Bringing Kurdish society, which was semi-independent/autonomous until the early 19th century, under the discipline and order of the Ottoman Empire with the modernization of the administrative and military structure can also be regarded as the beginning of the Kurdish problem.
The period between the Tanzimat (Reorganization) Decree of 1839 and the Islahat (Reform) Decree of 1856, which Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu described as the first restoration period, created serious unrest in predominantly Kurdish regions. These reforms were essential for the Ottoman sultans, who had seen Europe and received a Western education. The empire had already lost too much time against the West’s rapid rise. The state needed to modernize quickly. In order for the Ottoman Empire to continue, the state needed to successfully implement reforms, which had the modernization of the army at its heart. Both in the Ottoman Empire and during the Committee of Union and Progress period, Westernization mainly meant modernizing the army.
The resistance of the military tutelage system in Turkey today stems from this historical reality and this alone can be the topic of another discussion.
Like with all actions that are taken too late, this tardy attempt had consequences as well. The reform efforts in the Ottoman Empire created unrest for Kurds, who faced the risk of losing their social-economic benefits, particularly compared to Christians, as they were forced to submit to state discipline. This unrest did not result simply in disappointment in the state. Bloody confrontations took place in six major provinces known as the Vilayat-ı Sitte, where Kurds, Armenians, Syriacs and Chaldeans lived in close proximity to each other. The process that began with the Zeitun rebellions led to a disaster, which with Russia’s victory over the Ottomans in 1828 and 1878 and its official patronage of Orthodox Christians, and became known as the Orient Problem.
A love-hate relationship
This is how the Ottomans’ relations with the West, which became the Republic of Turkey, developed into a dichotomous love-hate, suspicion-admiration relationship. As the Ottoman Empire tried to modernize its system it became susceptible to both its blessings and its dangers. The 30-year reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II was marked by defense due to suspicions. Meanwhile, Abdülhamid II decided to use the Hamidiye Regiment and Kurdish bashibazouk soldiers (soldiers that are part of an irregular military unit) against the Armenians to solve the Orient Problem.
As a result, during this process, in which Kurdish collaboration against the Armenians was key, Kurds became part of the new republic without suffering much loss. The articles in the Constitution of 1921 that recommended self-government gave hope to many Kurds. Mustafa Kemal did not pursue any policy changes until he was convinced that there would be no heavy repercussions from the West both because of the 1915 issue and because Turkey was an ally of imperialist Germany, which started World War I. The disregarding of the Sevres Treaty and the signing of the Lausanne Treaty, which entailed giving up Mosul in contrast to the desire of Kurds, was an importing breaking point. The decision to abolish the caliphate in 1924 (Law Number 431) was another trauma for Kurds, who until then felt connected to the Ottomans due to a common Muslim identity. Immediately after this, the Constitution of 1921, which mentions “the peoples of Turkey,” which includes references to Kurds, was changed. Article 88 of the Constitution, which was adopted on April 20, 1924, read, “The people of Turkey, regardless of religion and race, are Turks as regards citizenship.”
Kurdish rebellions quickly erupted. The leading rebellion was the rebellion led by Sheikh Said. The second president, İsmet İnönü, delivered a speech in which he said: “The Kurds were aware of the Armenian danger. They cooperated with us heart and soul during the National Struggle. The Kurds stood by Turks as patriots during the Lausanne Treaty. We defended and won our case at Lausanne as ‘Turks and Kurds.’ The Sheikh Said Rebellion is a deviation from this general attitude of Kurds.” It is also known that İnönü complained to his journalist son-in-law, Metin Toker, that they had been contemplating how to deal with the Kurds ever since the founding of the republic. Then the Dersim Massacres occurred between 1937 and 1939.
The pro-Kurdish movement, which became connected to the leftist movement in Turkey in the 1960s, decided to remain silent due to the belief that a general revolution was necessary to solve the problem. But when the bloody coup on Sept. 12, 1980 caused leftist movements to crumble, the pro-Apo movement, which thrives on Kurdish nationalism, stepped up its operations. The bloody attacks of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) carried out in Şemdinli and Eruh in 1984 marked the beginning of the final episode, which we are still in.
Around 40,000 people have died in this last stage. The number of people who have been physically and mentally injured is unknown. The loss of property is estimated to be around $1 trillion.
The first real initiative to solve the Kurdish problem
Today, however, a political party is for the first time in the history of Turkey taking the initiative to solve this problem. The biggest service the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has done for this country is to abandon dirty policies that were used during the Dersim massacres and the period between 1993 and 1997 and to refuse to resort to committing crimes to solve the problem of violence. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who acknowledges the problem and speaks of unsolved murders and the Dersim massacre while standing behind the parliamentary podium, has ended this state tradition.
