Posts in English

A Kurdish Flag in Turkish Skies?

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] About 10 days ago, Osman Baydemir, the Kurdish mayor of predominantly Kurdish Diyarbakır, said something that shocked most Turks. “Why hasn’t the yellow-red-and-green-colored flag waved,” he asked in a public speech, “beside the star-and-crescent flag in front of the municipality?” This would be the flag of the Kurdistan region, he explained, which would exist along with other several autonomous regions around Turkey. In other words, Mr. Baydemir voiced a demand to change the “unitary” structure of Turkey into a federation (or “semi-federation,” such as in Spain) with regional governments. Not too surprisingly, he received reactions. Minister Cemil Çiçek, one of the more nationalist figures in the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government, gave a rather crude one by calling him “a man whose organs have changed places.” Some media commentators bashed him for his “separatist agitation.” And a prosecutor opened an investigation about him, probably finding the notion of a “Kurdish flag” too unbearable to hear. Jacobins and sans-culottes As for me, I am a fan of neither Mr. Baydemir nor his party – let alone the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, the violent organization that he obviously sympathizes with. But I also think that his suggestion should provoke not insults or prosecutions, but an honest discussion of the matter. I would start the latter by first drawing a line between “rights” and “demands.” The former are what every single person is entitled to and cannot be legitimately taken away by any government. Speaking, broadcasting and teaching the Kurdish language are such rights. The Turkish state has violated them unabashedly for decades and Kurds are absolutely right to get them back. Period. But the structure of a country is a different matter. It is not a right, in other words, to live under a unitary country or a federation, or a monarchy or a republic. Such political structures emerge out of historical conditions, and their future, in a democracy, should be determined by deliberating the “demands” of various individuals and groups. When we get into that territory, and discuss whether Turkey should accept regional autonomies, I probably would not be supportive – at least in the short run. In fact, I am sympathetic to the idea of “decentralization,” as advocated long ago by the late Ottoman liberal Sabahattin Bey (along with “individual entrepreneurship,” which he also promoted). But decentralization is not the same thing as regional autonomies, which will inevitably have an ethnic flavor in Turkey, as Baydemir already hinted. My first doubt on this is that, unlike in Iraq, the ethnic composition of Turkey does not make an ethnic regionalism too feasible. More than half of Turkey’s Kurds now live outside historical Kurdistan, in big cities such as Istanbul or Adana. The country is simply too integrated for a “Kurdistan region” to be meaningful. A counter-argument can be that an autonomous Kurdish region in the Southeast will make all Turkey’s Kurds proud and content, regardless of where they live. An Istanbul Kurd, in other words, will feel more respected and empowered when he sees a Kurdish flag in Diyarbakır skies. That might be a plausible theory, but then I have my second doubt: The Turkish majority of society is overwhelmingly nationalist and any step toward federalism of any sort is likely to deepen that problem. This is really a nation brainwashed by the “Sevres syndrome” (that the whole world is trying to “divide” us) and the uniformity syndrome (that the whole nation must be fully Turkish.) The two main proponents of this paradigm, the secular-nationalist Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and the vulgar-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP – say, in French terms, our Jacobins and sans-culottes – are likely to resist by all means necessary. In other words, while a Kurdish flag in the Southeast might make many Kurds happy, it might drive some Turks crazy. The latter factor is not something to be approved of – but it has to be reckoned with. Minding the gap That’s why pushing for the creation of Kurdish regional autonomy, and the raising of a “yellow-red-and-green-colored” Kurdish flag, will be unhelpful to Turkey’s Kurdish question at this particular stage. Before such alternatives might be discussed more sanely and fruitfully, we first need two important steps. First, violence should come to a permanent end. Particularly, the PKK should stop attacking Turkish targets, killing soldiers and sending shock waves through broader society. This not only ends innocent lives but also poisons the whole political landscape. Second, the astonishing perception gap between the Kurds and the Turkish majority should be filled. Most Turks really have no clue about the Kurdish trauma in the republican era. On the other hand, most Kurds, particularly PKK fans, seem totally un-empathetic to the pain of the thousands of families, villages and neighborhoods who have given “martyrs” to Turkey’s disastrous “war on terror.” We, in other words, first need to understand each other before finding out how to live together. All else is destined to hit the walls of ignorance, prejudice and hatred.
All for Joomla All for Webmasters