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The following interview by Kemal Göktaş with Sırrı Süreyya Önder appeared in the Cumhuriyet newspaper on 10 October 2016. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton

An interview with Sırrı Süreyya Önder

One of the most important actors in the solution process was the spokesperson of the İmralı delegation, the HDP’s Sırrı Süreyya Önder. I spoke to Önder at a time when the region is undergoing heavy conflict and hopes of a fresh solution process are growing ever weaker. Önder says that they took the initiative and brokered a solution in Silopi at the outbreak of the trench wars but that ’Gladio’ formations then took over from the Interior Ministry. Önder, saying that the government’s incompetence in the solution process pushed them into discussions with the Gulenists, declares that 15 July was a NATO operation and the Gulenists were one convenient vehicle for pulling this off. According to Önder, the coup attempt was not staged, but the government, lacking the strength to nip it in the bud, ‘guided’ developments and prepared a staged reception.

- How do you assess the 15 July coup attempt?

The Turkish army is a NATO army. And, if one of its affiliated armies strays from the straight and narrow, NATO doesn’t treat this like a tiff between in-laws. It knows about it at once.

- You mean?

What I mean is that this attempt was a NATO operation from start to finish. The Gulenist structure within the army – its nature, magnitude and reflexes, their entry into and progression up the military ranks and their attempted coup – all came about with NATO’s knowledge and within the parameters that it set. Anything else flies in the face of NATO’s nature. Any conclusion that does not set out from this and gets bogged down in concepts such as masterminds, assisting minds, global this, international that does not bear contemplation. The Gulenists were the prime vehicle that was available for bringing this coup off. A significant portion of the chain of command has responsibility, knowledge, complicity or conscious negligence that has or has not revealed itself. This set-up within the military became possible with the elimination of genuinely patriotic, left-leaning officers following 12 March 1971. The infiltration of the military by the Gulenists was one of the finishing touches of this plan. Given that there remains not even a single left-winger in the echelons of the military, only one party fits the bill, i.e. the Gulenists. Even then, the coup is still approached in a “who dunnit?” manner. In short, neither the President’s, nor the chain of command’s, public prosecutors’ or Reşat Petek’s current viewpoint suffices to make sense of or explain this coup attempt.

- You have said that 15 July amounts to what Öcalan referred to as the “coup mechanism”.

This hits the nail on the head. To be more specific, we can trace the coup mechanism’s first move in the direction of causing mayhem back to Davutoğlu establishing a cabinet and declaring war in the run up to the big-stick election. At the time, we judged this to be a coup attempt. Even Öcalan’s reference, not to a coup, but a coup mechanism is crucial in accounting for the current situation. Look, there was an attempted coup and it was repelled thanks both to the government’s advance preparations and also the people’s heroic sacrifice and courage. But this has simply been followed by another attempted coup perpetrated at the hands of the AKP. Speculation as to the “threat of a second coup” provides further so-called legitimacy for this ongoing coup. Öcalan also pointed to the solution. Democratisation, and also at its most radical. There is no other way that this mechanism can be eliminated.


- Selahattin Demirtaş has stated his position to be, “The coup was real but the measures taken were staged.” As a director and script writer, do you see things as having been “scripted” or “staged”?

Mr Ertuğrul Kürkçü was given a very hard time when he first came out with this analysis. What our co-chair is making is actually a serious analysis that everybody has in mind but lacks the courage to come out with. If we take this in conjunction with the NATO reality of which I spoke at the beginning, it is now clear that Russia gave crucial advance information and a warning. So, Russia was there before the brother-in-law. I don’t think the coup attempt was staged by the government, but a staged reception was prepared. As they lacked the strength to nip it in the bud, they may have tipped developments in a particular direction. Looking at points that currently remain in the dark, it would appear that various negotiations were conducted with a portion of the chain of command that today does not appear to have been on the side of the coup. This is the scenario to suggest itself when we contemplate the effrontery of those coupists who boarded and wished to board the Chief of the General Staff’s helicopters and the pliant attitude of the Chief of the General Staff. Leaked statements only serve to this bolster this view. Then, there is a wealth transfer dimension to both the 15 July and more recent coup that has yet to be delved into adequately and they cannot be understood independently of this. The calculations by means of which the scholar Yalçın Küçük made sense of the 12 March and 12 September coups through economic indicators – and this was virtually the sole study made along these lines - need to be applied to this period, too. I hope the scholar’s health and time are conducive to this.

