Friday, October 14, 2011

Burkay's return

“I, Kemal Burkay, a Kurdish politician, poet and author, was forced to leave my homeland 31 years and four months ago because I was the leader of a party with a socialist and Kurdish identity. In those days it was forbidden to use the words 'Kurd' and 'Kurdistan,' and the struggle for socialism was banned…” With these words, Burkay begins his touching farewell letter to a country which hosted him for years. At 74 years old and rather frail, he will be returning to Turkey tomorrow, unless he changes his mind at the last minute. His has been one of the longest exiles for a Kurd from Turkey, and he has spent it entirely in Sweden. Burkay's case is significant: The symbolism of the length of his absence from home is as powerful as the symbolism of his return at a time of political folly. A native of Dersim (Tunceli), Burkay was a pioneer in the struggle of Turkey's Kurds for recognition and equal rights. From the very beginning until today, he has consistently been a defender of non-violence and a promoter of democracy. He has long been seen as the antidote to the violent line chosen by his adversary, Abdullah Öcalan. When he graduated from law school in the late 1950s, Burkay had his first taste of suppression of and discrimination against Kurds. He served in the state bureaucracy for a short time, but was deeply dismayed in the way he and other civil servants were mistreated by “deep Ankara.” He left government work, and set up a practice in the early 1960s as a private lawyer. In 1965 he joined Turkey's Workers' Party (TİP), which enjoyed significant success in elections during a brief period of freedom. Burkay was active in organizing TİP in mainly Kurdish provinces. But, as the left gained ground, the semi-military regime in power became impatient with an outspoken socialist party represented in Parliament, and all freedom ended with the military takeover in 1971. Burkay spent the early 1970s in a brief exile. Returning to Turkey in the second half of that decade, he put his previous political momentum behind formulating a Kurdish political movement (due to a sharp split between Turkish and Kurdish socialists). It was called the Socialist Party of Turkey's Kurdistan (PSK), and it was forced to operate illegally. Its publications were “Özgürlük Yolu” (Path of Freedom) and “Roja Welat,” a Kurdish-language paper. Despite harsh suppression, the PSK successfully got its candidate Mehdi Zana (the ex-husband of Leyla Zana) elected as an independent mayor of Diyarbakır. When the political climate became totally insufferable in the spring of 1980, Burkay had to flee for his life, returning to Sweden. “Like all Kurdish intellectuals escaping from fascism, I sought refuge here. Apart from being a democracy, Sweden's natural beauty and clean air had a great impact on my poetic heart. I loved this place,” he writes in his farewell letter. “Our children were deprived of education in their native tongue in their country -- they still are -- but you [Sweden] offered them every chance to learn it. A school for Kurdish teachers was opened. Academic institutions supported Kurdish intellectuals in publishing their work. Our banned culture flourished here, and many new authors and researchers were able to work in freedom.” “My homeland is also very beautiful with its mountains, rivers, trees and flowers. I hope that one day, before it is too late, it will also become a place for freedom, democracy and peace. Burkay's return means a lot. Although his political base is much weaker than it was in his early days as a political activist here, his wisdom in understanding the deep changes that have taken place in the past nine years in favor of Kurds, and his courage in challenging the violent PKK line, will count. His return is also very timely. Of course, when Burkay declared in early spring his intention to return after the elections, he could not have foreseen the new escalation of violence. The mood is very gloomy at this time. Blind hatred is dominating the language, and there are now increasing demands for a “council of wise men” to be formed in order to declare a cease-fire and develop a roadmap for peaceful negotiations. Burkay certainly qualifies for such a group: He would enrich it with his experience of 50 years of struggle. 2011-07-28

No comments: