The struggle in North Kurdistan: an interview with HDP MP, Musa Farisoğulları

We have two strategies: to organize an anti-fascist front embracing the whole of Turkey; and to provide national unity in the four parts of Kurdistan.

Mahir Kurtay Musa Farisoğulları Anna Rebrii
11 September 2018

Smoke rising over southern Turkish province of Diyarbakir's Sur district, as the curfew entered its fourth month on January 24, 2016. Depo Photos/Press Association. All rights reserved.

In July the Turkish state opened criminal investigations against four HDP lawmakers for attending the funerals of Kurdish guerillas, as well as against an HDP Co-Chair, Pervin Buldan, who publicly encouraged HDP members to do this. Musa Farisoğulları, HDP MP for Diyarbakir is one of the parliamentarians under investigation by the Turkish government. In this interview, he talks about the political atmosphere in North Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) and the relationship between different actors in the Kurdish movement.

Diyarbakır (Amed in Kurdish) was one of the cities in North Kurdistan that became the target of military attack by the Turkish government in 2015-2016. Following the HDP surpassing the 10% electoral threshold in the June 2015 elections, thereby disrupting the AKP’s plan to win a parliamentary majority, the Turkish state started detaining HDP activists and members en masse – in particular, in the southeast of the country – and announced curfews in the Kurdish cities.

In the ancient walled city of Sur, a central district of Diyarbakir, local residents and militants – primarily young members of the YDG-H – responded by digging ditches and setting up barricades to defend their neighbourhoods against Turkish security forces. The Turkish government launched military attacks, using helicopter gunships and tanks, destroying neighbourhoods and forcing nearly 25,000 residents to flee.

After the state defeated the rebels in spring 2016, it continued the destruction of the city through its “reconstruction” projects, expropriating the land, destroying historic structures and depriving residents of the right to return home. They could no longer afford to live in these new-build buildings.

Starting in September 2016, the government put in place the trusteeship (kayyum) system, replacing 94 elected mayors out of 102 municipalities under Democratic Regions Party [DBP] control by state appointees. According to the DBP report, 110 co-mayors in total have been detained during this process. As of February 2018, 56 co-mayors and 81 municipal council members were still in prison. Educational, cultural, and social services provided by the municipalities under control of the Kurdish party were terminated; progressive policies in regards to language, women, multiculturalism, economy and ecology were reversed and many public and civil society institutions closed down. These acts of oppression by the state against the Kurdish movement have not been limited to the Kurdish region. Around Turkey, more than 10,000 HDP officials and activists have been detained since the loss of political immunity and the July 15, 2016 failed coup followed by the state of emergency that was officially lifted only after two years.


Murat Özkarataş (MÖ): Could you briefly share your political background with us, Musa?

Musa Farisoğulları (MF):  I have been involved in the struggle since 1973, both in the field of democratic politics and in trade unions. Since the People's Labor Party (HEP), I have worked in various fields within Kurdish democratic political parties. As a Kurd, I have experienced serious problems in the political arena. I have been arrested and imprisoned many times. In total I have spent 12 years in prison.

MÖ: What is the relationship between different actors in the Kurdish movement, namely the political parties HDP and DBP, and the congresses, HDK and DTK?

MF: The Democratic Society Congress (DTK) was founded in 2007. Its main target was to organize an orderly paradigm in northern Kurdistan in the field of democratic politics. The DTK is the congress of congresses where the self-organized in many different fields as well as regional councils represent themselves through their delegates. For example, there are different labor organizations and the Democratic Islamic Congress contained within the DTK, and the DTK carries out its activities through councils and commissions.

At that time, the Kurdish movement redefined its own paradigm as democratic and focused on society as a whole. It adopted an organizational model that works from bottom to top. It is a structure in which each street and commune organize themselves, send their representatives to neighbourhood assemblies, then to an upper council and are thus represented in the DTK. For example, if there are 20 streets in a neighbourhood, then there should be 20 communes there. These are followed by neighborhood, town, city and regional assemblies. Street communes at the same time are in a relationship with neighborhood councils. Street communes take their own decisions. No one can interfere with their decisions, yet there is coordination between them. That’s why we call the DTK a congress of congresses. It represents a democratic structure for North Kurdistan.

The People’s Democratic Congress (HDK) is a similar organization for the whole of Turkey. It organizes according to the logic of democratic nation building. It takes into consideration the symbiotic relationship of differences. Just like the DTK, the HDK has a bottom-to-top structure that starts with communes. The DTK, while representing North Kurdistan, is at the same time a component of the HDK. A common homeland and democratic republic will develop within the democratic nation. This is the concept of democratic confederalism. The HDK is thus the umbrella of the confederal structure for the whole of Turkey.