- The allegations of an alliance between the Fetullah Gülen Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ) and the Kurdish movement. Is such a thing possible?

This is a psychological war argument of ridiculous proportions. When all of these events are analysed in a wider regional context, this is political Islam’s civil war. Put in these terms, Kurds are also involved in the affair in that it has ingredients that are divisive for the religious community. It is working, unfortunately. Who at the palace now objects when the words, ”Come on, let’s strike out at the Kurds” are spoken?

- Your name was also included among the politicians wished a “speedy recovery” in the announcement that Gülen published. Were you also taken in over Gülen?

I am ashamed to say this. I have engaged in a number of discussions with leading lights of the Gülen movement. These were discussions with the full knowledge of our co-chair and the colleagues involved and in connection with the negotiating process. It was the government’s incompetence that made them approach us.


- What kind of discussions were these?

Let me give you the following example. At the first İmralı meeting, the soldiers held hostage by the PKK were to be freed, and, at the same time, those KCK detainees who had health problems and had official documents to prove this were to be released (and this was their legal right and not an additional procedure). The soldier hostages were freed. We the İmralı delegation sat down with four ministers each week to assess where the process had come to. For months, the sick detainees occupied prime place on our agenda. The obstacles the Gulenists placed in both the judicial processes and police reports as well as on the forensic medicine side somehow proved insurmountable. It was said, “Such-and-such department head is a Gulenist and he is blocking it – we’ll change him.” In the end, a leading minister summed things up by saying, “Their worn out ones go and their fresh ones come.” We waged a major diplomatic campaign under these conditions not only with the Gulenists but with all of the power centres in this country. The Gulenists were just one of these. We obtained partial results from this diplomacy but they never stopped trying to put a brake on the process. That announcement wishing a “speedy recovery” had its roots in the human relations that developed over this process. From our party, thanks were given to me and Ahmet Türk. Ahmet is also one of our colleagues who undertook major initiatives in such matters with Mr Öcalan’s approval.

- Which Gulenists did you speak to and about what?

We spoke to their representatives in the media and civil society. For the most part, we dwelled on the negative attitudes towards the solution process of Gulenist provincial and sub-provincial governors, policemen and prosecutors and their attempts to thwart it. We also drew attention to the malignant effects and unacceptable nature of the series on their television stations that were promoting a discourse of hatred. For their part, they complained about the violence and obstructions directed at their teaching centres in the region. We didn’t manage to reach any concrete result.

- So, we can say that there were ”parallel negotiations” with the Gulenists as well as with the government in the solution process.

Taking stock of the process as a whole, we can say that these were very much secondary negotiations. The only fruit they bore was in getting them to mind their tongues a bit.


- In the minutes of meetings, Abdullah Öcalan appeared to describe the Gulenists as being a “counterguerilla organisation under the USA’s influence.” But, not long after these words had been picked up by the press, you commented that Öcalan had said, ”I second Fethullah Gülen’s sentiment that ‘Peace is worth it’. We can work together for democratic politics and peace in the entire Middle East. Pass on my regards to the honorouble Fethullah Gülen. Nobody understands him better than me.” Which of these expresses what Öcalan really thinks?

Both of them. Öcalan has proved to be one of the best analysts of the Gulen Organisation and has characterised it aptly through the notion of a ‘parallel state’. He frequently said with reference to the solution process that provocative and obstructive acts might be staged by certain of the Gulenists’ deep structures. However, when he heard Gülen’s “Peace is worth it” pronouncement, he said, “Then send my regards to him and if they are prepared to make a contribution towards peace we can work together for peace, not just in Turkey, but in the Middle East,” and he sent that message to Gülen. His prime concern here was to put a stop to the Gulenist interference in the solution process. He didn’t mince his words about this, either. He didn’t regard the Gulenists as being simply a religious organisation, but took them very seriously on account of their international connections. His message was not to Gülen alone, but at the same time to those who were sheltering and controlling Gülen.