This sparked substantial optimism among Kurds, who had lacked trust, especially in the state. But as I expressed in the beginning of this article, the delay in taking action comes with a price. Now, the Turkish people must pay this price.
The Kurdish problem, which had been abandoned into a state of violence for a very long time, gave birth to the Ergenekon organization in the state and to a massive killing machine like the PKK with the Kurds. What we have is an organization that has been fighting for 30 years and which the Kurdish population, which has been oppressed by the state, perceives as having ensured recognition of the Kurdish reality. More important, a large portion of these people are young and citizens of Turkey.
The opposition believes its survival virtually depends on the continuation of the war. This sentiment was apparent during the Sept. 12 referendum period. But the supporters of war were confronted by the people’s common sense, which accounted for 58 percent of “yes” votes in the referendum.
However, it is obvious that we are still at the beginning of the road that leads to a solution of this problem. The cease-fire that has been declared until the elections is still very fragile. Even though the hesitation of the AK Party, which is pursuing the peace process by itself, to take large steps is understandable, it is not convincing for Kurds. The phase of promises is over. It seems unlikely that the AK Party will take steps on issues like equal citizenship, which implies drafting a new civilian constitution, removing all obstacles to speaking Kurdish and reducing the election threshold before the elections. But according to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the state is seriously planning to solve these problems within the next five years.
However the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and PKK line are not satisfied with this schedule, which the AK Party has not made public. By bringing up the dual language issue and democratic autonomy, they are trying to push the AK Party to take action.
As expressed by Ömer Çelik, the AK Party categorizes attempts to bring up such topics or debates as conspiracies. But Kurds from the BDP line, which are an important group involved in this problem, cannot be expected to adhere to the AK Party’s schedule. Saying silence all arms, voice your demands through politics and, when that fails, through civil disobedience and then assessing such attempts (civil disobedience, etc.) as conspiracy and sabotage will only make the sides ineffective and force citizens to become polarized.
The AK Party is a party that is “by itself” in the state. It derives its sole legitimacy from the people -- from votes. It is for this reason that the AK Party’s desire to remain in power by winning maximum public support in the June elections is understandable. Another point that has been overlooked is that the AK Party does not feel that winning the minimum number of votes that is necessary to set up a government and to continue reforms is enough. The party wants to win above 45 percent of the vote in order to feel emboldened against the Ergenekon powers and the tutelage-supported opposition.
This is not just about morale. It is essential in political terms as well.
It would have been better if, as parties involved in this problem, the AK Party and the BDP, cooperated more with each other, if they did not see each other as rivals and forgot about votes until the Kurdish problem was solved. But this is not a very realistic. In fact, the Democratic Society Congress (DTK), which Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk are a part of, released and introduced the draft on Democratic Autonomy into the debate in Diyarbakır last weekend.
An older draft on democratic autonomy has been up on the BDP’s website for five years. I carefully examined the older draft and the draft presented in Diyarbakır and compared them to each other. I would like to reiterate that is a great blessing that we can debate this problem today without attacks that leave young Turkish and Kurdish people dead. It is for this reason that we must be more calm and rational today than ever before, even if it conflicts with our opinions. In fact, this is an obligation.
The most recent draft is much more speculative, populist, vague, aimless and agitating than the one posted on the BDP’s website.
It is a model of a broken down, outdated, vertical structure that is similar to the Libyan “Jamahiriya.” At a time when the world is abandoning the vertical-totalitarian structure, the draft foresees centralizing everything in society from the individual, family and delegation of elders to the representatives to be sent to the central Parliament. It covers all aspects of people’s lives, down to the sex lives of young people, and considers restructuring the family. It talks about rewriting the history of Kurds. It foresees setting up a Kurdish History Society. It is more backward than the Constitution of 1921 and the first BDP draft. It is Kurdish Kemalism.
I got goose bumps while reading it. “I wouldn’t want to live in a country like that,” I said to myself. It is like going back to the Turkey of the 1940s.
It is known that the idea of self-defense described in the draft belongs to Abdullah Öcalan. This draft was probably presented at the last minute and imposed on the DTK.
When debates on the draft erupted, certain media outlets expected the prime minister to make harsh statements. If you excuse Çelik’s assassination remarks, then Erdoğan, who spoke at the end of the parliamentary session on the budget, had a positive attitude. The remarks that impressed me the most were: “I defend the Kurdish issue. But I am against both Kurdism and Turkism.” I would like to congratulate him. This is an important change in mentality. It is a step that makes the separatist-unionist paradigm history.
The prime minister said the official language is Turkish. No Kurd rejects this anyway. When it comes to the issues of autonomy, self-defense and a dual flag, a large portion of the Kurdish population outside of the BDP-PKK line are more cautious and explicitly criticize such plans.
Erdoğan’s non-aggressive speech and new tone is a very important sign. It gives hope for the future.
Todays Zaman, 29.12.2010