Turkey : The Kur­dish is­sue awaits new con­cep­tions By Rabee Al-Hafidh

AR­TI­CLE IN BRIEF: While the AK Party ini­tially achieved progress in solv­ing the Kur­dish ques­tion, it has been un­able to sus­tain the pace of re­form. There is a dan­ger that this will lead to the Turk­ish state’s re­sort­ing to past meth­ods, al­ready proved inef

Turkish Review - - CONTENTS - Rabee Al-Hafidh Re­searcher in Arab-Turk­ish re­la­tions

An ex­plo­ration of the sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences be­tween Iraq and Turkey’s ex­pe­ri­ences with their Kur­dish pop­u­la­tions -- and what can be learnt from them.

DDe­spite its mag­ni­tude and heavy costs, in both hu­man and ma­te­rial terms, the Kur­dish ques­tion re­mains a mere sub­ti­tle un­der the ma­jor head­line of the re­gion. None­the­less, in or­der to ac­cess and tackle these head­lines, one has to ad­dress this sub­ti­tle first to re­move the dark cloud it casts over the scene. The ma­jor head­line be­ing the re­gional align­ment of the peo­ples of the re­gion, which trans­formed them from ster­ile hu­man con­cen­tra­tions to fer­tile com­mu­ni­ties ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing one of the great­est civ­i­liza­tions in hu­man his­tory. With its dis­in­te­gra­tion, the re­gion is frag­mented today into its pri­mary el­e­ments and has re­treated to a pre-so­ci­ety stage.

The Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AK Party) govern­ment took real steps to­ward solv­ing the Kur­dish ques­tion with its “open­ing” ini­tia­tive, which ini­tially pro­duced sig­nif­i­cant re­sults. The govern­ment seems in­tent on tak­ing ad­di­tional steps. How­ever, the ques­tion is, will more steps in the same di­rec­tion put an end to the prob­lem -- and will the rebels ever lay down their arms?

Two dif­fer­ent begin­nings, one out­come

The Kur­dish ques­tion in Turkey takes the same form it does in the rest of the re­gion in terms of per­spec­tive, means and pur­pose. Thus, the Turk­ish ini­tia­tive may be viewed as an ex­per­i­ment tak­ing place un­der sim­i­lar or even iden­ti­cal lab­o­ra­tory con­di­tions. The achieve­ment of dif­fer­ent re­sults in any ex­per­i­ment, whether po­lit­i­cal or chem­i­cal, re­lates to vari­a­tions in its con­di­tions, such as tem­per­a­ture, pres­sure and el­e­ments in­volved. Oth­er­wise the re­sults will re­main un­changed. A quar­ter-cen­tury’s ev­i­dence sup­ports the va­lid­ity of this rule.

What the Turk­ish state has of­fered re­gard­ing the Kur­dish ques­tion in the last 10 years is sig­nif­i­cant; it rep­re­sents a coup against the ide­ol­ogy upon which the state was founded. How­ever, it has not yet reached the level of that of­fered by the state in Iraq on the same is­sue four decades ear­lier, most no­tably in 1971. That 1971 agree­ment was also not enough to al­low a sat­is­fac­tory com­pro­mise to be reached be­tween the sovereignty of the state and the de­mands of the rebels.

Lead­ers of the Kur­dish re­bel­lion in Iraq were granted rights that in­cluded au­ton­omy of the Kur­dish re­gion; a

fi­nan­cial bud­get; a con­sti­tu­tional text stat­ing that the peo­ple of Iraq are of two main eth­nic groups, Arabs and Kurds; com­pul­sory teach­ing of the Kur­dish lan­guage and the des­ig­na­tion of Kur­dish as the lan­guage of ed­u­ca­tion in the Kur­dish re­gion; the adop­tion of Kur­dish as a se­cond lan­guage in state schools; ra­dio and tele­vi­sion broad­casts, as well as a press, in Kur­dish; preser­va­tion of the Kur­dish mili­tias, who en­joyed the right to be present on the streets of Bagh­dad in their dis­tinc­tive uni­forms; and the for­ma­tion of Kur­dish po­lit­i­cal par­ties (de­spite their to­ken role in state af­fairs, in com­mon with other po­lit­i­cal par­ties). How­ever, the nam­ing of the Kur­dish re­gion Kur­dis­tan or the la­bel­ing of its res­i­dents Kurds were not among the rights granted by the state, since in Iraq these were never a mat­ter of dis­pute or de­nial. In re­turn, the state re­tained the right to mon­i­tor the coun­try’s in­ter­na­tional borders and the oil­fields of Kirkuk.

