Will it ever be possible for Turkey to resolve the Kurdish question?

While the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) announced it would extend its unilateral ceasefire with Turkish security forces until the general election next summer, and PKK leader Abdulla Ojalan has been involved in series of secret dialogues with the Turkish authorities to bring peace and reconciliation between the Kurds and government, the Turkish state is continuing to prosecute more than 150 Kurdish politicians. The prosecutions include more than a dozen elected mayors.

It seems whenever that there is a chance to make peace and end bloodshed, somehow the complexity of Turkey’s political structure becomes an obstacle and the cycle of violence continues for another round. In light of this, we ask the crucial question: Will it ever be possible for Turkish elites to give in to the Kurdish demands for peace and political partnership in Turkey The main obstacles to resolving Turkey’s Kurdish problem include the Kemalist (the founding characteristic of the Turkish state) concept of nation, the causes of conflict, various interests of the parties, and the pre-eminent role of military in the Turkish politics.

As a primary step, to understand the Kurdish plight for peace and national rights in Turkey, it is crucial to analyse the legal and actual status of the Kurds with respect to domestic and international law. “In states with ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, members of these minorities must not be denied the right, along with other members of their group, to cultivate their own cultural life, to practice their own language, or to speak and learn their own language,” says the International Agreement on Civil and Political Rights, Article 27.

The Paris Charter says, “We declare that the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of national minorities must be protected and that members of national minorities have the right to express, protect and further develop their identity in full equality and without discrimination. Turkey is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It is signatory to all these declarations, pacts and agreements. The question remains: What is the legal and actual status of the Kurds in Turkey with reference to these international agreements.

As the Turkish constitution clearly shows, there is a de jure and de facto system in Turkey which denies the identity of the Kurdish people. This denial hasn’t been the policy of the last few years, rather it is part of an unbroken 80-year tradition. A cursory look at the Turkish legal system shows that, from the beginning, all laws were drafted in such a way to prevent loopholes the Kurds could use.

Special regulations were enacted to ensure that Kurds, people with a Kurdish identity, could not enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms. For example, all but 22 of the 177 Articles of the Turkish Constitution ensure the Kurds are not allowed their fundamental rights and freedoms.

Of course, neither the constitution nor the criminal code makes use of the word “Kurd”; rather Kurdish nationality and Kurdish identity are covered by the notion of that which “violates the territorial and national integrity of the state.”

The Turkish government ignores international agreements and treaties. In addition to this refusal to recognize the existence of its Kurdish minority, the Turkish government is not prepared to guarantee the rights of the Kurdish people as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is clearly evident if one compares sections of international agreements to sections of Turkish law. Furthermore, a comparison between international and domestic Turkish law clearly shows the Turkish government>s racist assimilation policies with respect to the Kurds.

This practice is unique in the world. Indeed, the Turkish government can sum up its policies with respect to the Kurds in Turkey with the following sentence: Destroy the militants and assimilate the rest. Those who remain will be Turkified and will no longer have a Kurdish identity. This would end the Kurdish problem.

It is also crucial to mention that the Turkish elite and Turkish public have grown accustomed to a more vigorous assertion of Turkish nationalism, and now find themselves with a renewed European perspective. This perspective appeals to Western-oriented Ataturkists and to an increasingly materialistic middle class. It also appeals to those traditionally on the margins of Turkish society and politics, especially the Kurds, who see in Europe the possibility of more tolerance and freedom for their views. So far, Turkey>s leadership and people have not had to confront the dilemma posed by a strong nationalist tradition and a powerful attachment to state sovereignty in a Europe that dilutes the idea of sovereignty.

A strong sense of Turkish nationalism was always imbedded within the Ataturkist vision, and was closely tied to the modernization and Westernization of the country. The basic assumptions underpinning Ataturkism and the Turkish sense of nationalism have been widely shared among Turkish elites in the period of the Turkish Republic. More importantly, the 1990s saw the emergence of independent Turkic republics of the former Soviet Union, and stimulated a lively debate in Turkey over the prospects for new ties based on ethnic affinity in the Caucasus and Central Asia, even embracing a large region, from the Balkans to Western China. This pan-Turkish potential was taken up by fringe elements on the nationalist right, and was embraced in milder form, emphasizing trade and cultural ties, by mainstream parties as well as Turkey’s active business community.

In this same period, the emergence of an increasingly full military confrontation by Kurdish insurgency in south-eastern Anatolia, led by the PKK, and in the recent years, a more general rise in Kurdish political activism encouraged a nationalist reaction across the political spectrum.

While there have been new developments regarding Turkey’s quest for joining the European Union, and it seems the ruling AK Party is playing its so called policy of “New-Ottoman” in the region, this country still desperately wants to become part of the richest union of the modern world. Nevertheless, Turkey’s political games cannot go on forever. On one hand, Turkish officials are claiming policies of “democratic initiatives” “opening to the Kurds” and adopting European standards of human rights.

On the other hand, Turkey insists on a military solution to the Kurdish question, jailing Kurdish politicians and activists and deepening its political ties with the anti-Western forces in the region. Indeed, the complexity of Turkish political structure itself, where secularism and religion have been used to empower Turkish nationalism, is the main obstacle to resolving the Kurdish question in Turkey.

Therefore, Turkey’s hypocritical policies for dealing with human rights and the process of democratisation should receive more attention if there’s any hope of finding a lasting, peaceful solution to the Kurdish question. As a first step, Turkey should not expect to qualify to the much-prized club membership by applying a trimmed down version of EU packages. What’s more, it should expect to be treated like a European state when it relapses to its tyrannical past.

To behave, act and think like a European takes centuries. It would be a tall order and implausible demand, however desirable and beneficial, to ask Turkey to enroll all of its military and civilian leaders in courses ranging from studies in European history, human rights, multi-ethnic societies in democracies and rights of nations for self-determination. However, it would also be a far-fetched to ask Turkey’s establishment and its military leaders to take long sessions with European psychiatrists to rid themselves from the Kurdo-phobia, which has gripped Turkey for decades.

But, there is a shortcut for Turkey to become a modern European entity, and that is by embracing and helping Kurds in Turkey to achieve political and cultural equality.

Finally, it should be clear that the Kurdish question in Turkey is not just about the presence of a few thousand armed PKK fighters in the border regions. There is a widespread historical grievance and dissatisfaction among Kurdish people in every corner of this country, and the Turkish government should finally come to its senses and look for a long-standing peaceful solution to the Kurdish conflict.

 

Salah Bayaziddi
The Kurdish Globe
11 December 2010

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