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 Turkey: Kurdish MP Leyla Zana describes vision for a new kind of federalism 

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Turkey: Kurdish MP Leyla Zana describes vision for a new kind of federalism  7.5.2012  

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: See Related Links
May 7, 2012

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 seeking?

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 opinion?

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.

Q: Different how?

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 villages.

Q: The 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?

Leyla Zana: 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?

Leyla Zana: Kurds have been demonstrating on the street for 11 months, demanding language rights and their freedom, but the Turkish government does not allow demonstrations.

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?

Leyla Zana: 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 issue, 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 effort progressed?

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?

Leyla Zana: 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.

Q: Kemal 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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