By MEHMET EFE ÇAMAN
(This article is originally published in Turkish by tr724.com on 5 October 2017 )
Nationalism had been one of the prominent reasons for the demise of the Ottoman Empire. It was born as a reaction among the Turkic ethnic groups. In other words, it was a reactionary rather than actioner. This thesis is valid for all the Muslim communities of the Ottoman Empire. This was a natural outcome of the Islamic identity. Because Islam has given its adopters an all-embracing religious identity well above any ethnic belonging and always opposed ethnic identities to overwhelm. This is why being a Turkish, Arabic or Kurdish has been important only in folkloric and linguistic terms, while superordinate or upper identity has always been the Islamic Ummah. This understanding was first shaken by the 1648 Westphalia system and the concept of unitary culture-unitary state was severely damaged both in Europe after ending the political influence of the Catholic House and in the Muslim territories ruled by the Ottomans where the Westphalia system opened the gate for significant changes.
No culture –or civilisation– can survive with only its own dynamics completely independent of other cultures or civilisations. Cultures and civilisations that exist together are influenced by one another and new necessities emerge on the lands where multiple cultures intersect.
Since the capital centre of the Ottoman territory has always been the Balkans, the Ottoman territory in Europe including Anatolia has always been the political, economic and cultural centre of the empire.
Nation States and the Republican System
This is the reason why the year 1648 was important. The Westphalian type of state has gradually taken the Ottoman Empire under its influence. This was the inevitable outcome of the newly emerging international system. Following the French Revolution in 1789, the territorial and secular state model created by the Westphalia movement evolved into a national state model or as it is called “the nation-state”. This brought up the necessity of fighting for the survival for all the empires in the world at the time, since the empires by nature had multinational and cosmopolitan structures. The territorial nation-state model however is based on a mostly homogenous nation living on a defined piece of land. Moreover, as a result of revolutions such as the French or American revolutions, this model foregrounded the republican regime, becoming a nightmare for the royal dynasties.
Under these circumstances, just like the Tsarist Russia and the Austria-Hungary Empire, the Ottoman Empire too began to face great difficulties. The nationalist ideology gained great attention in and was straightaway adopted especially by the non-Muslim subjects of the Ottomans, because this ideology was promising them independence. When the events started to unfold in this direction, the empires adopted strategies to protect themselves. They tried to make their universal identities more attractive and more comprehensive. In his book titled Üç Tarz-ı Siyaset (The Three Political Styles), Akçura examines this issue. Among the three orientations –Ottomanism, Islamism, and nationalism– nationalism was more corresponding to the realities for the conditions of the time were necessitating this. The Ottomanism was not keeping the non-Muslims and the Islamism was not keeping the non-Turkish Muslims connected to the empire. Arabs had been faster to adopt nationalism than Turks, while the Kurds did not fall too behind.
The Conjuncture Was Not Convenient For The Kurds
The Arabs however caught much better opportunities in the international conjuncture in the 1920s towards establishing their nation-states. Although they had not been able to unite under the roof of one state –both because of the disunities and conflicting interests within themselves, and the very well defined interest-oriented and rationally implemented foreign policies of the United Kingdom– numerous independent Arab states managed to emerge out of the Ottoman lands. The Kurds on the other hand were not so “lucky.” The lands where the Kurds were living were mostly divided between Turkey and Iraq, because Turkey came out of its Independence War victoriously. While the remaining territories where the Kurds mostly live were divided between Iran and Syria.
The Kurds of Turkey were tried to be assimilated under a nation-state which first appeared as an idea in 1900s and was founded in 1920 with the establishment of the first Turkish Parliament and officially constituted in 1923. In the regions where the Kurds were a minority, this policy yielded positive outcomes to a great extent in terms of the defined Turkish interests. The minority Kurds who were living outside the South-East Anatolia have been assimilated linguistically and become Turkish. This policy was also implemented in South-East Anatolia, but the Turkish state has been only partially successful in this region. Despite all the political means used in the region (primarily the educational policies), the Kurds have not forgotten their own language until today. Because of this, the nationalist ideology, the biggest identity impact of the 1789, has only toughened their own sense of national belonging.
Turkey’s Assimilation Policy
Despite all the realities, the Turkish governments have adamantly continued their assimilation policy. Until the beginning of the 2000s, they banned the Kurdish language and tried to prevent its use by force. The Kurdish folklore was banned (e.g. Kurdish music, Kurdish literature, national festivals such as Newroz, etc.). Again, as part of this policy, the Kurds were prevented from the political life and from taking part in politics without throwing out their own identity. These hawkish policies, however, has made an adverse effect on the Kurds and consolidated the Kurdish nationalism further and more importantly has strengthened the hands of the separatist tendencies. Eventually, in the 1980s, the separatist Kurdish movement started an armed struggle, giving birth to an illegal terrorist organisation –PKK– that uses terrorist methods.
