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Mehmet Ali Birand - English

PKK’s cease-fire may start new period

2 Haziran 2009
No concrete steps have been taken, but statements from both sides still count as a negotiation period. The parties are trying to calculate how far they can retreat.

At some point there was some crisis created as to whether Democratic Society Party, or DTP, congressmen would testify. This crisis was for now settled with a formula found by Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan.

Then people talked about whether there will be a prolonging of PKK’s landmine attacks and their self-declared cease-fire. This way they were to test the sincerity of messages from Kandil.

The PKK prolonged the cease-fire period. To tell the truth, it is an exaggeration to call it "prolonging."

For we still have one and a half months to go until July 15. But nevertheless, it is a step. Within this period the PKK requests that the Turkish Armed Forces, or TSK, not undertake "big operations." It says, "Give me a break, or else I’ll have to defend myself."

But if you pay attention you’ll notice that in statements it is not denied that the TSK’s duty is to catch those who are involved in armed illegal actions.

The mention is not of daily but "big operations."

But in order for it to be a real cease-fire, the PKK needs to stop sneaky mine attacks and accept that each attack might lead to unavoidable big operations.

It seems people are looking for a mutually "tolerable" environment.

We are entering a period that is hard to continue and easy for provocateurs to sabotage, but nevertheless it is better than shedding blood.

Criticizing such periods is very easy. You’ll see there will be some that will do everything they can to torpedo the situation. There are nationalistic speeches in which they will say the country has split and credit has been given to PKK killers. Demonstrations will be organized, and games played by some to win votes or for the sake of ratings and circulation.

Those who want the war to continue won’t remain motionless. Ventures will be organized that reek of dark provocation.

Some forces inside and outside the PKK will take action and try to get back to the state of war by detonating mines.

The rest is a riddle with many unknown factors

We won’t know what will happen from now on.

The most important thing is what İmralı thinks and how Kandil will respond to messages from there. The PKK has an extremely complicated decision taking shape and its attitude will structure the future.

Moves taken within this chess game will affect Ankara’s attitude as well.

One other important factor is what Erdoğan and Gen. Başbuğ (namely the government and General Staff) think.

Their view during this period and how they interpret the PKK’s attitude is important.

We don’t know yet what they think but the political power and military know what they want but if they have a policy, stand upright and resolute, then this process will advance.

Otherwise it’ll end soon.

Besides it is so easy to terminate it, two mines go off in a place we don’t even know, then a bomb É and that’s the end of the road É

It’s hard to keep peace, but in the end it produces leaders for history.

War is easy, but it brings bloodshed and death. It wipes out and destroys leaders.
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You can’t commit murder and look for peace

29 Mayıs 2009
It was an appeal to the PKK. "Guarantee that you put down your weapons, and then we’ll talk about amnesty."

The PKK must attach importance to Baykal’s approach. The words of the opposition leader reflect feelings of an important part of the country.

The PKK can’t make believe that it is after peace and still go around killing. Nobody would believe the PKK. Nobody would submit to such blackmail.

On one side you’d threaten to "shed blood" and prove it and on the other side you’d claim you’re a peace dove. The PKK won’t reach anything with this attitude.

The Turkish public wants the violence to cease. And despite all difficulties, it continues arguing and buries its martyrs in its heart. And right then and there, PKK mines take lives.

When looking at this scene, you question the PKK’s request for peace?

The PKK needs to make up its mind. Will it put down its weapons and request peace or blackmail and continue taking lives?

I’d like to share a scenario that I quite often encounter. I’d like to speak about a game known well by those who follow international relations.

Everything starts with a bleeding wound within the country.

I’m talking about street fights that go as far as becoming a battle with weapons.

Related conflicts, for example the Kurdish issue and the PKK terror that can be found in our country, are an otherwise unobtainable opportunity for foreign forces. Especially if you are the strongest country in the region like Turkey is, your situation becomes more difficult.

For, those who want to break your strength and weaken you try to get involved more deeply.

The opportunity they are looking for is that the country does not show the ability to solve the problem.

If you let developments flow and don’t take necessary precautions, instead letting the problem become gangrene, then foreign forces will become lucky.

