KURDISH QUESTION: WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

upa-admin 25 Aralık 2023 432 Okunma 0
KURDISH QUESTION: WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

With the recent PKK attack on the Turkish military, which led to the death of 12 Turkish soldiers, once again the Kurdish Question or the Kurdish Problem felt its presence in Turkish politics. The total death toll for PKK terrorism has already surpassed 40,000 people in 40 years, a fact that shows that it is not a marginal violence problem and it has strong societal roots. For sure, Türkiye, similar to all other countries, has all the rights to defend itself against terrorist groups and PKK is an officially designated terrorist group by the United States (U.S.) and the European Union (EU). However, to increase its legitimacy in its fight against the PKK and have the upper hand in anti-terror diplomacy, Türkiye can try to implement different political strategies as it did in the past with the solution process (çözüm süreci), a process during which the Turkish intelligence organization-MİT negotiated with the PKK to find a way to encourage the terrorist group to lay down its arms and Turkish government started an opening process (açılım süreci) to increase the legitimacy of the state among Türkiye’s Kurdish originated citizens by providing them new cultural rights. In that sense, it will not be exaggerated to claim that the AK Parti (Justice and Development Party) acted as the most reformist party on the Kurdish Question in the recent past.

To discuss the Kurdish Question in detail, we should first categorize different approaches in Türkiye toward the Kurdish Question:

1. Official Republican thesis (Kemalism) claiming that there is no such thing as the Kurdish Question or Kurdish Problem and there is only a problem of terrorism in the country,

2. Modernist thesis assuming that the Kurdish Question is a direct consequence of Türkiye’s socioeconomic underdevelopment status,

3. Democratic thesis underlining Türkiye’s democratic deficits and claiming that the Kurdish Question will be solved in time as Turkish democracy deepens,

4. Administrative approach based on the lack of efficiency of Türkiye’s current administrative system within the unitary and centralized state model,

5. Identity-based approach claiming that the problem is caused by the unrecognized status of the Kurdish identity by the Turkish State.

Following these theses or approaches, different solution models were created to solve the Kurdish Question. Accordingly,

• The first thesis (official Republican approach) proposed military methods to eradicate terrorism and to continue Türkiye’s nation-building process,

• The second thesis (Modernist approach) proposed economic modernization of Southeastern Anatolia, a region densely populated by Kurds,

• The third thesis (Democratic approach) proposed a better democracy for Türkiye,

• The fourth thesis (Administrative approach) proposed an administrative reform for Türkiye by larger powers of municipalities or a new model of administration based on federalism or autonomy of Kurds,

• The fifth thesis (Identity-based approach) proposed a new common identity for all Turkish citizens (e.g. citizens of the Republic of Türkiye instead of Turk) or a reference to Kurdish identity in the constitution.

On the other hand, the Turkish State’s relatively harsh attitude toward Kurds is caused by some historical structural conditions, rather than the evil nature of Turkish statesmen. This could be described as the “Sevres Syndrome”, a fear that Türkiye would be split up into different pieces similar to the Ottoman Empire in the past. In addition, as Bernard Lewis pointed out, pan-Turkist and Islamic ideologies of the late Ottoman period were both non-territorial, unlike Kemalist nationalism which attached almost a sacred character to the national boundaries. This great emphasis on territory was also based on the low legitimacy of the new Turkish identity and filled this identity vacuum. The National Oath (Misak-ı Milli) meant also the rejection of the Treaty of Sevres which ordered the establishment of a Kurdish State in Southeastern Anatolia. Furthermore, Türkiye’s military-led/driven modernization or Enlightenment was based on the idea of creating a homogenous national identity, which was understood as Westernization in the sense of a strong nation-state and economic prosperity. Diversity and social pluralism were seen as obstacles to the emergence of a modern state. While modernization and Republicanism in the Rousseauist sense (general will, centrality of obligations, and duties to the public realm) gained too much emphasis, fear of division led to the anti-democratic policies against Islamists and Kurds. Although late Ottoman nationalism was instrumental in the emergence of Republican nationalism, Turkish nationalism was based on the total repudiation of the past political and cosmological configuration of the mosaic legacy of the Ottoman Empire. The confusing range of ethnic, linguistic, and sectarian cleavages in the Anatolian rectangle produced insecurities and anxieties about identity politics for the young Republic. However, for the majority of people, Islam remained the chief marker of self-identification. This was particularly true for the Kurdish community who had long association with the Khalidiya branch of the Nakshibendi (Nakşibendi) religious brotherhood. Thus, the externalization of Islam prevented the easy acceptance of the new national identity by the Ottoman Muslim population. The competition against the stronger traditions and older institutions of Islam became a source of weakness for the attempt to establish a hegemony of the constructs known as Türkiye and Turkishness. Thus, the Kurdish opposition became instrumental for the Republican elite to unify the Turkish polity and provide some coherence to Turkish identity. This identity is also caused by the ethnicization of civic identity. The problem is not that Türkiye refuses to accept Kurds as Turkish citizens, but rather Kurds do not want to see themselves as Turks. This dual character of Turkish nationalism consisted of civic identity granting equal rights to all citizens and at the same time an assimilation model trying to merge different ethnic identities into a new one.

