Sakine Cansız, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was murdered in Paris on 9 January 2013. Years ago, Sakine had told us about her first years in the Kurdish struggle and her search for a full and free life
The Kurdish Liberation Movement made up of a group of Kurdish and Turkish youths, known as pro-Apo (Öcalan) and -national liberation groups till 1978, became a party following the first congress held in the house of the Zoğurlu family, which supported the organization since its formation, in the Fis village of Diyarbakır’s Lice district on 26-27 November. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan) has become a public movement addressing millions during the 35 years that have passed since the first congress which had been attended by 22 delegates.
Among those attending the congress was also Sakine Cansız, a co-founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), who was murdered in Paris on 9 January 2013 together with Fidan Doğan, Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) representative in Paris and Leyla Şaylemez, member of the Kurdish youth movement.
Years ago, Cansız had told us about her first years in the Kurdish struggle and her search for a free life. She told us details of how she met revolutionaries of Kurdistan, how she was affected by them and how she joined revolutionary activities in the Kurdistan territory.
I was born in Dersim (Tunceli in Turkish) in 1958. I was living in a village and therefore had to go to the town to finish the first class. The primary, the secondary and the high school I visited in Dersim. My parents are a worker and a civil servant with eight children, three daughters and five sons.
We were of small age in 70’s but the developments in the country, Deniz Gezmiş and his comrades, as well as the Kızıldere incident, all made an impression on us. There was an intense repression in Dersim where there was a public sympathy for the revolutionary movement and its leaders and brave fighters. It was in 1969 that people in Dersim started to raise some question marks in minds when the performance of a theater play about Pir Sultan Abdal was denied permission in the city. The denial of permission led to a conflict environment and a civilian, Mehmet Kılan, was killed in the conflict and some other people were arrested under the marital rule. All these happenings created a perception in general but there was still no awakening in terms of patriotism and Kurdishness. Dersim territory was mainly dominated by a revolutionary and left-wing approach in general, as well as the CHP-leftism and Karaoğlan (Ecevit) leftism. This political conception also had an influence on us, but it mainly influenced the revolutionary movement.
It was a good coincidence for me that some comrades were often visiting a house near our house in this period of revolutionary impressions and searches. Fuat, Mazlum and Şahin Dönmez were paying visits to students living in that house. Left-wing groups were the dominant part in these gatherings. They would give special attention to us, giving us magazines to read. However, I never felt satisfied with this revolutionary ideology as I felt like there was something else I was looking for and I was going to find. Despite the common sympathy and interest in revolutionaries, I never felt ready and always refused to take a part in this movement. Those people’s way of life had an effect on us and even the other people living in the neighborhood who would describe those people as ‘quite different’. They had a seriousness in their relations, their visits, their sense of dress and everything else. I built a relationship with those people but I was always out of the ordinary in their circle as I was making a point of different issues. I was living a contradiction, with the revolutionary impression on one side and with other issues in my mind on the other side. Neither me myself nor the comrades could make sense out of my situation.
I was later told that Mazlum comrade had at that time told his comrades to take a close interest in me, saying that I could be a good revolutionary fighter. He told them that they were wrong about me. After that, a comrade visited our house one day and told us the history of Kurdistan. Me and my siblings all listened to him with great interest and till late hours after his leave, we told each other about what he had told us. Everything he said was of importance for us because I learned from his telling that we were Kurd and came from Kurdistan.
Impressed by the ideology of this movement, I started to live a contradiction with my family who were in different ways preventing us from taking part in the revolutionary movement. As it became me clearer that my family in Dersim was not going to allow me to take an active part in the movement, I left my family and secretly went to Ankara. Maybe it was just our weakness to fail to convince the family and to provide proper conditions so that I could stay and join the fight there. However, as a woman, I couldn’t display a strong resistance against all those pressures and approaches. As I developed a strong will to absolutely take part in the movement and to dedicate my everything to it, I objected to the pressures and insisted on revolutionism.
I knew that some comrades were studying at the faculty of political sciences in Ankara [at Ankara University], where I thought I could build new relations. On the second day, I went to the faculty where at the campus I saw a group of friends sitting under acacia trees. After a short while, I noticed Kıymet’s brother from Erdoğan family. He also saw and recognized me, stood up and came near me. Ten meters far from the group, we started to talk. He asked me what I was doing there, to which I replied ‘I am looking for comrade Ali Haydar Kaytan and other comrades. As he said ‘I hope nothing’s wrong’, I told him that I had escaped from home. He was glad to hear it and congratulated me for he was for the first time witnessing something like that. He said Kaytan wasn’t there and that he had gone to Dersim. ‘We have friends here’ he said, showing the group sitting under the trees. The leader was also there, he was wearing glasses. This was the first time I saw the leader, the second time was when I saw him in İzmir later. We later gathered near the Faculty of Law at the campus. The leader was discussing with some people from other left-wing groups. We were listening to the arguments of the leader with a great attention. In that period we came across several other times, each of which had caused excitement in me as we were paying great attention to each word he was saying, trying to understand them. The first time I saw the leader close and joined a debate with him was in Elazığ and in the house of Karasungurlar family in Bingöl. The leader put forward arguments, evaluations and questions on many subjects.
