The genocidal policy of the state and the body in the box

If Kurdish society surrendered to its pain, it would not be able to live on. The Kurdish resistance draws strength from pain and life from death. Thus in Kurdistan “resistance becomes life”.

We all know Halime Aksoy now. The mother who fought for three years to have the body of her fallen son and guerrilla fighter Agit Ipek (Nom de Guerre: Kemal Berxwedan) handed over. Agit had fallen in 2017 in Dersim. His remains were finally handed over to her: in a box and by mail – sent by the General Prosecutor’s Office in Dersim. Even if we should forget her name, it will be difficult to forget the picture on which she is pictured with the postal package. Halime Aksoy commented on this situation with the words: “I cannot say anything about it, I cannot find the words for it…”.

This box will remain in our memory as truth from now on. It contains both the truth of Kurdish society and the character of the Turkish state.

All this happened very “normally”. Cahit Özkan, Vice-Chairman of the AKP parliamentary group, said in the Turkish Parliament that it was ‘a few pieces of bone’ and that it was a normal procedure. How much does this statement of the AKP politician Özkan remind us of the words of a Polish man who was able to flee from a Nazi concentration camp: “They were able to kill people and behaved quite normally, I could not understand that”[1]. The state of this “normality” has taken on a different dimension in Kurdistan in the last five years.

Defending the Kurdish society

Through the resistance of the Kurdish freedom movement led by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) for more than 40 years, the events in Kurdistan have attracted international attention. The Kurdish question has become an international issue in the 21st century. Moreover, the social awakening in Kurdistan has long since become a positive point of reference for leftist, progressive movements worldwide. Especially since the successful struggle for Kobanê by the self-defence forces of the YPG/YPJ, the revolution in Rojava with its pillars of radical democracy, women’s liberation and ecology inspires people worldwide to work for a just world without oppression and exploitation.

For these activists, a holistic approach to the Kurdish freedom movement and developments in Kurdistan is needed. Already in a previous article, we spoke of the “dialectic of revolution in Kurdistan”, and wrote “Because the resistance strategy of the Kurdish movement is a holistic one, political offensives in Northern Kurdistan support processes in Rojava. Backlashes in Southern Kurdistan can effect Rojava. The struggle is conducted on several levels. This is the dialectic of the revolution in Kurdistan, and within this framework, a holistic approach to the Kurdish freedom movement is needed, through which an effective solidarity can develop”[2].

Since the successful resistance in Kobanê in Western Kurdistan/Rojava, the focus has been on the social construction of an alternative social system oriented on the concept of “democratic confederalism” and its defence. Meanwhile, the geographically largest part of Kurdistan, namely Northern Kurdistan, is exposed to a real campaign of annihilation by the Turkish state. In this sense, the Kurdish freedom movement led by the PKK considers it as its main task to “defend (Kurdish society) under the threat of genocide”.

With this article, we want to take a closer look at this understanding of the Kurdish freedom movement. How does the Kurdish freedom movement evaluate its mission and task? What does it understand by the concept of “cultural genocide”, which for it is the central concept of the Turkish state? What does this mean for Kurdistan solidarity?

The box with the mortal remains of Agit Ipek was sent by the public prosecutor’s office to his parents in Amed (Diyarbakir)…

The defence of the “Kurdistan thesis” in the courtroom of Diyarbakir

The military prison of Diyarbakir is today best known for its role as a notorious torture centre after the fascist military coup of 12 September 1980 and the hunger strikes and resistance of PKK prisoners. The prison later became known worldwide under the name of “Diyarbakir’s hell”. The prisoners were systematically tortured and humiliated with brutal and fascist-motivated methods. Books and films like “14.Tîrmeh (July 14) – The Hell of Diyarbakir” describe the inhumane conditions in prison.

In the prison of Diyarbakir, alongside the resistance of the political prisoners, the political defence of PKK members like Mazlum Doğan or Mehmet Hayri Durmuş took place. This defence represents an important point in the history of the struggle for political self-determination in Kurdistan. The main PKK trial began on 13 April 1981 and was held against 591 PKK members. Despite five years of severe torture, at the trial a defence of around 20,000 pages was presented. This is the largest defence in the history of Kurdistan on this scale and holds great significance. Mazlum Doğan later said, in reference to the main trial, “the struggle for independence and freedom was settled in the court protocols.”

Let’s take a closer look at these logs:

Mazlum Doğan: If it wasn’t for the Kurdish question, we wouldn’t be here.

Kurdistan was characterized by colonial oppression, denial and self-denial. The existence of a Kurdish ethnic group was simply denied. At the beginning of his defence, Mazlum Doğan declared: “In the light of the present reality, I will not testify here either for myself or for the other persons who are on trial for the party cause, but I will testify as it is my responsibility to history.”

He then addressed terms and definitions in the indictment and explained, for example: “It is not called East and Southeast Anatolia, but Central-West-North Kurdistan”[3].

