This is a strictly academic post, for a term paper about development in the “Muslim” world. I feel very strongly about the Turkish position in modern day society, as they are the gateway between the east and the west, as well as an Islamic society that has successfully chosen capitalism and is attempting democracy. I highlighted the plight of the Kurdish, because it is Turkey’s most poorly managed developmental struggle. It’s also fascinating, that a population as large as the Kurdish, has no nation. In this group, they are also; internationally active, freaking NOMADIC and oppressed. The Kurdish are both diverse, and culturally intriguing. Oh, and they are beautiful. Bright green eyes and soft light brown skin? To die for. Enjoy!
The Kurdish Question
On 28 June 1925, the Sheikh Said Rebellion instigated what was to be one of the most multifaceted nationalist movements in the Middle East. Almost 80 years later, this mobilization of Kurdish separatists against the oppressive Republic of Turkey continues as an unresolved armed conflict. The Kurdish separatist struggle for autonomy evolved in to what is now known as the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK). 30 years and 40,000 deaths later, Turk military and the PKK have both accused of human rights violations by the Council of European Union. Despite financial sanctioning for Turkey, and labeling of the PKK at a ‘terrorist organization,’ discourse to promote peaceful relations was never encouraged, nor attempted. Both Turkish and Kurdish societies denied opportunities to establish open dialogue with each other, or through an intermediary during periods of cease-fire. Such dialogue would have addressed the very multifaceted conflict between the threatened state of Turkey and the oppressed Kurdish culture, and the insurgency of the PKK. Tempers between these groups grew past political objectives, and became cultural terrorist attacks on personal freedoms. Thusly, the Turkish culture’s demonization of the Kurdish, only fueled the hatred of the insurgent PKK. Grouping both the Kurdish people and the Kurdish insurgents together, the Turkish condemned the Kurdish and established the ‘Kurdish Question,’ referring to political efforts to expel Kurdish peoples from the nation. Through analysis of related theoretical texts covering modernity and cultural miscommunication, the ‘Kurdish Question’ will be given a framework by which discrimination can be minimized and cultural communication will be effective.
The framework of the ‘Kurdish Question’, pragmatically speaking, depends on several factors. First, effective cultural discourse must establish differences. In contrast to James Carey’s A Cultural Approach to Communication, it is important to acknowledge ‘otherness,’ thereby eliminating expectations for similarities. Edgar Schein’s study on sub-cultural communication agrees, stating, “speaking the same language creates a greater risk that people will overlook the actual differences in categories of thought that reflect functional subcultures.” (1993) Through a historical pre-text, origins of the Turkish, Kurdish and the PKK’s ideological convictions can deconstruct presumptions, allowing for greater understanding of ideological background.
Secondly, the Turkish state must recognize that the ‘Kurdish Question’ is distinct from the PKK’s terrorism. From this re-estimation of Kurdish culture, it becomes obvious that Kurdish culture and Kurdish activism have two different intentions pertaining to the state of Turkey. Recognition that the oppression of the Kurdish peoples for the sake of PKK repulsion is wrong and has been historically inhumane. In reference to Stuart Hall’s Question of Cultural Identity, cultural identity isn’t fixed amongst a group, and collective identity is an ‘unstable point of identification.’ (324) Analysis of Kurdish livelihood under Turkish rule can provide points of miscommunication and mistreatment, to prevent such further atrocities.
Third, both the initial two steps will frame a rounded cultural perspective, which will increase ability to address the horrible miscommunications between the three major actors. The ‘Kurdish Question’ includes two very defined political persuasions, Islamic Orientalism and Turkish Kemalism. Manuel Castells (1997) expresses the importance of identity when looking at political frameworks, stating that identity is relational to the role it is occupying. Castell’s three types of identities can be used to describe the positional power relationship between Turkey, the Kurdish culture and the PKK. Organizing each actor in to an identity will provide a theoreticalf framework for addressing the cultural miscommunications. It is essential for modernized Turkey to communicate with the two periphery ideologies, the Kurds and the PKK, and relieve the negative connotation of ‘Kurdish Question’. Having won the war, Turkey now needs to win the peace.
