31 Ekim 2010 Pazar

Ümit Cizre’s “Turkey’s Kurdish Problem: Borders, Identity and Hegemony”

Cizre thinks that there is little understanding on the full dimensions of Turkey’s Kurdish problem which is supported by the ideological hostility or excessive empathy that lead to lack of objective, creative and critical scholarship.


PIAR-GALLUP poll (1994) indicates that only 4.3 % of Kurdish population considers the issue as a matter of independent Kurdish state whereas 6.4 % of the respondents label it as an issue of gaining autonomy. 51 % of respondents see the problem as one of the ruthless repression by the state in the heavily Kurdish populated region of the south-east. Another 28.1 % of the respondents perceive it as a question of socioeconomic deprivation. On the other hand, 48.8 % of the Turkish respondents see the problem to be caused by a terrorist movement which aims to divide Turkey.

These statistics show that the very majority of Kurdish population do not want an independent Kurdish state carved out of Turkey and less than half of the Turkish population equates the problem with terrorism (51.2 % Turkish population do not see the problem caused by a terrorist movement which aims to divide Turkey). However, there is still 48.8 % of the respondents who identify the problem with terrorism. According to Cizre, this is significant and takes its roots from the problematic history of the interaction between two communities as well as the Kemalist discourse that gives emphasis to national unity and integrity of the country. The existence and deeds of PKK strengthens the belief that Kurdish opposition is not a simple discontent about democratization and liberalization but rather a plan of establishing an independent Kurdish state. This fear of threat to national boundaries creates difficulties for democratization reforms as it was stated by Necati Bilican.

Non-negotiability of Turkey’s territorial space is deeply rooted in Kemalist state-building project and Turkish nationalism. Cizre claims that nationalist slogan of “give land and get rid of it (ver kurtul)” is a proof of this thinking pattern and has full of racist overtones. According to Cizre, the idea of non-negotiability of Turkey’s territorial space is neither anti-political nor anti-social and it carries its own philosophical luggage shaped by history. Cizre states that she has 2 objectives:

- To reflect critically on the past and present sources of the Turkish discourse which links immutability of the national borders with existential questions. Analyzing two historical functions of the borders: celebration of the likeliness of the natives and creation of a distinct political personality for that country by domestication of politics. To analyze and question the creation and construction of the hegemonic idea of Turkey and Turkishness.

- To establish the evolving nature of the expressions of Kurdish distinctiveness from a historical perspective.

Borders meant for young modern Republic both;

a-) A break away from historical crises represented by the territorial contractions of the Ottoman Empire

b-) A new political identity distinct from Ottoman past.

A-) Because of the military humiliations of Ottoman State as David Macdowall points out the new Republic and its discourse is established upon the emotional and ideological view that its frontiers cannot be changed without threatening the foundations of the Republic. National Oath or National Pact known as Misak-i Milli is the earlier expression of this excessive emphasis given to boundaries. Misak-i Milli meant both the death of the sick man of Europe and the establishment of a new modern republican state ruled by the people’s representatives (foundation of the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 23 April 1920). National Oath therefore was a territorial programme for defining a new entity vis-a-vis the old one. The cultural pan-Turkism of Young Turks was based on ethnic and Islamic criteria. By contrast, early Republican nationalism emphasized the modern concept of civic and social equality regardless of ethnic and religious origins, eliminated Islam from the definition of the concept of nation but never completely gave up the cultural and linguistic ethnic elements. According to one of the most famous Middle-Eastern historicist and orientalist of the world Bernard Lewis, pan-Turkist and Islamic ideologies of the late Ottoman period were both non-territorial unlike Kemalist nationalism that 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. National Oath meant also the rejection of Treaty of Sevres which ordered the establishment of a Kurdish state in south-eastern Anatolia.

B-) Kurdish question challenges one of the core principles of the Republic about the non-existence of identities except civic Turkish national identity. The construction of a homogenous national identity is also related to the modernization, which was understood as Westernization in the sense of 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 or being divided led to the anti-democratic policies against Islam 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. 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 as 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 congregation. 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 Turkey 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 Turkey refuses to accept Kurds as Turkish citizens but rather Kurds do no 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. The Turkish rectangle was of course, portrayed as the cradle of series of Anatolian civilizations culminating in the Turkish one. Cizre by quoting McGarry and O’Leary claims that this dual character of Turkish nationalism used as a mean of hegemonic control.

