a travel blog about Turkey, Palestine, Alaska, and all the places in between

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Kurdistan and Turkey – Two Worlds

Every now and then I’m reminded of the baby naming laws in various countries, and then I spend the next half an hour looking up all the absurd things parents tried to name their offspring. It makes a good distraction from almost anything. Try it! It’s fun. This article alone occupied me for five of the minutes I had allotted for writing this post, and on top of that I now know that someone in Denmark attempted to call their kid “Anus.” Knowledge is power.

I came across an article the other day about a couple in Turkey who were recently granted the right to name their daughter “Kürdistan” by the Turkish Supreme Court. “Kürdistan” is a weird name, I guess, but it’s not exactly “Sex Fruit.” Still, I’m surprised by the verdict. Bordering on amazed.

The Kurdish Issue and the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) are two of those touchy subjects which populate top spots on “what not to talk about when visiting country xyz” lists. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was from just such a guidebook admonishment that I first learned about Turkey’s Kurdish population. Forbidden Fruit syndrome kicked in, and in my first weeks and months in Turkey I found myself searching endlessly for what seemed like safe enough opportunities to quiz people about Kurdistan.

kurdistanby jan Sefti

First, I learned that it’s not actually Kurdistan, and a lot of people, notably government people, don’t like it being called that. When Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met with the president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region last November and actually referred to the area by its official name, it was considered a historic moment. The political implications of allowing the word “Kurdistan” to be bandied about have been making the government uneasy for decades, and severe restrictions are still applied to the use of the Kurdish language as well as transliterations into Turkish.

Second, I learned that Kurds are not overly popular in much of Turkey. Not-so-subtle anti-Kurdish sentiment is, well, if not “everywhere” then at least not exactly uncommon at all. One afternoon, the subject came up during an afternoon English Speaking Club I was running in Istanbul. “Kurds are lazy and do not pay tax,” one student insisted. “They kill our young people, kill our soldiers, always fighting and killing. The PKK is just terrorists. Here in the west, we pay for them to live and they make crime everywhere. In Turkey we think they are bad people.” The other students scrambled to correct him. They wanted me to understand that not everybody thought that way. And it’s true, not everybody does. Which brings me to my next point, that…

third, I learned that to frame it as a racial issue is to miss the point. This is where things get murky.

Turkey is founded on Atatürk’s forward-looking, Western, secular principles, and its various Kemalist leaders have spent the better part of the last century zealously guarding those principles against any and all perceived attacks. Turkey is a proud nation, and in many ways rightly so. National, political, and cultural identity are all but inseperable; Turkey has never aspired to become a melting pot. While the now largely abandoned call for Kurdish statehood posed an obvious threat to the country’s hard-won borders, the Kurdish people’s claim to a unified cultural identity represents a more subtle risk, this time to the very idea of what it means to be Turkish.

kurdish-population-map

Although Turkey’s desire to preserve Atatürk’s vision for its future is understandable, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that ensuring it at the expense of Kurdish freedom, dignity, and identity is morally indefensible. The bloody history of the PKK (recognized as a terrorist group by NATO, the United States, and the EU) adds another troubling layer to the picture. Now, more than 30 years after its formation, the PKK is synonymous with the Kurdish people in many minds and any mention of “Kurdistan” conjures up images of Turkish flags draped over coffins.

But even Abdullah Öcalan, the founder of the PKK, has been calling for an end to the bloodshed since 1999. Kurds in Turkey have recognized that dialogue, not guerrilla warfare, is the way forward.

In his book Crescent and Star, Stephen Kinzer says that Turkey is on the brink of a newfound era of self-realization:

The brightest scenario may also be the most likely. In it, Turkey’s leaders break out of their denial and recognize how fully their people deserve democracy. Political parties and the military command, renewed and invigorated by generational change, join to lead the race toward modernity. They break away from their fears and commit themselves to building a country in which every citizen is free to speak, write, worship, and organize. In a land of such magnificent diversity, this freedom liberates enormous energy. Religious believers, Kurdish nationalists, human-rights advocates and freethinkers of every stripe unite to demand that Europe open its doors to such a richly colorful nation.

Today, many people in Turkey, Kurds and Turks alike, agree with his assessment and share his hopes for the country’s future.