29 October 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk became the first non-Ottoman ruler in over 623 years of Turkish history (Cornell, 2001; 32). Preempted by the First World War, Turkish Nationalists were ready for Revolution. After a successful Turkish War of Independence, Nationalists sought to remove the socio-political legacy of the Ottoman Empire. The nationalist and secularist reforms signified the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish nation-state and from Islam to nationalism, with the “cult of Atatürk” substituting Islam as “Turkey’s religion” (Müller, 1996: 175). The Hat Law of 1825, prohibiting the veil and the fez, was the first step to declassification of Turkey under ‘Orientalist’ standards. Kemal Atatürk’s Nationalism removed Islam as the cohesive element of Turkey; instead he instigated ‘Turkification’. Atatürk viewed ethno-religious pluralism as a problem with the Ottoman empire, and was convinced that a nation could only consist of a society that shared the same ideal, language, territory and culture. Influenced by Western modernity and superiority, Turkification became Kemalism’s action plan for Turkey.
‘Tek dil, tek halk, tek bayrak’
One language, One people, One Flag
Although Atatürk emphasized the, “inseparability of the Kurds from the Ottoman nation,” (Muller, 1996: 176), he signed the “Treaty of Lausanne” of July 24th 1923, prohibiting Kurds from claiming Kurdistan as a sovereign state. After the Sheikh Said Rebellion, the passing of “Settlement Law” (1934 ) displayed Atatürk’s dismissal of the Kurdish from his ‘Turkified’ nation. Dividing Kurds in to acceptable “zones,” Article 11 of the law ordered Kurds to be distributed thinly so that they constituted no more than 10 percent of the population of any district to which they were sent. There was no thought given to Kurdish family homes, or family units. (Muller, 1996: 178).
Understanding the de/territorialization of Kurds cannot be done on with respects to globalization, as presented by Inda and Rosaldo. The de/territorialization experienced by the Kurds is an on going process, with the possibility of the average Kurd getting ‘uprooted’ three times or more in one lifetime. (Amnesty International, 2007.) As societies around the Middle East push them out, the Kurdish peoples have a large Diaspora population in many Northern European societies. Unfortunately, the plight of the Kurds left in Turkey is extreme. With a lack of economic stimulus from the government, they live off the land, with very few opportunities for education or personal initiative outside of their tribe. Amnesty International states, “Kurdish is the largest ethnicity without a nation, at an estimated 35 million people, and at least an extra 1 million living in Diaspora.” (2007)
While the Arabs call the Kurds “Arabs from Yemen”, the Turks call them “mountain Turks” and the Persians regard them as their ethnic counterparts, it is not astonishing that the Kurdish have suffered with tensions about their cultural identities! Kurds represent a group that has been ‘Orientalized’ and outcasted by modernized communities of its homeland, with the only evidence as to why being that a majority practice fundamental Islam.
Currently, the Turkish constitution doesn’t allow Kurdish television, Kurdish language instruction, formation of political groups with the word ‘Kurdish’ in them, or anything else that could, “provoke hatred or animosity between groups,” unless permitted by the state. (Consitution of the Republic of Turkey) Such stringent media and expression laws are very parallel with that of ‘Thought Crime,’ in George Orwell’s 1984. When the government outcasts it’s own citizens, ‘Orientalizing’ them, labeling them as not as in some way not up-to –par, it’s only a matter of time before the citizens realize that they can build their own golf course. Kurdish autonomy is not an impossibility.
‘Ne mutlu Türküm digene.’
How happy is the one who says, I am a Turk.
Orientalism, as used by Edward Said (1978), referred to hegemonic patterns of representation of “Oriental” cultures and societies as “backward” and “traditional” in order to construct Europe (or the West) as “modern” and “progressive.” For this reason the Orient had to constantly be stigmatised and set apart as innately different from the Occident. This ‘othering’ process of drawing a strict East/West boundary became “The starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind’, destiny, and so on” (1978). Orientalist images and knowledge, generated alongside colonialism in the 18th and 19th centuries, have operated as a tool and a justification of Western cultural, political, military and economic dominance, based on the perception of the inferiority of non-Western cultures, religions and societies. This understanding of Orientalism connects cultural, political and economic power relations and the hegemony of Turkey.
