Point-Counterpoint: Kurdistance vs. Turkey is Typing…

Today is going to be a diversion from the normal. I cover both the Kurdish bloggers and the Turkish bloggers for Global Voices, and up until this point I have been able to keep the two fairly separate as I don't want to offend anyone on either side of the Kurdish issue in Turkey. This week, however, both groups are discussing the same incident(s) and if there was ever an opportunity to show both viewpoints of a given issue, this is it—so welcome to Point-Couterpoint: Kurdistance vs. Turkey is Typing.

The Issue: The history of the Kurdish Question in Turkey is a long and complicated one. The Kurds accuse the Turkish government of cultural genocide because of Turkish policies such as their internal displacement programs and the supression of Kurdish culture and Kurdish human rights. The Turkish government on the other hand see many/most Kurds as terrorists because they proclaim their Kurdish identity as above their Turkish citizenship–an ethnic identity vs. national identity issue–under Turkish law, denying your Turkish identity also means denying the Turkish state: an act of treason. While my explanation of the situation doesn't deal with everything, it helps to illustrate the complications of the situation.

Last week, a funeral procession for 14 PKK insurgents turned into protests, the protests lead to clashes with the police, and violence has ignited the Southeast of Turkey and spread to various other parts of the country as well. Newest reports indicate bomb blasts at the Prime Minister's party headquarters in Istanbul and that Turkey is scrambling to revise its terrorism laws to make harsher punishments for actors in the current violence. Some of the protest violence has been committed by average Kurds, however the bombings have been committed by Kurdish separatists groups, among them the PKK.

There is your short primer-the following three topics will be discussed with each viewpoint clearly outlined: Recognition of the Kurdish Question in Turkey, Justifications for Violence, and the Role that Media is playing within this Conflict.

Recognition of the Kurdish Question in Turkey:
Turkish POV- Despite the firm stance that the Turkish government takes on the Kurdish issue, the Turkish bloggers are fairly openminded about the subject and there has been healthy discussion on most of the blogs. If fact this week two separate blogs announced the publication of two new books on the Kurdish question: The White Path and Mavi Boncuk. Bloggers have been reporting about various conferences within the country about the Kurds and stressing the need to keep the dialouge open especially in light of Turkey's attempt to enter into the EU.

Kurdish POV-The overwhelming opinion of the Kurdish bloggers is that the government of Turkey has not truly recognized the full depth of the Kurdish issue in the Southeast, especially the aspect of poverty in the region. However the sentiment about the Kurds of Turkey being able to overcome their problems can be symbolized in the general friendly nature of the Kurds:

If a visitor goes to Kurdistan, they will find that these statements are true. The people take care of each other and, as poor as they are, they generously share what they have with guests and the guest is lavished with care. This has nothing to do with wealth, rather it is something from the Kurdish heart. For me, this is the single greatest distinguishing mark between “The East” and “The West.” Forget about the investment in “The West” when thinking about this, because no matter how glittering Istanbul may be, it does not have the heart of Amed.

Justifications for Violence:
Turkish POV- Even the most peaceful of Turkish bloggers have been profoundedly affected by the violence (keep in mind that military service is mandatory in Turkey so anything that affects the military affects all—bringing the emotions in this conflict that much closer to the surface). For example, Amerikan Turk had this to say about the violence:

Regarding Turkey, my advice to those responsible for this carnage: “LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT”. The Kurds show their true colors in public for a change, instead of using the guerilla warfare they have been waging for decades in the remote mountains and valleys of southeastern Turkey. Your actions speak louder than words, and the world sees you for what you truly are.

In response, Erkan's Field Diary said the following:

I know Murat is certainly more sensitive than what he literally says here but I guess he symbolizes what things are going towards… All of us should be more careful in making generalizations….

Erkan continues saying that

Despite the slowness of reforms and Turkish State's hesitance to intensify investments in the region, Turkey does not deserve this. Growing Kurdish autonomy in Northern Iraq and EU pressure on TR seem to encourage PKK's increasing bold moves in the region. It is unfortunate at this time because Turkey did never have this much of an open society (at least during my lifetime). Turkish state might re-initiate security measures in all over the country. Maybe PKK wants this, as it is an old revolutionary tactic: to heighten the crisis in order to polarize the fighting parties. But this has been tested again and again and ordinary Kurds and Turks will be affected only negatively. Nearly every day a Turkish soldier is killed and let me remind you that military service is mandatory. Even killing soldiers make “guerillas” guilty of killing civilians in the final analysis….

