Wednesday, 27 February 2013

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists

The preliminary peace talks that are being conducted between Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the PKK, and the representatives of the Turkish state have occasioned many comments about the nature of Turkish nationalism. It is widely acknowledged that the possible solution of the longstanding conflict with the Kurds will ultimately alter the way Turkey is defined as a nation. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has in unequivocal terms distanced himself from nationalism, saying that his government finds Turkish and Kurdish nationalism equally repugnant. Some commentators have objected, saying that Turkish nationalist sensitivities must be taken into account, while others question the conventional assumption that Turkish nationalism really is ingrained and impossible to overcome.


Koray Çalışkan in Radikal cautions that the peace process between the Turkish state and the PKK may be too good to be true. We are living through a very strange process; on the one hand, hopeful things are happening, but on the other hand the opposite is taking place. It is very well and good that talks are being conducted, but a legal solution to the Kurdish problem requires that the rule of law is respected. What is more, this process must be supported by a process of at least minimum democratization. Yet the pro-Kurdish BDP knows better than anyone else that the AK Party is eroding democracy and the rule of law. So how is then the Kurdish problem going to be solved? With just a word? And then there is the question of nationalism. It’s welcome that Prime Minister Erdoğan has declared that “we have stamped our feet on nationalism”, but you also have to look at what nationalism is replaced with. If you abandon nationalism only in order to have it replaced with the ideology of Sunni Islam and the nation with the umma, which is just as imagined and excluding, then you will have put your foot in the wrong shoe.

Taha Akyol in Hürriyet notes that Prime Minister Erdoğan has been accused of “treason” after his statements about nationalism. This is not only unfair; it also reveals an inability to comprehend the nature of ethnic conflicts. Erdoğan’s purpose with those words was to contribute to defusing the Turkish-Kurdish polarization. It is a fact that Erdoğan and AKP are winning votes in the Kurdish region by emphasizing common, conservative values. Isn’t that a good thing? He is holding rallies with Turkish flags. Isn’t that a good thing? In the terminology of political science that is “political integration”, and in order to keep the country together, political integration is very important. Now, the Turkish nationalists of the MHP and the Atatürkist nationalists of the CHP need to answer this: What are they suggesting should be done? If you consult the books about Turkish nationalism and Atatürkist nationalism, you will not find any answers, because these were written when the Kurdish movement did not exist, and when the existence of the question was not acknowledged.

Ertuğrul Özkök in Hürriyet writes that the peace process is not going to be easy, which was proved, he notes, when BDP parliamentarians who were touring the Black Sea region were attacked by Turkish nationalist mobs.  The war has been going on for thirty years, and that has naturally left a lot of bad emotions and damaged the societal fabric. It’s our obligation to persevere with the peace process. But the thing that we call the “peace process” cannot be restricted to an agreement between the state and the PKK. What really is important is to secure the determination of the different parts of society to live together. To secure that, the peace process needs to be explained to society, and efforts must be undertaken to ensure that the peace process is pursued all around Turkey, not only on İmralı (the prison island of Öcalan).

In the wake of the mob attacks against the four deputies from the pro-Kurdish BDP in the cities of Sinop and Samsun on the Black Sea coast, Fuat Keyman in Milliyet challenges the conventional assumption in Turkey that it is a deeply nationalistic country. The attempted lynching of the BDP deputies has once again led to a discussion about nationalism. But we have never asked ourselves, how strong is nationalism, how determinant is nationalism when it comes to our choices? For sure, nationalism has always been strong in our country, with every party paying allegiance to it, and politicians have always used it in their discourse. But nonetheless, nationalism on its own has never carried a party to government. Except for the elections in 1999, the economy and the jobs have always been what have mattered most for the voters. So how are we to explain the strength of nationalism? We need to separate rhetoric and reality. On a rhetorical level, nationalism may be strong, but it is not what determines political success. Nationalism was not the cause of the incident in Sinop, anymore than it has been the reason of other attacks, political assassinations and massacres over the years. On the contrary, nationalism has been something that has been used, provoked by known forces for political or other power purposes. Nationalism is not the reason; it is the masque that is being used to cover up reality, an instrument. And that is precisely why unemployed, marginalized youth is used in the attacks such as the one in Sinop most recently.

Etyen Mahçupyan in Zaman writes that there are signs that the AKP may in fact stand to win votes, not lose any, by engaging in the endeavor to give the Kurds their fundamental rights and to bring an end to the PKK’s armed insurrection. One of the portents of this is the new attitude of the secular bourgeoisie. A survey undertaken by TESEV together with Konda reveals that those who define themselves as “Atatürkists” and whose vast majority belong to the secular fraternity and who vote massively for the CHP take a relatively liberal stance with regard to the Kurds’ rights. An even more interesting observation is that the Atatürkists and the Islamists are close to each other in this regard. But the problem is that the economic “cake” of Turkey is too small to satisfy both the aspirations of Anatolia’s new local bourgeoisie and the secular bourgeoisie. The growth of Turkey will only be able to satisfy the newcomers to the market, and it may be inevitable that the secular bourgeoisie will eventually be pushed out of the system. But what if Turkey’s national income were to double or triple? If that had only been a fantasy, the Doğan Group would for instance not have endorsed the peace process with the Kurds. Because a solution of the Kurdish problem will lead to the creation of an organic relation between Turkey and the Iraqi Kurdistan, and the synergy that results from this will enable both sides to make a giant economic and social leap. The secular bourgeoisie and the world of business now have the choice of supporting a resolution of the Kurdish problem, and thus endorsing the rule of the AKP, which in turn will ensure it a humble place in the new order.

© Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, 2012. This article may be reprinted provided that the following sentence be included: "This article was first published in the Turkey Analyst (, a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center"

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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