Kur­dish lead­ers re­jected the state’s of­fer and war erupted in 1974. The Ira­nian govern­ment clearly played a role in the Kur­dish de­ci­sion, a part that even­tu­ally se­cured Iran many con­ces­sions in 1975 Al­ge­rian Agree­ment as its price for halt­ing mil­i­tary sup­port for the re­bel­lion.

The po­lit­i­cal regime in Iraq was a mil­i­tary rather than a demo­cratic one. How­ever, the bru­tal na­ture of the regime was not di­rected solely at Kurds alone but to Iraqis of all eth­nic­i­ties and sects. More­over, the world half a cen­tury ago and the at­mos­phere of the Cold War era in which those events took place meant peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions and de­mands were very dif­fer­ent from those of today. The of­fer seemed gen­er­ous and ex­cit­ing to Kurds and Arabs alike. It can still be con­sid­ered so when com­pared to the Turk­ish of­fer­ing and Kurds’ re­cep­tion of it.

The irony is that the Iraq state did not choose the same course of ac­tion as that cho­sen by the Turk­ish state -- ini­ti­at­ing a vi­o­lent, na­tion­al­is­tic ide­o­log­i­cal clash with the Kurds that stripped them of all rights from day one. Iraqi Arabs and Kurds did not be­gin their re­la­tion­ship in the mod­ern era with con­flict, rather they be­gan with an al­liance com­ple­men­tary to their re­la­tions un­der the Ot­toman state, and with cal­cu­la­tions that made them (along with Iraqi Turk­men) the corner­stone of the new state. This was prompted by their con­cern over the reper­cus­sions of World War I for their his­tor­i­cal po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions. Thus, they were re­cep­tive to the idea of build­ing a po­lit­i­cal ed­i­fice from the stones of the erod­ing wall -- the Ot­toman state -- which they them­selves were part of. This vi­sion co­in­cided with the strategy of the oc­cu­pier, who found no one to re­place the for­mer Ot­toman es­tab­lish­ment to run the new state in­sti­tu­tions. In other words, there were no dis­putes be­tween Arabs and Kurds that jus­ti­fied the launch of a re­bel­lion. Yet such a re­bel­lion did take place, and the ide­ol­ogy it was sparked by, even in the ab­sence of any pre-ex­ist­ing sources of dis­agree­ment, may well reignite it.

Shi­ite Arabs were the ones who took a back­seat in the new­born state. It was a po­lit­i­cal legacy they at­tained due to their boy­cott of the Ot­toman state and its ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions on sec­tar­ian grounds and their loy­alty to its en­emy Iran. Two decades af­ter the es­tab­lish­ment of the state, there were no com­pe­tent Shi­ite ad­min­is­tra­tors to as­sume gov­ern­men­tal po­si­tions -- things only changed un­der state in­ter­ven­tion. This phe­nom­e­non even at­tracted the at­ten­tion of con­tem­po­rary visi­tors to Bagh­dad, who doc­u­mented it in their mem­oirs.

No or­di­nary cit­i­zen

A Kurd in the Iraqi state was not just a cit­i­zen with in­vi­o­late rights; he was an ex­tra­or­di­nary cit­i­zen ca­pa­ble of as­sum­ing the high­est and most sen­si­tive po­si­tions. Thus a Kurd was the first de­fense min­is­ter; the last com­man­der of the Royal Guard and, dur­ing the same pe­riod, head in 14 of 16 gov­er­norates; a mul­ti­ple-term serv­ing prime min­is­ter; and com­man­der of the mil­i­tary forces -- Kurds also held nu­mer­ous roles in the ju­di­ciary, Ifta (re­li­gious en­dow­ment) po­si­tions and dean­ships at col­leges and higher ed­u­ca­tion institutes, as well as per­form­ing long stints as min­is­ter of the in­te­rior. A Kurd felt he had the right to ad­vance to­ward the most sen­si­tive mis­sions in a state where Arabs con­sti­tuted the ma­jor­ity. This is what Kur­dish of­fi­cer Gen. Bakr Sidqi did, by lead­ing the first coup in the Arab world in 1936.

