Wednesday, January 20, 2010

No friends but the mountains - The Saker interviews Zerkes from Kurdistan

It has been three years now since I interviewed Mizgin, a pro-PKK Kurdish blogger who very kindly introduced me to the topic of the struggle of the Kurds for self-determination and my interview with her was mostly about the 'inner' aspects of the Kurdish struggle. Today, I am publishing another interview with a Kurd - Zerkes - but this time the interview deals mostly with the "regional picture". The regions inhabited by Kurds include areas of Turkey, of course, but also Iraq, Iran and Syria and there are substantial pockets of Kurdish population in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan (while the Kurdish diaspora covers the entire planet). Kurds therefore often have a uniquely well-informed insight into what is happening in the Middle-East and Caucasus region. In addition, Turkey is clearly a major player and some of my questions for Zerkes dealt with what is happening inside this country about which so little information reaches me.

I am very grateful to Zerkes for taking the time to answer my questions. For more info on these and other topics, make sure to visit Zerkes' blog.

The Saker: how would you assess the socio-political climate in Turkey? How are the military and the Islamic parties balancing each other out and what do you see is the general "mood" of the "street" so to speak?

Zerkes: I will answer this question in two parts. First by focusing on the people on the street and then by focusing on the political dynamics.

First, it's for sure that Turkey is changing rapidly these days. For the first time since the beginning of the republic some people started questioning the military. These people would have never imagined the beloved military could be corrupt, its members involved in thousands of disappearances, kidnapping, prostitution, arm and drug trade, etc. This is extremely confusing for Turkish people who are willing to open their eyes, listen, and think. Kurdish people already knew all of these since they were the victim but nobody listened to them for so long which is why they ended up starting their armed struggle. When Kurds look deep into what's happening now, the whole operation feels like "giving the state a face lift" without honestly facing the problem and curing it. A number of retired colonels have started committing suicide recently and Kurds somehow don't believe these thugs all of a sudden developed some morals and started feeling guilty all together.

Not too long ago some of military's projects to pay for making movies and tv series with explicit company/person names leaked to the media. The societal manipulation tools that were only available to the military and the deep state (forming secret organizations, making of movies and series such as "Breath/Nefes", "Valley of the Wolves", etc.) are now available to the current government too. These projects are really bad imitations of "loyalty building projects" you can see in the USA. The people (some of whom are "reporters") who make these and/or direct these media projects are closely affiliated with the military or Turkish Secret Service (MIT). Some progressive Turkish writers have started writing about these projects.

If I were to try to put the mood for non-Kurds in one word, I would call it schizophrenia. Turkish people, for the first time are hearing some of the atrocities their security forces have committed against Kurds and other people but they have extreme difficulty with coming to terms so a lot of them are going back to extreme nationalism/racism and attack anything that challenges their belief. Such people are demonstrating hatred against anyone who is different (they recently attacked gypsies in a town and made the gypsies leave the town and their reasoning was because gypsies lived better). Lynching moves toward Kurds in western part of Turkey are on the rise. Kurds get attacked simply because they speak Kurdish or sing a Kurdish song. The police just watches and then arrests the people who get attacked while those who attack are praised by being sensitive and loyal citizens.

The word I would use for the Kurdish side is disappointment. The state and the government want to make sure everyone knows who the boss is. Turkish state and government repeat at every chance that their main goal is annihilation of the PKK, there cannot be education in mother language and things a like. The state and government's main goal seems to be to disarm Kurds, divide them, and then consume the natural resources and make sure that no Kurdish identity is left. You can see this mindset in some rhetoric used against assimilated Kurds already. Since Kurdish was banned for such a long time and people couldn't get educated in their own language some of them cannot speak Kurdish. The rhetoric used against them is that they have no right to ask for anything since they cannot even speak their own language.

