Leyla Zana is a controlled woman who stays away from extremism. Above daily politics, she is a politician equipped with leadership skills.
Her latest statements prove her merits: “I believe Erdogan can solve the Kurdish issue. I believe he can do it. I have never lost my hope and faith in this and I don’t want to.”
Zana is one of the most important actors involved in Kurdish politics. After being imprisoned for roughly 10 years, she lived as a semi-recluse. It was only last term that she became active again in politics. Zana was elected as an MP from Diyarbakır, but maintained a low profile in parliament. Her presence was never forgotten, though, and she became the focus of attention during critical junctures of Kurdish politics. She sometimes shared her views and proposals with the public, but she always kept her distance and stayed above the daily politics. That is, until her most recent interview.
With this interview, Leyla Zana kicked off a new era in Kurdish politics. For the first time in the history of the Kurdish issue, there is a formidable figure who makes strong comments, one that is different from Abdullah Öcalan and the commanders of the PKK.
Normally, Kurdish politicians — even leaders of the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Part (BDP) — were not allowed to make important statements. This right was only granted to Öcalan and the commanders of the PKK. What Zana did was to go beyond this tradition and stole their words.
This does not mean that Zana launched a struggle against the PKK or Öcalan. Instead, she has become the voice of Kurdish public opinion. Moreover, she proposed quite reasonable arguments. She said that the Kurdish issue can be resolved by the prime minister, who is among the most powerful prime ministers in the history of the Turkish Republic and garnered the votes of half of Turkish society.
I believe this call is extremely important, because Erdogan has shown the courage that the previous governments lacked. He initiated the peace talks with the PKK, even though they halted this process with military attacks. The so-called “People’s Revolutionary War” was one of the most unwise steps that the PKK has ever taken. Zana pointed this mistake out, saying that the solution to the Kurdish issue can only be achieved with a prime minister who has overwhelming popular support.
Enlightening the minds of confused Kurds, Zana stated: “This issue cannot be solved with the military, police or the legal system. There is a truth out there. Let’s say this truth out loud and accept it. This issue can be solved by the most powerful actor. Who is the most powerful actor? It is the current government. The head of this government is Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If this figure, who is leading the most powerful government in the history of the republic, has the will and commitment to solve the issue, then he is capable and powerful enough to do it. I believe he can do it. Now what we have to do is to support him in this endeavor. We should side with him, we have to encourage him.”
We should appreciate Leyla Zana even for her remarking that “we should offer help to the prime minister.” It takes a lot of courage for a Kurdish politician to utter such peaceful and well-intentioned words. Needless to say, such a statement does not mean she is praising the current government. Rather, it indicates that using the current government is a means to find the solution. What we have to do is provide support for a prime minister who intends on bringing peace. Kurdish politics, which is monopolized by the BDP and the PKK, have only hindered the government’s attempts thus far.
Zana directly pointed out the contradiction of the PKK. She was the first and only Kurdish politician to openly say (or even imply) this: “I understand why people died for the independent Kurdish state during the 1990s. However the strategy has changed since 1999, and the idea of an independent Kurdish state has given way to a co-existence strategy. Since then, the aim of the Kurds is to attain their legitimate rights, enhance their local administrations and further the progress of democratization. If this is the adopted strategy, then killing people is unacceptable. The PKK should reevaluate their strategy.
Her critique against the BDP is also noteworthy. She said that rather than serving the interests of the Kurdish people, the BDP aims to satisfy the demands of the PKK. Zana said that Öcalan should be upgraded to house arrest if he plays a constructive role in the process of finding a solution to the Kurdish issue.
I don’t think Zana intends to form a new party or divide the Kurdish movement. She is stepping in as a leader and providing necessary counsel to prevent catastrophe.
Zana’s call heralds a new era in Kurdish politics. This era will be marked with pluralism and a decline in the hegemony of Öcalan, who has been maintaining a monopoly on the leadership of the movement. Kurdish politicians may react harshly against Zana, but the hearts of the Kurdish people are with her.