الرئيسية » English Articles » ِA Dialogue with a Turkish Professor Concerning

ِA Dialogue with a Turkish Professor Concerning

In mid May 2007 I met with a professor from the University of Haj Tepa in Ankara who was visiting Arbil to participate in a Scientific Conference. He had expressed a wish to meet me to exchange views on the Kirkuk issue and, thanks to a professor at Salahadin University, our meeting was arranged. I thanked him for his interest and asked why he wanted this meeting. He replied that he had read my articles on the subject and would welcome the opportunity to discuss it and other issues. I remarked that such an exchange of views would help us to know each other better and that it could, indeed, be only to the good and added that, if he only had but two good words to help resolve this issue, it would be a bonus. However, we do have the opportunity to discuss and perhaps resolve this enormous problem which, until now, has defeated the politicians. I asked if he had read Nikiteen’s book ” Les Kurdes’, which is about the history of the Kurds, and has been translated from French into Turkish, so as to remind him that, in May 1958, in his preface to this book, the renowned orientalist, Louis Massignon, wrote that co-operation between the mountain Kurds and the Seljuki Turks allowed them to jointly occupy Anatolia. He goes on to say that if this co-operation could be re-established and their small differences resolved, they would play an important role in this region of the Middle East.
The first step towards resolving any problem is meeting and talking together and this is better done by intellectuals than by politicians. The one have pencils and words, the other weapons and menacing language. The visiting professor first enquired about the number of different ethnic groups living in Kirkuk. I explained that, since the Census of 1957, everything had changed as a result of the policy of the Arabization of the Kirkuk region, carried on for more than thirty years. The 1957 Census was the only one which was accepted without criticism but, today, any individual or group claiming to have exact statistics of the Kurds, Turkmans, Arabs and others, is doing so for his own political ends and is not to be believed. Today, we face an entirely new situation arising from the Election of January 2005. Some people chose not to participate in that Election and, consequently, do not accept its result. But the strange thing is that every group is represented in the Kirkuk Provisional Council, including those critics of it. Some political groups, claiming to represent all the Turkmans, have published statistics which were proved to be erroneous by the election results, yet they have several members in the Kirkuk Provisional Council, whilst they hold only one seat in the Iraqi Parliament.
As for myself, I see the Kirkuk issue not as a question of minority or majority, but as a lack of trust in each other which must be overcome. To succeed, we have to find a way to return to the pre-1958 situation when all groups lived peacefully together. This will not be easy, but we should not be discouraged as there still exist areas in Kirkuk where this is the norm. This proves that the problem is not one of ethnicity but of misunderstanding, often caused by outside interference. I said that, from the creation of the Iraqi state, the Central Government constantly tried to undermine relations between Kurds and Turkmans, forcing them both to accept the Government’s policy. For instance, an Arab was always appointed as Director of Education in Kirkuk. The Kurdish community was encouraged to believe that the Turkmans would never allow them to decide their own policies, and vice versa, if the Director was from either of their communities.
After the fall of the Ba’athist regime in April 2003, the threat came from some extreme Arab organisations and from certain other regional states that were interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq and using the Arab and international media to disseminate propaganda against the Kurds, accusing them of wanting the “Kurdishization” of Kirkuk! In truth, the real interest of these groups is Kirkuk’s oil. By acts of terrorism, the killing of innocent people, and threats against anyone who does not agree with their policies, they aim to make the city insecure. Their ultimate goal is to prevent the referendum taking place in the time stated according to Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution. They use terrorism as a means of ensuring that the situation in Kirkuk remains as it was under Saddam Hussein and the Ba’athist regime, when the regime controlled the oil revenue and thousands of donams (1 donam = 2500 square metres) of prime agricultural land was taken by new Arab settlers. But the Kirkuk region belongs geographically to the Kurdistan region and, even if there were not one drop of oil there, the Kurds would continue to press for this. They do not claim that Kirkuk is a city populated by Kurds alone, but say repeatedly, that there has always been a mix of ethnic groups who lived peacefully together and that every effort should be made to enable them to do so again and to reinstate the principles which governed their lives in the past. The professor asked who these groups were who are trying to poison relations between Kurds and Turkmans. I replied that it is not the original Turkman families of Kirkuk who are being criticised but those who attempt to sour relations between Kurds and Turkmans and who are under outside influence. I don’t pretend that this is my own opinion; I have heard it from many ex-leaders of the ‘Turkman Front’ who speak of their dealings with various officials of the Security Services and say that they were unable to take any decision without consulting them. I said that, should Kirkuk province become a part of the Kurdish region, the number of Turkman MPs in the Parliament of Kurdistan would increase and they would get more ministerial posts – possibly even the post of Assistant Prime Minister.