Even Mavi Boncuk (who normally sticks to more historical issues in his blog) gives his opinion as to the timing of the protests:

Is this a spontaneous public reaction or part of a well orchestrated event to achieve a certain ‘Serhildan’ (popular uprising). The events flared on March 28, coincidentally the 20th anniversary of the death of Mahsum Korkmaz, the first military leader of The Kurdistan's National Liberation Army (ARGK) the military arm of PKK. Code named Agit, Silvan, Diyarbakir born Korkmaz made a name for himself in August 15, 1984 action where two police officers were murdered in Eruh & Semdinli villages. Recent November 9, 2006 bombing incident in Semdinli where one person died in the Umut bookstore, owned by Seferi Yilmaz. Yilmaz was in prison for 15 years as one of the PKK guerrillas who carried out the very same first attack on Turkish military targets on August 15, 1984. What a tangled web.

Kurdish POV- I believe that the Kurdish reaction/justification for the violence can be summed up no better than in their own words.

This is my first time observing the true will of the people of what the Turkish Government and media calls it “southeast”, the voice of the Kurds in Turkey in their millions to be screamed into the ears of the ruling Turks and those of the Europeans….What we are watching and most of us doing nothing about it is the people of northern Kurdistan from Amed to Constantinople rising without a leader!
This uprising needs support and dont worry it will not be material or weaponry, all it needs is moral and word of mouth support. Kurdistanis in northern Kurdistan are longing to even see what the southern Kurdistanis are enjoying of self-rule, intra-Kurdistani reforms without a single non-Kurdish man having a say!


The situation is dire. We see before us the shredding of Kurdish culture as it has been known for centuries, if not millenia. It has taken 83 years of Turkish misrule to bring us to this point. The boys become criminals and the girls prostitutes and everyone outside of this reality cannot understand the violence. Everyone spends pointless hours shrieking their anti-PKK mantras. The fact is that this shame goes directly to the Turkish government and to no one else. The shame is not that Kurds must do what they have to in order to survive, rather the shame is that the Turkish government, by its fascist policies forces Kurds to do what they have to in order to survive.

Kurdish Aspect:

Mr. Erdogan the dictionary describes terrorism, “As the calculated use of violence (or threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimidation or coercion or instilling fear.” Now who is the terrorist? 20 million Kurds who have been forced to live under decades of brutality, torture, unjust and ruthless occupation of the Turkish state can not be terrorists. Children are not terrorists but killing them is a terrorist act. No, Mr. Erdogan, you and your state are the terrorists not millions of Kurds who simply want to live like human beings.

Isn’t it every human being’s right to be able to practice, preserve his or her native language and culture? Mr. Erdogan, the Kurdish issue is not going to be solved by more threats and terrorist acts of your security forces, but by understanding what a great American president Thomas Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Like every human being on the face of this earth the Kurds want these very things. Recognition of Kurdish rights and peaceful resolution through dialog is the only road to peace in that reign. Avoiding the reality that stares you in the face, time after time, is nothing but pure self-deception.

The Role That Media is Playing:
Turkish POV- As with an conflict within the past 50 years, the media has played a huge part in public perception. The Turkish bloggers have been putting up regular news updates on all of their sites, and in some cases putting up links upon links to news articles being written. Most media articles have condemned the violence and specifically the Kurdish national movement propounded by the *terrorist organization the PKK. (*Classifiying the PKK as a terrorist group is still a sensitive subject-for the purposes of this article, I use this term as it is a norm for the majority of governments who recognize it.)

Kurdish POV- Kurdish bloggers have also kept up with the news updates, Vladimir on From Holland to Kurdistan has provided links to videos of the violence. What was not reported by the Turkish bloggers was that in the case of this specific incident, Turkish media not only critized Kurdish media for the conflict, but in one case blamed the violence on a single television station. Followers of my weekly Kurdistance article, will no doubt remember the work being done to Save Roj TV, a Kurdish television station that has faced immense pressure to shut down from the Turkish government. In another stab at the station, Turkish media directly accused the station of inciting the violence in the Southeast:

Turkish daily News , Friday 31 March, 2006

“Roj TV proved it is PKK's mouthpiece:
Roj TV has shown what kind on television channel it is. Especially in its editorial policy during the latest incidents, it proved that it acts like the PKK's spokesman. The language it used and the content of the stories broadcast seemed more like directives than reporting. A television channel can oppose policies. It can use any language its viewers want. It can criticize official policies. However, if a channel tries to incite civil war and calls for demonstrations that will result in people dying, no one can call that freedom of expression. “

and here:

Seeing it from rather broader perspective, this systematic attacks on ROJ TV is not a coincidence. The Turkish National Security Council presidency in a press conference on 19 July 2005 openly have declared: “The Turkish army is not tolerating ROJ TV, and expecting cooperation of Media for closing it down as an urgency”. In the meeting of Higher anti-terror organisation, under the auspices of Abdullah Gul the Foreign Minister, extensive decisions for curtailment of press and their banning have been taken.

