The Kurdish Globe
By Mehmed Sabri Akgönül
On May 27, 2012, thousands of people gathered in the center of Diyarbakir, the largest city in the north Kurdistan (Kurdistan of Turkey), in order to protest a Turkish court verdict that closed Mustazaf-Der, the Hezbollah (Arabic for "the Party of God") umbrella association. Mustazaf-Der (in English: Oppressed Association) was banned for having links with a "terrorist organization." During the last years, Mustazaf-Der organized more activities such as the celebrations of Prophet Muhammad's birth--also called Mawlid. Only in Diyarbakir, hundreds of thousands people have participated to these celebrations.
Kurdish Sunni Islamic organization Hezbollah (which has no official organic ties with the Lebanese Shia Islamic organization with the same name) was founded in the 1978 in Batman province by Huseyin Velioglu and its ultimate aim was to establish of an Islamic state based on Shari'a law. Under the leadership of Velioglu, who was inspired by the Iranian revolution of 1979, Kurdish Hezbollah started to become a mass movement in the mid-1980s. In those years, Kurdish Hezbollah has created strong bases in urban centers of north Kurdistan when the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) carried out guerilla activities in rural areas. In the early 1990s Hezbollah took up arms and clashed with the PKK. In June 1992, the PKK killed ten Hezbollah members in the village of Yolac in Diyarbakır. Hence, a bloody fight started between two groups in many places such as Batman, Gercus, Mardin, Van, and Silvan. At this stage, Hezbollah avoided to clash with Turkish security forces and Turkish police turned a blind eye to the Hezbollah's illegal activities. Thus, some analysts and majority of Kurdish people firmly believe that Hezbollah was created and supported by the Turkish state in order to assist Turkish security force's intensive war with the PKK. Major confrontation between the Kurdish Hezbollah and the PKK resulted in the killing of at least 800 peoples. Hezbollah clashed not only secularist (this means anti-religious or atheist in the Hezbollah's mindset) PKK but it had also targeted traditional Sufi Kurdish networks, a group of Kurdish businessmen and rival Islamist organizations in north Kurdistan like Med-Zehra and Menzil religious communities.
On January 17, 2000, shortly after PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured, the Turkish police started a series of systematic operations against the Kurdish Hezbollah to destroy the organization. Turkish security forces arrested over six thousands Hezbollah members. Hezbollah's leader and founder Huseyin Velioglu was killed in Istanbul in during a police raid in 2000 and hundreds of its members were arrested in the following years.
During these operations against Hezbollah, it was emerged that Hezbollah used brutal methods of killing and incredible torture techniques. Concerning these operations, an American analyst Gareth H. Jenkins, in his recent article named "Values and Identity: The Resurgence of the Kurdish Hizbullah", noted that: "The organization's archives were seized in a police raid on a Hizbullah safe house in the Istanbul suburb of Beykoz. In addition to computer disks containing over 20,000 CVs, the police found what they described as over 350 video recordings of interrogations of people captured by Hizbullah, many of whom had been tortured and executed. Over the next two weeks police detained 940 suspected Hizbullah members in 44 provinces across Turkey. The police also uncovered arms dumps and the remains of more than 60 people who had been buried in Hizbulllah safe houses."
Hezbollah faced a silence term for a long time since then its leader team was arrested and its founder, Huseyin Velioglu, was murdered. Everybody had believed that Hezbollah was devastated. Yet, it appeared at public domain once again through the establishment of its associations and non-governmental organizations. It's got a remarkable support in north Kurdistan through Mustazaf-Der and several foundations, solidarity associations, radios, websites and newspapers around. Such civil attempts of Hezbollah revised it and became among first steps of getting involved in politics.
According to an article, "Hizballah in Turkey Revives: Al-Qaeda's Bridge between Europe and Iraq", written by Soner Cagaptay and Emrullah Uslu, the Kurdish Hezbollah has moved away from violence to establishing grassroots support and has used the media effectively for public outreach. "In 2004, the organization printed six books (8,000 copies of each), including one explaining its history. In addition, it has issued three magazines: Gonulden Gonule Damlalar, Inzar (published in Fatih, Istanbul, and with an increasing circulation of 7,000), and Mujde (published in Basel, Switzerland). Moreover, the organization has opened two bookstores (Davet Kitapevi in Elazig and Risale Kitapevi in Batman in eastern Turkey) and a nongovernmental organization, Insan Haklari ve Mustazaflarla Dayanisma Dernegi (Association for Human Rights and Solidarity with the Oppressed) in Diyarbakir," writers noted. Cagaptay and Uslu also noted that many military-wing and high-ranking members of the Kurdish Hezbollah who avoided arrest have fled to Europe, Syria, and also south Kurdistan.
