Report by David Morgan, Peace in Kurdistan Campaign

A seminar on ‘’the long road to peace and reconciliation in Turkey’’ has taken place in London with guest speaker from South Africa, Judge Essa Moosa, who was on a brief visit to the UK.

The seminar addressed the current opportunities for dialogue between the Turkish government and the Kurds within the context of the slow moving peace process which was in danger on stalling.  

The event organised by Peace in Kurdistan in association with SOAS Kurdish Society, was held at SOAS on the afternoon of 16 November and attended by students, academics and people from wide spectrum of organisations who take an interest in Kurdish issues.

Judge Moosa, a distinguished law maker and a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, was introduced by Birgul Yilmaz, Teaching Fellow at SOAS, Faculty of Languages and Cultures, who chaired the event. He was joined on the panel by Akif Wan, Kurdistan National Congress, UK Representative.

In his address Judge Moosa, who heads the International Peace and Reconciliation Initiative, IPRI, argued that the historic developments in South Africa were a benchmark to understand how the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds might be resolved. (see article entitled “Democratic Solution to the Armed Conflict”)

The seminar provided an opportunity for the audience to share the benefits of Judge Moosa’s vast experience of peace-making and reconciliation from his involvement in the transition from apartheid to democracy in South Africa.

His main argument was that there were some close parallels between the peace process in his own country and the process currently underway in Turkey.

Reflecting on the success of the peaceful dismantling of the apartheid state, which occurred with relatively little conflict and violence, could be a guide and encouragement to the emergence of a genuine negotiation process between the government of Turkey and the leadership of the Kurds.

The obstacles that lay in the path of peace, such as in particular the existing anti-terrorism legislation and the continued imprisonment of political leaders had to be addressed and removed in order to create the right conditions favourable to talks.

In this respect, the readiness to compromise was an essential part of the process and depended ultimately on both sides acting in good faith.

Judge Moosa reminded everyone of the position adopted by Nelson Mandela who had demanded that success depended there being on a transparent process; this meant that secret deals were ruled out from the start and any behind-the-scenes contacts could only be ‘’talks about talks’’.

An important lesson to be drawn therefore was that an atmosphere of mutual goodwill through confidence-building measures needed to be established as a precondition for the start of talks.

All parties to the conflict needed to assume ownership of the peace process if it were to succeed as this would allow the outcome to be accepted by all participants.

Judge Moosa explained that an entirely new constitution had been drawn up in South Africa for the post-apartheid state and that the involvement of the ANC in talks with the government had been crucial to its success; the constitution that still exists today was therefore not developed by a government acting alone.

In marked contrast, in Turkey the constitution that prevails is still in all essentials the one that came into force after the military coup in 1980 and as such the country still functions under a military constitution.

The government in Ankara had established a committee in October 2011 to draft a reformed constitution but this had not proposed an entirely new constitution. Instead, it had proposed some piecemeal amendments. There was thus a stark contrast between the nature of the two peace processes, at least so far.

Turning to the treatment of the leadership of the liberation movements, Judge Moosa said that these shared important similarities. Both Nelson Mandela and Abdullah Ocalan had been sentenced to life imprisonment and both the ANC and PKK had been banned for engaging in armed struggle.

On the method of armed struggle, the judge pointed out that this was permitted under international law if all peaceful means of achieving legitimate demands were prevented.

On the role of the leaders of the government, Judge Moosa said that talks only eventually got under way in South Africa once the intransigent PW Botha had been replaced be De Klerk who was ready to negotiate on fundamental change. But real negotiations had only really started once DE Klerk had taken the decision to release Nelson Mandela, who was regarded as the rightful leader of the disenfranchised black majority population and was to be seen as a political prisoner not a terrorist or criminal.

Mandela had refused to negotiate in secret and was determined that the talks would be open, transparent and freely entered into. The state and the ANC could not negotiate as equals so long as Mandela remained in jail, Judge Moosa stressed, indicating a clear lesson for the Turkish case.

The issue of whether the leader could be freed was in fact a political decision, not an intelligence matter or security consideration, Judge Moosa argued. He said that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan needed to take the responsibility as Turkey so far had failed to seriously address the question of political prisoners. In fact, the number of political prisoners was actually growing.

