Interview with BILGESAM’s President Sandıklı: “Kurds Do Not See Separation as a Solution”*

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The Wise Men Center For Strategic Studies' (BILGESAM) recent survey has shown that 90.3 percent of Kurds and 70.7 percent of Turks strongly believe that their futures are bound to each other, contrary to expectations that they have strong secessionist tendencies.

This is contrary to the expectations that Kurds see separation from Turkey as a solution to the Kurdish problem. Only 2.3 percent of Turkey's Kurds say independence will bring a solution to the problem, while 5.7 percent see a federative structure in Turkey as a solution and 11.9 percent say regional/democratic autonomy will solve problems,” said Atilla Sandıklı, president of the Wise Men Center for Strategic Studies (BİLGESAM), for Monday Talk.

The survey, “Turkish Societal Perceptions Concerning Combat against PKK Terrorism,” which was released last week, also shows that 79.1 percent of Turkish respondents think that current rights are enough to solve the problem, while only 31.9 percent of Kurdish respondents think that way. In addition, Turks (12.3 percent) and Kurds (33.5 percent) see granting equal citizenship rights to the Kurds as a solution, while only 5.3 percent of the Turks and 14.8 percent of the Kurds see strengthening of local administrations as a solution.

Moreover, almost 50 percent of the Kurdish and 44 percent of the Turkish respondents believe that the “state wants to solve the Kurdish problem,” while they say the “state can solve it” by 51.3 and 32.6 percent, respectively.

This survey of nearly 3,000 people, which was conducted Aug. 23-25, came at a time when terrorism is on top of Turkey's agenda as there have been prolonged clashes in the Southeast, kidnappings and attacks on civilians by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), while about 700 people have been killed in 14 months, the highest number of casualties in 13 years.
Elaborating on the results, Sandıklı answered our questions.

The survey reveals strong mutual will and determination among Turks and Kurds for sharing a common future. Has this finding been surprising to you?

We have previously done many field surveys in the region plus several workshops. Our recent results were consistent with our past findings, but we can say that this result is still surprising because there has been a perception in society that Kurdish people increasingly demand separation from Turkey. The survey results showed us whether or not there is really a desire for separation, especially on the Kurdish side; Kurds who do not see a common future with Turks in Turkey remain at about 10 percent, while this percentage is 30 percent for Turks. This is contrary to expectations that Kurds see separation from Turkey as a solution to the Kurdish problem. According to the survey, only 2.3 percent of Turkey's Kurds want independence, while 5.7 percent desire a federative structure in Turkey and 11.9 percent desire regional/democratic autonomy. When we look at the strategy of the PKK terrorist organization, we observe that they have a strategy to provoke Turks against Kurds. PKK terrorist acts in such places as Adana and İnegöl, where people tend to have ultra-nationalistic feelings, are aimed at pitting Turks against Kurds. We should be glad that Turkey's Kurds and Turks have not risen to the bait. The result shows that Turks and Kurds see their future together, and most of them desire to live together in peace.

You also looked at what parties survey respondents vote for. For that specific question of having a common future, what is the distribution of voters in regards to their party affiliation?

We see that 93.7 of the survey respondents who vote for the AK Party (rulings Justice and Development Party] see a common future with Kurds in Turkey. This percentage is about 80 percent among voters for the CHP [Republican People's Party] and even the BDP [pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party].

‘Operations plus more rights will end terrorism'

What do you think about the 30 percent of Turks who want separation from Kurds? Is this a percentage to worry about?