Some will try to intervene with innocent motives and under the pretext of "friendship and support."

Others start to intervene for the sake of human rights and democracy. Some take sides with the intent to spread the gangrene. Then you lose your grip.

Everybody has a proposal except the state

When monitoring developments in the Kurdish issue I always remember these scenarios. In an environment where the state is a mere spectator and does not crook a finger, and the danger is spreading, you’ll see that the number of those wanting to interfere will increase.

Statements in the name of counseling will become widespread, conferences arranged and then one day we’ll find ourselves amid an international climate in which everybody has a say.

This is what lies beneath President Gül’s warning. If some things are prolonged, necessary steps not taken for lack of courage, international actors will emerge. Please look at the scenario.

DTP leader Ahmet Türk draws attention to the fact that something needs to be done. The president often warns. Kandil sends messages one after another.

Will we just cast off this issue that influences our daily lives so much? Will we leave it up to Kandil?

As I have said before. We have become accustomed to thinking if we ignore an issue it seems to vanish.

But on the contrary, if we don’t get a grip on the problem we’ll fall into other traps. Carrying the issue to an international forum will hurt us the most.
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Where was the state for the past 10 years?

27 Mayıs 2009
As you know during the period of 1958-59 in order to prevent renegade operations from Syria to Turkey, 650 to 700 mines were laid on approximately 250,000 square meters of land. Turkey now wants to get rid of these mines.

But clearing the mines is a technical thing. It’s not everybody’s thing. Even if you have a map, in time there shifting occurs and only special firms can handle it. The cost of using specialized companies is high. Approximately $800-900 million need to be paid.

Turkey first delegated this job to the Turkish Armed Forces but when they understood that they wouldn’t be able to handle it, they threw the ball to NATO’s specialized organization NAMSA. And that was the right thing to do. NAMSA is a low cost and competent organization.

However, NAMSA stated it would not be able to finish this job in five years and withdrew. The reason was the signed agreement which stated that the mines needed to be totally cleared by 2014. Under these circumstances, the government has planned to make a private company pay the bill by giving it operating rights for a period of 44 years "under the condition of conducting farming."

Of course hell was raised. Approximately 250,000 square meters of fertile land made everybody in the region drool. On top of that the number of companies that could do this is not very high. There are the Israelis. The Canadians.

Then of course people started to produce conspiracy theories and wrote incredible scenarios that reached from making territorial benefits available to Jews to creating a new Gaza on our territory. Nobody noticed that the state of the Turkish Republic came this far because of neglect. You see, the Ottawa convention was signed in 1999. The convention included the condition that mines were to be cleared by 2014.

Turkey kept waiting until 2003. It forgot about it and never cared about it.

It passed Parliament in 2003 but still until today there has never been any work done. And when someone remembered that there is only five years left until 2014, everybody got alarmed.

Then the situation was like this. Let’s all together cry over this.

Is Turkey shooting itself

in the foot?

Professor Andrew Berry, one of the most important names from the department of genetic science at Harvard University and who joined the Darwin event at Sabancı University, gave an extremely important warning. I wonder much about whether Minister of Education Nimet Çubukçu heard this warning. If she heard it, does she recognize she needs to do something about it? Or did she ignore it in order not to attract arrows from her party?

Professor Berry stated that not teaching the theory of evolution at many levels of elementary and junior high schools in Turkey was "an insane and tragic situation." The chat by İpek Yezdani from the daily Milliyet includes an extremely important warning for this country.

Professor Berry drew attention to a danger awaiting us by saying, "If you’re not teaching your children the scientific basis of biology, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot." Professor Berry says that if we do not teach our children such scientific facts we’ll leave them in the arms of the pious, so we need to attend to this point carefully.

He shows us the danger of this style of raising our children. He warns against pious people’s interpretations and rejection of Darwin.

But sadly this is a fact. There is a portion of society that does not want the Darwin theory to spread and they are supported by the AKP government.