This was provided by 4 basic conduits: electoral participation, military conscription, extensive primary school education and infrastructural modernization. Elections were used to increase the legitimacy of the regime (consent) as well as its democratic image. Trans-community national parties considered Kurdish within the context of national socioeconomic problems and did not show a special interest. Compulsory military conscription and primary school education enabled homogenization and the sense of belonging for people. Infrastructural modernization and its attack on traditionality and traditional modes of living gained strength and increased Republican legitimacy. Cold War, socioeconomic problems, secular-Islamic dichotomy and class conflicts prevented the rise of ethno-nationalist Kurdish movement. However, after the Cold War two developments allowed Kurdish nationalism to emerge:

- Official nationalism and almost all political poles on the ideological divide embraced the agenda of a reduced state, popular capitalism, law and order and global patterns of consumption and life styles.

- Reimagining of Turkish identity because of the ongoing crisis of the model of national capitalism.

Is Territory The Founding Logic of Kurdish Nationalism?

- Constructivist approach of Kurds’ existence in the written history with reference to Çaldıran Battle of 1515, Sevres Treaty of 1920, Lausanne Agreement of 1923.

- Symbolic imagination of Kurdistan (Black Sea near Caucasus to the Persian Gulf)

- On the level of nation state, Kurds demand cultural rights (ethnic singularity of Kurds. Moreover, social improvement, legal protection and equality to Turkish citizens are demanded too)

- In the international community, the discourse of Kurds become to establish a Kurdish state but in domestic on, peaceful relations with Turkey is emphasized.

The Evolution of the Basis of Kurdish Expressions

- Islam transformed to Kurdishness as identity of resistance, emerged from the Turkish left interpreted by Kurdish intelligentsia (HADEP)

- Identity is dominating Kurdish nationalist discourse. Nothing in the past was as damaging to state-Kurdish relations as identity issue.

- Kurds’ demands are recognition of their identity (right to organize in their language, right to organize on the level of political parties and cultural institutions)

- What we should discuss is not the existence of Kurdishness since it surely exists but to talk about the discourse keeping Kurdish distinctions inside than rather outside Turkey and to consider the Kurdish identity independently from cultural history or the ethnic significance of the Kurds.

Globalism and the Shift of Emphasis onto Internal Boundaries

- With the weakening of “nation-state” and “citizenship” and strengthening of multiculturalism as a result of globalization, multiple meanings and purposes associated with sovereign boundaries.

- Today, we still have the idea of establishing an independent Kurdish state in a classical territorial form.

- Globalization enrich this idea (communication with other Kurds increased after Gulf War Crisis of 1991), despite the Turkish military’s operations towards PKK. Common Kurdish identity was awared. As a result, subnational groups among the Kurds, Alevis and Zazas developing their separate Alevi Kurdish nationalism and Zaza identities distinguished from Kurdish nationalism

The Diasporic Dimension and Territory in Kurdish Nationalism

- Long distance nationalism: Kurds in foreign countries care about the fear and hatred of its ethnic others rather than territorial solidarity. This form of transnational nationalism partially revolves around the idea of homeland as the substance of territorial affiliation, and it brings to the scene revolution in the foundations of nationalism.

- Kurdish diasporic nationalist aspirations are inspired by the European based Kurdish intellectuals stressing communal commonalities rather than non territorial principles of solidarity. (Celebrations of Kurdishness in many European countries)

Conclusion: : e pluribus unum?

- The problem of nationalism can be solved in the case of limiting its meaning.

- Fear about politics of community based identities in Turkey can be eliminated through questioning identity.

- Establishing a multidimensional nationalism is necessary by catching up with the modern meaning of Western liberal democratic tradition and adoption of late components of democracy.

- New ideas on Kurdish question can be discussed in this way.

- We should be hopeful for the solution of the problems between Turks-Kurds for that reason, reforms in the Turkish state are necessary (justice, bureaucracy).

- While posing a strong critic of Kemalist nationalism, Cizre fails to explain why Turkish state did not show a traumatic reaction (as a natural consequence of existential importance given to borders) to the loss of Musul and Kerkük, two cities which were parts of Turkish National Oath and never seriously put irredentism into its agenda.

Ozan Örmeci

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