The Turkish original of this article was published as PKK şiddetine meşruiyet arayanlar on 22nd August 2015.
To judge by the letters that I keep receiving, a lot of Kurdish young people remain strongly inclined to believe that “you cannot do without guns.” Clearly, the notion that “the state would crush us if the PKK were to lay down its arms” still retains its force and credibility. We are facing a mentality whose reaction to suggestions for a peaceful struggle is: “You are flying.” We are witnessing the revival of a tradition of violence that has already caused immense suffering in these lands.
Settling accounts with violence
Recently Gürbüz Özaltınlı, writing in Serbestiyet.com on recently escalating PKK attacks, lays precisely this problem of “politics and violence” on the table:
“I have the feeling that Turkey has only now recently begun to think about politics and violence. Hopes for this discussion to develop in the direction of a more democratic culture depends yet again on the combination of a conservative sociology with liberal-democratic circles espousing universal values — however small the latter might be. A step further, we might even put our faith in the secular urban middle classes who are under the influence of Kemalist ideology. But it looks as if we cannot expect any positive contribution to this debate from the left, nor from the Kurdish movement, nor from Turkish nationalism. All of them display an intellectual framework and a historical practice at the origin of which are roots that regard and define violence as a legitimate instrument of politics. We are speaking here of a political culture that is capable of challenging the initiative of even a legend like Öcalan.”
The fact of the matter is, that the left in this country has yet to reach closure over the question of “guns and violence.” Neither can we say that Turkish nationalism for its part has dissociated itself from a reflex of regarding violence as an option.
The [Marxist] literature on the subject establishes theoretical distinctions between “just” and “unjust violence.” Leftists who espouse violence are thereby able to fall back on the prejudicial conception that somehow, their violence is “just violence.”
In the contemporary world, theoretical debates about “leftist violence” retain their current interest. In Europe, for example, this question is still up for intense discussion. There is a lot of new criticism directed at “leftist violence.”
To come back from all this to what has been happening here in our country over the last few weeks… This is how those without a clearcut position on violence see the situation: “The state is resorting to violence, and therefore the PKK, too, is right to respond to this in its own way.” If you pursue the argument, the next step becomes: “I am against violence in politics, but what can the PKK do, should it remain a passive witness to all the oppression against the Kurds?”
The left has yet to take stock
We all lived through this multi-dimensional debate before the 12th September 1980 coup. Leftists were engaged in a nation-wide armed conflict with the Grey Wolves, and in an environment steeped in violence, they proceeded to regard “violence within the left,” too, as normal.
Then there stepped in the violence of the state as the most organized violence of all. It brought by far the heaviest kind of organized violence crashing down on all these groups as well as society in general.
As for today, especially over the last few years the Kurds have achieved major political and social gains. In country like Turkey that has not been able to “complete” its democratization, steps have been taken that would be impossible to imagine ony ten or fifteen years ago. The Kurds gained legitimacy in the political sphere. Once habitual, lawsuits to close down this or that Kurdish party became a thing of the past. The media’s outlook and language underwent comprehensive change.
The single biggest leap came with the 7th June elections. The HDP registered a success that was also strongly recognized in the Turkish west. A new political panorama incorporating Öcalan’s niece as a parliamentary deputy and a secretary-member of the presidium at the opening of the National Assembly was regarded as reasonable and acceptable by a significant majority even in western Turkey.
Dynamiting these legitimate grounds
Given the presence of a political party with an eighty-strong group in parliament, and with possibilities of communication and dialogue rapidly expanding throughout the country, I have difficulty understanding those who still keep arguing that “arms are need to pursue rights and liberties.”
We need to arrive at a principle stand on the following point: Can the political resort to arms and violence continue to be regarded as just and legitimate? Let’s make it a bit more concrete: Can the PKK’s recent acts of violence actually hold any benefit for the Kurds? Burnt and ruined towns, young people torn out of their schools, social and economic devastation, wasted lives… Is there any chance of anything positive to come from this wreckage in the name of “left values” or “human values,” for Kurds and Turks alike?
In conclusion, I would like to offer yet another statement by Gürbüz Özaltınlı:
“Instead of hypocritical propagandists, we need real advocates of the right to live, to human existence, that will not flip-flop according to the identity the killer and the killed.”