The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is the political party of the HDK. I think it was a little early for the creation of such a political party. I compare the HDP to a premature baby. Due to this premature birth, the HDK has not been able to organize itself completely in Turkey. The DTK also has not been able to organize. Actually, if we could have played our role, if we could have organized communes into regional assemblies, the situation would have been very different by now.

We have a regional council plan that would organize 25 cities in Kurdistan into several regions represented by regional councils. One region will include cities and towns centered around Amed; the Serhad district council would be centered around Van; the Euphrates region around Antep. This is a huge project. Localities will represent themselves both at the bottom and top levels in a symbiotic relationship. No local institution can make decisions on behalf of the other ones. No other institution can take decisions on behalf of a local council.

We envisioned a system based on radical democracy. But we in the political leadership have been prevented fron playing our proper role. To say this is an act of self-criticism. If we had organized correctly, things would have been different. This system of radical democracy is partly being implemented in Rojava, both in regards to self-defense and self-organization. We too could have organized our defense against the attacks in 2015 and organize ourselves democratically at one and the same time. There was so much destruction in the 2015 war because we were not sufficiently well organized.

As to the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) (the political party in North Kurdistan), it has two functions. First, to carry out social education and paradigm teaching. It was also established in order to take local administration into our hands. Power is the opposite of our paradigm. That’s why I say “taking administration into our hands.” The HDP and DBP carry out rather different functions.

MÖ: There is some emphasis on organizing society outside the political field. Can you explain the structure of the DTK as a congress of civil society actors, and who does that involve?  

MF: The DTK was established in 2007 with 800 delegates. The number of delegates was later reduced to 501 because it was considered too bulky. 60% of the delegates came from neighbourhoods with the remaining 40% from non-governmental organizations. Elections are arranged for each neighborhood assembly and delegates selected. Representatives used to be sent to higher level councils.

When the war broke out in 2015, we had to determine all the delegates through the common agreement of civil society associations. For example, the labor movement used to send delegates. Different organizations determined their delegates themselves. In addition, there were delegations from different ethnic groups in Kurdistan. Our co-chair council is composed of 21 people including Surianic, Armenians, Alevis, Ezidi (Yezidi). There are also Turkmen of Kurdistan. There are Kurds speaking different Kurdish dialects. So there are different ethnic groups as well as different religious minorities. The DTK together with all the minorities can be called the national congress of North Kurdistan. We have lived with these peoples throughout history and we cannot separate ourselves from them. We do not have a policy of Kurdification in regards to Arabs or Armenians. Among our components there are people from the Turkish left. There is the Socialist party of the Oppressed. There was the EMEP and the ODP previously. They are in the DTK because they also define themselves as organizations of Kurdistan.

MÖ: What role does the HDP play when it comes to solving the Kurdish question?

MF: The Turkish President, Erdogan, said in a public speech in Diyarbakir that he had solved the Kurdish problem. By solution, he meant liquidating Kurds and taking away their gains. He wanted to liquidate the self-organized Kurdish movement in political, social and economic spheres. Almost 100 municipalities have been put under the kayyum [trusteeship] system. Co-chairs were sent to prison. And Erdogan says that he has solved the Kurdish problem.

The genocide that has been practiced for over 40 years is not only physical, but also cultural, economic and historical. Turkish colonialism is different from other colonial examples in the world. It is worse. It wants to remove all trace of differences from itself. Today it wants to carry out a genocide of Kurds as it did with the Armenians. If we are still surviving, it is because we are organized.

To resist this colonial structure we have two strategies. The first is to organize an anti-fascist front. We are trying to organize the widest possible front. We want to expand this struggle to embrace the whole of Turkey. Our second strategy is to provide national unity in the four parts of Kurdistan. Our democratic confederal paradigm already offers this unity. We want to build a national resistance. We are trying to organize the widest possible front. We want to expand this struggle to embrace the whole of Turkey.

From the Taurus mountains to the Zagros, Kurdistan is at the heart of the Middle East. And the eye of imperialism ison us here. They want all our natural resources. The Kurds have always been killed out of imperialist goals. The role of our European friends in this slaughter has been considerable. That’s why we are trying to build a national congress. In Rojava, the world power leading the coalition is the United States and it is at one and the same time the world's greatest hegemonic power. Those who cooperate on the battlefield disappear when the time comes for politics. We saw this happen in Afrin.