By assuming the Orientalist narrative and re-enacting it in the form of a Turkish Orientalism “indigenous” to Turkey, the Turkish ruling elite negated the Ottoman past for its “backwardness” and “religiosity”. The Kemalists rejected the Orient and assigned to Islam the definition of Orientalness, thus equating ‘westernisation’ with de-Islamisation. The process of the reproduction of Orientalism within Turkey refers to the way in which the Turkish nationalist elite, the Kemalists, imagined the Turkish nation and construed the ethno-religiously diverse society inherited from the Ottoman Empire. It is the process whereby Kemalism approached the society it emerged from, and the conditions that gave rise to it, through an Orientalist and Eurocentric reasoning and logic. Since Western modernity, superiority and strength was defined by homogenous nation-statehood and militarism, systematic Turkification became Kemalism’s very own civilizing mission. How do the missions of with the Kurdish demand for freedoms fit in with Atatürk’s ‘Turkification’?
“People cannot develop if they don’t conquer social dignity.”
(Castells, 25; 1997)
Castells offers an identity organizational structure that would be able to further explain relationships between Kurdish identity, and the exertion of Turkish power on their livelihood. Unlike “roles” (i.e. ‘Mother’), which are defined by “norms structured by the institutions and organizations of society,”(27; 1997) identities (i.e. gay, feminist), “are sources of meaning for the actors themselves, and by themselves, constructed through a process of individuation” (1997) ‘Legitimizing identity’ is “introduced by the dominant institutions of society to extend and rationalize their domination vis-à-vis social actors.”(1997) An example is the identity of citizen confined to political actions within the limits of established state power. The Republic of Turkey would fit in to this category, because they are aware and content with their relationship with power (they are the power). ‘Resistance identity’ is “generated by those actors that are in positions/conditions devalued and/or stigmatized by the logic of domination…”(1997) The Resistance identity emphasizes disagreement and contest of the power, but no action for change. This group is the oppressed minority. ‘Resistance identity,’ of the Kurd can be exemplified with their ‘otherness’ from the state through religious fundamentalism, and their unwillingness to appreciate Turkish modernity. “Exclusion of the excluders by the excluded.”(1997) Finally, although rare, ‘Project identity’ is the identity of reformation. No longer did they want to be oppressed and hold only political grudges, they wanted to take social action. Social tension like this is established in the PKK identity.
Castells identities can also be separated in to the specific interests of each group. The Republic of Turkey is ‘legitimate,’ and wants to maintain their specific relationship with power. Kurdish citizens ‘resist,’ by having internalized feelings against the power above them. They are the minority that wants to be heard. Finally, the PKK has a ‘project.’ Contending with the ‘legitimate’ power of Turkey, the PKK has interest in extreme change in things like social and economic policy.
“If the Kurdish issue is resolved in a democratic way through dialogue we will lay down our weapons, yes. We will not carry arms,”
Murat Karayilan, current leader of the PKK (2010)
With the PKK militarily accepting peace offers from the Turkish, the time has come for Turkey to accelerate its democratization, including the removal of restrictions on cultural rights. Turkey has opposed any easing of its strict legislation over terrorism, freedom of expression, and cultural rights, and justifies its position with the argument that reform would imply ‘concessions’ to terrorists. Now that the specter of PKK terrorism has significantly diminished, opportunity has emerged for the country to go forward with reforms on human rights and democratization. Interests of both the ‘legitimate’ Turks to maintain identity, and the PKK to instigate a ‘project’ of change for themselves and the minority, are transparent for negotiations. Now, one must contend about how to establish agreement between the two feuding sides.
Convergence theories argue that despite national and regional differences, the road to modernization is basically unilinear. Frances Fukuyama, in his widely read book, The End of History, extends the unilinear view of modernization to argue that an inevitable outcome of global conflict is political democratization. He argues that human history can be seen as a “coherent development of human societies from simple tribal ones based on slavery through various theocracies, monarchies, and feudal aristocracies, up through modern liberal democracy and technologically driven capitalism.” (xii) Fukuyama would be suggesting in this sense, that Kurdish culture will inevitably be de-feudalized and accept the democratic concept of secularization. Fukuyama recognizes that nations and peoples can choose to resist these forces of history, but in a kind of Darwinian evolution, those who resist will eventually be ‘swept away,’ or at least overshadowed, by those that evolve in the ‘prescribed’ direction.
