Prominent Kurdish politician Ahmet Turk talks to Rudaw about the revolutionary movements in Turkey in the 1970s and 1980s and how they affected Kurds. He reveals that he has had recent discussions with PKK leaders in Europe.He says as a member of the CHP they could be active in politics, but not raise the Kurdish question. Turk explains that after the failed revolution by Kurds in Iraq in 1975 many came to northern Kurdistan. Turk explains how he was arrested in 1980 and describes the conditions in Diyarbakir’s prison as worse than the Nazi concentration camps of Adolf Hitler. He was first elected a Member of Parliament in 1973, standing for the Republican People’s Party (CHP). He later founded the Democratic Society Party (DTP), a Kurdish nationalist party.(Interview by Kawa Emin)
Rudaw: Turkish army generals staged a coup in 1970, during which many people were arrested. What political impact did this have? Who was arrested, and why?
Ahmed Turk: The Turkish state viewed the Kurds as a danger. They have been initially targeting the Kurdish nation whenever a coup has been staged. The occurrence of any coup creates an opportunity for them to silence and imprison Kurdish intellectuals. In 1971, the Kurdish youth wanted to pursue an independent Kurdish policy. Back then, Devrimci Yol (The Revolutionary Path) was established by the Kurdish youth at universities.
Who was leading this group?
The group included many political dimensions, namely, PSK (Kurdistan Socialist Party), DEV-GENC (the Revolutionary Youth Federation of Turkey), independent people, and groups close to the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). But the organization was finally closed. PSK, PKK and many other political organizations were established after they went separate ways politically.
What about your elder brother, Abdulrahman? Did he become member of the Justice Party (AP)? What political party he was affiliated with?
He was elected for the parliament as an independent. Then he joined the Justice Party and worked within the party for some time.
What was the policy pursued by Turkish parties on the Kurdish question back then? Did they want to address the Kurdish cause?
It was and still is very difficult for the Kurds to be accepted. They pursued all kinds of politics to silence them. The Democratic Party (DP), Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and other established parties, have not recognized the rights of the Kurdish people. They have always wanted to silence the Kurds, and involve them in a policies run by these parties. You cannot engage in politics anywhere if you say you are a Kurd. We have many examples testifying to this reality. Sharafadin Alchi was punished for saying he was a Kurd. That is, mentioning the words “Kurds and Kurdistan” was prohibited. It was impossible to do politics under the Kurdish name.
You joined a party in 1973. Why did you choose the party?
I entered politics in 1973, but not in the name of the Kurds, although feelings of being Kurdish existed within my family. Rather, I entered politics as a member of a familiar family in Mardin. The friends involved in politics were arrested in 1971. The situation then changed. Bulent Ecevit issued a pardon in 1974, and I joined the CHP this way. Another pardon was then issued. Kurdish politics was finally established after 1977, and activities were initiated under the Kurdish name.
Could you discuss the Kurdish question when you were a member of the CHP?
No, addressing the Kurdish cause was not accepted within any party. The CHP knew that we were Kurdish, but you cannot do politics in Turkey under the Kurdish name. Back then, the Kurdish politics was run at a personal level and by people like Sharafadin Alchi, Musa Antar, Tariq Zya Ekinci and some other people.
Did you have relations with Musa Antar?
When I was at university, I used to go and talk with Musa Antar at his home in Istanbul. I was young and had a friendship with him, although he was much older than us. I continued to visit him when he was in Ankara, and even after he moved to Nusaybin and stayed in Stlile.
What effect did the failure of the Kurdish revolution in southern Kurdistan in 1975 have on northern Kurdistan at the time?
It certainly affected the morale of the politicians. We all were upset by it. Many people turned to north Kurdistan when the revolution failed. They stayed with us secretly, and didn’t want anyone to know them. It has its own impact, but not to the extent that the Kurds could help with the revolution. And this was because the Kurds were not as organized at the time, although the Kurdistan Democratic Party – North (KDP-T) and some other groups existed back then. But these groups didn’t have a strong representation or influence on the people. The Kurdish movement became more political and organized after 1979, where the Flag of Liberation, PSK, PDK and other political parties were established.
Why did the Kurdish movement have internal problems, were divided and even fought each other?
When we look into these events, we will realize that there was a big misunderstanding. All the parties wanted to have influence on the Kurds and become the most influential party. That is why many problems happened during these times. It is this that has prevented the establishment of a common Kurdish policy to this day. The same thing happened between the KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in southern Kurdistan. Problems occur in the Middle East because of the absence of a strong bedrock of democratic values. Fighting on small matters can break out when people don’t believe in democracy. I myself was not part of an organized political movement. Rather, I pursued civil and democratic politics.
Do you support the PKK, PSK or the Liberation? Which party have you had negotiations and talks with?
I’ve had negotiations with all the politicians. Lately, I went to Europe and the PKK was there. I visited Kamal Burqay. They were surprised, and told me why I wanted to see him. I said I wanted to see him. When I saw Kamal Burkay in 1993, I insisted that he come with me to Syria. There was intense hostility between the PKK and PSK at the time. Kamal Burkay then came to Syria.
The PKK was fighting tribes and other parties. Why did they fight tribes? Did they have any problems with your family?
No, they haven’t had any problems with my family. In fact, many of our youth joined the PKK at that time. Many of my nephews and cousins were in the PKK, and many were martyred. The PKK drew peoples’ attention when it was established. The PKK wanted to influence everyone, and initially wanted to silence the tribes. They tried to uproot the tribal system and wanted everyone to know them. I believe this was the reason behind the fighting.