We had this kind of gatherings in our circle in 1975, while in 76 relations were maintained on the basis of training activities. From time to time we used to gather, held meetings and acted together in debates and marches. In August of 76, I returned to Ankara, but without having a disengagement with the environment in Kurdistan. Then I didn’t stay in Ankara because of the conditions and went to İzmir. After a period of detention here, I returned to Ankara in early 77. With a certain group, we conducted training activities before we went back to Kurdistan in the same year.
We have been giving an ideological struggle from the very beginning against denialism, social chauvinistic impression, primitive and nationalist approaches. The struggle which first began against all these factors, was also reciprocating in debates and relations at schools and neighborhoods.
It was after I was released from the Buca Prison in İzmir that I heard the news about the death of Aydın Gül and Haki Karer. This incident had an influence on our approach towards the Turkish left-wing movement in the areas and metropolitan cities we were active in. We developed more intense criticism as we felt the need to give a much sharper ideological fight. They were talking about an internationalist duty and brotherhood with the Kurdish people but killing our comrades on the other hand.
The leader made his first speech in Elazığ which at that time witnessed a rapid progress in Dev-Genç’s and our movement in the city. The leader came to Elazığ, then we went to the village of Birvan in Keban. Comrades from both movements were there, listening to the systematic but calm speech of the leader as he was putting forward the Kurdish question and proposals for its solution. His speech was followed by that of a member of Dev-Genç who mostly quoted passages from books, from Lenin and from magazines. Kurdistan was in that period regarded as the new colony. Then the leader spoke once again, commenting on the subjects on the table in a calm, constructive and impressive way. Everyone was listening to him carefully. The meeting lasted till late night and ended up with a comprehensive assessment. The leader also developed criticism against the denial of the Kurdish question, wrong analysis on his approach about Kurdistan, the regime and system in Turkey, the state in general and the approach towards socialism.
In a short time, our movement became a political power, it went beyond a youth movement in 75, 76 and 77. At first, our movement mainly influenced the student youth movement, then the qualified and militant youth at schools and in all areas we were active in. It changed the environment at schools. To give an instance, there was a teacher’s training school which was dominated by fascist and Turkish left-wing circles. In a short time, fascists left the school which after that witnessed the development of an ideological Kurdish struggle. Our movement faced denialism as an obstacle preventing our expressing and representing ourselves. This obstacle was as a matter of course leading to an ideological conflict. It was after the killing of comrade Aydın Gül that the use of violence was brought to the agenda. Resorting to violence was as a matter of fact a necessity against this obstacle, and we grounded our movement on ideological and political struggle and revolutionary violence. Necessary defense was actually a way of struggle that our movement based on since the very beginning. The majority of left-wing and Kurdish primitive-nationalist groups therewith started to develop an ideological conflict with us, while we were at the same time being attacked by the reactionary feudal-tribalist structure in Kurdistan. We were being attacked because of the fact that our movement was leading to an awakening in the society and criticizing the system and the structure it created. As all these groups were standing against us, we gave an effective total struggle against these circles in all areas to protect our own presence. We intensely discussed on the ways of struggle for which the leader always put forward a pattern of fight basing on the mass and people.
The fight against fascist circles in Elazığ also had an influence on groups inside these circles, which were made up of Kurds organized by the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party). A group of around 70 people severed their ties with the nationalist circle, while on the other hand some other groups from the Turkish left-wing and KUK (Nationalist Libertarians of Kurdistan) movement also joined our organization. Our struggle also led to an disintegration in other structures.
The draft program of our organization was distributed to us in 78. We were in Elazığ at that time and we were told to read and concentrate on the draft program. We were expecting this program to lead us to a different way of work. The draft program was not given to a broad circle in our movement, we were few people who were reading the program, while on the other hand searching the history of parties and revolutions in other countries. We were discussing on how those parties had been established. Then we went to the congress all together.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that our movement lived an escalation in 77, and that we reached a larger mass in 78. Some comrades named the delegates and decided on their number because of the remarkable security problem which was an obstacle to the participation of more people in the congress. It was only some representatives of regions that attended the congress, a group of 23 or 24 people. With great excitement and the will to serve the orders of the movement, me, comrades Cuma and Hüseyin Topgider went to the congress as the delegates from Elazığ. We were doing what we were being told to do, this was the approach displayed in the staff structuring and the sense of duty. Some among us dissociated themselves from the movement as they couldn’t take up the challenge, but the others were completely determined to fight on the revolutionary way of Kurdistan with no concerns nor doubts.
Our approach towards comrades Haki Karer and Kemal Pir was quite different. We treated them with great respect and sympathy because of the fact that they came from Turkey and took part in our movement since the very beginning, as the senior comrades of the leader. The influence and power of the leader was no doubt particular for us but these two comrades also meant much to us. In our debates, we would always mention their names and appreciating their leading roles in our movement. Despite our ideology against primitive-nationalist circles, social chauvinist and denialist groups would continuously accuse us of nationalism. In this respect, these comrades set an example in our movement. We all found the death of comrade Haki quite difficult, particularly his being killed by an agent provocateur named Sterka Sor. I myself also cried when I saw their posters. It was significant that comrade Haki had been chosen as a victim, for he was important for both the Kurdish and Turkish people and had an representative power that joined the struggles, demands and longings. In this respect, the targeting of this representation was regarded as a danger directed at the closest comrade of the leader. This incident brought along the need to give a more serious fight. With the determinant approach of the leader, an organization was brought into existence in Kurdistan.