It should be our duty to know and be sensitive about what information enters the minds of our children, who make up Turkey’s future. Seen from this perspective, there is much benefit in listening to Professor Berry’s alarm. That is why I wish Nimet Çubukçu would hear this. I’d like to know what she thinks.
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We need to help the DTP

27 Mayıs 2009
w To inactivate the PKK terror

w To decrease prohibitions regarding the Kurdish issue and meet expectations of our Kurdish origin citizens as much as possible and win their hearts.

We need to deal with two points. One is the impossibility of totally wiping out the PKK and never mentioning the name.

Terror organizations may be inactivated and their deeds decreased to an unimportant number but never totally wiped out. They always continue their existence somewhere. One other aspect we need to prepare for is that the Kurdish issue is not to be solved that easily.

There definitely will be new requests and expectations.

What’s important is to decrease the PKK terror and Kurdish issue to a point of "living together."

If we look at it from this angle, we may say that the period before us has created an opportunity.

Let’s not expect the PKK to put down its weapons and descend from the mountains with flowers. But on the contrary, it would be a great development if we could allow for the PKK to put down its weapons for a long time and cease-fire.

Concerning the Kurdish issue, let’s not expect our citizens of Kurdish origin to kiss and hug their Turkish brothers. It would suffice if we fixed their standard of living, provided the use of their mother tongue, allowed them to use Kurdish names for their children or place of living, and created jobs.

This way we would probably not solve the problem completely but make it possible to "live together."

If we are to use this period before us seriously, then everybody needs to take part. Foremost the government and the Turkish Armed Forces, and those who make up politics need to agree on and implement mutual politics. The media, instead of looking for rating and circulation figures, should be content with only "making news."

The opposition, when using its right to criticize, should not oppose for the sake of opposing the government.

The judiciary needs to rid itself of arresting each and every DTP member, punishing every spoken word, arresting every child hanging a poster and the excitement from closing the DTP.

So within all this, does the DTP not play any role? Of course it does. The DTP needs to ease the period that we are passingÉ Pronounce words more carefully and speak after much consideration. The DTP might ease the way to peace as well as make it more difficult if not impossible. If they like, they might cause trouble. But then they would take on the historical responsibility.

We need to act as one. Or else we will encounter more blood and death. Wouldn’t that be a pity?

If this is not fascism, then what is it?

I watch with astonishment a part of those who reacted to the prime minister’s speech in Düzce. The reason I say "a part" is that I did not account for the fascists within them. But there are some among them that I for years identified as "reasonable and well-behaved" that stun me.

The prime minister drew attention to an extremely obvious fact and said, "Those of different ethnicity are dismissed. I wonder if we won. These were not considered to be good. In reality this is a fascist attitude."

Is it not the truth? Did we not chase Turkish citizens of Greek origin with whom we shared the same territory and memory for many years? Did we not rip them out of their places with methods that do not suitable for Turkish behaviour? Did we not devastate their churches, places of business and even graves?

Isn’t that true? Did we not chase the Armenians? Were they not forced to leave because of neighborhood pressure or tax and bureaucracy procedures?

We didn’t even leave the Jews alone. Did we not persecute a great part of the Kurds? Did we not take away their basic rights? They all had a reason. We used the property tax to take away from the non-Muslim and distribute to the Muslim. We justified ourselves with the Cyprus and Thessalonica events against Turkish citizens of Greek origin, ASALA murders against the Armenians and developments in Palestine against the Jews..

Now let’s discuss today. The prime minister made a good point. But it is not enough to "identify." If he believes what he says then this indicates that he does not want to repeat historical mistakes. A series of steps reaching from the seminary to renovating churches, the Kurdish issue to preventing discourse against Jews and ease in the lives of our Armenian citizens. That’s when his words won’t float around.
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CHP claims the Kurdish issue

26 Mayıs 2009
It was an extremely brave step. Then something happened, and the CHP withdrew itself from the Kurdish issue. Within time it took on a nationalistic and conflicting attitude. It could not separate the PKK terror from the Kurdish issue.

It was the star of the Southeast. It encountered great vote losses. Especially some spokespeople used such harsh language that they entirely lost the region.

The AKP took steps that allowed it to collect the prestige that the CHP lost.

