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An Exclusive Interview with Ms. Sebahat Tuncel, Kurdish MP of Turkey’s Parliament and Istanbul Deputy for the Democratic Society Party (DTP)


Kurdish Herald Vol. 1 Issue 2, June 2009 - Interview conducted by Servet Tosun and Natsumi Ajiki for Kurdish Herald at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara.


Ankara, Turkey – Kurdish Herald recently had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Sebahat Tuncel, a Kurdish member of Turkey’s parliament and Istanbul Deputy for the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), for an exclusive interview regarding topics that included the Kurdish question and the electoral success of her party in the recent nationwide local elections. Ms. Tuncel is the official foreign affairs representative for the DTP. In 2006, she was imprisoned on charges of a crime against the unity of the state. She was released in 2007 through parliamentarian immunity after winning a seat in Istanbul and became the first person in Turkey’s history to be elected from prison.


Kurdish Herald: How would you characterize the reaction of the Turkish government and military to the DTP’s recent successes in the March 2009 Turkish municipal elections?

Ms. Sebahat Tuncel, Kurdish MP in Turkey's parliament


Sebahat Tuncel: The [Turkish] state employed all its branch and organs with the expectation of defeating DTP in the Kurdish region in the March 2009 elections. Different groups, such as soldiers, governors, even some members of the other Turkish parties, worked with the Justice and Development Party (AKP) aiming to meet this expectation. All of these actors worked very hard against DTP. For instance, they gave free food, donated laundry machines, and gave money to people. It was important for the AKP to win the Kurdish provinces. If they succeeded, the Turkish government could tell everyone (inside Turkey and throughout the world) that AKP represents the Kurds, and the Kurds do not have the problems and grievances that DTP always brings to the table.

Of course, the reaction of the government and the military to the results of the elections has been, indeed, negative. State Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek, stated that the results demonstrated that the DTP has “pushed to the border of Armenia.” Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug said that “the votes that DTP received should be read correctly.” The AKP, similarly, claimed that DTP got the victory by using violence against people. So, generally, we witnessed intolerance of the DTP’s success from the [Turkish] state.


Kurdish Herald: Is there any group in particular in the Turkish government that you think is a dependable partner for dialogue in seeking some solution to the Kurdish issue in Turkey?


Sebahat Tuncel: More discussions took place after the March 29th elections. President Abdullah Gül had some statements on this issue. He stated that “there will be good things,” and “there is an immediate need for the solution for the Kurdish problem.” However, he has not explained what the solution would be like. This lack of clarity persists.

On the other hand, DTP expressed that there was a chance for a solution. The March 2009 elections actually created an opportunity as the DTP doubled their seats in municipalities. However, the AKP approached DTP with violence in the retaliation for their defeat in the elections. The government has arrested hundreds of DTP members and additionally, the Turkish military conducted operations against the PKK. Thus, it is clear that Turkish government seeks a solution without Kurds involved.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan continues his negative attitudes against the Kurds. He still does not recognize the political rights of 20 million Kurds. Neither the AKP nor the other parties have an actual project for the solution to the Kurdish question. Both sides continue to approach the Kurdish question in a traditional way, such as defining the Kurdish question as a “terror” problem. The politicians continue to obey the military. Therefore, I think that Turkey’s political internal dynamics alone are unable to solve the Kurdish question. We believe that Turkey inevitably needs more extensive international support and advice to find a way to reach a solution.


Kurdish Herald: What is the status of recent court cases pending against you and other DTP parliamentarians? Who is behind allegations against you and your colleagues? And to what extent do these court cases interfere with your work as a parliamentarian?


Sebahat Tuncel: Cases attempting to close the DTP continue. It is like the Sword of Damocles on our neck – the Turkish state has continuously been trying to suppress us by using these cases.

There are currently about 380 cases in Turkey calling for the revoking of immunity of MPs. Of these cases, 286 are against DTP MPs. The cases against the others are mostly based on charges for corruption, bribery, or even murder, while for us the cases are based only on the expression of our political ideas. These cases have deepened the Kurdish problem and have revealed the double standard and unjust manipulation in the interpretation of the Turkish law when it comes to Kurdish rights.


Kurdish Herald: What role is the DTP currently playing in the organization of a pan-Kurdish conference in Erbil, and what would its aims be?


Sebahat Tuncel: There has been a long discussion over this conference in Turkey, with a plan to disqualify the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) from the conference. Nevertheless, the March 2009 elections dismissed such plans. We hoped that that this conference would highlight the unity of the Kurds and call for a project for the freedom and democratization of the countries where Kurds live.

At this moment, it seems that the conference has been delayed. However, we think that this conference should take a place and many Kurds from the four parts should attend it. It is exciting to have this first Kurdish conference. With this conference we can send a message to the world as a united Kurdish people.


Kurdish Herald: As the foreign affairs representative of the DTP, how do you see Turkey’s relationships with Iraq’s central government and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) developing?


Sebahat Tuncel: I think that the Turkey-KRG relationship is very important both in terms of politics and commercial relations. On the other hand, we would not accept any type of relationship that would adversely affect reaching a solution for the Kurdish question in Turkey. In this relationship, we expect that both sides take consideration for the interests of the Kurds in Turkey as well.

Even though Turkey-KRG relations do not seem stable, there is still a chance for a healthy and normal relationship only if the safety of the Northern Kurds [Kurds in Turkey] is secured. We want to make clear that our Kurdish brothers and sisters in Iraq will not have freedom until the 20 million Kurds in Turkey do as well.

Kurdish Herald: What are your views on Turkey’s European Union accession efforts? Do you believe that the current government is focused on achieving EU membership?


Sebahat Tuncel: We, the DTP, are a determined supporter of the European Union membership process of Turkey because social and political reforms and changes in Turkey have not occurred easily and the implementation of reforms for the membership of the EU may help bring about positive change in Turkey. As it is known, Turkey is still administrated by a military coup Constitution. For instance, there is a law, the Law of Struggle Against Terror and it has been affecting the lives of all the Kurds, young and old alike. With the membership of the EU, this law can be reformed. Today, there are many Kurdish children are standing trial, facing a possible 25 year prison sentence, because they threw stones at Turkish police. There are almost 3,000 children who are standing trial for such accusations.

However, the Turkish government doesn't seem to focus on the achievement of the [candidacy] membership of the EU. They only talk but do not follow through with action.



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