This introduction by Mazlum Doğan is significant in the context of colonialism and the relationship of oppression. Because the rulers define: they give the names. The relationship established with the defining power is important. It leads to objectification where there is no equal relationship. Instead, in court, the accused is prevented from forming his own sentences. The practice of power is legible and palpable in the protocols.

Mazlum Doğan picked apart the incorrect passages of the indictment piece by piece: “Here it says ‘independent, united, democratic Kurdistan’ and in other passages, it says ‘a Kurdish state based on Marxism-Leninism’. I must emphasise that the PKK’s programme does not say ‘Kurdish state based on Marxism-Leninism’, but as I explained. It is about building an independent, democratic and united country and a state which will be national and democratic and in which society will be self-governing. That is what the programme says.”

At the end of his defence, Mazlum Doğan entered the discussion about “Kurdish history”. He explained his knowledge about the Middle East, Kurdish society and Kurdistan: “The Middle East today is the centre of the contradiction between capitalism and socialism. Kurdistan is in a very strategic place in the Middle East. The geostrategic importance of Kurdistan must be properly understood. If you want to expel imperialism from the Middle East, to separate the Middle East from the imperialist-capitalist bloc, you have to make a revolution in Kurdistan where the reactionary of the Middle East is gathering. (…) I myself have read every publication about Kurdistan and the Kurds. I have not been satisfied with this, but I have also read texts in which there is only one sentence or word. If there was no problem called Kurds or Kurdistan, there would not have been people who deal with this topic. Social and societal phenomena are those that impose themselves at a certain time.”

Mehmet Hayri Durmuş: The existence of Kurdistan is no longer in question

Mehmet Hayri Durmuş, then a member of the PKK Central Committee, began his defence in court on 19 June 1981 after 45 days of hunger strike. Durmuş wanted to resolve one thing in his defence: The question of the “existence of the Kurds”. This issue was provocatively raised by the court again and again with racist and fascist questions. Some questions of the judge in this context were for example: “Where do you take this Kurd from, why do you fragment the Turkish nation? Where do you take it from without knowing the history? What is your source? What historical documents prove this? Where should this Kurdish language come from, it is only a mixture of 90 per cent Persian and 10 per cent Laristani? A mixture of Arabic, Persian and English is Kurdish after all. Have you done any research on the language?” Against this colonialist practice, Durmuş responded in a certain sense with the defence strategy of rupture (défence de rupture), which was theorized and practised by the French lawyer Jacques Vergès. He thus refused to accept the implicit consent that characterises conventional pleas, saying: “We do not have a racist, nationalist and chauvinist understanding and we do not have an eye for the land of others. The areas that are historically inhabited by Kurdish society are considered by us as Kurdistan. … I don’t want to go into this subject, I don’t want to make it a subject of discussion, but I see that the delegation of the court is always debating this subject, the existence or non-existence of the Kurds and Kurdistan. This situation is strange for us. This topic is so clear today that there is no need to discuss it …”[4]

On 14 July 1982, Mehmet Hayri Durmuş announced the start of a death fast, because the “right to political defence is prevented”. In protest against the unbearable torture, Mazlum Doğan had set fire to his cell and hanged himself more than three months earlier.

“A fight to clarify the question of whether the Kurds exist or not”

The basic goal of the PKK has so far been to make the Kurdish question visible. The fact that the Kurdish reality was being denied during its founding phase forced the question of existence. Therefore, the PKK first tried to prove the existence of this question. The current PKK programme, which was adopted at the 11th Party Congress in 2014, states: “Through its struggle, the PKK, whilst not achieving full national freedom, has seriously smashed the system of denial and annihilation and guaranteed the existence and free life of Kurdish society.

On this basis, the construction of a democratic nation on a certain level has been developed in Northern Kurdistan, the society of Western Kurdistan has been brought into a process of building social freedom and democratic nation, the society in Eastern Kurdistan has been brought into a process of creating awareness and organising the democratic nation, in Southern Kurdistan an indirect effect has been applied to the statist solution of the Kurdish question and the Kurdish diaspora has been brought into a position to support the freedom struggle of Kurdistan with the awareness of the democratic nation. Thus, Kurdish society has completed the first stage by making its existence, identity and reality visible and by the actualisation of the PKK. The second stage is now the democratic solution process of the Kurdish question. This will be developed and realised essentially within the framework of a solution based on a democratic nation”[5].

In his fifth defence paper, Abdullah Öcalan deals with this role of the PKK[6]: “The struggle carried out by the PKK in the last 30 years has been conducted only for the question of existence with regard to the Kurds. This struggle was in a certain sense a struggle to clarify the question of whether the Kurds exist or not. While one side declared that the Kurds exist, the other side denied it. (…) Without a doubt, it is a very dangerous and pathetic situation for an individual and a society to discuss its own existence. It shows the thin line between life and death.”

While the existence of Kurdish society and Kurdistan is taken for granted today, even if there is no recognised political status yet, the above-mentioned discussions in the courtrooms of Diyarbakir prison about the being or not being and the death of numerous PKK members clearly show this “thin line between life and death”.