This opened the biggest black-hole in Turkey’s budget, which brought along a huge waste of resources that cost hundreds of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of people (both Turkish and Kurdish) to lose their lives.
The Peace Process and Turnaround
Since the 2000s, the ruling party, AKP, had been following a “rational” strategy in terms of giving the Kurds their cultural rights and, by implementing restorative amendments, started to obviate the separatist Kurdish nationalism. In this respect, nationalism –the official ideological attitude of the Turkish State– was toned down and a national identity that emphasises citizenship and upper-identity was brought forward. This was received with pleasure by the Kurds. The restrictive and prohibitive attitude towards the Kurdish culture was abandoned. The Kurdish political movement started to receive a positive and constructive approach insomuch that Erdogan despite all the risks started to negotiate with the PKK. The talks were held in Oslo with the PKK leaders and with Öcalan in Imralı island. A memorandum of understanding was signed in Dolmabahçe Palace as a result of these talks. A political solution and PKK’s laying down arms were actually the most important advantages to Turkey and this was just about to happen. With this project, Erdogan would have been able to go down in history as the architect of Turkey’s integrity.
However, the deep state in Turkey which had been eradicated by Erdogan did not like this new paradigm. Unable to prevent the systematic transformation due to the EU process, this front started to wait for an opportunity. The opportunity they wanted was going to be served to them on a silver platter with the 17-25 December investigations. Indeed, the members of the political structure that are tarred with bribery and corruption sat at the table to bargain with the Turkish deep state and to compromise in order to save themselves. One of the demanded concessions was to change the domestic strategy implemented to solve the Kurdish problem. Hence, the government made a 180 degree turn in their Kurdish policy. The peace process was ended. The tactics that burn all the bridges which will force the PKK to restart their armed struggle were employed. The desired result has been achieved and the Kurdish political movement has been suppressed and the hawkish policies of the 1990s have returned.
Unbearable Oppression Over The Kurds
More vehemently, a very wrong military strategy was put into effect, which for the first time brought along the demolition of the civil areas where the Kurds are settled. This fatal fault has caused the death of thousands of people and dislocation of hundreds of thousands of people. As continuation of this policy, the deep state –which became more apparent after the July 15 coup attempt– started to prosecute the members of parliaments from HDP (Kurdish opposition party), and consequently, starting from Selahattin Demirtaş, the leader of the party, many of their members have been unlawfully detained. What is more, Erdogan’s trustees have been appointed in place of all the mayors elected from the HDP including those who had received over seventy per cent of the votes of their constituencies.
At present, all legitimate and legal channels by which the Kurds can express themselves politically are closed off. Most recently, Erdogan said that the place where the members of the HDP belong is Kandil (he meant the place where the terrorist organization PKK is mostly based). In other words, he willingly and willfully instigated all of the Kurds to give support to the PKK. “You just support PKK, I am leaving you no other option,” means Erdogan. This is the political translation of his words. This is the most tragic, most fallacious, most treacherous and most strategically divested statement that has ever been uttered in Turkey since the beginning of the 1900s in terms of policies over the Kurds. And, as it is uttered by a person who is at the top of the state, it is a binding statement.
The Disengagement Process Begins
Erdogan has ignited the process of disengagement for the Kurds. By getting the ratification from the deep state after the 17-25 December investigations, assigning the staff of the deep state to the commanding offices of the TSK (Turkish Army) after the July 15 coup attempt, and as today, pushing the Kurds toward the PKK, Erdogan has openly put Turkey’s unity and integrity into danger and opened the door to disintegrate the Turkish territory. This has been the case in terms of both the ideologies and the policies he has followed so far. Severed from the human rights, state of law, separation of powers, constitutional order, and democracy, Turkey can no longer protect its integrity. The states that lack in pluralism, suppress ethnic differences, impose an identity on their people with force and violence can only play into the hands of ethnical separatists. The man, who had started the course which had opened the way to learn more, integrate better as the country became more democratized, develop further, get richer and generate more security, has been the same person who today ended this positive course of actions.
The process that is disengaging the Kurds from Turkey initiated by Erdogan will cause a centrifugal effect on the territorial and national integrity of Turkey. In respect to the democratic rights and freedoms, one of the –and in the long term, maybe the heaviest– prices of the short-sited policies that are light years away from any kind of rationality will be the point where the Kurdish separatist nationalism will pass the Rubicon. No one then can be immune from the historical and political responsibility of such an outcome. Erdogan and his regime is the anti-thesis of not only the republic in Turkey but also the deeply-rooted state tradition and integrity of the country. It is absolutely necessary for this regime to be terminated, to return to the constitutional order and secure the human rights and freedoms back again as soon as possible! Those who prevent this and push Turkey towards disintegration and decline will be brought to account before history, the Supreme Court and the independent courts.