The un­der­min­ing of the re­al­ity of such a firm and unique re­la­tion­ship does not re­quire a lapse of judg­ment or a reck­less de­lib­er­ate po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion from this party or that. In­stead, all it needs is a pol­icy lack­ing fo­cus on the here and now. Iraq’s unique re­al­ity did not de­ter Kur­dish lead­ers from in­sist­ing on re­belling and bear­ing arms against the state, not only dur­ing the Sad­dam Hus­sein era but also in the time of the monar­chy, a regime that ev­ery­one agrees was nei­ther vi­o­lent nor na­tion­al­is­tic. They es­tab­lished early re­la­tions with Is­rael and linked the phi­los­o­phy of their con­flict with Zion­ist phi­los­o­phy in terms of its bat­tle against the Arabs sur­round­ing it. They used ide­o­log­i­cal slo­gans such as, “The Kur­dish and Jewish peo­ples are vic­tims of a com­mon re­al­ity.” They played on emo­tive im­ages, like the Holo­caust, in or­der to sus­tain the en­thu­si­asm of Kur­dish peo­ple -- them­selves part of the fab­ric of the Is­lamic na­tion. Kurds’ po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural as­sets rep­re­sent mech­a­nisms for the avoid­ance of the loss of cul­tural iden­tity, some­thing mi­nori­ties as­pire to. The Kur­dish re­bel­lion against the state passed through sev­eral stages, end­ing with the down­fall of the regime in 2003.

Pos­tu­lates and re­quire­ments

The path of the Kur­dish re­bel­lion has had many pos­tu­lates and re­quire­ments. One of its pos­tu­lates is that it is a re­bel­lion that did not re­quire a ba­sis in dis­crim­i­na­tion or in­jus­tice and would not end with the right­ing of a wrong even if one had been present. One of its re­quire­ments in the Turk­ish arena is that the govern­ment of­fer will not amount to that pre­vi­ously re­ceived from Iraq. Some as­pects of the lat­ter rep­re­sent non­nego­tiable is­sues as far as the Turk­ish state is con­cerned, such as the adop­tion of a se­cond of­fi­cial state lan­guage or the trans­for­ma­tion of rebel mili­tias into se­cu­rity forces en­trusted with re­spon­si­bil­ity for Kur­dish re­gions -- both of which are de­clared de­mands by rebel lead­ers. This in­di­cates that forth­com­ing Turk­ish of­fers will not lead to a trans­for­ma­tion in the strategy of re­bel­lion, and that a re­cur­rence of the pre­vi­ous ex­per­i­ment un­der the same cir­cum­stances with the pro­duc­tion of the same re­sults will be wit­nessed.

This is at the level of the field of con­fronta­tion with the re­bel­lion.

At the level of na­tional se­cu­rity, the govern­ment ini­tia­tive -- in terms of a state en­ter­ing into sov­er­eign ne­go­ti­a­tions with an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has mil­i­tary, po­lit­i­cal, me­dia and fi­nan­cial arms and en­joys sup­port from in­ter­na­tional pres­sure groups -- is a method re­sorted to by states sens­ing suf­fi­cient do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and a se­cure re­gional set­ting. It takes place be­tween two par­ties, a cen­tral govern­ment and a mi­nor­ity, in which the govern­ment cedes strate­gic pow­ers for the ben­e­fit of the mi­nor­ity in re­turn for a po­lit­i­cal so­lu­tion with firm as­sur­ances of avoid­ing dam­age to na­tional in­ter­ests. Fur­ther­more, this for­mula is as­so­ci­ated with a weaker cen­tral govern­ment, such as with the Lon­don govern­ment and Scot­land. This me­di­a­tion for­mula is the one adopted by mod­ern states, where the con­cept of cit­i­zen­ship is di­min­ished and loy­alty to the home­land is re­de­fined.

The Turk­ish scene shows signs that the state -un­der­go­ing a pro­found trans­for­ma­tion from mil­i­tary tute­lage to in­sti­tu­tional democ­racy -- is em­bark­ing on a mis­sion to open sen­si­tive files at a fast pace. Pos­si­ble reper­cus­sions were not pre­pared for with ide­o­log­i­cal pro­vi­sions ca­pa­ble of con­tain­ing a state of chaos that the law and con­sti­tu­tional leg­is­la­tion can­not con­tain. The re­bel­lious sys­tems could thus af­fect the state in a num­ber of ways, and these form a fo­cus for dis­cus­sions in Turkey. They in­clude:

-- The abil­ity to cir­cum­vent the state ini­tia­tive,

dis­rupt­ing its mech­a­nisms and de­stroy­ing its gains.

