Although important figures of the Kurdish movement such as Osman Baydemir and Altan Tan make statements from time to time addressing the Armenian genocide and extending a hand to Armenians, remarks by Abdullah Ocalan last year create questions about how the Kurds view the Armenian issue.
In one statement, Ocalan said, "There are three-pronged parallel state schemes in Turkey. These are sabotaging relations. They are not run-of-the-mill lobbies. Jewish, Armenian and Greek lobbies in the United States are interfering strategically and tactically. All three originate from Anatolia.”
Although these words irritated Armenians and non-Muslims living in Turkey, they did not erupt into a major debate.
But on Jan. 9, 2013, after the assassination of three Kurdish women in Paris, Bese Hozat, a leader of the Union of Kurdish Communities, expanded on Ocalan’s remarks in harsher tones and led to furious reactions. In an interview with Argos Jan. 13, Hozat said, “In Turkey, in addition to the official state, there are parallel states. For example, the Gulen movement is a parallel state. The Israeli lobby, nationalist Armenians and Greek lobbies are parallel states. These parallel states have serious common interests that they share.” These words caused anger among the non-Muslims in Turkey, particularly Armenians.
The People's Democracy Party (HDP), a leftist and predominantly Kurdish coalition with Armenian members, was seriously affected by Hozat’s remarks. The Armenians of the HDP reacted to Hozat’s words and expressed their resentment by telling Agos, “The emerging vision is not a promising one for the HDP's Armenians. To achieve our aspirations for a free, just country and world, what we should be doing is not discriminate against each other, but struggle together with all the oppressed. The peace and peace process that we are also working to achieve should not mean marginalizing peoples who are not Turks and Kurds.”
This was followed by a joint statement by the co-chairs of the HDP, Ertugrul Kurkcu and Sebahat Tuncel, in a distinct effort to distance themselves from Hozat’s remarks. They said, “We understand why our peoples were anxious with linking the 'parallel state' with Armenian, Greek and Jewish identities, which have been legally and politically sidelined from organized society and state and who are the objects of abhorrent narratives. … We believe that the revolutionary spokespersons of the Kurdish people, who have been struggling against official and unofficial denials and eradication, should opt for a discourse that will advance the equality of peoples and brotherhood and consolidate our joint struggle on the land where we live.”
Then, something unexpected happened Jan. 30: Ocalan sent a letter to the Turkish-Armenian language newspaper Agos. This seemed to represent a turning point for Kurdish-Armenians relations.
There are five salient themes of Ocalan’s letter to Agos:
- Ocalan saying, “The situation of the Armenian people is the full reality of genocide. It is a miracle that the Armenian people have been able to come so far despite this genocide. This miracle is undoubtedly the outcome of great efforts and struggles by the downtrodden Armenian people.” Ocalan was signalling that the Armenian genocide has been recognized at the highest echelons of the Kurdish movement.
- By saying, ”The entire world has to come to terms with the historical reality of the Armenian people and shares their agony. The Turkish republic has to approach this issue with maturity. Its coming to terms with bitter history is unavoidable,” Ocalan invited the world and Turkey to recognize the Armenian genocide.
- He sent a message to the Armenian diaspora by saying, “It can only be my modest suggestion to hope the Armenian people will persevere in their struggle by avoiding racist-nationalist traps and maintaining awareness of the sinister goals of international capitalists and lobbies who would like to see our peoples clash for centuries to come.”
- Ocalan said, ”A republic crowned with democracy will be a republic that has come to terms with its past, where diverse identities can live freely. Looking at it from this angle, we are struggling for freedom for not only Kurdish people, but all peoples and beliefs of this region.” This was his way of responding to criticism that in the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), Kurds were focusing only on their own interests and were aloof from the larger struggle for democracy in Turkey.
- He portrayed the Kurdish struggle as one of all peoples in Turkey by saying, “Our 30 years of struggle is the proof that my search for peace that I have been trying to sustain, despite my tough conditions, cannot be against any people.”
- He declared, ”While we are in an unyielding struggle for the benefit of all peoples, I have to invite everyone to be aware of the entire spectrum of deep, open, parallel structures, lobbies and faith movements that are trying to make us fail and assess all developments objectively.” With these words he extracted the Armenians from the parallel state concept while confirming the Kurdish perception of the Gulen faith community as an adversary and a rival.
Comments by Armenian intellectuals on Ocalan’s letter indicated that Turkey’s Armenian community was pleased by the letter. For example, Ohannes Kilicdag said Ocalan adopted a position “way above the norms of Turkey’s politics when it comes to coming to terms with the Armenian genocide.” Karin Karakasli said, “Ocalan’s call on the Turkish Republic to come to terms with history and his warning to all people against traps of nationalism are vital.” Hayko Bagdat noted Ocalan’s letter was “courageous and constructive about genocide.”
Ocalan’s letter seemed to have turned a new page between the Kurds and Armenians of Turkey. It is beyond doubt that the Kurdish movement will adopt a much clearer position on the Armenian genocide issue. But it is not realistic to expect Ocalan’s words to have a bearing on the Turkish government’s refusal to acknowledge the Armenian genocide.
In any case, Ocalan’s letter to the Armenians is a historical document now. But it is not easy to predict its long-term affects.
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