It is a rare moment that we, in war torn Palestine, demonstrate to express international solidarity. But when, in 1999, Abdullah Ocalan was expelled from Syria under Turkish pressure and arrested in Kenya, after an international man-hunt in which Israel played important role, we in Abna Al-Balad prepared the hard to make PKK flag, collected our comrades from Haifa and the Galilee and went to demonstrate in front of the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv. The stuff in the embassy was clearly nervous, and you could fill the stinky air of a police state. Embassy staff that finished their daily work would not walk out until we will go away – and we were just a peaceful vigil of a few scores. James Bond types with sunglasses took our images from the windows and the embassy’s roof.
The Kurdish people shared with the Palestinians the fate of a people whose very existence was denied, whose identity and national expression were criminalized and persecuted. Kurds and Palestinians were training and fighting side by side – and the Left PKK was admired by the Palestinian Left.
As the Palestinian struggle was recognized internationally, and led by its right wing leadership to seek a political solution within the imperialist framework, it seemed that the Kurdish struggle was hopeless. The PKK was a leftist organization leading a national liberation war at the time of the collapse of the Socialist block. Turkey was a strong building block of NATO and the winning imperialist alliance and the PKK was denounced by western powers as terrorists. No country in the world was ready to give refuge to Ocalan.
But here came the basic dynamics of class struggle… “A nation cannot become free and at the same time continue to oppress other nations” (Engels, November 1847). The people in Turkey, whether Turks or from other nations, were suffering from the military dictatorship that enslaved Turkey to the interests of the western multinationals and generals. There were many attempts by the people in Turkey to get more freedom and social justice, but they were all brutally suppressed by the army.
When the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, came to power in 2002, it was not clear whether they want or can bring any real change. In ten years in power they changed many things: Turning Turkey from a conveyor of imperialist policies to a local power, developing the local economy, promoting democracy by cutting the straight jacket of army control.
But it was clear that there can’t be real democracy in Turkey without recognition of the Kurdish people and their legitimate rights. And it was clear that there can’t be any progress toward conciliation with the Kurds as long as Turkey is basically controlled by the military establishment, as the war against the Kurds served so well its interest to enslave all the people in Turkey.
In December 2009, the last time that there was some prospect for a breakthrough toward peace between Turkey and the Kurds, the (army controlled) constitutional court in Turkey outlawed the main legal Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party (DTP). What enables real progress toward peace now is that the power struggle between Turkey’s democracy, led by the Islamists, and it anti democratic army, was at last clearly won. Many generals are in jail and for the first time Turkey’s prime minister can go to sleep without fear that he will wake up see a coup d’Etat.
There is still a long way to go for the Kurds and for all the people of Turkey to get real freedom and just society – but the hundreds of thousand in Diyarbakir were clearly and justly celebrating to hear Ocalan’s message live and to see PKK flags on Turkish TV. It is a victory won by the sacrifice of tens of thousands of martyrs and immense suffering of the people. It is a victory for all the people in Turkey, for all the Kurds everywhere and for the people of the region and the world.
Now, as the Arab Spring marches on from its initial festive two months to more than two years of prolonged bloody struggles, we have a lot to learn from the Kurdish struggle for liberation and from Turkey’s struggle for democracy. You need a lot of dedication, courage, patience and wisdom to win – but first you should “put your eyes upon the price” and stick to your principles in spite of all the hardships and apparently insurmountable obstacles…