Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Appeal to Secretary of State John Kerry on his Visit to Ankara

by Amy L. Beam, Ed.D. - Feb 27, 2013

Secretary Kerry, I want you to understand that distinguishing between the "bad Kurds" (PKK) and the good Kurds is emphatically a false distinction that will doom the peace process to failure. Kurds are staunchly united.

I am a U.S. citizen conducting tourism business in eastern Turkey with Kurdish partners since 2007 and have gained a first-hand understanding of the Kurdish issue. I am one of only a handful of foreigners doing business on-site in eastern Turkey, and possibly the only American. So I feel as well-qualified as any diplomat to offer my on-the-ground insights and recommendations.

With the growing repression of free speech and the encroachment on Constitutional rights in the United States, it is not often that I support my government's policies.

However, I applaud Ambassador to Turkey Ricciardone for his outspoken truth about the arrests, long pre-trial imprisonments, and trials of Kurdish journalists, politicians, activists, and students in Turkey. Not since U.S. Ambassador Morganthal spoke out against the treatment of Armenians in 1917 has a US Ambassador to Turkey addressed the truth so publicly and directly.

Turkey wasted no time in publicly telling the U.S. not to meddle in its business. This is public posturing by Turkey, because behind the scenes the US cooperates closely with Turkey to fly drone surveillance and pass the intel to the Turkish military to attack the PKK. In exchange, the U.S. gets Incirlik Air Force base near Adana and NATO's missile defense radar system near Malatya.

Ambassador Ricciardone heard the bomb at the door of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara loudly and clearly both figuratively and literally and responded appropriately. It was long overdue. I urge you to back Ambassador Ricciardone statements.

In examining the recent events affecting the Kurdish population in Turkey, since I first went there in 2007, I find an alarming parallel with events experienced by Armenians in 1914-1915 leading up to the deaths of approximately one million Armenians. Turkey is now conducting mass arrests and mass trials of over 40 people at a time of both journalists and Kurdish lawyers. These mass arrests are occurring in flagrant disregard for international opinion or human rights. Thousands of BDP politicians (not just KCK politicians) have been arrested and imprisoned without trial. They are accused of aiding a terrorist organization.

In April 2011, in Dogubeyazit, Turkey where I conduct Mount Ararat trekking tourism, the Mayor of Dogubeyazit was knocked down by police and sent to the hospital while defending the Kurdish Community Center in the very center of town. The Community Center was a social meeting place in a large tent. The police attacked Kurdish citizens with tear gas and tore down the tent without provocation.

In May 2011, 12 Kurdish candidates running for Parliament were stricken from the ballot. This is what led to Kurdish protests in every city until the names were restored to the ballot. The unrest has escalated since then. The Kurdish issue cannot be resolved by isolating the PKK.

On June 14, 2012, in Dogubeyazit, Turkey arrested 16 Kurds in one day. Most of them ran the local city government. Some were active in BDP. One was a famous singer. Across eastern Turkey dozens, if not hundreds, of elected Kurdish mayors have been arrested and imprisoned. They stand accused of aiding a terrorist organization.

Last week in cities around Turkey, mobs of nationalistic Turks attacked BDP party members openly while police were reportedly lax in protecting them.

Two days ago in Agri, 9 Kurdish soldiers were severely attacked with clubs and knives by Turkish soldiers. The orchestrated rounding up and imprisoning of Kurds and the brazen public violence against Kurds is escalating rapidly.

According to US Embassy Ankara cables from 2007, the US is committed to sharing ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaisance) with Turkey in its goal to annihilate the PKK. This public position to annihilate the PKK enflames the Kurdish issue and emboldens nationalistic Turks to attack Kurdish citizens both verbally and physically. While Americans do not know that the U.S. flies drone surveillance over Turkey, all Kurds know it. They know the U.S. was a participant in the Roboski Massacre, which killed 34 innocent young Kurdish men, Dec. 28, 2011, two weeks after the U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq and moved its drones to Turkey.

Secretary Kerry, I want you to understand that distinguishing between the "bad Kurds" (PKK) and the good Kurds is emphatically a false distinction that will doom the peace process to failure. Kurds are staunchly united.

Kurds protest Jan 9, 2013, assassinations in Paris

In my time spent in eastern Turkey, I found no Kurds who do not have a family member who is either in prison for political reasons, in the PKK, or has been killed by the Turkish military. How can you tell a Kurdish person he or she cannot associate with their friends and family, especially if it is their own son or daughter?

In January 2013, the KCK Executive Council issued a statement that Turkish press statements that the PKK will "lay down its arms" and "withdraw from Turkey" are "surely false and have nothing to do with reality." This position is one that is intended to isolate the PKK and set them up to be killed. Turkey and the US are also pressuring Iraq to force the PKK to leave the Qandil mountains. Where can 10,000 Kurds go? This process, if carried through, is a genocide in the making.

A successful peace process must include amnesty for PKK so they can return to their families in Turkey. I call upon Secretary of State John Kerry to remove the PKK from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations, so that concerned individuals, journalists, lawyers, and elected officials can engage in dialogue toward a peace process without fear of years of imprisonment.

Over 40 lawyers representing Abdullah Ocalan are charged with being associated with a terrorist organization. The absurdity of this is obvious. How can they defend their client without "associating" with him?

The peace process must include a ceasefire from the Turkish military which continues to attack and kill Kurds in Turkey on a weekly basis at the same time it says it is engaging in peace talks. (Even as I wrote this, the Turkish Air Force carried out bombing missions for 12 hours on Feb 26 in the regions of Zap, Kandil, and Gare, killing 4 PKK guerillas.)

On the issue of the U.S. pressuring Turkey to adopt harsher anti-terrorism financing legislation that removes judicial due process and enforces stiffer accounting practices, this does not serve the peace process. The U.S. pressured PayPal and Master Card to put an illegal, extrajudicial financial embargo on WikiLeaks. It should not export this form of extrajudicial measures to Turkey.

Eastern Turkey remains underdeveloped and functions as a cash society. Many Kurds do not conduct business with written contracts, check books, bank accounts, credit cards, or receipts. Enforcing more stringent accounting practices at this time will cause a severe economic hardship to Turkey's Kurdish citizens and will hinder any potential peace process. It will be perceived by Turkey's Kurdish population as yet one more attack on them.

One cannot negotiate in sincerity when taking the food from the table of Kurdish families. Eastern Turkey still functions with strong tribal traditions of solidarity and social assistance in the absence of meaningful government economic development efforts.

I urge the U.S. to support the Kurds' call for education in their mother language, Kurdish.

In 2012, when visiting a Kurdish village and chatting with two 15-year-old girls in their very limited English, I encouraged them to continue studying English. They laughed and answered, "We do not have time to study English. We must spend all our time studying Turkish so we can understand our teachers." Do not think the Kurds are simply posturing in their request for Kurdish language education. They speak Kurdish, not Turkish, in all of eastern Turkey. The issue of having your own language banned from schools and official public use simply burns in the heart of every Kurdish-Turkish citizen.

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