This is a development to watch for. Apparently, the PKK has had some success in its manipulations. We can say that Turks' desire to separate from Kurds increases when acts of terrorism rise and soldiers die. Terrorism has had a provocative effect on some of the Turks in that regard. Let's look at the recent PKK strategies that have successfully analyzed Turkey's neighborhood and international developments. First, it has been trying to create a free zone for the PKK near Şemdinli, Çukurca and Yüksekova -- regions that are close to the Iranian and Iraqi borders of Turkey. With increased activities in this region, PKK aims at confrontation between the mainly Kurdish population in the area and security forces so that it will have more influence in the area. However, the PKK has not been very successful in that regard because the security forces are conducting effective operations in this region. The second strategy of the PKK has been to create an environment for some Kurdish mass demonstrations, and with provocations, there would be chaos and deaths. If some Kurdish people die in such a demonstration, the PKK terrorist organization would put the blame on security forces to trigger massive riots. Through its propaganda machines, the PKK announced that there would be massive Kurdish demonstrations in Turkey, but it has not had success doing that. The third strategy of the PKK has been to trigger a Turkish-Kurdish conflict leading to losses of lives, especially on the Kurdish side, to show Kurds being victimized. It hasn't been successful in that either.

A large number of people have been dying as a result of terrorism, especially in the past year.

Yes, let's look at the past successes of Turkey first in regards to how it has handled terrorism. In the years 1996, 1997 and 1998, Turkey had a very good strategy to fight terrorism, and I know this first hand because that's when I served in the Southeast as a commanding officer in the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK). As a result of an approximately two-and-a-half year fight with PKK terrorism, the PKK was marginalized, and they had to hand [PKK leader Abdullah] Öcalan to Turkey. When you look at the statistics, you see almost no acts of terrorism in 1998-2004. But since no democratic reforms accompanied security measures in this period, we started to see a rise in acts of terrorism, especially with the US invasion of Iraq. Today, it's been about 14 months of fighting PKK terrorism, and if this effective fight continues, my guess is that terrorism is not going to be on top of our agenda at the end of summer in 2013.

‘Survey: Kurds, Turks want security operations to continue'

Another survey result says that a majority of people, both Kurds and Turks, want a continuation of the security operations in the region. How do you analyze this?

When there are security operations in the region, people feel more freedom, otherwise, the PKK terrorist organization exerts its influence and restricts people's choices. Secondly, there is more economic activity, and thirdly, investments in the region from other parts of Turkey increase when security is provided.

There are some other observations in regards to how you solve the problem. For example, the International Crisis Group's [ICG] recent suggestions stress working toward a ceasefire, avoiding large-scale military operations and standing up to pressure for armed responses. You don't agree?

We differ with the ICG in that regard because when we stop security operations and concentrate on democratic reforms, the PKK still works to restrict the freedom of choice of the Kurdish population; when the government implements economic measures to relieve the Kurdish population, then the PKK pressures the Kurdish population [not to be engaged in economic activities], so you cannot pick up the fruits of the reforms as long as the PKK remains influential, not marginalized [survey respondents -- 95.4 percent of Turks and 87.6 percent of Kurds -- say PKK acts prevent development in the Southeast and restrict Kurds' freedom -- 84.8 Turks and 83.1 Kurds]. In the period in which the government concentrated on democratic reform, the PKK strengthened its organization and the KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union, believed to be an umbrella organization encompassing the PKK and some other related organizations] became huge. And the survey result shows that 64 percent of Kurds and 93.7 percent of Turks believe security operations in the Southeast should continue for the security of the people.

‘Free voices silenced by the PKK'

There is a question: How can you negotiate with the PKK while hostilities continue?

There is a misperception in that thinking. No country, neither Spain nor England, which had a similar terrorism problem, has negotiated with terrorist organizations about political solutions; those types of negotiations have been made with political and civil society organizations that reject violence and terrorism. Those countries negotiated with the terrorist organizations only on the issue of a ceasefire and how to do it. The Turkish government made a major mistake here; we spoke with representatives of the terrorist organization and its extensions over political issues. Then, the PKK terrorist organization never felt marginalized. We should have spoken with political and civil society organizations that definitely reject violence and terrorism.

Do you believe the BDP should be included in this group of organizations?

