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?

Turkish police at a Kurdish protest in Arbil. Photo: Jawdat Ahmed/Pacific Press/ZUMA

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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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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