The latest developments scared me.

Turkey obtained an important opportunity and general cycles may not solve the whole problem or eliminate the PKK terror all together, but it would bring an important insight. The CHP’s attitude was subject to curiosity.

Was the CHP to oppose each insight just for the sake of opposing or would it stay within the boundaries of criticism and provide a positive contribution?

The general impression is that the CHP would negate everything just like the MHP did. But the latest announcements signal that Deniz Baykal will prefer a midway by warning and supporting the government. And that’s the right thing to do.

The Kurdish issue cannot be solved without the CHP. Turkey’s future depends on making this issue one that can at least be "tolerated." Deniz Baykal’s decision to go to the region next week is very important from a symbolic point of view and important for taking the people’s pulse.

The party’s proposal to give priority to regional youth and hire Kurdish translators in governmental departments is also drawing attention. If the CHP continues with this attitude, the country’s way will be paved sooner.

Signals show that something might happen. We might become disappointed. In the end there might not be a single result. But all parties need to expend some effort.

If the MHP wants the Kurdish issue to be solved then at least it needs to allow using the opportunity before us. It is our right to expect Devlet Bahçeli to repeat his behavior exhibited during the period in which Öcalan’s execution was postponed.

Arınç is AKP’s conscience

I think we made our minds up too soon about Bülent Arınç. He, after coming to power, showed such "unfamiliar" reactions and said out loud things we did not want to hear that we made an enemy out of him. Maybe he did not want this to happen and we wanted to see in him an enemy. His expression of thought was very different.

Within time we either got used to Arınç or Arınç changed his style. Anyhow, when I look at Arınç’s speeches today I evaluate him differently.

Arınç comes first; he reads the public better than Erdoğan.

The AKP leaders might also take the public’s pulse but they are not brave enough to warn the prime minister or make open statements and they keep evaluation to themselves.

Bülent Arınç, on the contrary, speaks openly however he sees fit. If necessary, he warns the prime minister without any fear. In summary, Arınç respects the prime minister but does not hesitate.

This puts Arınç in a position of voicing the AKP’s conscience. If you sum up his statements, you might not agree with an important part of it but you’d characterize most of it as "common sense."

For example, he was the one to evaluate election results accurately. Arınç was the one to see that Zahid Akman, no offense and no matter how innocent he was, needed to resign. The same goes for Dişli’s resignation, which Arınç made a current issue.

And Arınç was also the only one to think of it and say that it would be good if Nimet Çubukçu went to Türkan Saylan’s funeral.

The most important difference between the prime minister and Arınç is that Erdoğan does not care about factors like the public and political pulse, and Arınç measures the public conscious and political pulse very well.

The place of the "new Arınç" gradually changes within the AKP. It seems it’ll change even further in the future. And if Erdoğan, as he puts it, leaves active politics in six or seven years, then Arınç already is a candidate for this party’s leadership.
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Turkey misses the opportunity for Halki

22 Mayıs 2009
We watch the same movie over and over again. Steps not taken in time come back to us like a boomerang. If you are facing an important problem and you delay the decision to solve it and keep postponing it, you’ll only cause the problem to become a necrosis.

If others join this problem the situation gets even worse. Then when you decide to take a step toward a solution you’ll notice that the result is not what you expected. For you are too late.

You made concessions and spent much effort but did not obtain any result and could not make it up to anyone. Innumerous examples could be quoted. But the most striking one is the Kurdish issue. We stood up for years.

With our slogan "We won’t let the country be divided" we fooled ourselves. Then one day we arrived at a point where nothing we did was good enough. Now the same goes for the Halki seminary in Heybeliada. It is unbelievable.

There are 300 million orthodox people in the world. And 250 million live in Russia. The religious center of this big world is the patriarchate in Fener and its leader is Patriarch Bartholomeos. This seminary also educates religious leaders, priests and clergymen who rule churches in the orthodox world of 300 million people. In other words, if the patriarchate rules the orthodox world, the seminary in Heybeliada educates religious men.

In 1971 we closed this seminary based on the reasoning of "Private University Law." Actually there were two motives. One was preventing foundation colleges that were established by sects and the other was Greece not showing much concern for Western Thrace Turks.