He sent the message, “Do not obstruct the solution – Let’s work together for peace” to all influential international actors. He thought that Gülen was being held as a kind of hostage in the USA. Those who had kidnapped him and handed him over to Turkey in 1999 had also handed Gülen over to the USA. He thought that these were all part of operations being waged against Turkey to force it to capitulate and he constantly channelled his efforts into developing new practices to upset these plans. There is a side to him that, once he has identified the meerest of opportunities, will spare no effort in the interests of exploiting it. He also wanted to exploit the “Peace is worth it” message emanating from Gülen in this way, but, sadly, no result was forthcoming.

- Following 15 July, we once more hear the accusation of being an ’attempted coup’ levelled against the Gezi protests. You played a particularly important role in Gezi’s inception and you stood by Gezi until the end, standing up against certain dessenting voices within your party at the time, the BDP. With the benefit of hindsight, do you see a ’mastermind’ or ’Gulenist influence’ behind Gezi?

Let me set out by challenging the “important role” comment. I performed some commonplace functions. Looking back from the present, I just see Ali İsmail, Abdocan, Ethem, Berkin, Medeni and all of my brothers who lost blood or their lives for the sake of this dissent. The most important role: Well, this is an accolade that belongs to them, and them alone. And of course I see the tyrrany in which everybody from the Gulenists to the government acted in concert. The positive and good aspects of Gezi, the place that it has taken in our history, will be better understood as time progresses.

- We are in an environment in which the President speaks of the solution process having been placed in the deep freeze for good and the Prime-Minister says there is “No solution; no nothing.” There was an initiative at the time of the previous Prime-Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to broker an end to the fighting in Yüksekova with the HDP, but opposition by the President and military to this initiative appeared to put an end to it. Since then, the KCK have pointed to certain mediation attempts and there is Abdullah Öcalan’s message passed on through his brother ...

Unfortunately, the government and President adopt a position that rejects peace and prioritises war. At first, they tried to create imitation negotiating parties. It became clear that this was not going to work. Two basic obstacles stand in the way of the new initiative. The first is that they do not want to hear Öcalan asking, “Where did we leave off?” when they go to İmralı. They have neither the political courage nor the power to implement earlier agreements. Forget their semblance of having almighty power. The truth is that they are powerless. And more so than ever. The aggression and annihilatory wishes they harbour towards intellectuals, the media, public-sector workers and the HDP bear witness to this weakness of theirs. The second is the irrational nature of the position they have adopted vis-a-vis the rise of a de-facto Kurdish reality in the region. This position has taken them to the pit of Hell in terms of sustainability and cost. A further weakness related to the above is their lack of adequate and competent staff. Virtually all of the people they are drawing on as recruits are either under suspicion of being crypto-Gulenists or are from the old guard that harbours the potential to stage a coup against them. Against this background, they are clinging to basic concepts that accompany times of coup such as “national unity” and “indigenousness”. It must be realised that these concepts are not just coupist jargon, but are also mandated by the new alliances they have entered. The government is essentially hankering after isolationism with its Eurasianist discourse. This is the portrayal of the class struggle conceptualised in a manner that aims to degrade notions such as “human rights” and “international solidarity”. If they would but be bold, abandon their yearning for absolute power and embark on a new beginning under the slogan of “democratic unity”, things would come about far more smoothly and legitimately, and informed by the notions of the common good and rightousness.

- We gather from the KCK’s announcement that certain fractions have launched initiatives relating to the solution process. What is the state of play with these? Is there a fresh initiative? Or, do you believe such a thing to be likely in the near future?

I don’t want to sow hope for the sake of it, but I would like to maintain my optimistic outlook. In one sense, it all depends on regional factors, too. But it’s impossible for the status quo to be maintained without incurring massive social costs.