The closure of main Kurdish political party DTP and arrests of Kurdish politicians (and those that also got banned from participating in politics) is nothing but response to local elections of 2009 in which Kurds won big time against the current government despite all the support the government received from the police, military, governors etc in Kurdistan. Heck, the government offices were acting like election bureaus of AK Party. If the goal of Turkish side was to end armed clashes and encourage Kurds to participate in political process, Turkey wouldn't have arrested all the Kurdish politicians, handcuff them, and escort them in a single line to the prison while serving its pictures to the press. These politicians have never ever took part in any armed resistance. They did speak for Kurdish rights though. In fact these have been the people who never backed down despite all the threats they received and had their friends or family members assassinated. There is actually something depressingly funny. When DTP was closed, among people who were banned from politics because they were DTP administrators was a shepherd who wasn't a politician. Gordon Taylor, a blogger has published about it. The question is if cows will get banned from voting!

Politically (the state and government), what you are seeing in Turkey now is balancing of the current government's strength with that of the military's. This is being supported (and engineered) by the USA and help comes through providing intelligence to the current government on the Ergenekon case and similar issues. This is not to say the current government and the military hate one another. They are actually in agreement. The biggest project they have is to suffocate the Kurdish question by removing any defense Kurds may have (currently the PKK/HPG) and then force them into submission.

We should ask then. Why should PKK cease to exist? Let's look at the big picture first. US and EU have a Greater Middle East Project (GMEP) and the planned oil and gas pipelines extending from South Kurdistan (North Iraq) all the way to Europe, running through Turkey necessitates Kurds not disrupting the oil and gas flow (there is flow of another merchandise but we will come to that later). This means solving the Kurdish question or pacifying it. The other face of the medallion is that the GMEP requires Turkey be a regional power, much stronger than Iran and with much influence. So, in a nutshell, US will be playing it's cards in the region through a Muslim country which is Sunni.

Can a country which is constantly losing blood and is distracted by its internal issues be a regional power? Hardly. So the Kurdish issue has to be "resolved" one way or another. From what I can see so far, Turkey doesn't want a solution that would result in say autonomy for Kurds or even mention of the words Kurd or Kurdistan in the constitution. Education in mother tongue is strongly opposed as well. To be able to dictate its terms on Kurds freely, Turkey is trying to annihilate the PKK by collaborating with US, EU, and other countries in the region. Everyone pretty much seems on board. PKK hasn't killed even an American chicken and yet it's being declared as common enemy by the USA.

The Saker: what do you make of the Turkey-Israel alliance? Is that something imposed by the USA, or do Turkey and Israel work directly together, and sometimes even against the USA as is strongly suggested by Sibel Edmonds?

Zerkes: Turkey and Israel go way back and they are allies. It wouldn't surprise me if Israel and Turkey formed alliances which would be against US interests because Israel and Turkey both need one another desperately. Israel needs Turkey because it's the only country in the region that Israel can rely on, train its military with, get water and crops from, etc. Turkey needs Israel because it constantly balances out Arabs and Iran. It's no secret that Israel is the biggest supporter of Kemalism which is the official ideology of the state and its military. Israel has very strong ties to Turkish military.

I have to make a statement on the current rifts between Israel and Turkey. My opinion is that these are carefully crafted shows to strengthen Turkey's position in the Middle East so it can safely reduce Iran's effect. Arab countries already started gravitating toward Turkey and forming alliances with Turkey. This is exactly what US and EU want. While these small crises seem to be harmful for Israel they only do minor short term harm to its reputation. In the long term, Israel actually wins because if the plans go well, in the long run, Iran's influence will be weaker and Arabic states will be under Turkey's hand and we all know Turkey in the NATO and will probably be a EU member or will be given a special status.

The Saker: what can you tell us about the role and objectives of Turkey towards the Caucasus in general and Russia, Chechnia and Georgia specifically. The Chechen insurgents used to see Turkey as a friendly "rear-base", what has happened since the (relative) defeat of the Chechen insurgency in the 2nd Chechen war?

