The Qandil Mountains, in Iraqi Kurdistan. We arrived here expecting training camps and PKK fighters all over the place. We find houses, children playing, women who greet us - all we can say in Kurdish is rojbas, have a good day - and serve us rice and chicken, and a smiling representative of PKK, who, behind his glasses and thick eyebrows, explains us kindly in English what we are going to do. We are here to meet a "leader" - we were not told who, although we already imagine who that could be. After lunch, they bring us a bit further into the mountains. Here we do find young fighters armed with Kalashnikovs. And here is where we learn we were right - the person we are meeting is Murat Karayilan, top leader of the guerrilla.
In the last few years it seems your goals have changed, you are no longer a separatist group. Why are you still fighting?
You are aware that the culture, the identity, all the national rights of the Kurdish people have always been denied. There has also been violence and oppression against this people. Because of that, the Kurdish people decided to protect themselves through struggle, through arms. But since 1999, August 2nd, we have been trying to solve the Kurdish question through peaceful means, because we believe that the Kurdish question can be solved not through war but only through political means. It's a social problem, so there can be only a political solution to it. So our struggle right now is a political, democratic struggle. What we want is a political, democratic solution within the Turkish borders. Our motto is: "A democratic Turkey for an autonomous Kurdistan".
What is the model for this autonomous Kurdistan?
I have a number of examples. Spain, Scotland, Belgium... we can give quite a number of examples in Europe. Through dialogue we could take all these examples and solve the issue. We are not asking much. The question can be solved with positive side effects for everyone.
Another example is France, the first nation-based State. Turkey sees France as an example, but there are different practices in Turkey. Whatever the French government has do;nene for Corsica, all those rights, if given to Kurdish people, they will be accepted, there is nothing more.
the problem is that AKP today says that yes, there are Kurdish people, but in the meantime they say that within the Turkish people there's a Kurdish people. Other than that there is no Kurdish people. This means there are many ethnic groups in Turkey, but they are all Turkish. It's a way of playing with words. The assimilation policy that has continued for the last 86 years is still going on.
Since there are many examples of autonomy in Europe, do you think Turkey can be a part of Europe?
If there are changes in Turkey, why not?
We believe that the Kurdish issue is the main issue which can change Turkey democratically.
If Turkey changes its approach to the Kurdish issue, if it changes democratically... then why not?
The government has proposed constitutional reforms. What do you think of that?
These changes cannot bring democracy in Turkey, because of the mentality, of the approach, which is still the mentality of the 12 September 1980 coup. AKP is just having problems with the judiciary, and they are trying to overcome this. That's the only reason they are discussing the changes in the Constitution, nothing more than that. The mentality is the same, and this mentality cannot bring any democratic changes in Turkey.
But if the judiciary is less powerful, there will be no longer episodes such as the ban of DTP in Turkey. Isn't this positive?
It's not important at all. Of course it's positive, however for the Kurdish issue this has no relevance, because there will be no change on two crucial issues.
The first one is the 10 percent threshold in general elections. The second is the law on terrorism. For example, they give a lot of prison sentences to children. A woman can have a 7-year prison sentence just because she shouted certain slogans and carried a banner.
Erdogan is dealing with the problems they have, not the Kurdish people.
A few weeks ago Osman Öcalan said that if his brother was released and put to house arrest, PKK would disarm. Is this true?
That person has nothing to do with us, we do not have any relations at all, from time to time some people try to use him. So, it is not true.
Whatever that person said has nothing to do with us. At the beginning of February this year we proposed a road map for the solution of the Kurdish question in peaceful terms.
4 main steps need to be done:
- all the operations - military and political - have to be stopped
- since a lot of politicians have been arrested - some MPs, some mayors, members of the party, over 1.500 politicians - they have to be released
- we believe Abdullah Öcalan can play an effective role in the peace process, so he should be put to house arrest
- after these 3 conditions are fulfilled, the dialogue can start immediately
So, at that time, will the PKK disarm?
If the dialogue starts, this matter of arms can be taken as part of the dialogue, it can be discussed. We are not only 3 or 5 people, we are thousands of people, so what is the situation of this people going to be? How will the disarmament take place? On what conditions? Once the dialogue starts, we can discuss all these things there.
Öcalan is seen by Turks as a symbol of this war, of terrorism, so even if the government wanted to give him an effective role, it would be very difficult for them, they would meet a lot of resistance, so how do you propose to do that?
Such claims were already made before. For example, in South Africa, with the Mandela case, or for Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian case. But in the end if they hadn't spoken to Mandela, they wouldn't have solved the issue. The same happened with the Palestinian issue. Both Mandela and Arafat were seen as terrorists, terrorist leaders.
So, first of all Turkey has to change its language. Second, they have to make sincere steps, in order to solve the Kurdish issue. There is no terrorist leader, Abdullah Öcalan is not a terrorist at all. This is only a name given to the opposition.
Today millions of people - as you saw during the Newroz in Diyarbakir -shout "we are PKK". That's the reality, that's the approach of the people, and using other words, other languages is not going to help solve the Kurdish question.
But I don't believe the real problem is Turkey. The problem is Europe and the US. They are the ones who are affecting the solution period.
In what sense?
While the armed struggle was going on, the European countries never put our organisation's name in the list of terrorist organizations. But in 1999, we decided to change our strategy, Abdullah Öcalan at that time went to Europe in order to open a pathway for a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish issue - as you know he has been to Italy.
At that time Mr D'Alema and the Italian government were approached frankly by Abdullah Öcalan. D'Alema even went to Germany to speak with Schroeder regarding the Kurdish issue and Abdullah Öcalan, he said Europe should make a conference on the Kurdish issue, but Germany didn't accept. After an international conspiracy our leader Abdullah Öcalan was illegally captured and given to Turkey. So at that time the European countries never approached the issue to solve it peacefully and democratically - they could, at that time, but they did not, and after 1999 our organisation made a declaration that as a new strategy we were going to find a peaceful and democratic solution.
After the declaration we made, we announced that we were giving up arms. The EU in 2002 put us in the terrorists list.
This period showed us that the EU does not want a peaceful and democratic solution of the Kurdish issue. And for all these years the EU has given support to Turkey, militarily and politically. The same occurred with the US.
All photos are ©Giovanni Sacchetti. For the full reportage visit his website.
For a video version of the interview, please contact Turkish Diary.