- On 7 June, the HDP took 80 seats in parliament with 13% of the vote. On top of this, it was a party about which half of the electorate did not say: “I will certainly not vote for them,” that is, might potentially vote for. How far have we reached in the process of weakening that became visible on 1 November? Is the HDP today a party that continues to aspire towards embracing the whole of Turkey?

We stand by all of our principled positions and claims without the slightest deviation. What has changed is not the HDP, but the country’s entire political atmosphere. We pulled it off once. We will assess our shortcomings and errors and once more surpass ourselves. If you look not just at Turkey but at the region, there’s nobody apart from us who is capable of comprehending the era and has a story anchored in its ability to organise. Many political formations, far from comprehending the era and its paradigm, lack even the “motivation and need” to do so.

- Do you feel that it’s possible to maintain the HDP’s line in an enviroment in which there is no solution process or even a cease fire?

It may be more tricky, but it’s possible. No public opinion poll conducted since 1 November has put us below the November results.

- Do you think that the PKK has comprehended the success the HDP has acheived and the significance of this in the process leading to peace? How do you react to comments that the HDP has been derailed by the PKK?

I don’t agree. Or, I don’t think they specifically acted with that end in mind but war by its very nature narrows the scope for democratic politics. That’s the way it is in objective terms. This narrowing is something that affects all political formations, not just the HDP.


- In that case, how do you react to comments that the PKK is also itching to take up arms as the state scraps the solution process?

There was a major lack of trust from the outset, in mutual terms. This proved to be insurmountable. Davutoğlu’s clumsy, crackpot policies towards Rojava and Syria thoroughly escalated this crisis. The resort to arms is not made or undertaken with glee. It’s an act that is driven by multifarious reasons. The decisive factor, I suspect, was the perception that the governernment was preparing for destruction and not peace. My own inclination is towards placing such concerns in the hands of civil politics and democratic forces. There is no way of knowing what the result will be, but the worst peace is always better than the war.

- You once said, “We can call on the trenches to be filled in but the people won’t respond.” But there is a clearly visible fallout among the people of the region from the massive disaster Qandil’s trench policy has lead them into and anger at the HDP’s failure to play the role expected of it in this affair. Do you find yourself saying, ”If only we had told them to fill in the trenches?”

The İmralı delegation solved the earlier trench crisis. Remember how the Diyarbakır-Bingöl main road was closed to traffic, scarred with dozens of trenches, and soldiers were taken hostage. People took great exception to the frenetic construction of fortress-like police stations in a region in which even homes destroyed by earthquake go unbuilt for years. The National Security Council was set to convene two days later and the military contingent, most of whom are now in detention on suspicion of involvement in the coup, was calling for a firm intervention. We responded to a proposal from the government and got involved. We spoke to the people of the region. We sounded out the situation on the ground. We immediately passed on our insights to the government. In the end, construction of fortress-like police stations was halted and we got the soldier hostages back. The trenches were filled in by the very people who had dug them in the space of one day. The road was safely reopened to traffic and we sorted things out without as much as a nosebleed and through dialogue free from coercion. At the same time as the ministerial component of the National Security Council was attending the NSC meeting, they were coordinating with us. I mean, you don’t just get a response by calling for something. If this had not been accompanied by gestures in return that prioritised peace, we would simply have been asked to add our signatures to these young people’s death warrants. We could not have signed such a thing. With there already being enough butchers in the guise of doves around, this would have been an inhuman step to take. That’s what I’m driving at. I would like to pass on another important piece of information: At the outset in Silopi we stepped in and brokered another solution without anybody suffering harm. But, it then appeared to us that the Interior Ministry lost control. Deeper Gladio formations took charge. When we tried to activate these channels in Sur and Cizre, too, we ran into these Gladio walls.

- What kind of negotiations were these? Did you intermediate between the PKK and the government?

It was not direct intermediation. It was an initiative that we ourselves nurtured. It resulted in the halting of the problematic operations, and the trenches began to be filled in. But the warmongering fraction within the state quickly stirred things up.

- When you speak of Gladio, are you referring to the Gulenists or another fraction?

