On February 14-17 I traveled in Istanbul to participate in the International Peace Delegation, to try to restart the Turkish-Kurdish peace process even as the Turkish state pursues a horrific military campaign against the Kurdish population of the southeast. While in Istanbul, far from the violence, our group met with Hatip Dicle, a co-leader of the Democratic Society Congress, or DTK.
The DTK is an umbrella group in the southeast, bringing together some 300 delegates elected by the public in local councils and another 200 from unions and other civil society organizations as well as deputies of the pro-Kurdish parties HDP and DBP. “Every three months,” he said, “we convene as a general assembly” that works like a parliament, “with committees to deal with health, education, and the like.” At the assembly the delegates “discuss drafts coming from the committees and reach common decisions.”
In December 2015 the DTK assembly met in Diyarbakir (Amed), where it discussed the following “Declaration of the Political Solution,” an update of the Democratic Autonomy proposal that the DTK issued in 2011, based on the thinking of Abdullah Öcalan. The document summarizes ideas proposed for the democratization of Turkey since 2005. The document we received is a draft but tracks closely with press coverage of the version that was adopted.
Turkey is to be divided into some 20 to 25 regions, Dicle explained, including the western part—all of Turkey. The regions are based on geography, not ethnicity. In regions where Kurds constitute the majority, other groups would be represented as well. Each region has an autonomous assembly, as in Spain today, he said. Some functions—economy, judiciary, defense—would remain at center, but the rest– like education, agriculture, tourism–are to be devolved to the autonomous regions.
The DTK’s Democratic Autonomy proposals outline structures that have been built, under onerous circumstances, since 2011. It complements the descriptions in Democratic Autonomy in North Kurdistan (New Compass, 2013). It presupposes the adoption of a new democratic constitution for Turkey.
The document was endorsed by the HDP, the HDK, and the DBP. The two illegal organizations, the PKK and the KCK, also endorsed it, which caused a “big storm” in Turkey, Dicle said.
The Turkish state, which is becoming ever more authoritarian, adamantly rejects the proposal, apparently unable or unwilling to distinguish democracy from the breakup of Turkey itself.
“This proposal,” Hatip Dicle told us, “is an answer to what the Kurds want.”
I have edited it for clarity.
Declaration of the Political Solution
Extraordinary General Assembly of the DTK
December 25-27, 2015
Today in a crucial and historic period, global capitalism is experiencing deep chaos, and since that chaos profoundly affects the Middle East, the world’s major powers are making serious calculations about their interest in the region. In our chaos, economic, social, cultural, political and military developments have prevented us from resolving issues of national identity, freedom, and democracy. New alternative democratic models have emerged, even as old ones are beginning to dissolve.
At Newroz [March 21,] 2013, the Kurdish national leader Abdullah Öcalan issued a historic call to all Kurdish communities and to the world. He proposed solutions to the problems of our country based on in-depth negotiations and on trust; they undoubtedly would have to be achieved with the approval of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly. After that declaration, a dialogue process began, to achieve this objective. Arms were to be laid down, so that ideas could begin to speak. Ideas, and democratic politics, would be the new method of struggle.
On February 28, 2015, at the Dolmabahçe Palace, members of the peace process presented an agreed-upon framework to the public in the presence of government officials. But later the president rejected it, and the state inflicted severe isolation and solitary confinement upon Öcalan. The ruling AKP party put the peace process into a deep freeze, revealing that it in fact has no policy at all for resolving the Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Instead it attempts to suppress the Kurdish freedom struggle by military force.
In the June 7, 2015, general elections, Kurdish and other people expressed their strong preference that Turkey become democratic and that the Kurdish conflict be resolved peacefully. Unfortunately the AKP government refused to accept this election result and thereby forfeited a historic opportunity. Erdoğan and the AKP’s senior management carried out a coup, setting aside the June 7 election results through a war policy.