In the meeting held in Diyarbakır, it was announced that a new organization would not be founded by stating the Movement of Mustazaflar was established. Until now, Hezbollah has carried out NGO activities. The decision of start the Movement of Mustazaflar implies that from now on, NGO activities will be set aside and political activities through the legal area will be prioritized. Now Hezbollah has on its agenda the plan of founding a political party after a public opinion survey.
The closure of Mustazaf-Der on 11th May can be seen as a turning point for Kurdish Hezbollah. In fact, Mustazaf-Der administration had tendency to go on their civil society activities for a long time by resisting politicization. Although different ideas were discussed, its main tendency was that it is earlier to become a political entity. However, court verdict that closed Mustazaf-Der made stronger hand of some pioneers of association who advocate that they must become a political movement. General President of Mustazaf-Der, Huseyin Yilmaz, summarized process of Mustazaf-Der to become a political movement as that: "We are showing a civil struggle under foundation roof [Mustazaf-Der] since 2004. Yet, there are other problems of community; the issues of country [Turkey] are known [because of this] it is impossible to engage political issue with foundation status. We faced a big societal support in region [north Kurdistan]. Court verdict that closed our foundation accelerated us to go towards a political entity. We will take pulse of society in days ahead. We will make meeting with society to get comments and suggestions. We will decide and disclose name and identity of a political entity after those meetings which will be done soon." From Yilmaz's statements, it can be understood that they are preparing themselves for next local elections. In this context, the Movement of Mustazaflar will be in a competition with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) by targeting an alternative against those parties. According to top administrators of the Movement of Mustazaflar, BDP and AKP cannot represent north Kurdistan (they use the word of "region") lonely. Also, it must be noted that administrators of this movement behave so measly about using the word of "Kurdistan".
Nowadays, the bloody past of Kurdish Hezbollah is the worst issue of the Movement of Mustazaflar. Even though Mustazaf-Der declines its relation with bloody history of Hezbollah, there is such a comprehension in Kurdish public opinion. Therefore, without facing its past, political attempt of Hezbollah is likely to face mistrust of Kurds. Several people, which Islamists were also among, suffered from Hezbollah don't believe its structure changed already. In addition, leaders of Hezbollah don't or are not able to give reasonable answers about the proximity of it with Turkish state in 1990s and usage of some Hezbollah members against the PKK by Turkish government. By the way, thoughts on possible manipulation of Hezbollah again are supported.
Many analysts claimed that Kurdish Hezbollah has a very strong public support considering the gathered hundreds of thousands people in the meetings of Prophet Muhammad's birth which held in Diyarbakır. However, this is not a well thought analysis but a hastily reached conclusion. Firstly, it should be emphasized the fact that the attendance in Prophet Muhammad's birth meetings cannot be a good criteria to understand the real public support of Hezbollah. The common ground of the meetings is not the support or favor of Hezbollah but love for Prophet Muhammad. Some of the people who attended to Newroz (the Kurdish New Year) celebrations organized by the BDP also attended to Hezbollah's meetings. In addition, the number of people who attended to the last demonstrate in Diyarbakir was fewer in comparison to Prophet Muhammad's birth celebrations. Since Hezbollah do not have socio-political and eco-political project, there is no way to analyze the real supporters of Hezbollah.
For now, it cannot be stated that Hezbollah has matured enough to be an alternative concerning the competition between the AKP and the BDP in north Kurdistan. Before anything else, Hezbollah's position in Kurdistan does not have a clear implication about its strategy for the future. There is not any clear decision on course of action. In addition, Hezbollah does not have an ideological perspective convenient for the new term which will be based on legal activity. Although Hezbollah achieves a public support hard to ignore and has a ground almost completely consists of Kurds, a solution concerning Kurdish national issue and future of the Kurdistan.
Let's consider how Kurdish Hezbollah could get Kurdish votes of the BDP and the AKP. Most probably it will criticize PKK/BDP by its secular and Marxist-socialist ideological background. Hezbollah will suggest a radical Islamic lifestyle as it is a prominent view in the Middle East currently instead of excessively secular and modernist lifestyle of the PKK. Therefore it is more or less likely to take the advantage of the effect of religion on Muslim Kurds in the Kurdistan. However, these kinds of propaganda will tend to stay weak against regional massive support towards PKK/BDP. First of all, PKK/BDP has numerous loyal followers that will support them under any circumstances. In spite of secular-politic view of the PKK, mostly Muslim Sunni Kurdish people support it and several analysts are having difficulty to reason the case. Kurds consider the PKK as an organization which has fought for their national liberty. Also, they have seen PKK's militants as freedom fighters. At the same time, Kurds who support the PKK do not care its secular discourse, because their affiliation with PKK is not dependent on the base of religiousness or irreligiousness, rather it based on the notion of national emancipation. PKK exists on the influential power of Kurdish nationalism which brings to it sympathy of Kurds.
Turkish state authorities often use the religious card against the PKK as a means of propaganda. However, although PKK ideologically has a socialist background, it has no ferocious anti-religious attitude or politics. On the contrary PKK, which even has a socialist discourse, seeks to some religious expansions due to the influence of religion on the Kurdish nation. Particularly it acknowledged the power of religion in the life of Kurdish society. Even, PKK established a branch named Kurdistan Islamic Party and used some Quranic verses and hadiths (the Prophet Muhammad's sayings) in their media organs. Furthermore, by establishing Association of Imam of Kurdistan ("Kurdistan İmamlar Birliği") PKK became close Muslim Kurds. Civil Friday protests that occur in recent years can be regarded as an indication of PKK's changing towards to religion. It has also begun to read Mawlid at the funerals of the guerillas. In addition, BDP's municipalities for the first time begin to establish Iftar tents in Ramadan celebrations. If we take into account these entire factors it is possible to say that Hezbollah's propaganda of religion would not be influential on the mass of PKK/BDP. If Hezbollah would like to be influential on PKK/BDP supporters, it must produce politics projects act in harmony with the idea of Kurdayeti (Kurdishness) and must create a field of act through Kurdish nationalism. But, Hezbollah's discourse of the "İslamic fellowship" deprives of awareness towards Kurdish national sensitivities. A great deal part of the members of Hezbollah identify themselves as Islamist, which would not be affect the political discourse that may be influential on Kurdish nationalism.
On the other hand, which degree Kurdish Hezbollah has a chance in the face of AKP' Retrieving the votes Kurds who ballot AKP is relatively easier for Hezbollah; because both AKP and Hezbollah have common political discourses. Two of them rise on the ground of Islamic fellowship among Kurdish provincials. After all, the existence of Hezbollah makes AKP discontent rather than PKK/BDP. Members and supporters of Kurdish Hezbollah voted for AKP in last general and local elections. Hezbollah also poses a challenge in terms of the Fetullah Gulen community; because the Gulen community seeks to be more active in north Kurdistan. In this context, there arose an area of rivalry between Kurdish Hezbollah and Gulen community, and thus the AKP. The leading rulers of Hezbollah consider that Turkish states pressure on Hezbollah promotes the expansion of Gulen movement in north Kurdistan. Moreover, The AKP is already losing support in north Kurdistan as a result of its pressure policies on the Kurdish issue. This failure of the AKP may be a chance for Hezbollah to gain AKP's Kurdish votes. AKP's repressive politics towards Kurds in recent years and also its poor performance on the issue of enlightening of Roboski massacre cases, where Turkish warplanes killed 34 Kurdish villagers in an air strike, loose AKP's popularity among the Kurds. These loosing points of AKP can be easily gained by Hezbollah. However Hezbollah politic-religious discourse is so fundamentalist in relation to AKP's one. This reality brings a great deal of advantage to AKP who practices neo-liberal politics, sustains ready hot money flows and has an experienced, mild-mannered politic-religious mentality.
With the decision of politicization of Hezbollah, the political balances in north Kurdistan will change noticeably. In other words, it will be live a tripartite struggle for power among PKK, AKP and Kurdish Hezbollah. The AKP would suffer most in this new situation. Although it doesn't yet to analyze properly the situation of political Islam in northern Kurdistan, hereinafter referred to Kurdish issue is bound to be a different political landscape.