27 Mayıs 2016 Cuma

Rethinking Turkey's Kurdish Question

After the removal of immunity of parliamentarians, most of the deputies from pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) are now faced with the risk of losing their seats in the parliament in Turkey. This decision came at a time when the clashes between PKK and Turkish army are intensified in the southeastern Anatolia. Some analysts claim that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan plans to remove many of the pro-Kurdish deputies from the parliament and aims to hold a by-election in order to replace their seats. Since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is the only alternative to HDP in recent years in densely Kurdish populated southeastern Anatolia and the demographics of some cities in this region have changed considerably due to ongoing military operations, this might mean more seats for AKP and higher chances for Erdoğan to force a transition into Turkish type Presidential system. However, for doing this, 5 % of the deputies (a total of 28 seats in the parliament) should lose their seats in the parliament according to current Turkish constitution.[1] Thus, it might be a good time for Turkey to rethink about what went wrong with the Kurdish question and so-called peace process, a process that was initiated and conducted by the Turkish National Intelligence Agency (MİT) in order to make negotiations with PKK and to solve Kurdish question completely.

We can categorize different approaches in Turkey towards Kurdish question as follows:
  1. Official Republican thesis (Kemalism) claiming that there is no such thing as Kurdish question or Kurdish problem and there is only a problem of terrorism in Turkey,
  2. Modernist thesis assuming that Kurdish question is a direct consequence of Turkey’s socioeconomic underdevelopment status,
  3. Democratic thesis underlining Turkey’s democratic deficits and claiming that Kurdish question will be solved in time as Turkish democracy will deepen,
  4. Administrative approach based on the lack of efficiency of Turkey’s current administrative system within the unitary state model,
  5. Identity-based approach claiming that the problem is caused by the unrecognized status of Kurdish identity by the Turkish state.
In accordance with these theses or approaches, there have been different solution models to Kurdish question. Accordingly,
  • The first thesis (official Republican approach) proposed military methods in order to eradicate terrorism and to continue to Turkey’s nation-building process,
  • The second thesis (modernist approach) proposed economic modernization of southeastern Anatolia,
  • The third thesis (democratic approach) proposed a better democracy for Turkey,
  • The fourth thesis (administrative approach) proposed an administrative reform for Turkey 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 Republic of Turkey instead of Turk) or a reference to Kurdish identity in the constitution.
In recent years, although now it seems like we have been entering into a new process of toughening policies, Turkish state gave up from its policies of ignoring or denying Kurds and began to make steps in order to help its Kurdish originated citizens and to prevent the collapse of the state authority. After Turgut Özal’s efforts, 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 pro-Kurdish party. Later, Ecevit and his government made important reforms including the allowance of broadcasting in Kurdish language. These reforms were accelerated by the Islamist-leaning reformist AKP. In fact, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the most courageous Turkish leader concerning Kurdish question in his early years of Prime Ministry. Under Erdoğan’s leadership and former President of the Republic Abdullah Gül’s guidance, AKP allowed Kurdish names for densely Kurdish populated cities, established a Kurdish Institute in Mardin Artuklu University[2], built airports in Kurdish cities and declared a ceasefire with PKK. Erdoğan also engaged in very good economic and political relations with Massoud Barzani of Northern Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government. However, after the failure of the peace talks between Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) and PKK, a new terror wave was started by PKK and 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;
  • Turkey should continue to fight against terrorism. Terrorism should be condemned and fought with without making any discrimination where it comes from. Turkish people do not support terrorism and terrorist activities of PKK harm Kurdish originated citizens of Turkey most. This could be seen by the low approval ratings and voting percentages of pro-Kurdish parties in Turkey although there are at least 15 million Kurds living in Turkey. However, security-based policies are not only alternatives in counter-terrorism. In addition to military operations, Turkey could use intelligence activities in order to prevent terror activities in advance without spoiling the normality of life in that region. Moreover, in case it would not provocate Turkish nationalism, Turkey might again engage in negotiations with PKK. However, this time, more information should be provided to Turkish Parliament and Turkish people and if there would be a deal, this should be ratified either by the Parliament or by people in a referendum.
  • Turkey should continue to modernize and make investments into southeastern Anatolia. In addition to GAP project, Turkey 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. Turkey could use solar energy in this region in order to reduce its energy dependency and could invest in new technologies.
  • Turkey should increase the quality of its democracy. In a better functioning democracy, neither Kurdish question, nor the Islamist challenge will be that harsh. So, by increasing the level of civil rights and liberties, Kurdish question will be weakened. Here, Turkey could organize a new state body composed of academicians and civil society leaders in order to understand people’s problems and propose new policies. Especially barriers against freedom of speech and freedom of press should be removed. Pro-Kurdish deputies should have freedom to defend their views honestly unless they engage in terrorist activities. Same liberty should be provided to Turkish nationalists as well unless they implement hate speeches.
  • There should be an official consensus about Turkey’s administrative model. Unitary systems are not on rise in the world and even unitary states are making reforms to strengthen local governing bodies (municipalities). Most of the developed nations of the world (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[3], Turkey could use its 7 geographical regions as a model for developing its own federalism. In a federal system, all lifestyles and different 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 still too risky by the Turkish state elite. 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.
  • Kurdish identity could be protected by the Turkish state in order to increase Kurds' loyalty to the state. For instance, in addition to official Turkish language, Kurdish education could be allowed in state schools during week-ends similar to community colleges. There could be new Kurdish Institutes opening in Anatolian universities and 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 as too risky by the state and it will not help Kurds as well since they could not find jobs without knowing Turkish. Last policy option might be to change the identity definition of Turkish citizens in 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)[4]. Since the term "Turk" and "Turkish nation" (Türk milleti) are considered as an ethnic reference by Kurds in Turkey, this could be replaced by “Türkiyeli” or “citizen of Turkey” (Türkiye vatandaşı). 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 Turkey’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 Turkey’s ruling elite and primarily President Erdoğan. In case of failure, this will be the failure of Erdoğan and his party since they now control nearly all institutions in Turkey.


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