Turkey

From Armenian Genocide To Kurdish Rebels, Turkey Is A Nation In Denial

Turkish political leaders and ordinary citizens are blind as ever to why Kurds continue to fight for freedom. It recalls another open chapter in the nation's troubled history.

Anti-PKK protests in Ankara
Anti-PKK protests in Ankara
Umit Kivanc

-OpEd-

ISTANBUL — One of the most distinguishable qualities of Turkey's Sunni Muslim majority is their penchant for jumping. Jumping one step forward from where they're supposed to be, jumping one paragraph below the one they should actually read, jumping just clear of the matter they should consider or the historical issue at hand.

They can't, for example, discuss Armenian genocide. Because it's not possible to talk about the period when the genocide was planned and practiced. They always jump to what happened after because that is where Armenian acts of revenge can be found. They rationalize the mass organized slaughter and deportation of people from their homeland by saying, "but, but..." and talking about "Armenian gangs" and their actions. Somehow, though, there is never consideration for how and why these gangs were formed in the first place.

I start with Armenian genocide because I don't think the handling of the Kurdish issue is isolated from that. In fact, I don't think any issue in Turkey is isolated from that. This is our national style.

The objection, "but the PKK!," the acronym for the Kurdistan Workers' Party, comes the second the Kurdish issue is mentioned. This is how the majority and the government rationalizes dealing with and talking about this persecuted minority. Because the PKK considers murder part of politics. The PKK kills people and does things that many supporters of equal citizenship and civil rights for Kurds find deplorable.

Denying the facts

But most of the people who blindly hold anti-Kurd views and who fail to consider why there is a militant faction of Kurds simply don't want to accept the truth. They would have to do something about if they accepted the truth. They would have to share life in this country with the Kurds as equal citizens, an idea that disturbs them. The Sunni majority doesn't want to lose its dominance.

What are these unacceptable truths that make them jump?

First: The truth that the Kurds are oppressed in this country. Why should they be oppressed? Why is this an unchangeable situation? The majority doesn't have an answer. Neither does the state. "It is like that. You will be oppressed. Who will we oppress if not you?"

Second: The majority of Kurds consider the PKK the "armed organization of the Kurds." There is a bond between them that can't be severed by speaking about the crimes and wrongdoings of the PKK, no matter how justified the criticism. The majority and the state have burned their villages, which only further convinces these people that they should have an armed organization.

Am I going too far? Excuse me if I go back to the Armenian genocide again. Memories from that time push a threatened and oppressed people to prioritize how they can survive. Most of the surviving Armenians who managed to escape were from areas where they could arm and defend themselves.

Can the Kurds, who were siding with the oppressors back then, forget this? What do the state's actions regarding Kobane, Tal Abyad and Carablus tell the Kurds? The message is clear: "We can have you killed for our own benefit. We can turn a blind eye to your women being kidnapped and sold as slaves. We can take your land from you." For those who might have doubts, check to see that Qandil is being bombed again.

Turkey's self-created monster

The Kurdish belief that they need an army is a direct consequence of actions by both the state and the Sunni majority more generally. Because too many Kurds who tried to create change through politics and not arms wound up dead or in jail.

Burning down villages and forests were important counter-guerrilla methods of the state in the 1990s. These methods alone must have gained the PKK a few thousand militants. This also caused domestic migration and created a poor and angry young generation in the cities. This message from the Turkish government was, "I can burn your village. I can burn your forests. I can kill your cattle. You will not make a peep. You will move to the ghettos of the city and become beggars, street vendors and porters." The Kurds preferred to make a peep. Is that so strange, so unexpected?

And now, after June elections saw the legal Kurdish political party receive enough of the vote to get 80 seats in parliament, the majority and the state effectively say, "It doesn't matter that your party transformed from a local to a nationwide movement. It doesn't matter that you passed the election threshold and were able to enter the parliament. It means nothing that this path promises a peaceful future for the country. There will be no path of peaceful politics for you. There will be no peace in your villages and cities. You do not have the right to live unless you kneel."

The state was showing its hand when it was building fortified military posts (kalekol) during the peace process, which was a hope for the Kurds despite everything. Construction of these posts were like billboards screaming to the Kurds, "We will get you the first chance we get."

The government has announced the nullification of the June vote in which the Kurdish party won 80 seats and is now seeking new, early elections — a second chance for the country's leadership to regain the majority. July's fragile cease-fire collapsed, the Turkish government has declard war on the Kurds, and the PKK leadership accepted the offer to fight with haste and joy.

Finally, let's go back to the beginning and ask a question that may seem silly. But not asking would be even more so. Why does something like the PKK exist? Why are the Kurdish people willing to pay for freedom with their lives, children and property? That we even need to ask this question in 2015 after 35 years and over 40,000 victims gets to the heart of the problem.

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