Thirty-eight years have passed since. Colleges established by sects in Turkey have become widespread. Greece has become a member of the European Union and Western Thrace Turks have obtained all rights pertaining to EU citizens. And we still are unable to open the seminary.

Shooting ourselves in the foot

The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government and especially the Ministry of Education several times repeated that they intended to open the seminary.

But off the record, they say that the General Staff continues to object and they fear brisk opposition from the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and the Republican People’s Party, or CHP. This is not politics, it is clumsiness. Turkey wrongly shoots itself in the foot and violates international agreements.

w We shoot ourselves in the foot, for we are being deceived by sick minds who say "A new Vatican will be created and Cypriots will split the country." We, as a country, create an image of exercising pressure on orthodox people and opposing religious freedom.

w We shoot ourselves in the foot, for we are preventing the education of leaders for the orthodox world in Turkey and leave the church to have its leaders educated in Russia.

w We shoot ourselves in the foot, for we cast out important allies and religious leaders like Bartholomeos.

We could continue this list endlessly. No matter from which angle you look at it, this government is insufficient regarding the seminary issue.

You’ll see, one day foreign forces will interfere to pressure us, all because we are unable to take action here.

We will become a country that submits because we will be pressured. İlber Ortaylı wrote an excellent article regarding this issue in the daily Milliyet on Sunday. He said, "Let’s be men of our rank," and drew attention to the fact that those leading Turkey are narrow minded and square pegs. He said, "Turkey is not suited for the place it occupies. It doesn’t live up to its rank."

Isn’t that so true?
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Will we lose this opportunity on the Kurdish issue?

21 Mayıs 2009
The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, has seen that violence will not lead anywhere. International political fluctuations and developments in Iraq led to a change of direction. Now people want terror to stop. If there is any struggle, this needs to be conducted through political means. Washington and Brussels share the same views. Pressure is being put on the PKK to lay down its weapons.

The organization is aware of this and is looking for ways to disarm in order to avoid more losses.

Turkey is tired of the constant blood being shed and tears flowing at martyrs’ funerals. If we do not have much to lose, we have come to a point that makes it acceptable to take steps to ease the process of the PKK putting down its arms.

We are facing such an important opportunity. Let us not call it a "historic opportunity," but just say "an opportunity." But we need to keep in mind that such an opportunity does not come around very often.

One came in 1993 and was wasted with President Turgut Özal’s death.

Another came in 1998 after the capture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan capture and remained open for six years, but this time, the state had no courage. Now we have again come into a new "cycle" or "convenient environment."

The administration seems to notice this opportunity. It takes extremely interesting steps, not stretching relations but loosening them, and making unexpected gestures to win the hearts of citizens of Kurdish origin.

Stopping this terror and bloodshed depends on us. If we play politics just to oppose the administration or to drive it into a corner, we will lose this opportunity. This is very easy to do. The ground is so susceptible that if you were to listen, you would hear many complaints.

If you were to shout, "They are dividing the country," millions would get excited. If you were to shout, "We’ll take revenge for our martyrs," hundreds of thousands would be out on the streets.

Turkey will have to pass an exam with its military, opposition, administration and media. We will either miss out on the opportunity and continue shedding blood and mourning for our martyrs or get rid of this terror by "criticizing and warning them for the sake of peace."

Can they not show the same maturity they showed in 1999 when they postponed Öcalan’s execution by convincing Turkey’s military, the opposition parties and the media?

Let us criticize the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, on different issues. Let us drag them through the mud, but let us not play a political game with terror issues. Let us not jeopardize the country’s future for the sake of a few votes.

Let us not sin. The reason is simple: If we do so, we all will lose.

Dialogue only possible through DTP

Of course, no matter how much effort the Turkish society and state expend, if they do not take their finger from the trigger and if the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP, does not help, then they will not achieve anything. Messages from Kandil do not suffice. No matter how positive or moderate the words that are spoken, they are just words in the end. Words fade. Concrete steps are what a society really needs. For example, an end to murders through mines and traps.