The Turkish state as a regime of “cultural genocide”

The handing over of the mortal remains of Agit Ipek can be seen as a peak of the brutalisation of violence and the decline of morality in Turkey towards the Kurds. This event should not be seen in isolation from the developments in Northern Kurdistan since 2015. The achievements of Kurdish society have since then been exposed to a broad and multidimensional attack of the Turkish state. The Kurdish Freedom Movement summarises this state policy under the term of “cultural genocide”, which aims at a long-term and painful destruction of Kurdish life. In a certain sense, we can observe a process of recolonisation of Northern Kurdistan by the Turkish state after the breakdown of the so-called peace negotiations in 2014/15.

This policy of “cultural genocide” extends on the one hand to the political level with the repression of the Democratic Party of Peoples (HDP), half of whose members and sympathizers are in Turkish prisons. The regime of forced administration, under which democratically elected Kurdish mayors are removed from office and replaced by state representatives, also falls within this framework. However, the forced administrations are not only an attack on the democratic will in the Kurdish municipalities but also on culture. For example, the first official act of the forced administrators was to remove the Kurdish inscription plaques hung on the town halls. They changed the Kurdish names of parks, streets and avenues. For example, a memorial to the victims of the Roboskî massacre, the Tahir Elçi Park named after the human rights lawyer who was shot, as well as the names of the Kurdish poet Ehmedê Xanî and Uğur Kaymaz, the young man executed by Turkish security forces with 13 bullets, all disappeared from the streets of Amed. In this way, the state tries to erase the social memory of its massacres and the values of the Kurdish population.

Instead of the monuments of the murdered people, monuments for killed soldiers and policemen were erected. This was accompanied by a wave of closures of women’s centres and community centres. Kurdish schools were transformed into police bases. Multilingual theatre schools and dozens of theatres, art and cultural centres were closed or all employees were fired so that the centres are de facto inoperative. Religious schools or Koran courses are now being established in many of the closed art and culture centres.

Besides this cultural level, the attacks also have an economic dimension. The forced administrators have manoeuvred the local authorities into a debt swamp. Moreover, historical-cultural assets are also the target of this policy. The flooding of the 12,000-year-old city of Hasankeyf (Kurdish: Heskîf), which is one of the most magnificent cultural and natural treasures on our planet, is a symbol of this. Kurdish cities were also targeted by destruction in recent years. The greatest physical destruction of the historic old town of Sûr in Amed took place after the end of all armed conflicts from March 2016 onwards. Since then, the houses of 25,000 forcibly displaced people have been completely demolished. About 175,000 people in other destroyed places such as Cizîr (Cizre), Nisebîn (Nusaybin) and Şirnex (Şirnak) experienced the same. In these places and in Sûr, several hundred civilians were deliberately killed.

These are only a few examples of the Turkish state policy, which is called the policy of cultural genocide on the Kurdish side, according to the motto: “The best Kurd is a dead Kurd”. The anti-Kurdish policy practised today by the AKP government even outshines the policy of the years of the military dictatorship and the dirty war of the Turkish government in the 1990s. While in the 1980s and 1990s the state had Kurds who stood up for their identity first kidnapped by paramilitaries, policemen or soldiers, then killed and then thrown into mass graves or onto roadsides, today the state murders publicly, without cover, before the eyes of the world public. As if the killing of Kurds was completely legitimate and right.

By posting the mortal remains of killed PKK fighters, the aim is to increase the effect of the state brutality and to maximise the pain and anger of the relatives and Kurdish society. A collective feeling of helplessness is to be created. The aim is to extremely traumatise the relatives and thus force them to surrender by breaking their will to resist and their fighting morale.

Despite the multidimensional state terror, Kurdish society has been resisting ceaselessly for decades. This resistance continues despite all the massacres that have been committed, because Kurdish society does not surrender to its pain. It knows how to turn pain and anger into a source of resistance. If she surrendered to her pain, she would not be able to live on. And so in Kurdistan – in the words of Mazlum Doğan – “resistance becomes life”. The Kurdish resistance draws strength from pain and life from death. That the Kurdish people are forced to draw life from death and defend the right to live is terrible and awful. That a society must die so much in order to live is unimaginable. But this is reality in Kurdistan. And it is a shame for those who watch it. The only way to lift this shame and stop the killing in Kurdistan is to actively defend the right to life. And life is not just about survival. It means being able to live a life worth living. The resistance in Kurdistan is exactly that.

[1] Arno Gruen: The Madness of Normality

[2] https://anfdeutsch.com/hintergrund/rojava-wie-verteidigen-12967

[3] http://www.saradistribution.com/mazlum_dogan_savunma.htm

[4] http://www.saradistribution.com/hayri_durmus_savunma.htm

5] Translated from http://www.serxwebun.org/arsiv/385/files/assets/common/downloads/publication.pdf

6] The book was published in Turkish in 2011. It was written by Öcalan on the prison island Imrali. The title is roughly translated to: The Kurdish Question and the Solution of the Democratic Nation. An English translation is not yet available.

*Ali Çiçek is an employee of Civaka Azad – Kurdish Centre for Public Relations