Zerkes: I am not very knowledgeable on the Caucasus but from what I hear and read, I can tell you that most of the right wing criminals go to Azerbaijan or other Turkic states in the Caucasus to have more training and continue their activities such as drug and arms trading. Turkey is trying to have serious influence in the region especially through Gulen movement. Gulen movement was founded and is lead by an imam named Fethullah Gulen who currently lives in the USA.It's basically promoting Turkish-Islam synthesis. The movement is big all over the world, particularly strong in Turkey. The current government is basically composed of Gulen's followers. Who is Fethullah Gulen? I quote from Rasti:

Who is Gulen?
Fetullah Gulen is "a 67-year-old Turkish Sufi cleric, author and theoretician," according to a recent profile in the UK's Prospect magazine. Prospect ran a public poll last month to find the world's greatest living intellectual. Gulen 'won' the poll after his newspapers alerted readers to the poll's existence. Gulen is also the leader of the so-called 'Gulen Movement' which claims to have seven million followers worldwide. The Gulen Movement has extensive business interests, including "publishing activities (books, newspapers, and magazines), construction, healthcare, and education."

The full article can be read here

You can also read about Gulen movement, CIA, and turkish deep state ties here

There is actually a nice article titled "Uighur Nationalism, Turkey and the CIA" at summarizing Gulen movement, it's ties to CIA, and use of Gulen movement on Brzezinski’s Grand Chessboard, specifically Central Asia. The full article can be read here and I think it's a must read:

To wrap this question up, the Chechens are still well-organized and well-supported in Turkey. I haven't kept up with the details though.

The Saker: I hear a lot of rumors about the Turkish deep state being heavily involved in drug trafficking. How much of a factor in the Turkish deep state's decision-making process towards, say, Afghanistan or the Caucasus is the drug trade?

Zerkes: they are not rumors. It was just a few weeks ago that a drug ring composed of some high level police officers were arrested. A few days ago, it was another ring lead by a retired colonel. While most Turks like to blame PKK for the drug trade (without even thinking how in the earth PKK network could extend all the way to Afghanistan and be sustainable). It's a known fact that the Turkish army tanks, helicopters, and armored vehicles have been used to transport heroin within Turkey.

Recently, one of the Drug lords (a Kurdish person but one of the Kurds who is a model for what kind of Kurds the state has been wanting) Baybasin who is in prison in the Netherlands spoke from the prison to Taraf daily (a Turkish news paper) and revealed some of his ties with high level military personnel (generals) and high level politicians such as ex prime minister Suleyman Demirel and other people deeply involved in the deep state like Mehmet Agar (he is said to have conducted over thousands of operations against Kurdish civilians). Baybasin also revealed the fact that he received counter guerrilla training (Baybasin is referring to training by Ergenekon which is the Turkish Gladio) and talked how they were taking arms to Afghanistan and bringing Heroin in return. Baybasin also mentioned a few of the presents he gave to some high level generals which can be easily verified. One of them was a villa to a general's wife. Baybasin also mentioned something interesting that one of his ships, loaded with heroin, was sank after the drugs were emptied. That heroin was never accounted for (this is not the first time). My guess is that this attitude become a habit at the Turkish side and hence we have the Ergenekon operations today. Bosses never like it when you steal from them. So, if anything, I think the whole operation is to show what happens to those who steal from the bossmen.

Sibel Edmonds also has some great analysis on Turkish state's involvement in drug trade. There is also an article by Kendal Nezan published in Le Monde Diplomatique.

Finally, since US, EU, and Turkey love to blame PKK with drug trade, I do have to state that not one single member of the PKK has been actually tried and found guilty of drug trade. PKK has also offered review of its accounts. Head of KCK Murat Karayilan offered this to USA and EU when USA Dept of Treasury froze the PKK funds in the USA which doesn't exist and also assets of Murat Karayilan which he doesn't have. Karayilan stated that his daily expense is under a dollar. The PKK also constantly makes calls and publicizes names of those who are trying to sell drugs in Kurdistan. If anything, PKK is really becoming a problem for marketing heroin in Kurdistan. Now that US is allowing "farmers" in Afghanistan to start "farming" again, I suppose it would make the flow much easier if PKK didn't exist and there would be more customers too. Also, given the fact that the shady characters associated with the deep state are almost always are linked to the Caucasus, I suspect marketing there and making the Caucasus an alternate or a second route for drug trade is an option. I do believe that would be a safe option for them if they can really secure enough ground. After all Turkic republics will be friendlier to Turks. Having a second line is simple redundancy rule in supply chain management.

