An Exclusive Interview with Mr. Bengi Yildiz, Kurdish MP of Turkey’s Parliament from Batman for the Democratic Society Party (DTP)
Kurdish Herald Vol. 1 Issue 5, September 2009 - Interview conducted by Sibel Akman for Kurdish Herald at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara.
Ankara, Turkey – Mr. Bengi Yildiz, Kurdish member of Turkish Parliament from Batman and a member of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), met with Sibel Akman of Kurdish Herald to discuss progress on work for a solution to Turkey’s Kurdish issue as well as the situation of the DTP. Mr. Yildiz is a lawyer by training with a great deal of journalistic experience. He was previously President of the Batman branch of the IHD (Human Rights Association).
Kurdish Herald: In the past few months, DTP leader Ahmet Turk has met with Prime Minister Erdogan and members of the CHP. What changed since the the previous refusals to meet with your party? Have these meetings been constructive?
Mr. Bengi Yildiz, Kurdish MP in Turkey's parliament
Bengi Yildiz: After the 2007 general elections, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to meet with DTP. His reason for doing so was the refusal of the DTP to call the PKK a terrorist group. But there have been new developments relative to the Kurdish issue since that time. It was stressed by different segments of the society that, to reach a solution to this problem, the first group that he should meet would be the DTP, and thus the Prime Minister met with the party. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s meeting with the the Prime Minister also contributed. The image of Turkey in the Middle East as a model country paved the way for these negotiations - a country which hasn’t solved her internal problems wouldn’t correspond with this image, and thus some problems were handled and meetings were held with the DTP.
Kurdish Herald: What is the status of the court cases still pending against members of your party, and in particular those following the numerous arrests made soon after the March 29 elections?
Bengi Yildiz: I am the head of Law Commission of DTP. After both the general and local elections, serious operations were executed against the DTP. On April 14,  more than 50 members including a vice chairman, provincial chairmans and county commissioners were taken into custody. On September 11,  15 persons including newly elected and incumbent mayors were taken into custody. More than 500 party managers and members are now under arrest. While a long time has past since their arrest, their indictment has yet to be prepared. This causes serious anxiety among the masses and prevents the democratic and legal policy.
In the past 2 years, in Turkey, the public, politicians, intellectuals and writers had been speaking of the necessity of bringing PKK members down from the mountains to enter social and political life, but this route is not being taken; quite the opposite – even participating in politics is a reason of arrest.
Kurdish Herald: What do you think about the prime minister's announcement to opposition parties, media and other segments to contribute to the initiative to solve the Kurdish issue? Do you think these efforts are sincere, and are the discussions in these various segments being taken into consideration?
Bengi Yildiz: A significant problem like Kurdish problem seems that it cannot be solved by the the will of the government alone. For the solution to be achieved, there must be some legal and constitutional changes. Societal agreement is necessary for this. At this juncture, the government’s meetings with various segments of society is a positive development, and represent one action that needed to take place. However, it is unknown at which level these actions are and how much the discussions are taken into consideration. It is not a very clean atmosphere for discussion. The government does not have a concrete project.
The most recent remarks of Interior Minister Besir Atalay have dampened the hopes of the public when he stated that they do not think a constitutional change, an amnesty, and the education in the mother tounge should be pursued. We do not think that the solution will come into being unless these three conditions are fulfilled. Thus, the process is founded upon these impossibilities, it has been blocked. We can test their sincerity by observing their actions, and the things they have done are not very encouraging.
Kurdish Herald: Some time back, the DTP released a written proposal that was also handed to U.S. President Barack Obama, and the points contained in this proposal have been since discussed publicly by members of your party. Are there any discussions in Turkey at the political level regarding your party's previous proposals? Were they addressed during Mr. Turk's meeting Prime Minister Erdogan?
Bengi Yildiz: What we gave to President Barack Obama was the project of democratic autonomy, not a federative constitution in the unitary state. We handed him a project which diminishes the powers of the central authority and transfers the powers to the local units, as we see in Ireland and Scotland, and the rights given to the Corsicans by France. We also shared the project with the public and sent it to the other parlamentarians. This project was discussed a great deal by the public. Although it is not contradictory to the unitary constitution, MHP and CHP parliamentarians stated that it was a project dividing up the country. Most intellectuals and the writers refer to Spain, Ireland, and the issue of Corsicans in France, as models for a solution to the Kurdish problem.
