Turkish sociologist, scholar and former political prisoner Dr Ismail Besikci criticised Kurds for “lacking sufficient national consciousness” on Sunday and today in events organised by Kurdish community in Sydney.
“For so long as Kurds do not have an independent state of their own, they will continue to suffer oppression, violence and genocide,” Dr Besikci said. He remains puzzled that teachers in Sulaymaniyah protested Kurdistan Regional Government for unpaid wages in 2015, yet there has been no demonstration demanding the KRG to declare independence from Iraq.
“The United Nations have 50 nation-states with population figures of less than 1 million each. Yet these micro states, which waged no struggle and paid no price for freedom, have more power to determine the fate of the Kurdish nation than 50 million stateless Kurds themselves. This is a problem; it must be questioned and addressed,” he added.
The author of two dozen books and hundreds of articles on Kurdish society, history and politics, Dr Besikci is the pre-eminent Kurdish nationalist alive today. His scholarly works were considered to be dangerous and criminal and were banned by state officials. He spent 17 years in prison in total for refusing to toe the line of Turkish state ideology that denied the existence of Kurds. He was finally released in 1999, following the relaxation of anti-democratic laws as part of Turkey’s negotiations to join the European Union.
Dr Ismail Besikci was born in the conservative central Anatolian town of Corum in 1939. After graduating in Political Science in Ankara in 1962, he went to complete his compulsory military service as a reserve officer in the southeastern corner of Turkey. There, he met a people who could not speak Turkish but used a strange language to communicate with other from across the border. They were Kurds who were not supposed to exist, as he was led to believe by Ankara’s official narrative.
From mid to late 1960s, Ismail Besikci studied for his PhD and worked as an academic producing papers that focused on the ‘Eastern Anatolian’ tribes. A university colleague informed the authorities of the young researcher’s unhealthy interest in the backward people of the east, and Besikci was sacked and charged with Marxism, regionalism and racism. In prison, he met better educated and politically more active, Kurds. His academic interests in uncovering the truth entered a permanent collision course with the fascistic one-nation Turkish state doctrine, and he suffered for decades without compromising his personal and political integrity.
Throughout 1970s, 80s and 90s, Dr Besikci wrote books, articles and letters that contradicted precepts upon which Turkey was founded. He argued that not everyone in Turkey was Turkish, that the state was running an assimilation policy, that the state had committed genocide, and that it continued to use brute force against a people who did not identify as Turkish. Since his publications were banned, his court hearings turned into politically-charged academic lectures that would not otherwise be on public record.
In 1984, the PKK (Kurdistan Worker’s Party) started the armed insurrection for independence -later for autonomy- that is still going on today. Along with that of the Party leader Abdullah ‘Chairman Apo’ Ocalan, Dr Besikci’s writings were hugely influential among the rebels. The PKK embraced and disseminated widely his findings that Kurdistan was an “international colony” and that nothing short of statehood could ensure freedom. While Chairman Apo did a turnabout in his ideological aims following capture in Kenya in 1999, Ismail Besikci maintained his principled stand. This earned him excommunication from the PKK also.
In response to Turks’ repeated claim that there cannot be an independent Kurdistan because there has not been one before, Dr Besikci reminded that there were only 30 member states in the post-WW1 League of Nations and that even more nation-states were created from the West’s overseas colonies following the WW2.
Kurdistan however was neglected on purpose because it was a colony of neighbouring states. Unlike overseas colonies, it was easier for Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria to project force and brutality in Kurdistan than for Britain in Africa, Dr Besikci argued.
“Arabs were divided too. But they were divided among various states of their own. Kurds however were divided among enemy states,” he continued, “since 1919, there has been an anti-Kurd international order”.
Dr Besikci explained how the Soviets abandoned the Mehabad Kurdish Republic to Iran’s mercy in 1946, how Algeria, which gained liberation after a bloody war with France, hosted the Algiers Conference of 1975 that ended Melle Mustafa Barzani’s insurrection in Iraq, and how the Organisation of Islamic States conference on 18 March 1988 was completely silent on the gassing of Halabja two days earlier.
He then went on to explain some of the benefits of having an independent state: creating collective memory, economic development, less corruption, and honourable and dignified existence equal with other nations. As a case in point, he compared the KRG’s capital city of Erbil with Baghdad. Yes, there was corruption in Erbil too but nowhere near like in Baghdad because of the recent self-rule.
“Today some Kurds refuse statehood,” he bristled at the PKK’s abandonment of independence for Kurds, “without a state, atrocities against Kurds in the past will be repeated.” There was almost no one from Sydney’s pro-PKK community to listen to him in two separate public lectures in a conference hall in Olympic Park and at the University of NSW.
Dr Ismail Besikci will present several more lectures to community members in Melbourne before returning to Turkey next week.