10 thoughts on “Kurdistan and Turkey – Two Worlds

  • mehrdad sarhangie

    @bilun: well enough of your kurdish hating propaganda. For 10,000 “dear” soldiers of yours, there were 30,000 “native ” kurds were killed. dO YOU WANT ME TO GO AHJEAD AND TALK ABOUT ATROCITIES COMMITTED BY tURKISH MILITARY AGAINST CIVILIANS DURING THE PAST THREE DECADES? wERE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT VARIOUS REBELIONS AGAINST HOMOGENIZING kEMALIST PRACTICES EVEN AT HIS TIME? wHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT dERSIM MASSACRE? OR IS TOO MUCH FOR YOUR FAKE BOGUS DEMOCRACY? yOUR COUNTRY SECULAR OR RELIGIOUS DOES NOT EVEN ALLOW NON TURKISH LAST NAMES? WHAT ARE YOU AFRAID OF? SERIOUSLY? NO KURDISH LANGUAGE SPOKEN IN PUBLIC OR EVEN IN PARLIAMENT,A ND YOU CALL THIS A DSEMOCRACY? FOR A SIMPLE NOWRUZ NEW YEAR ADDRESS IN PARLIAMENT, LEYLA ZANA GOT TEN YEARS IN JAIL. HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN ABOUT THIS? KURDISH PUBLICATIONS WERE NOT ALLOWED TILL RECENTLY . WHY? BECAUSE OF THEIR USE OF THREE CHARACTERS OF W,X, AND Q. IS THIS NOT A JOPKE OF A DEMOCRACY? FOR A PEOPLE AND NATION SO PARANOID AND IN DENIAL ABOUT THEIR PAST THAT NEARLY A CENTURY AFTER ARMENIAN MASSACRE THEY DO NOT EVEN PUBLICLY ACKNOWLEDGE LET ALONE APAOLOGIZE FOR THESE ATROCITIES I AM NOT ALL THAT SURPRISED THAT YOU GUYS DO NOT EVEN TOLERATE OTHER ETHNICITIES. YOU DO NOT RECOGNIZE APPROXIMATELY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR POPULATION WHO HAPPEN TO BELONG TO ALEVI RITE (BOTH KURDISH AND TURKISH). YOU DO NOT ALLOW NON TURKISH LAST NAMES. WHY? GIVE ME JUST ONE GOOD REASON. yOU PRETEND AS IF THERE ARE NO ARMENIANS, CIRCASSIANS, LAZ, GREEKS, ARABS, AND YES KURDS IN YOUR MIDST UN TIL THEY CONFORM TO YOUR TURKISH MODEL. WELL GET THIS TO YOUR HEAD. OUR HISTORY FAR SUPERCEEDS THAT OF TURKS CENTURIES AND MILLENIA BEFORE THEY CAME OUR OF MONGOLIA AND TURKISTAN TO THE EAST. WE EXIST NOT BECAUSE OF YOU AND YOUR FASCIST POLICIES PROPPED UP BY A STRONG LOBBY OUTSIDE BUT IN SPITE OF YOU. KURDISTAN EXISTED IN THE MAPS IF NOT IN PEOPLE’S MEMORIES, AND IT WILL CONTINUE TO EXIST WHETEHER OUR PEOPLE GET AN INDEPENDENT STATE OR NOT. WE WERE SUPOSED TO GET OUR OWN LANDS IN SEVRE TREATY BEFORE LAUSANNE TREATY SUPERCEDED THAT. SO DO NOT PRETEND AS IF IT DID NOT HAPPEN. YOUR LACK OF HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGE OR THE DISTORTION OF TRUTH ON THE PART OF YOUR GOVERNMENT AND TYOUR BRAIN WASHED PERCEPTION OF IT DOES NOT CHANGE THE3 FACTS ON THE GROUNDS. IF SOMEDAY A KURDISTAN NATION COMES INTO EXISTANCE JUST GET OUTSIDE OF YOUR SHELL PUT YOUR PARANOIA BEHIND YOPU AND DEAL WITH IT. IF THERE WERE RECENT CREATIONS OF COUNTRIES WITH NO REAL ESTABLISHED HISTORIES AND WITH A FRACTION OF OUR PEOPLE’S POPULATION, WHY SHOUD NOT WE BE ENTITLED TO ONE? GET USED TO IT. TIME FOR DENIAL IS OVER. DO NOT BE A BUNCH OF HYPOCRITES AND THE LAUGHING STOCK OF THE WORLD THAT YOU ALREADY ARE.

    Reply
  • Nidia

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  • list.ly

    You’ve made some really good points there. I checked on the internet for more info
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  • range hood filters

    You can definitely see your skills in the article you write.
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    Reply
  • Ernestina

    An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto
    a colleague who was doing a little research on this.

    And he actually ordered me lunch simply because I stumbled upon it for him…
    lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!!

    But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this
    issue here on your web site.