They say, "The military comes at us, what are we to do? Should we not defend ourselves?" The duty of the military is to catch those involved in terror and illegal actions. What do you expect of them?

The PKK should not lay mines. The PKK should not attack with weapons. The PKK should not run around with weapons on their shoulders. Then the military and police would not come at them.

As far as the DTP is concernedÉ Whether we like it or not, the DTP consists of a group of people elected by millions of citizens of Kurdish origin. It is a legal party.

DTP has an obligation

We might briskly criticize them for not criticizing the PKK, or for not cutting ties with it, but we cannot deny the fact that this party takes part in the democratic system. But the DTP too has an obligation.

It needs to avoid boorish and provoking statements that create unnecessary tensions and give the impression of the party being the PKK’s guardian angel.

And let us not forget: State authorities need to be in contact with somebody in order to get rid of the PKK terror.

We can’t talk to the PKK. So whom should we talk to? Will we take up discussions through Washington or Barzani?

If we are to win the hearts of an important part of our citizens of Kurdish origin and bring an end to terror, the DTP will be our sole addressee. Let us not forget there cannot be single-handed peace.
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It seems we are afraid of cease-fire

20 Mayıs 2009
The winds blow in the direction of PKK terror decreasing and the Kurdish issue losing its former weight.

There are preparations going on for 6 months now. Those of you following my articles have surely read about it.

First steps were taken toward negotiations between Turkey and the northern Iraqi Kurdish administration.

Then news from Washington, Arbil and Kandil were added.

There is the impression nowadays that an opportunity has arisen.

The chief of General Staff says we entered an environment in which the PKK will cease their attacks and take their hands off the trigger.

The prime minister works on the same theme. The president frequently says "an historical opportunity."

Even in Kandil a similar attitude is echoed. What I don’t understand is instead of being happy about it, we are scared.

There is an atmosphere as if we are losing this country and everybody has joined forces to save it from this disaster. I panic listening to the opposition.

And especially Bahçeli’s speeches scare the hell out of us. And Deniz Baykal does too. I look at the media and the chaos there is even worse.

While reading some, I get the impression as if they are afraid of the PKK putting down its weapons. An atmosphere of concern is created because some people gain when the PKK commits murder and Turkey sacrifices soldiers.

Now it’s time to ask the basic question:

"Are we going to miss out on the Great Opportunity?" Will we benefit from these opportunities before us by making tiny calculations orÉ In my article tomorrow I want to share with you this subject. Everything started out well. It was so good that it was hard to believe.

President Gül’s historic visit to Yerevan signaled that all of a sudden the border would open.

President Obama, if relations get back to normal between Turkey and Armenia, will get rid of his genocide promises, which he made before elections and thus would get out of the situation without spoiling his relationship with his much valued ally Turkey.

Relations getting back to normal means that without restrictions on both sides, firstly borders open and diplomatic relations are established, and discussions start among a mutual commission regarding other issues (foremost the genocide issue).

Everything went well when Azerbaijan made its point.

It said, "We thought we were siblings, what is going on?" and made Turkey take a step back. Azerbaijan stated that without solving the Karabakh issue there can be no mention of Turkey opening its border to Armenia.

End of the process?

To tell the truth, from their viewpoint they were right. For, for years we reflected this policy and within an atmosphere of brotherhood-friendship we bought cheap petroleum and natural gas from international markets. You see, fine politics didn’t work.

So what will happen from now on? Will Turkey retreat from the principles agreed with Armenia?

Will the opening of the border be forgotten?

No it won’t but things will get more difficult.

Now there is only one prerequisite for Ankara to escape this vicious cycle.

And this prerequisite is to knock on the door of the White House and say to President Obama, "We desire it very much but to bring our relations with Armenia back to normal, there needs to be a simultaneous solution to the Karabakh issue.

Or else we will lose Azerbaijan, which the public will not accept." Actually things have gotten a little more complicated and tight. But whatever happens this is the right way.

As Washington remains a bystander to the Karabakh issue, it is impossible for Turkey to solve the Armenian issue first. Obama either provides a middle path or the genocide draft will again be discussed in detail in the future.
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