Amed’s Mayor: Only dialogue has not been used to solve Kurdish issue

Amed-Kurdistan (KurdishMedia.com) 15 August 2006: Osman Baydemir is the mayor of Amed (Diyarbakir), the largest city in northern (Turkish) Kurdistan. A veteran human rights activist and lawyer by training, Mr. Baydemir is a representative of the Democratic Society Party (DTP). He is perhaps the most prominent Kurdish politician in Turkey, and remains very popular in the municipality and perpetually under close scrutiny by the Turkish central government. Since being elected mayor, Mr. Baydemir has met with KurdishMedia.com on several occasions. On 14 August, KurdishMedia.com conducted the following interview in Turkish with the mayor in his office in Amed.Mayor Baydemir, can you please talk about the current state of Diyarbakir following the events of March of this year?

We have prepared a report the incidents and you will have a chance to go over it. It can be said in a very summarized way that we have harvested what we have planted in the last 20 years. This was the end product of the state’s policies over the last 20 years. It was one of the effects of the inability to find a peaceful and democratic solution to the Kurdish problem on the part of the state. When we look at the casualties and we can see that around 20 people were killed in the region during the incidents, and this is in no way compatible with the rule of law and the legal state. 8 year old, 7 year old, and 9 year old children were killed, and there have been, at least to our knowledge, no investigations opened into these murders. Despite the fact that there were no investigations opened with respect to these murders, they opened a case against the municipality very quickly, and the first hearing of the case will occur on October 3. To summarize, unfortunately if we are not able to solve the Kurdish problem through dialogue and negotiations, such events are likely to occur in the future.

Are you optimistic that the situation may improve in the near future?

I don’t think it is a question of being optimistic or pessimistic about the situation; it’s a question of what should be done and what should not be done. It is impossible to solve this problem without dialogue. Turkey has at least the experience of the last 20 yrs concerning the Kurdish question, and this experience of conflict did not solve the problem over the last 20 yrs. Within the last 20 years, there is one method that has not been used, dialogue, and I don’t think we have a chance other than dialogue. If there is no dialogue, the amount of destruction will be much larger. Unfortunately, there are no signs that show in the near future that things would improve. I am very much worried about the near future.

What is the status of Turkey’s attempt to enter the European Union?

Turkey’s process of integration into the European Union (EU) is very important not only for Kurds, but for all people living in Turkey’s territory. One of the most important criteria is the process of democratization; a Turkey having armed conflicts within its borders will not be able to progress in the process of democratization, and an anti-democratic Turkey will not be able to be part of the EU. In order for Turkey to integrate into the EU, it is a precondition that Turkey should solve the problem using peaceful and democratic means.

What efforts are being taken to improve the situation of the municipality? I remember that we previously spoke of an effort to increase tourism. What progress has been made with this effort? Has the central government cooperated with you in this effort?

Our city, Diyarbakir, has potential of being a center of art, culture, tourism, and trade in the Middle East. All of our activities aim at turning Diyarbakir into such a center. Unfortunately we are not being supported by the central government in this regard. We are also trying to solve urban problems which have accumulated over the past 70 years. Tourism is an essential part of our vision. In terms of tourism there are two basic problems – the economic situation and the existence of the current situation of armed conflicts. Maybe we can add a third component, which is to activate the tourism effort through advertisement and promotion. We have put forth a lot of effort in the last two years. We have tried to promote tourism especially in the [historic] Sur municipality and cleaned the area around the walls there. We are trying to rehabilitate Gazi Avenue and Yeni Kapi Street as well.

But the central government has not been providing support necessary?

No.

Are there incidents of armed conflict taking place here in the city?

Not here in the city center, and I hope there wouldn’t be incidents such as this in the city, but there is no guarantee that conflicts will not happen in the city.

Are there any comments you can make on the situation of the Kurds of Iraq and any impact it has on the situation here?

First of all, I would like to say that all Kurds living in Turkey are very much pleased that the Kurds of Iraq are increasing their standards of living and development. Kurds in Turkey are expecting the [Turkish] state to seek friendly relations with the Kurds living in Iraq. Of course, I can say for myself, I am very pleased with the situation of the Kurds in Iraq. I think that Turkey’s worries concerning the situation of Iraqi Kurds are very much unnecessary. If Turkey can make peace with its own Kurds, Kurds in Iraq, Syria, and Iran would not be a threat to Turkey. On the contrary, they would be partners with Turkey on the condition that Turkey would solve its problems with its Kurds here. The problem is not about the Kurdish population living in the Middle East in four countries, but with Turkey’s perception of the Kurdish people. All problems would be solved if Turkey looked for the proper approach to the Kurds in Iraq as Turkey approaches the Turkmen people in Iraq.

It is interesting to see how much Turkey talks about the Iraqi Turkmens…

It is also very pleasing that the Kurdish administration has provided the Turkmen people with specific rights including cultural rights and parliamentary representation.

Do you have any other message for our readers?

I absolutely believe that the Middle East is in need of democratization and I believe it will happen, but we have to be patient and we have to think to grasp the issue in the long run. This change would depend on the peoples of the region; democratization should emerge as a popular demand. I think that the Kurds are a very important dynamic in the process of change and transformation, and I mean the Kurds in all four countries [i.e., Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria].

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