Kurdish National Rights in Turkey
The recognition of Kurdish national rights and liberties; including linguistic rights in public room and in the educational system must be enshrined within the Turkish constitution.
The four parties represented in the Turkish parliament have presented their amendments to the constitution. Apart from the pro-Kurdish BDP that in circumlocutions mentions the use of local languages in regional assemblies, the other parties, including the ruling AK-party maintain a reiterative ethnocentric behavior, similar to nationalist-Kemalist parties in Turkey.
Apart from BDP all other parties use the “Turkish Nation” as the only sovereign power in the country, thus leaving no space for any national minority within the constitutional confines of Turkey to exist legally. This ethnocentric and debilitating definition reduces the Kurdish nation to mere tenants, whose legal claims to their national rights are effectively suppressed due to the Turkish ethnic supremacy. This hegemonic doctrine under absolute guise perpetuates a secondclass status for Kurdish nation and relegates individual Kurds to a second-class citizenship status; thus enthroning the Turkish nation an exclusive feature.
AK-party’s only fundamental change then will be to transform the Turkish Republic from a secular nation to a Muslim nation in the Ottoman manner. The other day, Prime Minister Erdogan mentioned a return to vilayet (Ottoman Provincial System), indicating a kind of decentralization of the highly centralized Turkish nation-state. But this kind of decentralization will not involve any kind of the so-called “post-modern” federalist solution.
The territoriality in such a solution can hardly imply any ethnic characteristic, in which there exist no linguistic diversity or any space for expression of varying ethnic identity. The vilayet system in Mr. Erdogan’s thoughts is mere administrative reforms in order to enhance the efficiency of his plutocratic mercantilist caliphate, disguised in a modern republic’s attire. Another sign of such a development is amendments in the constitution to give far greater power to the president; a post that Prime Minister Erdogan himself is incontestable candidate to.
To facilitate the so called peace process, the Turkish government has set up a commission of the socalled “Wise Men” including prominent personalities within press, academics, art and economy. Of course here the political inclinations of the wise men are in concord with that of Mr. Erdogan and his AKparty. In a nascent meeting with the Commission of the Wise Men, Mr. Erdogan happens to address the Kurdish Question as the “question of terror” again, and when one member of the commission objects to his unfortunate discourse, he responds that he complies with the laws. It is surprising that Mr. Erdogan becomes such a law-abiding citizen when it comes to the Kurdish question. However, as he has pointed out in the past, there is no Kurdish question; Turkey is just exposed to terrorism and the Kurdish citizens have some questions related to labor market and industrial development in Southeast.
Turkey needs a legal devise to settle its Kurdish question. But this devise requires adherence to a particular moral ethos. The decision-makers in Ankara should realize that a solution of the Kurdish question presupposes a decentralized notion of sovereign and recognition of Kurdish national rights and liberties; including linguistic rights in public room and in the educational system.
This decentralization means empowering the Kurds in a process that aims at self-government. Such a project entails an architectonic goal that embodies the moral principles of justice, liberty under law, citizen participation, and absolute equality moderated by the concern for freedom and community. But without political and administrative decentralization the republic cannot achieve that goal.
In Turkey, the conditions necessary for the bargain of self-government to be made are essentially military; the fear of the Turkish government/state of a security risk in Kurdish areas and the Kurdish desire to secede from the republic’s territory leads the political decision to adopt some relief in the rigorous Turkish ethnocentric discourse of the country. In the best-case scenario, perhaps even undertake some administrative – not political – decentralizing efforts.
Mr. Erdogan’s half-hearted efforts to counter “violence” does not originate in a normative commitment to freedom, but is rather the product of the realist perspective of a political actor pursuing what he believes is necessary for political survival of his country; his Kurdish “brethren” are essentially alienated from the majority culture and ethnicity; which is Turkish. Mr. Erdogan’s Kurdish “brethren” can hardly share the same narrative than that of his Turkish fellow-citizens. The narratives of the historical experiences of Turks and Kurds in Turkey contradict the broader historical narrative of Turkey as a whole. Concocted narrative of Independence War, Battle of Gallipoli, and Islamic Brotherhood between Kurds and Turks, which imbued Öcalan’s Newroz speech, is the hardselling fabrication that few Kurds believe in.
All political parties, surprisingly even BDP suggest Turkish as the official language of the country in the new constitution. I know it is almost impossible to talk about Kurdish as an official language in Turkey; a status that Kurds enjoy in Iraq. But this political impossibility is not the work of the Kurds; it is rather the project of those who aimed at a Turkish nation building in Anatolia that has been cradle of multilingualism and multiculturalism. Thus, the responsibility to correct this injustice does not lie on the shoulder of Kurds or their politicians; rather it is the duty of the Turkish decision-makers to convince their own deluded population.
Turkey has, as a matter of fact, two questions, the Kurdish and the very delicate Turkish one. If AK-party were really serious about a peaceful and fair solution of the Kurdish question, its first task would be to process the Turkish population. The Kurds are mentally seceding from the republic; in order to forestall a physical secession and the breakup of the Turkish state, the central political elites – including state and government – must initiate new accommodations and new institutions, including federal institutions and approaches. At the same time, the regional political elites representing the Kurdish national minority must obtain enough power, privilege and recognition within the existing political system to satisfy with pursuing a more gradualist project of greater autonomy and selfdetermination rather than immediate independence that the average Kurd aspires and dreams of.
Turkey is experiencing the rise of regionally based nationalist political parties and the decline of ideologically oriented pan national political parties such as the Kemalist Republican People’s Party (CHP). AKparty has been able to utilize the vacuum that was left by Kemalist parties in northern Kurdistan. Mr. Erdogan generally boasts that his AK-party has the majority of the votes from the Kurdish provinces. But the religious Kurds are being frustrated by AKparty’s Turkish-Islamist discourse and they may eventually join liberal and leftist Kurdish nationalist in the North. In such a case a new vicious circle of violence – this time between the two main ethnic groups of Turkey – can occur with tremendous losses for both sides.
A democratic Turkey should constantly struggle to construct alternatives to secession, partition and violence. In doing so, Turkey has to undergo devolution and decentralization. Consequently it must reflect a high degree of formal and informal symmetry while protecting and vigorously promoting Kurdish language rights including compulsory Kurdish language education in Kurdish territories.
In an optimal case, Turkey would have two official languages; Turkish and Kurdish and thus become a bilingual state like Belgium or Iraq, however the minimum should be that the Kurdistan Region of Turkey has to be bilingual with Kurdish as the main administrative and educational language. All this, of course, has to be stipulated in the constitution of the country and without constitutional entrenchment of national minority rights Turkey has a long way to a full-fledged democracy.
The president; a post that Prime Minister Erdogan himself is incontestable candidate to.