We spoke of the presence of the PKK in southern Kurdistan and the threat by the Turkish army to invade Kurdistan’s territory. The professor asked if I thought the army’s threat was serious. I replied that the answer must lie with him but that, as an observer, I thought it was not, but that it was linked to their internal problems with the army, the government and some political parties during the election. It seems to me that the two sides are trying to take their problem outside Turkey and to make it appear that they are bargaining with each other – the army supported by some political parties on the one side and the government on the other. I asked why the Turkish government does not instigate a dialogue with representatives of the Kurdish community in Turkey and he replied that the PKK was a terrorist organisation, not only for Turkey, but for America and several European countries besides. I cited the case of Israel who, for more than half a century, considered the PLO to be a terrorist organisation but who later met with them in Oslo and Washington and are increasingly negotiating to resolve their problems. The same thing happened in Northern Ireland, in Spain, in South Africa and in Southern Sudan. For so many years, thousands of civilians were killed in those bloody conflicts but their leaders were finally forced to sit down together and negotiate. I told him that a resolution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey would improve and strengthen economic and commercial ties between them and the Kurdistan region. I added that it is fortunate that there are those who now speak of resolving the Kurdish issue in Turkey whereas they had previously refused to acknowledge their existence and their language. One such is General Kenan Everin, an ex-president of the Republic who took power by coup d’etat in 1980, and who now speaks even of the de-centralization of Turkey.
Regrettably, the attitude of all previous Turkish governments was against the recognition of the Kurdish language anywhere in the world. As an example, I related the anecdote of General Mustafa Barzani’s meeting with Abdul Nasser in Cairo in September 1958. Abdul Nasser told how, in 1957, Cairo radio had broadcast an hour long, non-political programme of news and songs in Kurdish. This provoked a protest from the Turkish government of that time, who asked for the programme to be withdrawn on the grounds that it threatened the security of the Turkish state. “Are there any Kurds in Turkey who make this broadcast dangerous?” Nasser asked the Turkish ambassador.
I mentioned an article I wrote, entitled “It is Time to Resolve the Kurdish Issue in Turkey by Dialogue”, which was published on 19th July, 2008 in “Al Hyatt”, an Arabic newspaper published in London. Such a dialogue would be in the interest of both sides and the Kurds have for long been calling for it.
I agree with the view expressed by Massignon fifty years ago that co-operation between these two nations would increase security in the region and improve the living standards of the populations of Kurdistan and Turkey. I asked why Turkish intellectuals do not follow the example of the Director of Turkish Security who, in an interview with a Turkish journalist at the beginning of 2007, questioned why the armed Kurds in the mountains do not come down and sit at the negotiating table.
It is time to end the bloodshed and hostility which has cost the lives of so many innocent people. Resolving the Kurdish issue in Turkey would also ease Turkey’s entry into the EU and we, in this part of Kurdistan, would be delighted to share a border with a member of the EU. It would encourage respect for the principles of democracy and human rights by the leaders of this part of Kurdistan and bring these two great nations closer.
Since this dialogue took place, there has been an important development in the region. In July 2007, the Turkish General Election gave the Party of the Prime Minister, Mr Erdugan, and a large majority of 47%. This will allow the President of the Republic to be elected from his Party and to make important amendments to the Turkish Constitution which will ease Turkey’s passage into the EU. It will also facilitate dialogue with the Kurdish group now in parliament and help towards resolving the Kurdish issue which has been denied for more than eighty years. It will encourage the PKK to return to Turkey and to participate in the political process. Resolving the Turkish issue in Turkey will resolve all the other problems with the Kurdistan Regional Government and lead to closer and stronger economic and commercial ties. It will also increase security and stability in this important region of the Middle East.
Nouri Talabany, Professor of Law and Independent MP in the Parliament of the Region of Kurdistan.