Nelson Mandela’s virtues of peace, struggle and forgiveness in the Kurdish question
“Courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace” – Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela, who died at the age of 95, will forever remain an icon of justice, peace, patience and perseverance. His life was a journey against the odds underlined by determination, belief and passion for the cause. In a remarkable transformation, Mandela went from imprisoned activist of 27 years, 18 years of those years in the harsh confinement of Robben Island, to freedom in 1990 and just 4 years later as South Africa’s first black president in the country’s first multi-racial fully representative democratic elections.
Mandela’s primary struggle was against the apartheid system of the all-white National Party of South Africa that oppressed the black population and whose policies “separated” the black and white societies ensuring contrasting lives and conditions.
The case and struggle of Mandela is certainly true for the Kurds. Whether discrimination is on racial, religion or ethnic ground, the end product and crimes are no different.
As the old saying goes “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. Mandela may have been despised by the white regime as a “communist” or “terrorist” but for thousands more he was a true revolutionary and a symbol of sacrifice, bravery and determination. Mandela was a true advocate of peace but he was not afraid to use other means when peaceful pleas went unanswered and when oppression against the blacks continued.
Much in the same way as the blacks in South Africa, the Kurds have suffered oppression at the hands of their rulers, often with a second-class label in their lands of forefathers. The Kurds did not desire violence to achieve their means but would the Kurds in Iraq and Turkey really be where they are today without the great struggle of their leaders and people?
There was uproar in many a Turkish circle when the Turkish government turned to imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan as a key interlocutor of the peace process.
But as Mandela put so wisely - “if you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."
When Mandela became president, in spite of his harsh ordeal, he advocated reconciliation, forgiveness and employed a lack of bitterness or hatred.
In Turkey, the Kurds and Turks can truly turn a new page by embracing the same ideals of forgiveness and reconciliation and swaying away from hatred or animosity. As Mandela put so well himself, "courageous people do not fear forgiving, for the sake of peace."
A look at Turkeys past needs a balanced approach. Killings of Turks or Kurds are as tragic as each other. Is a mourning Turkish mother any different to a mourning Kurdish mother?
There can never be reconciliation in Turkey without reflecting on the past. Mandela did not oppress those who did wrong against him or side-line them from his government – after all, that would make him no better than the perpetrator of crimes against him but he created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate past human rights abuses and to ensure the past is not merely swept under the rugs of history but is purposely taking forward to build a better future.
In December 1993, in a symbolic moment both Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk, the leader of the National Party at the time, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It highlighted that when it comes to peace, there should be no hero or villain or bitter taste.
Whether it is Nelson Mandela, Massaud Barzani or Abdullah Ocalan, they have all struggled for their people.
Mandela himself was acutely aware of the Kurdish struggle. In 1992, he refused the Atatürk Peace Award citing human rights violations, before later accepting the award in 1999.
In April 2009, Essa Moosa, the lawyer of Mandela on an official visit to Turkey, denounced the criminalisation of the Kurdish struggle for freedom, likening Ocalan’s struggle for the Kurds to that of Mandela.