Kurdish Activist: Erdogan Should Be Pushed Out, But by the People, Not the Military

StoryJuly 18, 2016
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Kani Xulam

director of the American Kurdish Information Network.

Turkey remains in a state of crisis three days after soldiers staged an attempted coup commandeering tanks, attack helicopters and fighter jets in a bid to seize power. We speak to Kurdish activist Kani Xulam, director of the American Kurdish Information Network.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Turkey remains in a state of crisis three days after soldiers staged an attempted coup, commandeering tanks, attack helicopters, fighter jets in a bid to seize power. Close to 300 people were killed, around 1,400 wounded, Friday night. The coup began when the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was vacationing at a seaside resort. The mutinous faction in the military said it had taken action to protect democracy from Erdogan. Since the coup failed, Turkey has arrested 6,000 people, including senior members of the judiciary and the military. Erdogan blamed U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen for orchestrating the attempted coup. Gülen, who lives in the Poconos in Pennsylvania—yes, here in the United States—has denied any involvement. President Erdogan has said his government may consider reinstating the death penalty to punish those responsible, and he’s asking for Gülen to be extradited back to Turkey.

To talk more about all these issues, we’re joined here in Cleveland by Kani Xulam, who is director of the American Kurdish Information Network.

Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you back again with us, Kani.

KANI XULAM: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what happened in Turkey.

KANI XULAM: A coup happened. Its object was to take over the government. It wanted to topple Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Even the best of the Turkish generals would have been a disaster for Turkey, even though Erdogan is a dictator-wanna-be leader right now. So, the fact that the coup failed is good news for the people of Turkey. But the people that should have led the coup would have been the people themselves. If they had led this attempt to topple Erdogan, who was acting like a dictator, it would have been better, like in Philippines, like in Romania. That didn’t happen. Erdogan now is—feels like he’s the sultan. He wants to—he is arresting people, left and right. Internet access has been suspended. My hunch is he will continue acting like this.

Just this morning, John Kerry said, if he continues like this, NATO’s—Turkey’s membership of NATO could be suspended. I wish he had also said the same when some five cities were bombarded last year, turned into rubbles. Some 7,000 people were killed—Kurds, some fighters. He didn’t say anything about suspending Turkey’s membership in NATO then, and now that some of the military officers and some of the judges are arrested, he’s talking about Turkey needs to be a democracy to be a part of NATO.

AMY GOODMAN: Where do the Kurds fit into this picture?

KANI XULAM: The Kurds, they didn’t want this military coup, either. They came out against it. But there’s a war going on, for a whole year now. Erdogan wants to consolidate his power, and he wants to—he kind of thinks that, in adversity, people come together. And if there’s a war against the Kurds, if some soldiers die, then the country will unite behind him. That’s his strategy. But you don’t make progress by declaring war on a minority like the Kurds.

AMY GOODMAN: Where—what is Erdogan’s Syria policy? And is that what motivated the generals?

KANI XULAM: Well, the generals have been unhappy with him, because he has tried to reorient the direction of the country towards Mecca and Medina, if you will. Atatürk, the founder of Turkey, a general with many shortcomings, but he at least said the country should reorient itself towards Europe, should separate the mosque from the state. On his watch, he served for life, but he at least had some semblance of institutions that you could say were working and were making progress towards a European open society, rule of law. But with Erdogan’s coming to power, initially he was open to that, but after his breakup with Fethullah Gülen, he is now literally acting like a one-man show. And he doesn’t like criticism. He doesn’t like—

AMY GOODMAN: Now, let’s talk about Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. He’s demanding his extradition.

KANI XULAM: Correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Kerry says he hasn’t—the secretary of state—put in the requisite documents for his extradition. But you just pointed out that Gülen and Erdogan were close allies until just a few years ago.

KANI XULAM: They were. They actually defanged the military. A lot of Gülen’s supporters were in the Turkish police, and they helped Erdogan to send the army back to the barracks, if you will. And that was good. The bad news came when Erdogan then—he and Erdogan broke up, and then Erdogan decided to act like a dictator, to throw journalists in prison, to open a war, declare a war on the Kurds.

And then, in terms of his Syria policy, Turkey became a jihadi highway, if you will. Some 35,000 foreign troops, foreign fighters, many from Southeast Asia, from Africa, from Europe, some from Europe, some from Caucasus in the former Soviet Union, they would come to Turkey, they would then cross the border. Erdogan didn’t like Assad. He’s an Alawite. He’s a minority Alawite sect. Erdogan himself is Sunni. He thought he would—Syria would become a satellite state. That didn’t work out. And now there are talks that he might actually talk to us, so that the two could put the Kurdish autonomy six feet under, if you will, because the Kurds in the north of the country have established a federal entity where two-and-a-half million Kurds live.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the death penalty—Erdogan has arrested 6,000 people and is calling for reinstatement of the death penalty. What do you see happening?

KANI XULAM: Well, if he—he says the people want this. His fans came out, and many of them didn’t really say, "Long live democracy." Many of them would say, you know, "Sharia." Some would say, "Allahu Akbar." So the signs aren’t really good. This mood, this democracy, was saved, but democracy itself is sick. Democracy itself is not really healthy. If he hangs these generals, I think the army, which remains a bastion of Kemalist, Atatürkist secular commanders, I think the country will go further towards a crisis and break up.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Kani Xulam, I want to thank you very much for being with us, director of the American Kurdish Information Network. Why are you here, by the way?

KANI XULAM: I’m here to educate the Americans who are here to elect a leader, who then will become—will be voted as the president of this country. And I thought they should know about the Kurds, about the Middle East. And, unfortunately, I fear that the world is going towards that crisis, and many people think Trump could address these issues. And I thought, if that becomes the reality, then his people should know who the Kurds are, what the Kurds want in the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: Kani Xulam, thanks so much for being with us.

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