentrate on the sociological and psychological aspects of the problem. The PKK is a separate issue from the problems of Kurds. Even if Kurds obtain their basic citizenship rights, the PKK can still exist. You need to be able to have the PKK lay down their arms. The PKK should be convinced to do that.
When the Kurdish people have equal rights and treatment as citizens of Turkey, what reasons remain for the PKK to continue an armed struggle?
The PKK’s aspirations are currently too much for the Turkish Republic. The PKK wants power In the land where Kurds live in Turkey. There is now an emerging middle-class Kurdish population. They don’t support violence, but they have nationalist aspirations. Those Kurdish nationalists even ask for more autonomy than the PKK would ask for. When you ask the PKK, they would say that they are against division. There are sociological realities in the Kurdish population. They want to share the power, and a centralized system based in Ankara is a problem for them. There is a sociological fact: Kurds are not part of the nation-state system created by the Republic of Turkey.
Is this new middle-class Kurdish population homogenous when it comes to their demand for power-sharing?
How do you think this is going to be reflected in the June 12 election?
The 10 percent election threshold is very restrictive. It’s a shame that there are only two parties that can garner votes in that part of the country, the AK Party [Justice and Development Party] and the BDP [pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party]. It’s also a shame that the BDP is able to enter Parliament only if it takes part the elections with independent candidates. How do we live with that? There are indeed more choices for the Kurdish people. Kurds are not a homogenous group of people. But the system is so strict, there is no space left for them to express their heterogeneity.
Do you think violence will escalate in the process toward the general election?
It probably will, but I don’t expect events like what happened in Reşadiye. [Seven soldiers were killed in December 2009 in the Reşadiye district of the province of Tokat; the PKK claimed responsibility.] There may be low-profile attacks with the goal of spreading terror, fear.
‘Kurds denied equality even when they died’
Why do you think the Kurdish problem still cannot be solved?
People’s emotional ties to the mountains have not been understood. And there is no empathy toward the Kurds of this country by the Turks of this country. This is why I wrote this book. I’ve been sometimes accused of being a “White Kurd” who looks at the issues from the ivory tower. However, this issue directly touches my life. One of my cousins, Oruç, was missing for 16 years. We always believed that he was going to come back, but we later found out he was buried in a cemetery for homeless people – his head separated from his body. The body of my other cousin, Hüseyin, was torn to pieces as it was pulled behind a military tank. We all believe that dead people should have a gravestone. But those and many other similar examples show that Kurds have been denied equality even when they die. I was able to tell about all of that in my poems. A metaphorical way of telling has been more suitable for me as I couldn’t make regular sentences to tell about all that madness. This book is about the root causes of the problem, especially the psychological causes.
‘TRT Şeş’s opening has a revolutionary character’
Do you think the Kurdish initiative has been progressing successfully?
In the history of the Turkish Republic, the opening of TRT Şeş — the state-owned channel that broadcasts in Kurdish — has a revolutionary character. A state that has been based on the idea of ignoring a population’s language one day says, “I will broadcast in that language 24 hours a day.” It is an important message to the general population of Turkey because it says that this language is credible. But the PKK discredited it in the eyes of the Kurdish population. As long as the government refrains from understanding the PKK, the initiative will not be successful.
What precisely do you think the government should do?
They should listen to people. They should read the book. The government has been engaged in an enormous effort to solve the Kurdish problem. The prime minister has been personally engaged in solving the issue, and he genuinely wants to solve it. The only other person who was so engaged in the issue was the late Prime Minister Turgut Özal. President Abdullah Gül has been engaged in the issue as well. However, all we see now is a polarized society because there is not enough empathy toward the Kurds. And I think Erdoğan has been disappointed since the results of his initiative have been somewhat lacking. Apparently, what has been done is not enough. But what is politics about? It is about opening doors that have been shut. You need to knock on those doors again. They are your citizens. Who are those people and what do they want? Why are they still involved in a radical uprising? You have to understand that.
Muhabir: Yonca Poyraz Doğan
7 March 2011
Bejan Matur was born of an Alevi Kurdish family in the ancient Hittite city of Kahramanmaraş in southeastern Turkey. She studied law at Ankara University but has never practiced. In her university years, her poetry was published in several literary journals. Reviewers found her poetry “dark and mystic.” Her first book, “Rüzgar Dolu Konaklar” (Winds Howl Through the Mansions), was published in 1996. Her poems have been translated into 17 languages. Her last book of poetry, “İbrahim’in Beni Terketmesi” (Leaving of Abraham), was published in March 2008 and was considered by the critics to be her best book ever. Her album-book, “Doğunun Kapısı: Diyarbakır” (The Gate of the East: Diyarbakır), is about the ancient to present history of the city.