Abdullah Demirbas, mayor of Sur in the Kurdish province of Diyarbakir fears the day when one brother may have to point his gun at the other. Photo: Rudaw
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey – Mayor Abdullah Demirbas cannot bear the chilling thought of talks between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) failing: One of his sons is a rebel with the militants, and another has just joined the Turkish army.
He fears the day when one brother may have to point his gun at the other.
“It is a catastrophic thought,” says Demirbas, mayor of Sur in the Kurdish province of Diyarbakir.
“Two brothers cannot become enemies,” he says. “The parents of all the guerrillas and soldiers must feel the same. To avoid brother-killing-brother, the Kurds and Turks should unite in peace,” says Demirbas, a linguist and writer who has published in the Suryani and Armenian languages, and teaches science and philosophy in Kurdish.
Turkey and the separatists are at a historic crossroads, after three decades of war in which an estimated 40,000 have died. Last month, in a message on the Kurdish New Year, the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan called on fighters to disarm, following talks with Ankara that began early this year.
“The Turkish state and the PKK are both decision-makers and they both want peace,” Demirbas told Rudaw.
“Ocalan told people in his message that one era has ended and a new one has begun. Therefore, people should try to change and be part of making peace and freedom," Demirbas advises.
Turkey’s Kurds, who comprise about 20 percent of the 75 million population, have for decades lived under the heel of the Turkish government, not recognized as a people, and unable until relatively recently to even speak or publish in their own language. For the past two years, the Kurds in the southeast have been demanding democratic autonomy.
"In a democratic country we must have an acknowledged entity,” Demirbas says. “We will never give up on the Kurdish demands and this is the decision of our party,” he adds, referring to the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) which has been mediating Ankara’s talks with Ocalan.
Kurdish is not allowed in the state schools, but Demirbas’ municipality operates a Kurdish kindergarten. “There is a plan to open similar kindergartens in all the municipalities of Peace and Democracy Party. We are not asking the state for freedom anymore, we are taking it into our own hands,” Demirbas stresses.
“Probably in the future we will open Kurdish schools as well," he hopes.
The peace process has provided an opening for Demirbas to effect these changes.
"We want democratic independence. We must achieve this step by step and the government must approve it. We will change the constitution as well," he vows, referring to the absent rights of identity and language the Kurds want enshrined in the Turkish constitution.
He says that, in the future, the Kurds will govern their own provinces, and “the government will have no choice but to accept it
“We are forming councils for women, youth and children, which is legally not allowed here. But we will keep doing it and the government will be forced to accept it," he defiantly says.
Demirbas, who has not seen his rebel son for some time, says he still knows what he has on his mind.
“He is seeking his own freedom in the mountains. He does not want to fight his own brother," Demirbas says. “That son of mine would rather take his own life than point his gun at his brother."