Adem Uzun is a founding member and envoy for the KNK, the Kurdistan National Congress, which is based in Europe. Journalist Fréderike Geerdink talked to him about the background of global actions on 11 June and a march in Turkey on 12 June to break the isolation of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan. The wider context is, of course, that of recent geopolitical developments that affect Kurdistan. Adem Uzun: “Turkey wants a new deal with NATO, expanding article 5 of the treaty to include terrorist threats.”
Turkey’s crack-down on the Kurdish movement doesn’t often make it into international headlines, but with the war in Ukraine and the requests of Sweden and Finland to join NATO, this has changed:
Turkey is pressurising both countries, but mostly Sweden, to stop their ‘support for terrorism’, saying that otherwise it will not give its fiat for accession. Currently, Turkey is demanding the extradition of Kurds from the Scandinavian countries and for weapons embargos to be lifted, but Adem Uzun says that Turkey has another card up its sleeve: additions to the North Atlantic Treaty.
“Turkey thinks”, Uzun said, “that NATO is going to be stronger and will have a new strategy, which will be discussed at a summit in Spain in late June. Turkey will push NATO to make a new agreement, resembling article 5 of the treaty, which states that if any of the member states is attacked by another country, all NATO members have to support that country. Turkey also wants an additional article, related to terrorism, which would make it obligatory for NATO members to support Turkey’s campaign against the Kurdish resistance movement and to remain silent about the war methods Turkey uses.”
Asked whether Turkey’s current war against the Kurds isn’t already supported by NATO and if NATO isn’t already remaining silent about Turkey’s war methods, including war crimes, Uzun said: “You are right, the war is being carried out with support and silence of NATO. But now they want that rooted in the agreement.”
Uzun puts Turkey’s efforts in a historical context, referring to the years the Ottoman Empire crumbled and the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923. Uzun: “In Turkey’s perception, the country is going through a similar phase as when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. At the time, Armenians, Assyrians and Chaldeans were massacred and Turkey was created. Now they want to fulfil their Ottoman dream but only if they can get rid of the Kurds, and they will be able to do that more effectively if they have the new article in the North Atlantic Treaty.”
Turkey uses every opportunity it has to advance this policy, Uzun said, and currently it is using Sweden and Finland’s desire to join NATO. But it is a misunderstanding, he pointed out, that Sweden and Finland have actually supported the Kurdish struggle for freedom. Uzun: “The Kurds in Europe have some rights, which are secured by several international treaties. They were forced to leave their countries and became refugees. I am not happy to be in Europe, I want to be in my own country but there is a fascist regime there so I came here to find security, to be protected. Sweden, Finland and other European countries grant such rights, but when it comes to their own interests, they support the Turkish state, in inter-state relations.”
As an example, he mentions the weapons boycott that several countries, Sweden among them, imposed on Turkey after the Turkish invasion into northeast Syria in 2019. Uzun: “They have lifted that embargo now because now, their own interests are more important.” He doesn’t expect Kurds to be extradited to Turkey or for fundamental freedoms to be curtailed in Sweden and Finland, but said: “In the fields of the military, economy and diplomacy they will be supportive of Turkey because it is in their own interests.”
Part of Erdoğan’s ‘Ottoman dream’, Adem Uzun said, is to expand Turkey’s territory with land that is now in Iraq and Syria, including for example [the historical Kurdish city of] Kirkuk and stretches of land in north and northeast Syria. Now that the focus of Europe and the US is on the war in Ukraine, Turkey is once again threatening to invade northeast Syria, and it seems that Tell Rifaat and Manbij, west of the Euphrates river, are the first targets of a new invasion. Asked about the consequences for the people living there, Uzun said: “For Kurds and for Arabs and for Syria, it will be a disaster. It will destabilize Syria further, Daesh will rise up and radical Islam will be encouraged, there will be ethnic cleansing and demographic change, new massacres will happen, international law and the international coalition will collapse.”
Well, that is Turkey’s plan, but it doesn’t mean that that is how it is going to be, Uzun added: “There will be great resistance. The Kurds are ready. They will resist.” Referring to the elections in Turkey planned for June 2023, Uzun said: “Erdoğan wants to be re-elected and that can only happen if he makes gains against the Kurds, anywhere. He is afraid that if he doesn’t win again, Turkey will get smaller, just like Turkey is smaller than the Ottoman Empire was.”
The interesting thing is that the Kurdish armed and unarmed movement aren’t interested in cutting a piece of Turkey and of other countries to establish a nation-state, because they are principally against nation-states and want to build real, grassroots democracies. This is part of the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan. The question is whether Öcalan can play a role in a more democratic future for Turkey. After all, there have been negotiations in Oslo (between 2006 and 2011) between Turkey and the PKK in which the PKK tried to get democratization on the table, but the talks collapsed and eventually, we came to where we are now: in one of the most violent periods ever of the state’s war against the Kurds.
Adem Uzun was part of the PKK’s delegation in Oslo. “I know the attitude and tactics of Turkey”, he said. “They don’t want a solution to the Kurdish issue, they were only focused on getting rid of the armed movement. When we brought social and political change to the table, when we wanted to talk about ecology, about women’s rights, about local councils, autonomy, they said: ‘We can talk about that later.’ But for us, these issues are fundamental.”
Ambitions and dreams
Uzun believes Öcalan’s ideas still have a lot of value: “The truths of the nation-states are not a solution to the problems of the people. The nation-state doesn’t help them in their ambitions and dreams, in getting their fundamental rights. Öcalan is proposing a new truth, which can fulfil and give hope for more democracy, ecology, women’s rights, democratic rights, freedom, co-existence, loving each other, living together.”
For that reason, there will be a ‘Global Day of Action’ on 11 June, with demontrations and marches not only in Europe but also in South America, and in the Middle East and Kurdistan. The next day, Sunday 12 June, there will be a march to Gemlik, the town in Bursa Province whence the boat leaves to Imralı prison island where Öcalan has been jailed since 1999 and is kept in isolation. This isolation must be broken, Adem Uzun said: “Of course, Turkey will not allow this, but the people will insist on continuing their march.”
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