-- Lur­ing the state into a field of con­fronta­tion de­ter­mined by the rebels.

-- Pu­n­ish­ing the Kur­dish po­lit­i­cal mi­lieu that is in agree­ment with the state be­fore rev­o­lu­tion­ary courts.

-- Dis­rupt­ing the work of lo­cal gov­ern­men­tal de­part­ments in Kur­dish cities by sub­ject­ing them to the au­thor­ity of the civil in­sti­tu­tions of the re­bel­lion.

-- Us­ing the me­dia to dis­tort the con­duct of the state in Kur­dish re­gions.

-- Tar­get­ing of­fi­cial re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions in the Kur­dish mi­lieu and dis­abling their role in dis­sem­i­nat­ing Turk­ish-Kur­dish brotherly re­la­tions.

-- Or­ga­niz­ing civil­ian Kur­dish crowds that raise the slo­gan “with­draw recog­ni­tion of the state au­thor­ity.”

-- Es­tab­lish­ing an eth­nic sec­tar­ian axis that at­tracts Ale­vis to the Kur­dish side and which is ca­pa­ble of ex­pand­ing in or­der to open more than one in­ter­nal front with the state.

-- Tight­en­ing the grip of Kur­dish par­ties on the Kur­dish street in most cities (all the way to the ter­ri­to­ries of the west coast) and im­prov­ing their abil­ity to mo­bi­lize mass demon­stra­tions at will.

-- Adopt­ing the strategy of throw­ing can­non fod­der be­fore the bar­rel of the se­cu­rity in­sti­tu­tion’s ri­fle, with the re­sult­ing blood­shed lead­ing to hos­til­ity to­ward the state.

The firm­ness with which the govern­ment dealt with the Kur­dish Com­mu­ni­ties Union (KCK), the civil um­brella of the re­bel­lion, and the de­lay in demo­cratic re­forms re­flects in­tense cau­tion and an aware­ness of un­de­sir­able sce­nar­ios that may emerge in the midst of dis­pos­ing of the in­sti­tu­tions of the au­thor­i­tar­ian regime and the army’s strong grip.

On a third level, Turkey was un­able, amidst the cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment of the re­pub­lic, to form an in­tel­lec­tual elite spe­cial­iz­ing in mi­nor­ity af­fairs, and did not al­low cul­tural cen­ters and uni­ver­si­ties to open sec­tions or de­part­ments for such stud­ies. This has kept the state and in­tel­lec­tu­als at a dis­tance from strate­gic facts that im­pact the mag­netic field of the na­tional se­cu­rity com­pass. This is what lies be­hind the in­tel­li­gentsia’s in­abil­ity to counter the ide­olo­gies of na­tional and sec­tar­ian sep­a­ratism and their re­luc­tance to en­gage in their anal­y­sis be­cause -- to bor­row a phrase from a Turk­ish writer: “they do not know how, and they are con­tent with emo­tional head­lines.” This de­prives the po­lit­i­cal scene of the in­tel­lec­tual nourishment nec­es­sary to an­tic­i­pate and warn of any po­ten­tial pit­falls; in the same way an au­topi­lot sys­tem might amend a flight plan based on cli­mac­tic vari­a­tions even if the plan had been cor­rect at take­off.

This scene -- with its three as­pects at the field, se­cu­rity and cul­tural lev­els – stands in stark con­trast to that of Europe. There, ex­ten­sive stud­ies are car­ried out to mon­i­tor sec­tar­ian and eth­nic rifts, pro­vid­ing ad­vance warn­ings of earth­quakes and al­low­ing mit­i­gat­ing ac­tion to be taken.

Open­ing sen­si­tive files against a back­ground of deep

re­forms will even­tu­ally un­lock Pan­dora’s Box. This is a for­mula that forces the state to take refuge in so­ci­ety by mo­bi­liz­ing its in­sti­tu­tions in par­al­lel to the state’s in or­der to achieve pop­u­lar aware­ness and thereby con­tain a po­ten­tially chaotic sit­u­a­tion. This re­quires much of the mech­a­nism of con­fronta­tion to take place in the men­tal sphere -- that is in con­tact with the gen­eral pub­lic -- rather than in the po­lit­i­cal mi­lieu, where mech­a­nisms take the form of cold for­mal decisions. The pos­tu­lates and pur­poses of these mech­a­nisms are far re­moved from the per­cep­tions of the man on the street, and some­times even from those of the in­tel­lec­tual. Ev­i­dence of this comes from the crit­i­cism of the govern­ment’s man­age­ment of the Kur­dish re­bel­lion by writ­ers con­sid­ered close to the rul­ing party.