It has been well publicized that Heroin trade keeps banks and governments afloat. My guess is that the big boys are desperate for the heroin trade even more today especially given the the current global economic crisis. More drug trade and more oil are needed to keep gears turning but there is a problem. The Kurds and their armed resistance happens to be strategically positioned to disrupt flow of both of them at least on one front and Russia can disrupt it on the other front. We'll wait and see how Russia will play it's cards about this.

The Saker: which political forces do you see as the main allies of Turkey in the region, both as actual allies and as potential allies?

Zerkes: the one and true ally in the region for Turkey will be Israel. Iraq, Iran, and Syria are allies with Turkey against Kurds. Turkey will make Arabic countries allies if it can really pull off the regional leader role given by the US. That will mean savor grapes with Iran. Iran and Turkey are actually competing right now in South Kurdistan. I heard somewhere that Iran has banned/limited activities of Gulen movement in Iran (Russia banned them sometime ago). Turkey is also trying to cut deals with Ukraine to make sure no Kurdish organization supporting Kurdish cause can exist there (same thing it's going in US and EU). Turkey was using the votes of the Chechen population in Ukraine as a bargaining chip.

The Saker: which political forces or countries in the region do the Kurds see as a potential ally? What do the Kurdish political parties make of Russia, Armenia, Greece or Serbia all of which are historically in conflict with Turkey and its Western allies?

Zerkes: I am not really sure if Kurds see any of these countries as an ally. I personally don't. In Middle East the only way you can have true allies is that you are strong. Countries like Greece and Serbia will be allies with Turkey for the future pipelines so I don't think they will really be allies for Kurds. Iran may turn out to be an ally for Kurds in the long run but it will be a while before Kurds can trust any of the counties among which Kurdistan is divided. As for Russia, I am sure Kurds know that Russia would turn its back to them for the right price which happened before and more than once. The most recent one was because of the Blue Stream project where Russia made a deal with Turkey and US the agreement resulted in capture of Ocalan. Having said that, I do believe temporary alliances with Iran and Russia would be possible. This is because these two countries would be getting the short end the stick if the GMEP were to materialize. Given the situation with imperial plans on heroin and oil and gas flow, Russia and Iran should waste no time to ally with Kurds. Only then all three of them can win. The alternative is bigger losses for both Iran and Russia. This time, it's not Kurds who have much to lose. Russia and Iran becoming allies with Kurds makes long term strategical sense too since Kurdistan has abundance of water and he who holds water will be the power in the Middle East in the long run.

I have a feeling Armenia wants the GMEP to materialize and they want the border with Turkey open so they can have more trade. Armenians will need this more and more as Turkey increases its influence on countries neighboring Armenia.

While talking about allies in the region, I need to state a less known historical anecdote. Back in the 80ies, a few PKK guerrillas actually fought against IDF. I may be wrong about the exact figure but I think about 11 PKK guerrillas were killed by the IDF and several were captured alive. Israel had asked why the PKK guerrillas were in this fight and the guerrillas had said because what IDF was doing was wrong. The PKK was training alongside with Palestinians at the time. The real reason doesn't matter much since it was only a handful of them but that was enough for Israel. The point is that the Israeli military help for Turkey to fight against Kurds started back then and grew larger every year.

Kurds have realized long ago that they are alone in their struggle for their basic human rights and started relying on themselves. PKK did state many times that they are not in love with guns and they are ready to drop them if Kurds are given their cultural rights and guarantees for their basic rights in the constitution.

For now, the status quo still hasn't changed: no friends but the mountains.