In recent statements, the government itself announced that they were analysing all types of solutions seriously. This project was not brought up during the Turk-Erdogan meeting; they only came to an agreement on the method which to be followed. They talked about using conciliatory language, taking ideas from all segments of the society, and introducing a concrete project after these negotiations. Later on, the government said that they would share the developments of such talks but they did not do so. Nonetheless, the Turk-Erdogan meeting was very important.
Kurdish Herald: If a thorough plan is laid out by the Turkish government to resolve various issues surrounding the Kurdish question, how likely is it in your opinion that Kurds will be willing to compromise or forgo some demands that have been laid out over the past few years in various previously presented "roadmaps", written proposals, and blueprints so-called democratic solutions set forth by pro-Kurdish elements?
Bengi Yildiz: We do not believe that the Kurdish problem using the plans introduced over 1 to 2 years, as this is a deeply-rooted problem and finding a solution will take time. It is necessary to go through the process of preparing the Turkish public, and that is why the projects should be introduced in installments of short-, medium- and long-term measures. Thus, the negotiations are the process of the reciprocal bargaining and a compromise must be reached. It is not possible that all the demands of the parties can be accepted in the first year. The parties will make mutual concessions and reach an accord.
On both the Kurdish side and the Turkish side, there are a number
of factions and chauvinistic nationalism, and this will not contribute
to the solution. The CHP and MHP base some of their policy on
this problem and makes use of it. That said, it is possible to
make concessions about many things. At the same time, it is known
that all of the segments have sine qua nons, such as the education
in the vernacular language and the demand for the democratic
Bengi Yildiz: It is related to how the various parties will run this process. If the parties are prepared for the process, they must forecast in advance the problems which may impede progress. It is well-known that, in Turkey, the military may prevent this process and the elite class functioning inside the government will hamper developments. It is also known that chauvinistic nationalistic elements will seek to disturb the process. Two conditions are necessary to pass by these obstacles: the first is the unity and solidarity of the democratic powers who are for a solution, and the second is the serious support of the European Union and the United States. When we look at the history of Turkey, from the final stages of the Ottoman Empire to today, namely from the administrative reforms of 1839 to the period of transferring to amultiparty system, it is true that external dynamics and factors had significant roles.
Bengi Yildiz: The opposition parties, the military, and the elitist burearucrasy are the obstacles. Their approach is something like, “We founded this country and we can decide on how to govern it.” This is a continuation of the tradition of the Committee of Union and Progress. That tradition prompted Turkey to enter the World War I and caused the country’s land to diminish from five million square meters to seven thousand square meters. With respect to many standards, this is the direction they seek for Turkey. Thus, the greatest obstacles are this approach and tradition.
Kurdish Herald: The March 29 elections brought a number of new DTP members to power in various municipalities throughout the Kurdish region. How have they been performing since their election, and how are their popularity ratings among their constituents?
Bengi Yildiz: Although the 29 March elections were for the municipalities, the Kurds perceived it differently. For the Kurds, this election was for proclaiming their own language, culture and identity. Consequently,their reflection was not the approach of taking into consideration some points such as electing local municipalities and receiving services. It is doubtless that, when compared with the previous periods, our local management and municipalities have made important accomplishments. They introduced concrete projects. This progress continued despite budget restirctions from the government, such as enforcing an award for the accumulation of arrears of the electricity and Social Security Institution in the municipalities prior to our rise to power and usurping the 40% of the income of the municipalities. In the past periods when we went to the cities where the local governments belonged to us, there was no infrastructure – no roads, parks, cinemas, or cultural centres.
As of now, these problems have been surmounted and the projects are progressing while other projects are being prepared. Because we are fulfilling our responsibilities, when we meet with the public, we see that their demands are not roads,centres or cinemas, they also demand food and job. This reveals that our constituents are demanding things which are normally expected from the central government. That is why democratic autonomy should be demanded, because nobody expects anything from the central government any more.