International Spectator

The International Spectator

Volume XXXIV No. 1 (January-March 1999)


Europe and the Kurds
By Danielle Mitterrand


The sudden arrival in Rome of the head of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on 16 November 1998, had the merit of placing the Kurdish issue back on the agenda of the decision-making centres in Europe.

The tragic issue of the Kurds, more than 25 million people living in a territory divided among four states, is the result of the policies of Western powers adopted after the First World War. The Kurdish problem is not a recent one that can be written off by Turkish authorities as one of terrorism or drug trafficking. The Kurdish rebellion in Turkey, headed by the PKK, follows others that took place in 1925, 1930 and 1937, all brutally repressed by the Turkish army.

These uprisings are only the natural consequence of the policies pursued towards a people who, since the birth of the Turkish Republic, officially do not exist. A people deprived of their most basic rights, such as the right to speak or teach their mother tongue, the right to preserve their culture and identity, the right to be recognised and respected citizens of a multi-ethnic country.

The Kurdish issue has gone beyond a simple violation of human rights; an ethnic group now risks being wiped out. It is the duty of Europeans to realise the gravity of the situation - not to close a blind eye - and to take action. The situation can no longer be ignored - on the one hand, because Turkey is knocking at Europe’s doors asking to be let in; on the other, because of the presence of some three million Turkish nationals in Europe including over 700,000 Kurds.

Public opinion in Europe is aware of the importance of a negotiated peace. The steps to end this civil war and restore peace should be encouraged and supported. Agreement or disagreement with the methods adopted by the PKK in the past should not interfere in any way with support for the desire for peace expressed by one of the parties. Since 1994, the PKK has unilaterally proclaimed several ceasefires, the most recent in September 1998. Unfortunately, these initiatives have had no effect on the Turkish army which has continued to intensify the war against the Kurds.

When the threat of a regional war forced Abdullah Öcalan, the head of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, to leave Syria and come to Europe seeking political status, Europe was offered the opportunity to pronounce itself unanimously in favour of peace in Turkey. Granting a political status would have been a political act on the part of Europe confirming its intention to admit Turkey as a partner after having established peace in the country. Until now, the steps taken in this direction have given no tangible results. Why?

When Öcalan arrived in Italy, he was in fact in Europe. All the European heads of state, aware of their mission of peace, could have expressed their opinion concerning the key role that one of the main actors in the conflict could have played, by granting him a European political status. The “Europe of the markets” has existed for years, the “Europe of the single currency” is being created with the introduction of the euro. Is it not time to think of building a “political Europe”?

The members of the European Union left the Italian government alone to grapple with the threats and the black mail used by Turkey. This produced serious concern in the market economy. Political powers are also anxious to put an end to the problem. Yet, Italian Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema’s talks with his fellow colleagues did not result in any commitment. During his visit to Bonn, the idea of an international conference on the Kurdish issue was mentioned, as was that of creating an ad hoc international court to try Öcalan. The idea of an ad hoc international court is acceptable only and inasmuch as it will judge also and above all the Turkish state. This is because the PKK is solely the product of the raging violence used against a people who have had to defend themselves from their own government.

The Turkish government has refused the idea of both an ad hoc international court and an international conference on the Kurdish question. It fears that it will end up being the accused party. Hence, the idea of leaving things up to the Kurds and the Turks merely confirms the lack of commitment towards peace of those who suggest such a thing. The Turkish Army will never decide to end a conflict which is the raison d’etre of its grasp on power. The Turkish Army will go on waging this dirty war against the civilian population as a way of justifying its presence in the highest echelons of the state, the alliance with the United States and with Israel, and the military expenditures that swallow up the most part of the country’s annual budget. Experience shows that for it the status quo of a war against the Kurds is eminently convenient.

If our European leaders were sincere in their desire for peace in Turkey, their first political action would be to cease selling arms to Turkey and providing the Turkish Army with advisors. Alas, all pretexts are good . . .even if they threaten the extinction of a people.

Now, as a result of Turkish blackmail and the urgings of the United States, the European governments have chosen to be silent and to submit once again to the usual pressure. Once again, Europe is giving proof of its lack of political maturity and the courage required to help solve a situation which concerns it directly. To acknowledge the rights of the Kosovars, to defend their identity and their territory is legitimate and would be to Europe’s honour. Why abandon an entire population to the barbarian ways of its rulers for so many decades?

When human and minority rights are involved, a policy of double standards is even more deplorable. The Kurds are not particularly attached to either their weapons or the wars that have been imposed on them. Above all, they desire peace and a dignified life as citizens with full respect for their cultural and national specificities within the existing borders of the states in which they live. No citizen of Turkish origin will be free as long as the citizens of Kurdish origin are deprived of their rights. “A free man is one who helps another become free.”

Danielle Mitterrand is President of France Libertés Fondation Danielle Mitterrand.