As the AKP government abrogated the Dolmabahçe agreement, terminated the Imrali negotiations, initiated military air and land operations, and tried to violently suppress the legitimate democratic demands, people’s councils in some provincial capitals and districts of the southeast decided to declare self-governance. The state proceeded to arrest and execute elected officials, politicians, and civilians in those areas. Kurdish youth mounted a defense by digging trenches and building barricades.
Today the government portrays the conflict as an issue of trenches to legitimize its own policy of fighting “terrorism,” but the Kurdish people are undertaking a legitimate resistance, demanding democratic self-government at the local level. Because the their longstanding demand for legal and political status has not been recognized, they have started a struggle relying on their own resources.
In Turkey’s current governing model, centralized state power, dominated by men, strives to maintain its own control, even as it generates social problems. The alternative model is based on democratic politics, tolerating diversity and coexistence. Demands for Democratic Modernity and freedom are, at their core, demands for political status. This democratic solution should be grounded in political negotiations. Hence to overcome the problems the Kurdish people are facing, the channels of dialogue and negotiation must be reopened. We consider the freedom of Abdullah Öcalan to be the essential prerequisite to a constructive and consistent peace process.
To this end, we hereby present to the public the declaration of Democratic Autonomy that the DTK previously introduced [in 2011] and that was included in the peace process by the DBP and the HDP. In so doing, we hope to help the public better understand our people’s objective in declaring self-government.
The governing model that should be dominant in the world today is indisputably democracy. No government that centrally administers every street, neighborhood, city and town can be legitimate; democracy requires the autonomy of local units. Every democracy in the world today recognizes the autonomy of its diverse communities, and the further development of democracy is impossible without recognition of local autonomies.
Considering Turkey’s history, its multicultural and pluralistic society, and its large population and geography, anyone who thinks rationally must accept Democratic Autonomy as its most appropriate governing model. Within the framework of coexistence, Democratic Autonomy constitutes the basis of the democratic solution for the Kurdish conflict.
For months now, in areas where people declared self-rule, thousands of soldiers and police have been carrying out brutal attacks with tanks and artillery, for the purpose of intimidating and massacring people. Many have been killed or injured; the historical and cultural heritage of our cities and our places of worship is being razed. But in areas where self-government has been declared as well as in all predominantly Kurdish areas, the people’s current resistance has not only spread but grown stronger. Based as it is on fundamental rights and on legitimate demands, this resistance will surely prevail. Those who attack this legitimate resistance today will one day be condemned by the democratic Turkey of the future as well as by history and humanity.
As the DTK, we declare our support for the self-governing councils, and we declare our solidarity with the legitimate resistance that the Kurdish people are carrying out. In our view, the struggle for democracy and freedom requires the participation not only of the Kurdish people but of all the peoples of Turkey. What is currently happening on the ground is not simply a matter of trenches and barricades, as the AKP government would have the world think. Rather, the AKP’s aggressive policy rejects the people’s will for local democracy, aiming to strangle the demand for a free and democratic life. The existing conflict can be ended only through the spirit of democracy and a democratic approach to a resolution. As long as the Kurdish conflict remains unresolved, it will fuel the deepening resistance.
After extensive discussion and evaluations, the extraordinary general board of the DTK decided to declare self-government and affirm the legitimacy of the individual and the society’s right to define themselves against the state’s policies of war and violence, and to simultaneously put into practice the construction of society and its administration.
Democratic Autonomy as the solution to the Kurdish problem cannot be separated from the democratization of Turkey as a whole. The declarations of Democratic Autonomy are thus steps toward democratizing Turkey. We consider them legal and necessary and proper for all the peoples of Turkey. Undoubtedly local democracies would take different forms according to the conditions and needs of their area, region, and community. Under the local autonomy of diverse identities, each area can adapt democratization into its own circumstances.
We wish to end the speculative discussions surrounding Democratic Autonomy, and we wish to remove the European Council’s reservations and conditions concerning autonomous local governance. We believe that this framework will open a door for solving not only the Kurdish problem but also many other political, social, and administrative problems that arise in the process of democratic self-governance.
In this framework:
- Democratic Autonomous regions will be formed throughout the country, in consideration of cultural, economic, and geographic affinities and in proxmity to one or more cities.