Of course, the unilinear view of modernization has often been challenged, particularly in the non-western world, but also by western scholars. In contrast to convergence theories like Fukuyama’s, are theories of cultural variation, which assert there are different roads to modernization and different end states to the modernization process. This contends that, despite possible democratization of Turkey, Kurdish ideological differences will continue to cause conflict. One of the most straightforward and articulate spokesmen of the cultural variation school is Samuel Huntington. In a widely read essay, “Clash of Civilizations?” and a subsequent book, Foreign Affairs, Huntington argues that while all cultures experience certain similarities in the modernization process, cultures still retain their unique characteristics and basic ideologies. Even after modernization, societies can be quite different from each other.
Who has the better of this debate, Huntington or Fukuyama? The central question is whether all modernizing societies are approaching the same end state, including political democracy, or whether the distinct legacies and traditions of different civilizations mean that they will remain separate and unique.
In application to the Kurdish Question, Fukuyama is wrong and Huntington is right. Just as important as the continual pressure to modernize, is the continual pressure to maintain cultural traditions and values. The Kurdish Question has shown the persistent power of anti-secular (and therefore anti-Western) culture and ethnicity. Symbolizing the ethnic and national rivalries that fuels wars, and acting as an example of a significant fault line in the Middle East, ‘the Turkish-Kurdish conflict proves that blood and soil have proven powerful attachments.’(Öcalan, 2003)
The evolution of Turkish politics and society can be promoted through encouragement of civil society and the welcoming of outside agencies (NGOs) to facilitate discussion. Such organizations have the best chance of offering public discourse without forced presence in Kurdish areas. In this context, the role of Kurdish political parties deserves mention. Most Kurdishoriented parties in the 1990s have been closed by the Constitutional Court due to links to the PKK. Currently, the People’s Democracy Party (Halkin Demokrasi Partisi–HADEP) is under the same threat. However, the results of the 1999 general elections indicate the wide popularity of HADEP in the southeast. Although the party received only 4.7 percent of the total votes in the parliamentary election, small amount is largely related to the 10 percent representation in the parliament. With little chance of attaining that level nationwide, many voters concluded that a vote for HADEP was ‘wasted’(2005.)
Results in the simultaneous elections suggested differently. In many towns in the southeast, including the large cities of Van and Diyarbakir, HADEP candidates won landslide victories with up to 70 percent of the vote. This is a clear sign that large parts of the population of the southeast strongly favor a democratic representative of Kurdish rights. State attempts to destroy HADEP, either by closing down the party through legal measures or through the harassment or arrest of its leaders, are thus likely to be counterproductive. Removing the possibility of a democratic outlet for Kurdish sentiment will only fuel new rebellions. Despite its sometimes-warranted suspicions, the state needs to tolerate and, if possible, engage HADEP and other democratic Kurdish movements instead of suppressing them.
Encouraging the use of open dialogue, transparency by the state in economic funding, and reformation of the Turkish’s Republic’s constitution is the first-ever leader, and now prisoner of the state, Aduhllah Öcalan. “Confronted by aggressive national chauvinism… if the power was explained, there would be no ideological constraints to agreement with the state.” (2008) Encouraging the discrimination of ethnic hegemony, and the institution of democratic socialism, Öcalan suggests that the ‘Kurdish Question’ should be treated as a fundamental question of democracy.
Turkish interests stand against democracy, because of the still discriminatory view of ‘otherness’. Through open dialogue, could the Turks not achieve a more hegemonized Kurdish population? Other proponents of this theory include current Turkish President, M. Fethullah Gülen. Currently engaged in a “war of position,” Gülen states that societal change must trickle through a society’s ‘superstructure,’(Hendrick, 2009) Through recognizing the power structures through Castell’s identities, opening historical dialogue to condition society to understand, and taking advantage of current PKK and Turkish leadership, the ‘Kurdish Question’ will evolve from expressing political hegemony, to accessing the social hegemony potential of the Republic of Turkey, the Kurdish citizens, and the radical PKK.
“Only after strengthening one’s collective identity, therefore, can actors in a network make use of the ‘structural connection’ between institution and individuals.”
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