Peace Winds After The Kurdish Spring

By Pinar Temocin / Image via AK Rockefeller

The Kurdish question has been considered as an important issue in struggling to build an independent nation. They are the second largest ethnic group living partly in the eastern part of Turkey with their own language, traditions and customs. The Kurds are considered as a stateless nation and they have been struggling for “statehood” for a long time. Due to national aspirations their demand for being an independent state with a strong emphasis on “national unity”, “cultural rights”, “particular collective identity”, “self-determination”, “political autonomy” and “governing authority” has became obvious since the beginning of last century. However various policies undertaken by the government have turned a blind eye to this demand, attempting to destroy “the Kurdish national identity”. In other words, they were partly suppressed over many decades last century.

Considering its own historical background, the intention for keeping Turkish identity alive caused the ethnic conflict in the 1920s. The Turkish nation-state formation was shaped after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the foundation of the Turkish Republic. After all, the goal of Turkism and Kemalist Nationalism, modernity, secular affairs somewhat caused the emergence of the conflict and polarized approaches between the Turks and the Kurds. Concerning ethnicity, we have witnessed the continuous conflict between Turks and Kurds over the last few decades. Turkish elites adhered to developing both emotional and national ties on Turkish identity. The Turkish authorities did not even recognize the Kurdish language as a foreign language until 1991.

Article 42 to the 1982 Constitution states as follows:

No language other than Turkish shall be taught as the mother tongue to Turkish citizens at any institutions of training or education. Foreign languages to be taught in institutions of training and education and the rules to be followed by schools conducting training and education in a foreign language shall be determined by law

Thus people were unable to learn Kurdish at private & public institutions and schools. All Kurdish organizations and institutions as well as Kurdish folklore were banned. At that time, many Kurdish people were also killed by large-scale military operations (the 1980 Turkish coup d’état). After the Turkish state’s intervention into Kurdish cultural practices (Kurdish language-based education, celebrating the Newroz spring festival with traditional costumes which demonstrate support for the Kurdish cause, freely wearing the traditional Keffiyeh flag that symbolizes the identical features, lifting the ban to sing in Kurdish such as Ahmet Kaya’s songs) in everyday life, the left-wing and radical Kurdish Party (The Workers’ Party of Kurdistan or PKK) established as a part of the movement for the independent and united Kurdistan, and became violently active in the south east of Turkey in the 1980s. After having been active in the Kurdish provinces (which were literally undeveloped through being ignored by the authorities) and became popular via media, people were convinced that the only way to stand up to the Turkish Army could be possible with the PKK, and afterwards Turkish authorities admitted that there is a “Kurdish issue” and correspondingly they have drawn particular attention to this issue.

Kurds in Turkey have fought for recognition of the fundamental rights as well as existence of Kurdish people, the legitimization of Kurdishness, a separate state and Kurdish identity with gradual and strong awareness on the path towards a Kurdish Spring. Kurdish nationalist movements through street demonstrations, boycotts of some members of the Turkish Parliament and hunger strikes grew stronger and thus it is fair to say that ethno-national identity framework has gained importance. They currently have their own legal political party (The People’s Democratic Party) and strong popular support from Turkey and Europe. However there have been exclusive policies and discriminatory approaches (even positive discrimination).

As mentioned above, there has been a polarization between Turks and Kurds due to several reasons, and this became less compared to the 1980’s and 1990’s. Nevertheless, a recent report on ethnic discrimination published by The Association for Human Rights and Solidarity for the Oppressed (MAZLUMDER) in 2011 reveals that Kurdish people may confront a problem in expressing Kurdish identity even if the general opinion focuses on “no subject showed any discrimination towards Kurds”. How could this issue be solved? It has been a question for a long while. At this point, the most important thing to do is to focus on accepting a multi-ethnic model of a state.

Through the Solution Process (the Kurdish–Turkish peace process) as an ongoing project started in 2013 with the wise and intellectual people committee, the Kurdish issue came into prominence. They intended some positive negotiations and dialogues with the PKK leader (Abdullah Ocalan) however the AKP’s “two-steps-forward-one-step-back” approach created a dilemmatic point in the nation-building process of the Kurds. Supporting Kurds is still also problematic in the eyes of the authorities as the latest news shows that police detained the Turkish academics in January 2016 who signed a petition denouncing military operations against Kurds in the south east of Turkey due to accusing them of making a “terror propaganda”.

It is fair to say that the Kurdish case has been presented by the Turkish ruling party (the AKP) as a terrorist threat rather than a national movement. We do not know how it will be solved. We just witness the dark side of this issue created by the Turkish government for a few decades and try to alleviate this historical pain through saying “After spring, peace winds will come here soon!”