MÖ: Would you say that the HDP has a class perspective?

MF: Of course we have a class perspective. We want to bring about a huge change in the field of the self-determination of labour. We also have this politics as a party. However, when I think of class struggle through my adopted paradigm, I do not find it effective to separate society into categories. When you consider workers alongside other parts of society, we are trying to make sure that they all reach their own goals. Dividing society into classes and categories divides social power. This battle has continued throughout history. From our perspective, what Marxism refers to as the class structure of society, we have come to see as a battle between what we call a centralizing civilization and a democratising civilization. I think it is right to try to organize all parts of the society and get results without dividing the society into classes and layers. Certainly there is a class reality. However, as a method of struggle, we want to put society in its entirety in the front line.

MÖ: The Kurdish movement has been promoting democratic autonomy as a solution to the Kurdish question. Can you explain this concept and how it has been implemented in practice?

MF: We want to create structures from communes up to district councils. We do not propose this system only for Kurdistan, we recommend it for all of Turkey. The centralized system is becoming increasingly oppressive. Constitutional dictatorships are emerging. This is a result of a centralized system of government. Turkey's rigid racist, fascist structure can be stretched out with democratic institutions. We call it democratic autonomy. In practice we have had many cooperative experiences. We have organized social economic structures. Our female friends have organized their own production. We refuse the economic system in which one part of population takes everything and the remaining population is left a victim. Democratic autonomy is a process in which all segments participate in the production process. Cooperative, commune, you name it, every structure tries to do something on its own terrain. We tried to build a social economy communally in the countryside and in the city. Women organized themselves as a political leadership.

MÖ: The concept of democratic autonomy advocates peaceful cooperation between the working people and the rich as part of a democratisation process. How do you plan to win to your side, for example, large landowners who hold a lot of power in the Kurdish region? How will the class question be solved within the paradigm of democratic autonomy?

MF: In fact, we intend to attract the rich to the cooperatives without touching their interests. We are not thinking of getting rid of them. We intend to attract them via the sphere of social life. In other words, we intend to dissolve the rich within the whole of society instead of dividing society into class layers. We will do this by improving their reactionary, selfish, calculating attitudes. In our movement’s tradition, we have not punished traitors. We have a policy of winning them back. We aim not to remove the feudal elements of the society but to attract them to a new life by drawing them away from their false philosophy. There is room for everyone in the new life. We reject traditionalism, but not traditions.

MÖ: You mentioned the 2015-2016 war. Sur, was one of the places where the attacks had the worst impact. When we talked to Sur victims, we heard a lot of criticism of the Kurdish movement. They think they were not protected during the war.

MF: This goes to the root of our self-criticism. When this war started, I thought it was as important and comprehensive as the 1984 advance, the first official attack by the PKK. We should self-criticize ourselves in front of our people because we did not work to the best of our ability under these war conditions.

MÖ: Can you comment on the kayyum system that has been in place in Kurdistan since 2016? How has it changed the political atmosphere?  

MF: Our people’s will has been hijacked by the regime. Our co-chairs of party branches, elected mayors, etc. chosen by millions of people, have been thrown behind bars. The municipal institutions to which kayyum officials were appointed have become military bases. In our eyes, the current kayyum buildings represent our police stations. These buildings emanate a colonial mentality. This is an occupation.

We have not been able to develop a democratic resistance at the desired level. We owe this self-criticism to our people. Just as there were colonial governors in South Africa and India, this is what is being done here. In fact, the state of emergency was not removed: it was made permanent. Governors were given authority to declare martial law. If the governor wants, he can throw people out of the city or send people into exile. In Turkey, this does not have the same impact, but in Kurdistan methods are used that exceed martial law. Just like the colonies. They want to destroy our historical memory and structures. We regard what they are doing as a brutal occupation and as colonialism. They want to destroy our historical memory and structures. We regard what they are doing as a brutal occupation and as colonialism.

MÖ: Last month, an investigation was opened into your activities and those of Remziye Tosun charging you with “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” after you attended a funeral of a member of the People's Defense Forces (HPG). What do you you say to these allegations? 

 MF: We are not the kind of MPs who sit on leather seats in parliament. We do not live in mansions. We are with our people. If these people have chosen us, we will be with them, through their sorrows and joys. Through this struggle, we are building a democratic Turkey and a free Kurdistan. We are under tremendous attack, but there is also an epic line of resistance. It is an honour for us to play our part in building our people's free future. We owe our people that debt of honour. If we die, it should be written on our grave stones that it is those whose lives are in the people’s debt who have died.

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