More on the Kurds from a correspondent in Turkey

April 23, 2011

In News

Over the past twenty-four hours, the Kurds in the Southeast have caused widespread property damage in rioting against the YSK decision to ban twelve Kurdish candidates from the upcoming elections. Protests took place across the country, leading to somewhat arbitrary arrests of the participants (my father in law, who was merely watching a protest, was arrested and detained for over an hour here in Izmir). As a result, seven of those twelve candidates have been cleared by the YSK to run in the upcoming elections.

Violence, or the threat thereof, works. The state is a repressive organisation with no interest in the democratic demands of the people. It is no different for the people of Turkey, be they Kurd, Turk, Laz or Armenian. The Turkish state has shown for decades it has no interest in listening to the legitimate demands of the Turkish left or the Kurdish people on any issue. It remains committed to staying the course on the issues of global capitalism, militarism, and blatant exclusionist nation-statism. In none of these respects is the Turkish government unique. It bears great similarity to its neighbours and to many other nation-states throughout the world. The media, the voice of the rich who ultimately profit off of these institutions, is never unbiased.

Today after a bomb attack they made sure to film a Kurdish bus driver giving his opinions. He rightly condemned the characterisation of Kurds and Turks as enemies (he mentioned that his family has intermarried with Turks) and insisted that violence was not a characteristic of “Kurdishness” (“Kürtlük”). But he also said “one is free to speak Kurdish” (“Kürtçe konuşmak serbest”).

Thus “the Kurds” are on TV, telling us of their peaceful intentions, but only those Kurds willing to overlook the fact that not everything is “free”. One is NOT free to speak Kurdish in primary or secondary schools throughout the country, let alone LEARN it (although one IS free to attend French schools and learn fluent French). One is NOT free to learn about Kurdish history (something which, if one was to judge based on the new state-sponsored Kurdish television station TRT-6, does not exist). One is NOT free to speak about the Kurdish people’s historical existence spanning several modern non-Kurdish nation-states, and still extant connections between these based on Kurdish language and culture, without being accused of extremist views. At the same time, Turkey IS free to proclaim its undying support to Azerbaijan, and almost every Turkish citizen (including most Kurds) will echo this sentiment. On nearly every “national” question, the Kurds are not free even by the modest standards of set by the state’s relationship to the Turks. Things HAVE improved (there was a time, not long ago, when Kurds were not allowed to speak their language in public), but they have improved after years of Kurdish violence.

I do not support the PKK. But the government most certainly does. Through its continued refusal to negotiate with the Turkish Kurds as a whole, through its censorship of modest displays of Kurdish nationalism (no such censorship exists against even quite extreme displays of Turkish nationalism), through the media’s insistence on speaking about “terrorism” and displaying a veritable sea of uncritical “average” Kurdish voices, cherry-picked for Turkish viewing, creating a false dichotomy between “loyal Kurds” and “separatists” (Kurds ARE capable of being critical of the state AND supportive of peace and coexistance with Turks, but the media doesn’t reflect this, and it IS the media, it IS the state, which created this false dichotomy, it is NOT the Kurds OR the PKK), through its violent suppression of left-wing resistance in general and Kurdish resistance in the Southeast in particular, the Turkish state has made very clear that the best way to be heard is to threaten the state with violence. Today, the Kurds have their own state-sponsored television station (albeit one which in no way reflects the views of Kurdish intellectuals, historians or activists), a token gesture designed to placate the Kurds after years of violence. Today, the state (for the most part) no longer pretends the Kurds are “mountain Turks” and falls back on a plastic civic nationalism, owing in no small part to years of Kurdish violence. After years of violence against the Kurds, the state and its supporters wish us to believe that Kurdish pacifism is the answer. But many Kurds who might otherwise be opposed to violence are fully aware that violence has been the most effective tool against state repression of their movements or ambivalence to their plight. The EU certainly cannot be counted on, especially since at this point Turkish citizens are wary of the state’s inclusion in that entity (

There are those liberals who would at this point remind me that the CHP’s present leader is a Kurd, and that perhaps if the AKP were gone, the Kurdish problem would be solved as well. This would be nice, but the AKP doesn’t appear to be the problem at all. Before the AKP, the Kurds faced decades of more ridiculous treatment by the CHP and other “old-guard” Kemalist parties. The Kurds are fully aware that the AKP is the most progressive ruling party on Kurdish issues thusfar, and their voting record shows it (most Kurds in the Southeast vote either for whatever the current Kurdish party is or the AKP). Of course, this is not to pretend that the AKP is at all progressive. The AKP’s concessions to the Kurds are token, and if they had any interest in solving the Kurdish problem (they do not), they would take much more drastic measures. The AKP merely gives what concessions it can for the same reason the CHP will if it seizes power: Years of Kurdish violence has convinced them that they must at least maintain the illusion of sympathy for the Kurds.

More importantly, Kılıçdaroğlu’s “Kurdishness” is under scrutiny from both sides: Kurdish nationalists (rightly) do not trust a leader who seeks coalition with the MHP, and many voices in the Turkish media are sceptical that he is TOO Kurdish. One reads articles containing quotes like “Why does he have to say that he is a Kurd and an Alevi?” Why does the state have to push Sunni Islam in its religious education when many Turkish citizens are Alevis? Why do Turkish children have to say they are “proud to be Turks”? It seems that modest, militarist-friendly Kurdish Kemalists like Kılıçdaroğlu are too much Kurd for a country peppered with Turkish nationalist slogans and in which pan-Turkism is allowed to coexist with “civic nationalism” but federalist demands for Kurdish autonomy are viewed by the majority as an existential threat.

I do not support the PKK. But without them, it is clear that the state would hardly be more supportive of Kurdish rights. I do not support the PKK, but it is thanks to their violence that most non-Kurds even bother to consider why the Kurds might be angry. I do not support the PKK, but the bourgeois state apparatus at present offers Kurds no viable alternative.

Progressive Turks MUST add (and many HAVE added, but not nearly in necessary force) Kurdish rights to their political agenda. Without it, those obsessed with “division” will get their apparent wish (one begins to feel that the government protests too much), and Kurds in the Southeast will come more and more to the conclusion that there is no place for “Kurdishness” in Turkey (“secular” or “Islamic”, although secularists should take special caution, since unlike Kemalism, Islamism can hypothetically contain Kurdishness and Turkishness equally), and will act accordingly.

An azadî an azadî,