Cur­rent Turk­ish scene

The cur­rent era in Turkey is char­ac­ter­ized by deep re­forms of a rooted po­lit­i­cal legacy and fast-paced trans­for­ma­tion from a state whose ar­biter and de­ci­sion maker is the mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment into an­other in which the in­sti­tu­tions of the state con­trol the de­ci­sion mak­ing process and which is sub­ject to me­dia crit­i­cism. This is not an easy or speedy op­er­a­tion. On the other hand, the Turk­ish re­gional set­ting is char­ac­ter­ized by rapid mil­i­ta­riza­tion. It func­tions in line with the mech­a­nism of the tyran­ni­cal pyra­mid, which pro­vides the short­est means to mak­ing decisions and is the method to which states re­sort dur­ing crises, sus­pend­ing par­lia­ment and form­ing mini rul­ing elites. The other pos­si­bil­ity is for so­ci­eties in the re­gion to di­vide along their fun­da­men­tal eth­nic and sec­tar­ian lines and move to­ward civil war.

Nei­ther case pro­duces ideal re­sults, and states are there­fore re­luc­tant to open their sen­si­tive files. This scene could be de­scribed as fol­lows: A state in search of peace and sta­bil­ity and a re­gion in pur­suit of war and cri­sis man­age­ment. It is a scene not far re­moved from that of Europe in the pe­riod lead­ing up to World War II, when Ger­many was mil­i­ta­rized -- in in­tel­lect and equip­ment -and Europe be­came “civ­i­lized” in thought and sys­tems, mean­ing the war caught it by sur­prise. Europe needed as long as the war lasted to mo­bi­lize a mil­i­tary in­sti­tu­tion influenced by the doc­trine that World War I had been the war to end all wars. It also needed an ide­o­log­i­cal volte-face and pop­u­lar mo­bi­liza­tion against a po­lit­i­cal regime.

Aban­doned suc­cess

The road the Turk­ish govern­ment took to achieve its eco­nomic mir­a­cle is a note­wor­thy one. It has set it­self a good ex­am­ple that has led it smoothly to its goal. This was achieved by set­ting its head­ing -- an in­de­pen­dent eco­nomic foun­da­tion -- when it was still a party in op­po­si­tion. Thus, it avoided the cen­tury-old eco­nomic and bu­reau­cratic en­vi­ron­ment -- İzmir, İs­tan­bul and Ankara -- set by the Union and Progress govern­ment. The AK Party govern­ment was no longer held hostage to its en­vi­ron­ment and so the age of the “Anatolian tigers” be­gan. They changed the es­tab­lished po­lit­i­cal map of the coun­try and the po­lit­i­cal pow­ers that had ruled Turkey ever since the es­tab­lish­ment of the re­pub­lic.

It can be said that the big­gest suc­cess of the AK Party govern­ment was its choice of eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ments; some­where be­tween the mi­cro and the macro. It chose the first only to have suc­cess in both spheres later on, di­rect­ing the coun­try’s econ­omy to­ward the macro sys­tem. What ap­plies to the eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment also ap­plies to the in­tel­lec­tual en­vi­ron­ment, whose small sys­tems are driven by lo­cal pre­sump­tions for lo­cal pur­poses.

Turkey is in need of a se­cure neigh­bor­hood and a uni­fi­ca­tion of strate­gies be­tween home and the re­gion. She needs to repli­cate this eco­nomic suc­cess in other fields for an in­tel­lec­tual har­vest that would end decades of cul­tural drought, a dearth that has de­prived her of el­e­ments of re­gional se­cu­rity. The strate­gic pen­e­tra­tion that in­tel­lec­tual so­ci­ety can achieve will be of no less im­por­tance than the


Iraqi Kurds wave Kur­dish flags dur­ing a rally in the dis­puted Iraqi town of Khanaqin, north­east of Bagh­dad. Oct. 16, 2011


The govern­ment’s “Kur­dish open­ing” ini­tia­tive proved suc­cess­ful at first, and was wel­comed by the na­tion’s Kurds. Oct. 27, 2009


North­ern Iraq is home

to mul­ti­ple eth­nic groups -- but Kurds now pre­dom­i­nate.

Nov. 15, 2009

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