No, what I’m referring to are actual special war operatives riding around in jeeps. The second trench affair erupted thanks to the involvement of these special war operatives and an intense and massive wave of arrests and detentions staged in these regions by members of the police force who are now also mostly in detention. It didn’t just happen spontaneously. And it was furthered by elements within the government and the Gulen movement. In spite of this, we held meetings in ten trench and barricade-filled sub-provinces pioneered by our co-chair Mr Demirtaş in September 2015. At these meetings, we called for a democratic political solution whereby the trenches and barricades would be dismantled and the government would also put a stop to the wave of detentions. Unfortunately, the government and the media close to it paid no heed to these efforts of ours and waded in with great force and brutality against these young people. We have pushed very hard to keep war out of both the mountains and the cities and will continue to push for this. But nobody can hold the HDP responsible for the use of the trenches and barricades as an excuse to burn and destroy Kurdish cities until they are wiped from the map. There is no excuse for this crime against humanity. In spite of everything, we are alive to our responsibility to the people as dictated by our political morality. We are also sufficiently imbued with conscience to see our own deficiencies and inadequacies.

- You have said in another of your interviews that, ”It is not correct for the PKK to attach more importance than is necessary to the international situation.” In fact, you added Rojava and other developments in the region to this equation. From where we now stand, is there an aspect to the destruction that has been wrought in the Kurdish provinces by urban warfare – what one might call trench politics - that is attributable to the excessive importance attached by the PKK to the West’s support? Does the Kurdish movement attach greater importance to gaining status in Rojava than to peace in Turkey?

There are no indications that the PKK has placed issues under a heirarchy of this nature. Their most recent public declaration concerning peace in Turkey augurs well as far as peace is concerned. We as the delegation also made an attention-grabbing announcement about this, but unfortunately it was stifled by the controlled media. That particular assessment of mine was made with reference to the way things stack up in regional terms.

- You said, in assessing the message forwarded by Abdullah Öcalan’s brother Mehmet Öcalan, that “A delegation and approach that embraces a solution needs to move in.” What were you referring to by this?

When the process hit the ropes, I looked at the tone and content of comments by government representatives. I know enough about conflict and solution processes in the world. If you crave peace, this becomes apparent from the language you use. Looking at the language in use, I saw that it was far removed from this. That’s what I was referring to.

- In the visit by HDP co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş and the delegation accompanying him to the Kurdish Regional Government, was Barzani’s intermediation discussed? Did this visit make a contribution to the quest for peace?

This visit was entirely for the purpose of repairing the communications breakdown between the Kurdish parties there, alleviating tension and strengthening the basis for alliance among Kurds. This will certainly make a contribution to our country’s internal peace, not directly but indirectly.

- Will you have contacts with the Kurdish Regional Government? Do you trust Barzani’s intermediation?

We feel nothing but joy at the support of anybody who is capable of making a genuine contribution to peace. Mr Barzani is an experienced and important leader. He is not one to balk at any potential contribution he might make. Precisely the same applies to Mr Talabani and his party, the YNK. We have had countless meetings. Quite a few of these have led to very productive results. We will meet again if conditions are conducive to this.

- In Columbia, the peace agreement between FARC and the government was rejected – even with a low turnout and a small majority – in a referendum. Have you ever asked yourself what would happen in Turkey if there were to be such a referendum?

Peace cannot be subjected to referendum. Neither in Turkey nor in Columbia. FARC’s pronouncement that it will continue to work towards peace is most encouraging. Percentage-wise, popular support for the solution process is in the nineties in the region and in the sixties in the West.

- The people of the region complain of not having seen their members of parliament at their sides when Cizre and Sur were being destroyed. Do you have any self-criticism about this?