But in spite of all these pressures and smearing attacks ROJ TV continue with its objective programs, in compliance with the universal principles of broadcasting.

Responses to these accusations have been strict denials:

Roj TV's broadcasting never condon violence and hatered. Roj TV has not conveyed calls to shop and business owners to ” Close their shutters and roll down their metal blinds”. What ROJ TV has done is reporting about the events in Diyarbakir in an objective way and has exposed the brutal treament of innocent people in Diyarbakir . Newspapers like Hurriyet should come to their senses and refrain from demanding the closer of a free media outlet which is true adherent of freedom of expression.

The situation with Roj TV is unusual to say the least, the complexity of the situation deepens in light of local politicians who have agree to do interviews with the station have been detained by the authorities. This is definitely something to keep watching in the weeks and months to come.

As to predictions on when this will all end, there have been none, and I don't think that logically there ever can be. If you have managed to make it to the end of this mini-novella, I thank you, and I hope that I have given you, dear reader, a more balanced overview of the Kurdish Question in Turkey.


  • I’m not sure if it’s a good idea for Turkish and Kurdish bloggers to cross swords on this venue, but clearly the first few shots have been fired over the bow. Let me append my original reply to Erkan’s answer to me:

    “Erkan, my point was directed towards the overwhelmingly large number of Americans who believe that the Kurds [in Northern Iraq] are:
    -all peaceful, tolerant, without prejudice, and against terrorism
    -deserving of their own state carved from the ruins of Iraq, in spite of promises the US made to Turkey in March 2003
    -a “truer” and more credible ally to the US, than Turkey is..

    Find Michael Totten’s website or the one called “Redneck’s Revenge” and read the ridiculous and ignorant comments left there by the militant pro-Bush Islamophobic right.

    You will notice that Turkey is dismissed (for refusing use of Incirlik for Iraq) and Kurds are the best thing since sliced bread.

    Let these wing-nuts see the unseen for a change. Turkey’s campaign against the PKK gets no coverage here in the US, but these random acts of violence most certainly do..

  • I resent Amerikan Turk’s reference of “ignorant comments left there by the militant pro-Bush Islamophobic right.” Not all Bush supporters are Islamophobic and not all of the pro-Bush crowd is militant nor ignorant. In fact, with a little research, one can find ‘Muslims for Bush’ and I am guessing there are both pro and anti-Bush segments within both Turkish and Kurdish citizens in America, as well as internationally.

    Going back to the topic at hand. I, representing one American point of view, always have referred to the rule of the majority and long-term objective and ‘vision’ for the ‘common good’ so long as ‘common sense’ was also achieved.

    My preference would be for the ‘Kurds,’ or citizens of Turkey who live in that region of Turkey, to participate in a referendum with both sides campaigning for each of their resolutions. The outcome may surprise both sides equally. The bottom line is that an independent Kurdistan is inevitable. It is the digestion of such a reality by the overall Turkish ‘mentality’ which needs to be worked on. The recent violence-ridden animosities do not help us achieve that goal, possibly by design by instigators and their shrinking agenda. Maybe they see themselves as no longer needed if all works out and their existence is made obsolete. Who knows.

    It is also wrong to blame media for the coverage of actions that take place, good, bad, or ugly. The media mirrors the sentiments of the result of an ongoing action. The media is neither a reflection of the past nor an indicator of the future. They merely report on their version of the present.

    I believe it is time for Turkish, Kurdish-Turk, as well as Kurdish principals to come together and discuss the options that are on the table, both from a radical point-of-view and the view of those wanting to keep the status quo, both of which will fail in the long term and is only a temporary prescription to defer the real resolution for a later and more courageous time and players.

  • Metin, I didn’t intend to color everyone with one broad stroke. My reference to certain people doesn’t mean I believe all of the pro-Bush right is Islamophobic. It’s hard to deny though that they are showing symptoms of “Turkophobia” and “Kurdo-guiltius-sympathy-osis”. While it’s true that an independent Kurdistan seems inevitable, it must and it will be limited to Northern Iraq. As I said in a recent comment to you on AT:

    metin said…
    Maybe they should think about giving up that part of the country to the squatters and be done with it.