- The Democratic Autonomous regions will be governed by councils elected by the self-government according to the basic principles of Turkey’s new democratic constitution. Every autonomous region will be represented in the parliament [Grand National Assembly of Turkey] and the central government on the basis of democratic principles.
- The Democratic Autonomous regions and other local and regional administrative units terminate all tutelage from the central government over elected officials and abolishes its ability to discharge them—except when auditing a locality’s compliance with the principles of the new democratic constitution.
- Neighborhood, village, town, women’s, and youth assemblies as well as assemblies of various peoples and faith communities must be able to participate directly in decision making in the Democratic Autonomous regions and cities, and in the process of auditing civil society organizations.
- Women will have equal representation in decision making at all levels of self-governance, in order to advance democracy comprehensively and ensure a free and democratic life. Women may form assemblies, communes, and social institutions as needed. Women’s assemblies have the right to approve decisions by other bodies concerning women. Women’s right to free and autonomous organization is recognized in all areas.
- Youth must be able to participate in the decision making of self-governing bodies. Identifying as youth, they are to be empowered to organize in every field to ensure their participation in decision making by the governing bodies.
- Education is to be administered by the autonomous governing body at each level. Education and training is to be provided in all native languages. The local language must be recognized as official along with Turkish. The general education curriculum will teach universal values and human rights; local history, culture, and social specificities will be added to the curriculum according to the region’s needs.
- The Democratic Autonomous government must permit all projects in language, history, and culture. Institutions offering faith and worship services are also to be organized as autonomous entities.
- The autonomous governments at all levels are to offer health and human services.
- The judiciary and legal services must be reorganized according to the autonomous region model.
- The autonomous regions are authorized to manage and monitor soil, water, and energy sources for the benefit of society within an ecological framework. They control production sharing as well. The autonomous governments are to be empowered to establish agricultural, livestock, industrial, and commercial operations, and create production and business units of all kind, according to the general democratic constitutional principles. They are to authorize and support both individual and collective initiatives.
- The autonomous regions, including the cities, must offer, administer, and oversee transportation services on land, air and sea. Their oversight of traffic services must comply with the related central agencies.
- The autonomous regions, in order to provide the above-mentioned services, must take over local budgeting, which will be carried out according to women-centered budgeting. Local governments are to collect some taxes, in consensual agreement with the central government and the other autonomous regions. The central government must appropriately share tax revenues collected from the local autonomous areas. The central government must take measures necessary to address regional disparities.
- The autonomous regions establish and supervise official local security units to administer local law enforcement. These units are to be empowered to protect the state borders and defend them against external threats within the framework of the constitution, in coordination with the army and other central security units.
Democratic governance should be achieved on the basis of Turkey’s democratic unity and the common future of its peoples. A democratic constitution must be established that would guarantee such democracy and freedom. Such a constitution is indispensable for achieving a free and democratic life for all social groups, ethnicities, and faith communities. A constitution that guarantees a free and democratic political system for only one community, while denying it for others, is unimaginable. Our struggle for Democratic Autonomy is a struggle for democracy and freedom not only for Kurds but also for Turks and all the other ethnicities and faith communities, as well as those who are excluded, oppressed, and neglected.
Our Democratic Autonomy model, based on self-governance, would also create an important precedent for overcoming the environment of confusion and chaos in the Middle East today. It will lead to a peaceful and democratic solution for national and regional problems of our nations, who have shared a common fate for a thousand years.
This declaration is a search for a dynamic discussion and reconciliation. It is open to suggestion and criticism.
To end the current clashes, to further the democratization of Turkey, and to pave the way for a political solutions, we call upon all of Turkey’s democratic forces, civil society organizations, political parties, esteemed personalities, opinion leaders, faith communities, and other institutions for solidarity in supporting the legitimate demands of Kurdish people’s struggle. We call upon all social classes and political parties in Kurdistan to support the resistance of our people in the spirit of national unity; we call upon the peoples of the world and on international institutions for solidarity with the legitimate demands of our people for freedom and justice.
December 26-27, 2015