Geopolitics

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
Umit Kivanc

-OpEd-

ISTANBUL â€" 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 â€" 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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Ideas

Reading Rumi In Kabul: A Persian Poet's Lesson For Radical Islam

Born some eight centuries ago, the famed poet and philosopher Rumi offered ideas on religion that bear little resemblance to the brand of Islam being imposed right now in Afghanistan by the Taliban regime.

The work of 13th-century poet Rumi still resonsates today

Mihir Chitre

Among the various Afghan cities that the Taliban has invaded and apparently "reclaimed" in recent weeks is Balkh, a town near the country's north-western border. Interestingly, it was there, about 800 years ago, that a man called Jalal ad-Din Mohammad Balkhi, better known as Rumi, was born.

Some see the grotesque exhibitionism of the Taliban advance as a celebration of Islam or a "going back to the roots" campaign. As if followers of Islam were always like this, as if every willing Muslim always propagated austerity and oppressiveness. As if it was always meant to be this way and any shred of liberalism was a digression from the quest of the religion.

In fact, a look at the history of the religion — and of the region — tells a different story, which is why there's no better time than now to rediscover the wisdom of the poet Rumi, but without doing away with its religious context.


In a world where Islam is a popular villain and lots of terrible acts across the world in the name of the religion have fueled this notion among the West and among people from other religions, it's paramount that we understand the difference between religion as a personal or spiritual concept and religion as an institution, a cage, a set of laws created to control us.

Why do you stop praying?

To begin with, and largely due to the film Rockstar, the most famous Rumi quote known to Indians goes like this: "Out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there's a field. I'll meet you there."

Rumi's original Persian verse, however, uses the words kufr (meaning infidelity) and Imaan (meaning religion), which was translated as "wrongdoing" and "rightdoing." To me, the original verse surpasses the translation with a vital, often missed, often deliberately forgotten, interpretation, which is to highlight the fact that there is humanity, love and compassion or a certain kind of mystical quality to life beyond the concept of religion and that is the ultimate place, the place where Rumi invites us to meet him.

It would be incorrect now to read this and think of Rumi as irreligious. In fact, he was quite the opposite. But his interpretation of religion was personal, spiritual and not institutional or communal or exhibitionist.

In one of his poems, translated by Coleman Banks as "Love Dogs" in English, a man who has stopped praying to God because he never got a response meets "Khidr," an angel messenger, in his dream:

Why did you stop praising (or praying)?

Because I've never heard anything back.

This longing you express is the return message.

To me, through this poem, it's clear that Rumi advocates for a personal relationship with God. In fact, he goes on to say that being true to God is to long for his validation or nod, that life is longing.

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevl\u00e2na Museum in Konya, Turkey

A copy of Rumi's spiritual couplets at the Mevlâna Museum in Konya, Turkey — Photo: Georges Jansoone/Wikimedia

Don't sweep the history of Islam with the broom of radicalism

For those familiar with the European literature of the 20th century, I could say that this echoes the ideas of Samuel Beckett. But remember: Rumi lived 800 years ago, at the heart of what we call the "Muslim world." To equate Islam on the whole with repressiveness and hostility, as many of us do today, might just be a criminal contradiction then.

It's also interesting to note that after the Quran, Rumi's is probably the most widely read work in the Islamic world, which suggests that Rumi's ideas, which may sound too progressive for anyone remotely associated with Islam in today's world, have, in fact, been accepted and cherished by the Islamic world for centuries. Sweeping the whole history of the Islamic world with the broom of radicalism wouldn't then be the fairest assessment of either the religion or of radicalism.

This physical world has no two things alike.
Every comparison is awkwardly rough.
You can put a lion next to a man,
but the placing is hazardous to both.

(From the poem: "An Awkward Comparison")

It's tragic that the Taliban has ravaged the same place with their own power-hungry, totalitarian interpretation of the religion which once produced a mind that embraces it with wide arms of warmth and peace and refuses to be compared with other followers of the same.

How to cure bad habits?

It is vital for us to separate groupism or communalism, which often escalates to barbarism, from the thought it is based on. It is vital then to read and reread that what Rumi sees as religion is the private association with God. It is also vital to mark the emphasis on individuality in Rumi's thought.

All the Western ideas of liberalism are based on the idea of individuality, which in turn is based on post-renaissance European thought. Asian philosophy is contrasted with its Western counterpart in the fact that it is rooted in mysticism as opposed to individuality.

Islam itself has long had a tradition of mysticism that is known as Sufism. Sufism is a sort of an inward dimension of Islam, a practice that encourages a direct, personal connection with the divine, a spiritual proximity to the omniscient that transcends the physical world and temporarily subverts immediate reality.

Sufism is the quest for the truth of love and knowledge, without necessarily always distinguishing between the two. Rumi was known as the Mevlana (Maulana) and his poetic collection Masnavi meaning "the spiritual couplets" is known as the Persian Quran. He was no doubt a mystic, a Sufi, and one who strongly endorsed the personal, for the most intimately individual is the truly spiritual.

Rumi might remain unparalleled in not just the Islamic world but also in the world of philosophy and poetry across the globe. Another thing that he will remain is dead. The Taliban, on the other hand, at least for now, looks rampant and alive.

It is now up to us, the other people who are alive, and the ones who are going to be born — not just Muslims but everyone else as well — to choose which interpretation of Islam we uphold or react to, how we read history, and what we borrow from it.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits? Send me back to you.

(From the poem: "My Worst Habit")

I think what we, as a world, need now more than ever is to be sent back to Rumi.

https://thewire.in/culture/re-reading-rumi-in-the-time-of-the-taliban
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