No such complaint was addressed to us, actually. Speaking for myself, I was the one who was able to attend the least. I had undergone two major medical operations and my mobility was seriously impaired. Nevertheless, I will exercise self-criticism for everything I was unable to do, but all of our members of parliament, not least the members for the region, have hardly ever seen Ankara since they were elected. For months they have stood under fire alongside the people on a 24-hour basis in these areas. They have diced with death on many occasions. Our MP Faysal, Ferhan Encü and all of our women MPs have worked their hearts out. Mr Demirtaş has faced assassination attempts on two occasions. Large delegations of ours including Mr Kürkçü and Ms Yüksekdağ have been directly targeted by these Gladio forces that defy indentification. I know that this attempt was frustrated by a last minute intervention on the part of the official military. Mithat Sancar and Ahmet Türk have been hospitalised many times.

- In January, you said, “They will lift our immunity and detain us in a more sophisticated way than in the nineties.” Immunity has been lifted and there has yet to be a detention. Do you still think you will be detained?

What do you imagine lay behind those media operations and those brutal moves against the intellectuals, artists and scientists who were supporting us? I hope they don’t follow up on them but one after another they have started to obtain orders for us to be forced to appear in court. The struggle continues on all fronts for us. We will see what happens.

- The orders to be forced to appear involve being brought to hearings. Leaving that to one side, do you still think you will be detained and put in jail?

This project was never shelved. They are weighing up the costs for them.

- You said not long ago, ”If Tayyip Erdoğan’s paradigm succeeds, I think that everybody in the Dolmabahçe photograph will be liquidated. Including Efkan Ala.” Erdoğan’s paradigm and your prediction appear to have come off.

If only neither of them had. If the desire and aspiration to democratise does not gain social acceptance, chaos is the best we can expect for our country. If we are not to abandon hope, there is still a way back. And this is possible if all of the forces of democracy adopt the goal of a palpable peace purged of conceptual confusion. The Erdoğan paradigm is not an approach that is eponymous with him. The fate of the Ottoman Empire was precisely this approach as it played out in history. And our approach is the updated version of the consciousness that has created a homeland out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. If we don’t unite and pay mutual heed to our law, we’re done for.

- Those in power speak of a “new War of Salvation”. Are you claiming to be the ones waging the new War of Salvation?

We are waging a fight for the construction of a new democratic republic. A free, equal and just republic in which everybody can exist as themselves. If the government is to engage in a war of salvation, it must start by halting the devastation at Cerattepe and at hundreds of such corners of the country. The way things are going there’ll be nothing left worth having of the country.

- You could have carried on in greater freedom being a director and writing screenplays, able to speak your mind and, on top of that, with the peace of mind that comes from being uninvolved in politics. Are there times you regret being an MP?

What concerns me is the state of the nation. It would be contemptible to make personal calculations when lives are at stake. Even at times when I feel regret, I prefer to keep this to myself. If we have hardly sacrificed a single one of our sons in war over the past three years, then I deserve a drop of credit, like the proverbial ant carrying a drop of water to extinguish the fire of Nimrod. I can devote the rest of my life to the second drop.

- We learn from the minutes of meetings that when you told Öcalan you wanted to leave politics you met with objection and he secured a promise from you that you wouldn’t do this. Will you keep your promise to Öcalan?

I’ve kept that promise, anyhow. What I wanted to leave was not politics. It was being an active MP. I have disliked it from the very outset. I struggle to live up to the impositions it makes on me. Despite this, I’ve always remained true to the “description of being an MP” that I gave to the people. But there is more to politics than being an MP. I’m getting old. My health isn’t at all good. My mind isn’t as sharp as it once was. I sometimes find that I’m repeating myself. I look at young colleagues with admiration. Making way for them will be one of the best things we can do for ourselves and our country. I have assembled a pile of notes. I want to tell in an epic novel the history over the centuries of the region stretching from the birthplace of the Euphrates to the Shatt al Arab and known to maps of yore as the “Land of Floods”. Having made the acquaintance of Mr Öcalan and having worked with him for three years, this story has also gained a significant ecological dimension. The revolutionary poet Enver Gökçe also had such a yearning while resident at the Seyranbağları old people’s home. His lifetime and health did not suffice. The time has now come to set down what I have amassed and observed.

- I take it from this that you are preparing to give up being an MP.

I have put in three stints already. I have to hand on the baton under our rule book.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton