KNK Co-Chair Karamus: The Kurds want official status

In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne established the quadripartition of Kurdistan and the disenfranchisement of the Kurdish people. With a conference in Switzerland, the KNK wants to take a stand against this and demand an official status.

The Treaty of Lausanne established the quadripartition of Kurdistan on 24 July 1923. Since then, Kurds have been subjected to genocide, assimilation and massacres under the sovereignty of the states of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. The agreement laid the foundations for the disregard of the Kurdish people and the denial of their existence. The Kurdistan National Congress (KNK) takes the centenary of the signing of the treaty as an opportunity to show why Kurdish society does not accept the imposed circumstance of political and legal non-existence and demands its right to self-determination. In order to convey the Kurdish perspective against the status quo of nation states to the public, various organisations, political parties and groups from all parts of Kurdistan developed a Switzerland-wide action plan last year, which included a programme of conferences, panel discussions, protests, information evenings and cultural events around the Treaty of Lausanne. An international conference on 22 and 23 July will be the preliminary highlight of the series. Ahmet Karamus, co-chair of the KNK, answered questions from ANF.  

The centenary of the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne is approaching. As KNK, you are organising an important conference to mark the occasion. What is the state of preparations?

Our activities are not limited to this conference, it is basically a concluding congress. Since the launch of our action plan, various symposia, forums, exhibitions and different meetings have taken place. But we attach more importance to this conference, that is true. We call it the "Kurdistan Conference" and we expect that all Kurdish structures from the four national states will participate in it. Our plan is to include political parties, individuals, organisations as well as different faith communities and ethnic groups in the conference. We have been working intensively towards this for more than one and a half years now. Our engagement in this regard so far has led to important results. We see ourselves confirmed by the success in implementing our demands. Our main concern is the representation of all components of Kurdistan at our conference. We want to fulfil this requirement in any case. The KNK is in charge; various actors are involved in the preparation of the conference and in the implementation of its content. A broad-based committee consisting of various individuals, initiatives, groups and organisations recently met again to provide insights into the final preparations. These are in full swing and concern not only the conference, but also a declaration to be delivered on 24 July in front of the Palais de Rumine, the place where Kurdistan was divided into four parts a century ago.

With whom did you hold the meetings you spoke of and which forces are involved in the action plan?

A joint committee was formed, the '100 Years Treaty of Lausanne' Action Committee. The essential core of action around which the Kurdish forces have gathered to take a stand against the Treaty of Lausanne from their perspective is made up of parties and organisations, the number of which has recently increased to 157. Part of the participation process, which equally included the preparation of our strategic plan, are not only political structures, but also historians, artists, intellectuals and people from various other backgrounds. We also ensured the inclusion of the diaspora. For this purpose, relationships have been established worldwide with associations that act with the claim of political representation of the Kurds. We are aware of the great responsibility we have taken upon ourselves in preparing this conference. Our ideal is to hold a national conference.

For what reason?

Our objective is an inner-Kurdish perspective, a common stance and an overarching opposition to the Treaty of Lausanne. This endeavour requires a common project of all Kurds, including those in the diaspora. We have held discussions with a total of 175 organisations in all parts of Kurdistan and in exile, regardless of their ideology and party affiliation. Discussions were held and ideas were collected. We have also interacted with dignitaries and representatives of the faith and religious communities, tribal leaders, academics, employers, activists, artists and journalists. In summary, we have made an effort to bring all the colours of Kurdistan to our conference. So far, around 500 organisations and individuals have confirmed their participation. Our hope is that all Kurdish parties will be represented.

Which parties or organisations refuse to cooperate with the committee and why?

We want to dispel the idea that the Kurds cannot form a unity. If we are not united, if we do not succeed in coming together on a national level, there is a lot at stake for us in the world of the 21st century. Although the conference is being held under the banner of the KNK, the real organisers are the many actors of Kurdistan. The host of this conference is the entire Kurdish people. Our enemies are sparing no expense and effort to prevent us from overcoming our intra-Kurdish differences, developing a common stance and uniting into one voice. They are also approaching this project with the intention of sabotaging it, whereas we are striving to thwart such efforts.

We will not be guided by the interests of a small group or a political party. This is a national issue for our people. We see the conference as an area of national responsibility and are determined to formulate a national opposition to the Treaty of Lausanne on its 100th anniversary. We are working with this conviction.

We want to eliminate the tragedy of the Kurdish people that has been going on for a century. For this purpose, we will make efforts until the last moment to include all Kurdish forces in this conference. We want the Kurdish identity and the status of our people to be recognised. Therefore, we refuse to name parties that refuse to participate. We are not satisfied with this state of affairs, but continue to make efforts to win them over. I take this opportunity to appeal to all the stakeholders whom we as a committee have not or not yet reached out to, that they are invited to the conference and should in any case attend. This project is open to all who want to join together and raise objections and their voice against Lausanne.

What is the aim of this conference?

We will not only talk and analyse. Let's look back: With the Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin, Kurdistan was initially divided in two in 1639. In 1916, the governments of Great Britain and France then concluded the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, which created the basis for the Treaty of Lausanne, which recognised today's Turkey as the largest occupying power in Kurdistan under international law. The treaty divided the Kurdish settlement areas among four states, with some of the administration being taken over by others. The British secured the territories in what is now the state of Iraq, while the French took Syria under their wing. The Treaty of Lausanne was thus the starting signal for numerous tragedies and created the causes for endless conflicts that plague Kurdistan and its people to this day: massacres, genocide, forced resettlement and expulsions, changes in demography. The agreement is a black chapter in history. Responsible for this and for 100 years of destruction in Kurdistan are the victorious powers of the First World War. They are the ones who denied the identity, the culture, the history and the existence of the Kurdish people. We want to explain all these events to civil society and make the common demands of the Kurdish nation visible.

What is in store for the Kurds in view of the anniversary of this treaty? How will they act?

Kurdish deputies were also involved in the negotiations in Lausanne. This was to give the impression that they represented the Kurdish people. In fact, they were servants of the Turkish state. The Kurds were not included in the treaty, their rights, status and identity are still denied today. The Kurdish people have never accepted this imposed statuslessness. They revolted against this agreement, rebelled and fought. Even today, they claim an identity as a nation and want to gain status. The Kurdish people reject their oppression by the Treaty of Lausanne.

With this conference, the Kurds will demonstrate their stance against all the massacres and genocides that have been committed in Kurdistan for 100 years. We Kurds want official status in the four parts of Kurdistan with our existence, identity and language. The Kurds have an important opportunity in the politics of the Middle East and this is recognised by the peoples of the world. We must not miss this historic opportunity.

It is important to build an inner-Kurdish national unity. We must develop a national strategy to defend the rights of the Kurdish people. We can stand up to the United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League by proposing political ways and methods. This conference is very important for all Kurdish structures to develop a common discourse as one voice.