    Reply
  • Young Turk

    Now, let me start by saying as a Turk, i am all for better relations with Kurdish people, i do not wish harm on any peaceful citizen living in Turkey, but PKK is a terrorist organization, and they have caused much destruction in the eastern part of Turkey for three decades, i know that you know this but this is not tolerable. If Kurds want to live peaceful lives in Turkey, they most certainly can and most Kurds do. PKK is an extremist wing/organization that wants another state to emerge and wants Turkey to be destroyed, look up their manifesto and ideology and you will see that they despise Turkey and want their own state no matter the cost, if millions die in the protest they think that it is worth it. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Current prime minister, addressed Kurdistan, and i despise him for that, there is no Kurdistan as a state and i hope there will not be one in Turkish borders ever. I am all for Kurds living in Turkey and getting treated same as a Turk, same as a Laz, same as arabs, as same as any other cultural or religious identity that lives in Turkey. Turk is a ethnic identity, i am all for other ethnic identities living peaceful in Turkey, but PKK is a terrorist organization that wants no part of peaceful living in Turkey, they want their own country and will push, pull, kill, murder, and rape till they get it, and that is in no way tolerable to Turkish people. If PKK wants a peaceful arrangement, they will lay their weapons down, and come down from the mountains to talk. They have showed no interest in doing so. They want their autonomy in the east, but they will not get it. They will not get a Kurdistan in Turkish Borders, if Turkey allows that, it will be every minority wanting their own nation inside Turkish borders.

    Reply
  • Bilun Penpecioglu

    As a Turkish person, I don’t agree with the statements you have made. First of all, yes, we don’t like the fact that Kurdish people call it “Kurdistan”, because it simply isn’t. Do you see me go over to the 12 islands that belong to Greece and say “I wish this land was ours. Well, I declare these islands Turkish property.” ? No, because they aren’t. Just because I feel like it should be mine doesn’t make it mine, and they have to accept that. And let’s say that, hypothetically, we let them have that region (which will never ever happen)… Do you think that will end there? Do you think everything will be perfect from then on? Just two countries getting along, being friendly neighbors and all. Yeah, that will be the day. What will actually happen is they will take that part of Turkey, call it “Kurdistan”, declare their sovereignty, ban the Turkish language, ask for compensation, and take all the sources we’ve got. I don’t know about you, but I would be against that, especially if those people are the ones rooting for PKK. Let me tell you something, no Kurdish person wants to build “Kurdistan”, and also wants to be a Turkish citizen at the same time. The Kurdish people I know have built their lives in major cities, respect Ataturk, and while remaining loyal to their roots, they are also Turkish, as much as I am. They don’t burn the Turkish flag, and they certainly don’t disrespect the Turkish legacy. They certainly aren’t trying to steal 1/3 of the country and kick its own citizens off of it. The Kurdish people whose existence I refuse to acknowledge, on the other hand, have killed 11,000+ Turkish people since 1987. Let me repeat that: Eleven thousand innocent soldiers, policemen, moms, dads, and kids died over the course of 28 years, because some low-life wanted to prove his point. And now, you’re telling me that Ocalan, the head of PKK, wants the bloodshed to end? Well, I want to see him hung, as do other Turkish people. Do you know how it feels like to hear “PKK said they aren’t going to attack during the Ramadan holiday” on the news? Have you ever feared for the lives of hundreds of soldiers who have no choice but to go and die for their country? Our soldiers don’t sign up to fight some made up war. They don’t get to sign up. They just say goodbye to their parents, and don’t come back. It’s so easy for you to describe that “flags draped over coffins” imagery, isn’t it? But you can bet that it will never get easy for all the mothers who have lost their children to this so called “fight for freedom”. I can tell you that it certainly is NOT “morally indefensible” to preserve Ataturk’s vision for the future at the expense of Kurdish freedom. It is in the Turkish oath that we, the Turkish people will, follow Ataturk’s lead till death. Preserving Ataturk’s legacy isn’t something you “can” do- it’s non-negotiable. We will never let him fade from our hearts and our memories, and if that costs the dignity and lives of those subhuman beings called PKK, so be it.

    Reply
    • Sierra Post author

      Thanks for commenting.

      To clarify, when I refer to “Kurdistan” I’m referring either to Iraqi Kurdistan or, in other places, to the IDEA of a Kurdish nation. I hope it was clear when I said “it’s not actually Kurdistan” that I’m aware there is no autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey.

      I do stand by my statement that “ensuring [Atatürk’s vision for Turkey's future] at the expense of Kurdish freedom, dignity, and identity is morally indefensible.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to preserve that, as I said in my post, but the price here is simply too high. Furthermore I find it contradictory that part of that very vision was for Turkey to be modern, stable, secular, and Westernized, and sacrificing the “freedom, dignity, and identity” of an entire cultural and ethnic group runs counter to all of those things.

      That said, I think the future is starting to look slightly brighter for relations between Turkey and the Kurds. I think both sides are slowly adopting a spirit of compromise in the name of progress and peace.

      Reply

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