NİHAT ALİ ÖZCAN > Is Turkey ready to become a ‘binational’ state?

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The Republic of Turkey was the heir of the multinational, multi-faith and multi-linguistic Ottoman Empire. Its founding fathers sought to create a homogenous nation-state similar to the attempts of the ethnic groups that had previously seceded from the empire. Almost a century later, despite the ongoing controversy surrounding the matter, we can safely say that this goal was to a large extent achieved.

However, some groups, primarily the Kurds, were able to resist the nation-state project. Ultimately, Turkey has reached a new stage of its century-old nation-state project.

There were many reasons why the completion of the nation-state project through the inclusion of the Kurds has not been entirely possible: The first reason was the size and density of the Kurdish population. Secondly, Islamic practices played an important role in sustaining the Kurdish ethnic identity and language. Thirdly, the Kurdish identity was also enhanced and protected by democracy, social mobilization and the market economy. Fourthly, the fact that most Kurds lived outside Turkey also mattered. Another reason linked to this is the military advantages bestowed upon the Kurds by regional conflicts. In addition, globalization, the promotion of human rights, and enhanced communication technologies have all generally contributed to the development of micro-nationalisms.

Finally, the efforts of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to build an identity and a political status through the use of violence have also hampered the full realization of the Turkish nation state project.

Today, the Turkish government is trying to come up with a solution that will keep its own Kurds inside Turkey. As former prime minister and president Süleyman Demirel declared in the early 1990s that he recognized the Kurdish reality, Prime Minister Erdoğan has also expressed that he recognizes and respects the Kurdish identity. He has also declared the end of assimilation and “denial” policies.

Erdoğan’s statements show that he also knows how difficult this process is. Though currently at the apex of his power, he also knows that he cannot escape from his fate. The question is this: How can we satisfy the Kurds who are represented by the PKK, and who want to rise up from the position of an ethnic group to the position of a nation with political institutions inside Turkey? And how can we do this without making the Turks mad? Erdoğan hopes that Islam will be the answer.

The Turkish government took irreversible steps when it knocked on the door of the PKK’s jailed leader Abdullah Öcalan on Imralı island for negotiations. Although the government does not explicitly state this, Turkey is on the fast track to becoming a binational state. The real debate involves how this will be achieved and how the new state will look. Notwithstanding the final outcome, the Turks have already completed their nation building process, while the Kurds are on the verge of an uncertain adventure in their latecomer nation-building process.


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Pawel Bury

2/23/2013 9:18:14 AM

There is a very nice article at the Turkey/local section called "Turkey losing its ethnic tongues". There was an urgent need to make up a new country and a new ethnic identity. Assimilation or kicking them out of the country is still some people's attitude (see post below). Kurds were never asked about their future and if you ask me they have every right to establish their own country to wherever their roots are. Of course this is independence fight and not nationalism.


2/22/2013 10:03:43 PM

Thank you, Murat. Ottomans had many faults and many good qualities. Their ability to rule peoples of different ethnicities and religious belief, thorugh toleration, was one such good quality. They don't deserve some of the criticism hurled at them. They were indeed "a perfect example of a multi-national and multi-cultural state" as you say, certainly for their time. You are right about the nationalism too.

ismail demir

2/22/2013 7:36:44 PM

Turks do not have to appease Kurds anyway since they freely accepted Turkish rule at 16. century for fear of Safevi iranians .If Kurds have problem with accepting Turkish language, they should left Turkey, and Turkey should allow them a state Diyarbakir-Mardin-Hakkari triangle, since Kurds only had been living there before Turks allowed them to settle other regions.Turkish society and State should remind Kurds that, whether Kurds stop teror or they will lose the benefits given them by Turks.

Pawel Bury

2/22/2013 6:17:12 PM

Part#2, Turkish society has to make a lot of steps before Turkish politicians will. Armenians and Kurds are still being lynched for no reason. Their identity alone endangers their life. One language, one ethnicity, one religion is still the moto in Turkey. It didn't worked so far and there's no reason to work in the near future unless both sides make some steps back. No need for other comments since it's obvious that most posters have access only to the Turkish side of the (hi)story.

mara mcglothin

2/22/2013 5:08:11 PM

CEZER REgardless of what you might think, there are many many Kurds living and working and a productive part of Turkish society. Even military attaches etc.,so you can't give TRUE TURK dictatorial rights. I do believe he is just stating facts.


2/22/2013 5:01:03 PM

Baris, I commend you for your instructive posts. Some are happier in their ignorance though. Ottomans were a perfect example of a multi-national and multi-cultural state and a lesson on what happens to it in the presence of ethnic and religious nationalism. Founders of Republic of Turkey derived some hard lessons from it and infused the state with it. After a century, Turkey is still fighting ethnic nationalism in the guise of fight for rights. It never ends well.


2/22/2013 3:18:57 PM

Pawel, Kurdistan is indeed a place with different culture and language. But, it isn’t a Scotland, which has been a country with set borders, kings and governments for many years. It’s easy for Scotland to break from the UK, since it’s already a separate political entity. Not so with the Kurds of Turkey. Separation may well be an option in the future but not today, when Kurds and Turks are intermixed all over Turkey, wounds from terror are still fresh and when only a minority of Kurds support it.


2/22/2013 3:18:05 PM

Pawel, aim of the devshirme system was to maintain an army loyal to the sultan, not to assimilate. It consisted of recruiting a certain number every few years, according to demand, on 1 child per family basis. Later recruitments also included Muslims. Usage of the word “gavur” does not imply assimilation. Assimilation took place, as it does in any empire, but with few exceptions, it was voluntary and wasn’t the “essence”. If it was, non Muslims wouldn’t have been so numerous and prosperous.

Pawel Bury

2/22/2013 8:16:42 AM

@Baris, how would you explain non-Turkish children recruiting (yeniçeri) or the word "gavur" that is used from Turks until today? Gavur Izmir is still the name of the city. Minorities kept their heads in place paying "charatsi", giving their children to the Sultans army or turn to Islam. If that was not an assimilation essence (sic) what was? Kurdistan is a place with different culture and language since ancient years. Italians went in America. Kurds were already there when Turks came. Regards.

Falk Bernard

2/22/2013 3:14:55 AM

Is the AKP a pawn for the Greater Middle East project?? All its acts direct to such a trace. Army is weakened (many generals in jail), Kurds are getting more and more privileges for their plan. Turks should think about this.
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