    Murat Altinbasak said…
    “Metin, that would trivialize and dis-respect and dismiss the deaths of scores of Turkish soldiers and non-combatant civilians caught in the crossfire….”

  • We need to get a reality check and some mentality revision needs to take place. The deaths of soldiers and civilians does not and should not limit us from discussing the vision for tomorrow. Of course, any deaths should not be in vain, and in fact, the ethnicity of the civilians who died can be debated by both sides. Obviously, there’s the ongoing issue of mixed ethnicity and culture where assimilation has taken hold and national identity is not as clearly defined.

    I am not in agreement with you that an independent Kurdistan should be limited to Northern Iraq. I think Kurds have a right to make claims of their secession, or being able to federalize their state within the union of Turkey, just like all citizens of Turkey. If the majority in a minority state desires separation then the controlling entity needs to face the music and deal with the ensuing situation. If it ignores and hopes that a temporary condition will come to pass, then the more militant factions of both sides will get involved and civilians will get hurt. We need to keep an open mind and realize that sanctions and military policing will not restrain the unrest caused by years of economic and social starvation.

    As for ‘Turkophobia,’ what do you expect after the Turkish parliament, despite assurances from the ruling party officials, voted to not allow American troops to invade Iraq from southern Turkey. Broken promises have been and continue to be the norm for all parties as conditions change ever-rapidly in that region. Even the leadership positions are not yet clear and there is no unifying force as of yet.

    Turkey needs to start reidentifying itself as an underdog and a friend of global realization and not as a regional power hungry entity of neo-nationalistic proportion.

  • We also need to be contextual in our representation of others. Common courtesy.

  • metin…”I am not in agreement with you that an independent Kurdistan should be limited to Northern Iraq. I think Kurds have a right to make claims of their secession, or being able to federalize their state within the union of Turkey, just like all citizens of Turkey. If the majority in a minority state desires separation then the controlling entity needs to face the music and deal with the ensuing situation.”

    To even suggest that Turkey should submit to the land-grabbing of the Kurds is a real kick in the teeth. Untold thousands of Turks didn’t die defending and defining our present borders, just so that it could be given away in submission to terrorists. We’ve made effort to stop “Turkifying” Kurds and we’ve broadened their cultural and expressive freedoms, as it should be. But as we can see, this has only inspired a hunger for more on their part, and this fact makes it ever clearer to see why such freedoms have been limited for so long.

  • We should not confuse terrorism and terrorists with the overall Kurdish question. I agree that yielding to terrorists is a no-no. But are we suggesting that all Kurds are terrorists. Do we even know what the Kurds really want. Would the ‘terroristic’ or radical faction of the Kurdish representation come to an abrupt end if Kurds satisfactorily receive what they desire. Can a mutually beneficial partnership coexist between the Kurds and the Turks.

    Maybe we should ask the people for whom we keep making ‘this is better for you’ decisions whether they’d really like to declare independency, and what a border redefinition would mean to the Turks overall. Maybe, like the Panama Canal, or Hong Kong, or even Israel and Palestine, the proper solution needs to be addressed now but digested over a period of time. Maybe an independent federation or a protectorship similar to the one between Turkish Cyprus and Turkey would be made to work. Who knows what this kind of ‘intelligent’ debate will lead to. I, for one, would like to hear all alternatives and discuss these options without fear or reprisal or limitations, as well as the bullying that exists by both sides trying to intimidate the local population to sway to one or the other side of the fence.

    Let’s keep an open mind and never say never!

  • Metin, with the inevitable creation of an independent Kurdistan in Northern Iraq, the chances of even one square centimeter of Turkey being given to the Kurds, has disappeared irrevocably and completely. So I beg to differ- never is appropriate and correct.

    They were the largest ethnic group without a “homeland”. Now that they almost have a homeland in Northern Iraq, they thirst for more and Turkey should just yield? No. Never.

    If you go to a fruit stand and the vendor gives you an apple for free, do you then reply: “Free? then I’ll take two”? I don’t think so.

  • It may not interest Kurds to hear the views of a couple of Amerikan Turks, but we’re very interested in hearing their side. It’s a pity if no one is going to stand up and take a position. Makes the whole dream of “Northern Kurdistan” seem even more hollow and pointless.

  • First up I’d like to say that was a very nice piece Deborah. Well done. I don’t wish to contribute to the debate between our two American Turkish friends but would like to say I am enjoying it.

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