At the time, yes, we were very hopeful that the BDP would act independently of the PKK. However, the BDP has stressed that the way to a solution of the Kurdish issue goes through Abdullah Öcalan and the PKK. However, let's not forget that when the PKK loses some strength, independent thoughts have emerged; for example, from Leyla Zana [an independent pro-Kurdish deputy from Diyarbakır who said she believes Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will solve the Kurdish issue, she was strongly criticized by the BDP]. The same goes for Osman Baydemir [BDP Diyarbakır mayor] who was silenced.

‘Respondents find security forces not effective against the PKK'

Only 32.6 percent of Turks and 25.6 percent of Kurds in the survey say that the Turkish military has been successful in its fight against terrorism. They don't think the police have been successful either as only 35.7 percent of Turks and 36.5 percent of Kurds find it successful. There is a perception in society that the security forces are not effective against the PKK.

There have been political developments that led to that thinking -- like the Habur event [in which there was jubilation in predominantly Kurdish areas in October 2009 when a group of PKK militants surrendered at the Habur border gate as part of the government's strategy to bring PKK members down from the mountains]. We saw that there was obviously no well-thought-out project on how to proceed with the initiative. If we just look at the statistics to see if the security operations have been successful, we can see that security operations led to large losses on the PKK side, three times in the first eight months of this year in comparison to last year, and the losses of the security forces have been the same. Despite the Habur incident, democratic initiatives of the government have worked to marginalize the PKK, and it is widely seen as a terrorist organization in the world. And the Turkish public perception -- rightly so -- about the PKK has been that it is an international subcontractor terrorist organization. There is also a perception in the public that the PKK is not serving the interests of the Kurds. It's been good that the Kurdish issue has been separated from the problem of PKK terrorism.

Would you elaborate on the last part?

The PKK terrorist organization and Turkey's Kurdish question are two separate issues. The PKK terrorist organization constitutes a security problem and is a threat to the freedom and rights of all Turkish citizens, particularly its Kurdish nationals. Turkey should firmly continue to combat PKK terrorism -- all the while respecting human rights and acting in accordance with modern legal practices. The Kurdish question is more of a problem relating to the establishment of a modern democratic state system in which other Turkish citizens also are facing challenges. Turkey can solve the Kurdish question by advancing the reforms launched in its EU accession process and by gaining a modern democratic state vision. Turkey should integrate European Union norms into every level in a democratic system in regard to human rights for all of its citizens. This is also important to eliminate reaction from that 30 percent of Turks that we mentioned before; if democratic reforms are made only to grant rights to the Kurdish citizens of Turkey, then, some Turks would feel animosity towards Kurds.

‘Institutionalize democratic reforms, continue security operations'

In the past the PM was quite empathetic toward the Kurds, but now he is talking about removal of immunities of BDP deputies…

There is an accumulation of knowledge that the BDP might been engaged in propaganda on behalf of the PKK. When this has been evaluated in regards to freedom of expression, they recklessly continue to act this way, aiming at a reaction from Turks against Kurds. The BDP is a political party that is becoming part of the terrorism. However, we should be clear that there should not be a party closure, and only those who are suspected of being engaged in terrorism can be stripped of their immunity -- in relation to that activity. In addition, the election threshold should be reduced to 5 percent from the current 10 percent. This would allow invigoration of small Kurdish movements that have been silenced and terrorized by the PKK. Moreover, Turkey should work on its new constitution for the consolidation of democratic norms and institutionalized structures -- all essential requirements of a modern state system. This is important for all citizens, especially the Kurdish population of Turkey. If Turkey does not move in the direction of making a new and democratic constitution, but engages only in security operations, then a holistic approach to the situation will be missing -- a mistake that has been repeatedly made in the past. Finally, I'd like to announce from here that we have a declaration, “National Declaration for Turkey's Combat against PKK Terrorism,” and we invite people to have a look at it and sign.

*This interview was made with BILGESAM’s President (Ret. Staff Colonel) Assoc. Prof. Atilla Sandıklı by Yonca Poyraz Doğan and was published on Today’s Zaman daily on September 16th 2012.  

Link of the interview:

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