In recent years, although it seems like we have been entering into a new process of toughening policies, the Turkish State has given up on its policies of ignoring or denying Kurds and began to take steps to help its Kurdish-originated citizens and to prevent the collapse of the state authority. After Turgut Özal’s efforts, the reform process started with the coalition of Süleyman Demirel’s True Path Party (DYP) and Erdal İnönü’s Social Democratic Populist Party (SHP) and was deepened with the Bülent Ecevit’s DSP-MHP-ANAP coalition. Demirel said, “We should recognize the Kurdish reality” and İnönü established an electoral coalition between his party and the pro-Kurdish party. Later, Ecevit and his government made important reforms including the allowance of broadcasting in the Kurdish language. These reforms were accelerated by the Islamist-leaning reformist AK Parti. In fact, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could be described as the most courageous Turkish leader concerning the Kurdish Question in his early years of rule. Under Erdoğan’s leadership and former President of the Republic Abdullah Gül’s guidance, AK Parti allowed Kurdish names for densely Kurdish-populated cities, established a Kurdish Institute in Mardin Artuklu University, built airports in Kurdish cities and declared a ceasefire with the PKK. Erdoğan also engaged in very good economic and political relations with the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in Northern Iraq. However, after the failure of the peace talks between the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) and PKK, a new terror wave was started by PKK and the Turkish State again had to implement security-military methods in response.

Having all this information in mind, these policies and reforms might be carried out by the Turkish government in the future;

• Türkiye should continue to fight against terrorism. Terrorism should be condemned and fought without making any discrimination where it comes from. Turkish people do not support terrorism and terrorist activities of PKK harm Kurdish-originated citizens of Türkiye most. This could be seen by the relatively low approval ratings and voting percentages of pro-Kurdish parties in Türkiye although at least 15 million Kurds are living in Türkiye. However, security-based policies are not the only alternatives in counter-terrorism. In addition to military operations, Türkiye could use intelligence activities to prevent terror activities in advance without spoiling the normality of life in that region. Moreover, in case it does not provoke offensive Turkish nationalism, Türkiye might again engage in negotiations with the PKK. However, this time, more information should be provided to the Turkish Parliament and Turkish people and if there is a deal, this should be ratified either by the Parliament or by the people in a referendum.

• Türkiye should continue to modernize and make investments in Southeastern Anatolia. In addition to the GAP project, Türkiye could propose new infrastructural projects that will make this region a land of hope and investments instead of an exile region for public officials because of the terrible socioeconomic conditions. Türkiye could use solar energy in this region to reduce its energy dependency and could invest in new technologies.

• Türkiye should increase the quality of its democracy. In a better-functioning democracy, neither the Kurdish Question nor the Islamist challenge will be that harsh. So, by increasing civil rights and liberties, the Kurdish Problem will be weakened. Here, Türkiye could organize a new state body composed of academicians and civil society leaders to understand people’s problems and propose new policies. Barriers against freedom of speech and freedom of the press should be removed. Pro-Kurdish deputies should have the freedom to defend their views honestly unless they engage in terrorist activities. The same liberty should be provided to Turkish nationalists as well unless they implement hate speeches.

• There should be an official consensus about Türkiye’s administrative model. Unitary systems are not on the rise in the world and even unitary states are making reforms to strengthen local governing bodies (municipalities). Most of the world’s developed nations (G7 countries for instance) are either federal or give large powers to their local bodies. Here, as I proposed earlier in one of my articles, Türkiye could use its 7 geographical regions as a model for developing its own version of federalism. In a federal system, all lifestyles and identities will be free and protected. It is obvious that Western parts of the country will be more secular and pro-European, whereas central Anatolian regions and cities will be highly Islamic and Turkish. Similar to this, Kurdish regions will be more Kurdish, but will still be parts of the country. This can be finalized and protected with constitutional guarantees. Another option might be autonomy for Kurds, which would be seen as still too risky by the Turkish state elite. The last option might be to increase the powers of the municipalities within the unitary state model, but until now this was tried and not proven very efficient as the central government continues to appoint trustees (kayyum) to many cities in Southeastern Anatolia where people democratically elect pro-Kurdish party candidates as mayors.

• Kurdish identity could be protected by the Turkish State to increase Kurds’ loyalty to the state. For instance, in addition to the official Turkish language, Kurdish education could be allowed in state schools during weekends similar to community colleges or with ELCO (EILE) system in France. There could be new Kurdish Institutes opening in Anatolian universities and the Kurdish language could be taught in Turkish state schools as an elective foreign language. However, the acceptance of Kurdish as the second official language will still be considered too risky by the state and it will not help Kurds as well since they could not find jobs without knowing Turkish. The last policy option might be to change the identity definition of Turkish citizens in the Turkish constitution which is still in the status of “Everyone bound to the Turkish State through the bond of citizenship is a Turk” (Türk Devletine vatandaşlık bağı ile bağlı olan herkes Türktür). Since the terms “Turk” (Türk) and the “Turkish nation” (Türk milleti) are considered ethnic references by the majority of Kurds in Türkiye, this could be replaced by “Türkiyeli” or “citizen of Türkiye” (Türkiye vatandaşı) definition. A reference to Kurdish identity could also be made in the preamble part of the constitution pointing out Kurds as a part of the Turkish nation as well. This would be the changing or the addition of one word in the constitution, but still could help a lot in solving Türkiye’s Kurdish Question.

Finally, as Political Psychology expert Vamık Volkan suggests, ethnic problems are mostly psychological-based and different ethnic groups and nations could overcome their problems if they want to. Of course, among these alternatives, choosing the best policy options will be the responsibility of Türkiye’s ruling elite and primarily President Erdoğan.

Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ

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