The ANC regarded itself as a liberation movement as did its supporters. Before the peace process started, Mandela and the ANC were treated as terrorists both by the South African government and by countries like the US and UK, who were its main allies. The fact that attitudes shifted suggests that it is also possible for a change in attitudes to occur with regard to the PKK and Abdullah Ocalan.

Judge Moosa said that Erdogan had to take the necessary steps to move the peace process forward to a successful outcome. To do this, he must create the conditions for the Kurds to be able to enter into meaningful negotiations and this would give credibility needed for achieving lasting success.

Apart from freeing political prisoners as a precondition for talks, De Klerk had also allowed political exiles to return to the country without fear of prosecution to freely engage in peaceful political activities. These steps gave crucial legitimacy to what was happening by enabling everyone to feel that a genuine process was taking place.

In the Turkish context, there was a need to lift the ban on Kurdish organisations and free political detainees.

During the talks in South Africa all sides had signed up to key basic principles including a bill of rights, the separation of powers, democratic elections and devolution of power.

The exact details formed part of the talks, but the basic principles needed to be agreed at the beginning as a means of going forward.

As far as the PKK is concerned, the organisation had adopted major changes of policy over the years and was committed to peaceful change.

He said that Turkish anti-terrorism legislation continued to cast a shadow over developments and had led to the continued erosion of fundamental human and civil rights. The presence of such laws had led to a significant erosion of standards internationally and enabled states to interrogate, torture and kidnap and generally to act without accountability. He warned that the existence of such legislation would be used against citizens of Europe and elsewhere.

In an attempt to break the stalemate in the Turkish-Kurdish peace process, Archbishop Tutu in December 2012 had issued an appeal for talks to restart. This initiative had led to the setting up of the IPRI in Brussels, Judge Moosa explained. Archbishop Tutu was motivated by a fear that a failure to overcome the impasse could have disastrous consequences for Turkey, the Middle East and the world as a whole.

The second speaker, Akif Wan, began by speaking about the historic roots of the denial of Kurdish rights in the Treaty of Lausanne which had divided the Kurdish lands with lasting consequences. This initial decision was a political one and the solution to be found today would need to be a political one as well.

He pointed out that the PKK was originally founded as a response to the fact that the Kurds were denied their very existence as a people.

Abdullah Ocalan’s clear message today was to call for peace, as evidenced in his initiative to end the recent hunger strike and to call for a ceasefire which had been acceded to by Kurdish guerrilla forces.

Mr Wan echoed the concerns of Judge Moosa in arguing for Turkey to end its detention of Kurdish activists, including lawyers and political leaders.

Turkey needed to take more steps because so far the reforms announced had not come near to meeting Kurdish demands and did not satisfy the people’s expectations.

He said that the PKK had been evolving its strategy since 1993 in favour of democratic peaceful change. It was now Turkey’s turn to take the initiative to end the impasse and push the process forward.

Akif Wan also commented on the positive role taken by the Kurds in Syria who had refrained from becoming embroiled in the country’s civil war and had been seeking to run their own affairs on a democratic basis in their region of Rojava. This was giving hope to Kurds in Turkey that peaceful change was possible.

During discussions, Estella Schmid, Peace in Kurdistan, argued that major changes in popular attitudes were sweeping across the world and that the people were no longer prepared to remain passive in the face of injustice whether it be increased state surveillance or infringements of democratic rights by states and by corporations encroaching on historic land rights, for instance.

People who attended the meeting left encouraged by the positive message that transformation could take place in Turkey, but that increased efforts and lobbying was needed to ensure that the momentum was maintained and that the process kept firmly on the right track.

For more information contact

Peace in Kurdistan
Campaign for a political solution of the Kurdish Question
Contacts Estella Schmid 020 7586 5892 & Melanie  Sirinathsingh – Tel: 020 7272 7890
Fax: 020 7263 0596

Patrons: Lord Avebury, Lord Rea, Lord Dholakia, Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Jill Evans MEP, Jean Lambert MEP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Hywel Williams MP, Elfyn Llwyd MP, Conor Murphy MP, John Austin, Bruce Kent, Gareth Peirce, Julie Christie, Noam Chomsky, John Berger, Edward Albee, Margaret Owen OBE, Prof Mary Davis, Mark Thomas