Friday, October 25, 2013

Rethinking the Kurdish question in Turkey

E. Fuat Keyman, Sabancı University (Istanbul) It is not possible to make Turkish modernity multicultural, Turkish democracy consolidated, Turkish economy sustainable, Turkish society a society of living together; and Turkish foreign policy proactive, multidimensional, and effective, without resolving the Kurdish question. In this paper; I will suggest that the democratic solution to the Kurdish question lies in; (a) a critical analysis of state-centric Turkish modernity and its recent crisis, as the Kurdish identity has always been constructed as the Other of Turkish national identity; and (b) an attempt aiming at a democratic reconstruction of the political in Turkey, which sees a multicultural and differentiated understanding of constitutional citizenship as a constitutive norm of “living together in diversity”. By doing so, it would be possible to seek a feasible and effective solution to the Kurdish question not in “ethnic terms,” but by exploring possible ways of “articulating identity-claims to citizenship rights with an emphasis on the practice of democracy”.Antonio Gramsci's famous statement that “the old is dying and the new cannot be born: in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear,” though penned as early as the 1930s, captures and expresses eloquently the transformative and ambivalent nature of the world in which we live.[1] One of the sites at which such transformation and ambivalence has occurred is that of “the political” where particularistic identity claims have begun to increasingly dictate the mode of articulation of political practices and ideological/discursive forms in national and global relations. This politics has a name: the politics of identity. Debates over multiculturalism and Islamophobia in the West and North America, the rise of religious fundamentalism and meta-racism, and the dissemination of ethnic conflicts in various places in the world, to name a few, constitute different manifestations of the politics of identity. Identity politics could constitute a ground for what William Connolly calls “the ethos of pluralization” as the ineradicable dimension of democracy.[2] Yet it is through political claims to identity that the (communitarian) attempts at renouncing a democratic vision of society operate and assume self-referential legitimacy, as in the cases of ethno-nationalism, meta-racism and religious fundamentalism.Turkey would not constitute an exception in this sense, and this paper attempts to analyze critically the identity politics in Turkey by focusing on what has come to be known as “the Kurdish question”. Since the 1980s, Turkish politics has increasingly been marked by the tension between the universal and the particular, where at stake is the clash between the secular national identity as the bearer of cultural homogenization and the revitalization of the language of difference through the resurgence of Islam, the reemergence of Kurdish nationalism in organized form, the non-Muslim minority question, the Headscarf Affair, and the sexual question. Despite significant differences among them, all these movements directly challenge the unifying discourse of Turkish national identity on the basis of which secularist and state-centric Turkish modernity reproduces itself.Of these movements, the “Kurdish question” has been most politically troublesome and challenging. The Kurdish question has placed ethnicity at the center of Turkish politics, while also causing a very bloody and violent ethnic conflict, or “low-intensity war” between government forces and the PKK (the Kurdish Workers Party); a war that has left almost 40,000 people dead; more than 1,000,000 people displaced; and a society highly polarized, intolerant, and facing a serious risk of segregation. The Kurdish question has involved not only a growing Kurdish ethnic assertiveness in the form of identity politics which claims for the “recognition” of difference, but also and more importantly and devastatingly “a campaign of violence” and terrorist activities of the PKK.[3] Thus, the demand for recognition has gone hand in hand with violence and terror, making it almost impossible to separate discursively and politically the politics of identity from that of war. As Cizre correctly puts it, “The harshness of the present armed conflict between the state security forces and the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) reinforces the belief that Kurdish nationalism is not a simple expression of discontent, but a movement that demands changing the boundaries of the Turkish entity”.[4] In fact, today, it is not possible to make Turkish modernity multicultural, Turkish democracy consolidated, Turkish economy sustainable, Turkish society a society of living together; and Turkish foreign policy proactive, multidimensional, and effective, without solving, or at least disarming, the Kurdish question.Despite the recent efforts and calls for its democratic solution based on deliberation and democracy, the embeddedness of identity claims into violent ethnic conflict has also rendered impossible a critical and problem-solving analysis of the Kurdish question. Instead it has become an effective heuristic device for Turkish and Kurdish nationalist discourses to establish themselves as hegemonic in the political arena. These seemingly antagonistic nationalist discourses have acted in a strikingly similar fashion; both have securitized the Kurdish question, established a sharp disconnect between security and liberty, as well as security and democracy, and in doing so, privileged the former as the foundational ground on which the question is supposed to be dealt with. Rather than theoretical efforts aiming at providing an historical and critical analysis of the Kurdish question, it is the securitization of the political and societal polarizations that have dictated the way in which the question has been framed and dealt with. Thus, the Kurdish question has been used and abused by both the state-centric Turkish nationalism and Kurdish ethno-nationalism, in their seemingly antagonistic, yet politically and epistemologically almost identical modes of discourse and practice.In recent years, especially since 2000, Turkey has been undergoing a significant transformation process whose manifestations have been felt in politics, economy, culture, and foreign policy. Yet, the Kurdish question has remained hostage to violence and terror, and has sunk more and more into the grip of securitization and ethno-nationalism. In this era, Turkey has been governed by a strong majority government formed by the AK Party (the Justice and Development Party) It has begun its full accession negotiations with the European Union, and has become one of the key regional and global actors of globalization in the areas of security and economy. It has also achieved economic dynamism even at a time when the global economy has been confronted by severe crises. Moreover, Turkey has initiated what has come to be known as “the democratic opening” with the intention of introducing a reform package in the areas of minority rights and freedoms concerning education, broadcasting, organization and expression of cultural difference; has started the state-based negotiations with the PKK for the disarmament of the Kurdish question, while the pro-Kurdish party the BDP (the Peace and Democracy Party) has increased its power and influence in the 12 June 2011 national elections by obtaining 36 independent MPs. Yet, these changes unfortunately did not rescue the Kurdish question from violence, terror, and ethno-nationalism. Today, while Turkey’s active globalization and Europeanization are increasing its global visibility, it continues to suffer inside from the on-going low-intensity war between the Turkish state and the PKK; from the growing risk of becoming an ethnically-divided, polarized, and conflict-prone society; as well as from the endurance of the dominance of the language of security and conflict over democracy and liberty....Full-text available at:

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