You were a member of the CHP when a military coup was staged in 1980. Why did they imprison you?
I was member of the Turkish parliament from 1973 until 1980. They wanted to show themselves to the Kurds. Many Kurdish politicians were martyred, and many were imprisoned. They accused us of helping the PKK. Some tribe members had reported on Jalal Baydar, Mustafa Qilij and me, claiming that we had relations with the PKK and had met with them in the name of the PKK. That is why we were arrested, although we had no connections with the PKK. In fact, Mustafa Qilij was against the PKK, Jalal Baydar was associated with the Social Democratic Party (SODEP), but his family had connections with the PKK. We were put in jail in Diyarbakir in 1982. There was big savagery in this prison at the time. The incidents that happened to prisoners there were unspeakable.
In an interview, you liken the Diyarbakir prison to Nazi camps. Talk us through this prison a bit.
When I compare Diyarbakir prison with Nazi camps during Hitler, which I have seen from photos, videos, and programs, believe me Diyarbakir prison was worse than Hitler’s camps. People were extremely disrespected. We suffered under torture enough that we wished for our death. In the prison, there was torture day and night. There was torture even in places of rest. The prison was covered with human blood.
What did they want from you? Why all this torture?
They wanted to deter the Kurds from defending their identity.
Was there anyone else in the prison that you knew? Did anyone admit the charges leveled against them?
Many politicians defended themselves and endured the torture, namely Najmadin Kaya. From the PKK, many endured the torture too, like Mazlum Dogan, Kamal Pir, and Khayry Durmush. But prisoners of some other movements submitted to the state and finally became their assets. They were reporting their own friends. We saw many such people. There were people who were short-sighted, who established connections with prison authorities. A Diyarbakir prison official who treated prisoners like a beast was killed in Istanbul. One day, this official took me to the court, and then they brought in Kamal Pir, whose hands were tied from behind, I moved aside so that Pir could sit down. Then the official took me back to the prison where 200 soldiers stripped me naked and tortured me. I couldn’t sit for 15 days.
When our relatives visited us, we couldn’t even utter a word in Kurdish or Turkish. We could only ask our relatives how they were. When they were taking us to wards, they were stepping on our backs and torturing us. They were asking us to do the dishes, and were making us eat their food leftover after we were done with the dishes. They were asking us to clean tables with our tongue. Many of our friends have written books about this. But even books cannot tell these stories.
Have you written anything on Diyarbakir prison?
No, I haven’t. If I were in their position, my conscience wouldn’t accept torturing them like this. We saw 30 people being killed by torture and by cane beatings. They would then turn around and say they fell off a ladder and died.
Were there only Kurds in Diyarbakir prison or other nationalities?
Ninety-five percent of Diyarbakir prison inmates were Kurdish. They had transferred prisoners from many cities to Diyarbakir prison. Suppose that there were 5,000 inmates in the prison, 9-10 were leftist Turks, the rest were Kurdish.
The stick they used to beat prisoners is said to have born a piece of writing, saying “There is no God here.” Is this true?
Yes. The sticks bore many pieces of writing. Some of them bore “This is God’s stick,” some “This is the prophet’s stick.” Prison authorities were beating us with these sticks. One stick read “We will educate you with this stick.” One day they wanted to beat us, they asked me what the name of Ataturk’s mother was. I had my eyes and mind set on the stick, waiting to be hit in the head.
Were there Kurds from other parts of Kurdistan in Diyarbakir prison?
Yes, there were. There were some Kurds from Rojava arrested, accused of joining the PKK, some were from the south, some were Turkmen, and some were Islamists. But they finally became state collaborators.
Were there women prisoners? Were they assaulted?
There are many things said about them. But women resisted more than we did. Prison authorities were acting immorally, but women were defending their honor.
Did you see Mahdi Zana in prison?
One day, they put us together for a few hours in a cell. They had asked Mahdi Zana whether he knew me, and he had said ‘Hell, no”. They asked me whether I knew Mahdi Zana too, and I said “No”. They then said they would put us together in a cell since we didn’t like each other. We stayed together for only a couple of hours.
Were they making you hungry?
Lentil soup was the best we were getting, which was half stones and soil. They were giving us cigarettes, and were saying it was forbidden to smoke. And I couldn’t help not smoking. There was an Armenian guy in prison who was helping me out. I was taking a hose with myself to under the blanket and taking the other end to the toilet. I was smoking under the blanket, and blowing the smoke out to the toilet through the hose.
How were you freed from prison?
A verdict was issued to release me after I was tried. But there was a military commander who had filed a lawsuit against me. They stopped me again, but was finally released. The other lawsuit filed against me took six months. Some people were killed in the area of Jaylan Pinar, and I was alleged to have been complicit in the murder. Finally, I was exonerated. I stayed in Diyarbakir prison for 22 months. I was arrested again at the end of 1986. The head of Merdin army took me and asked me why I wasn’t helping the state.
It’s said you were monologuing the national anthem even after you were released. Can you speak about that?
The national anthem had still had its effect. The inmates were reciting the national anthem when they were moving out and into the cells. We were reciting it. Although we were free to do so, we were afraid that we might be arrested again one day. I was sometime reciting the anthem at midnight to myself so I couldn’t forget it