If you typed the Turkish word for martyr (şehit) into Google on the day after the twin bombings in Istanbul, you would have gotten more than 4.5 million results. Until a few decades ago, “martyr” in official and public Turkish lexicon meant a soldier who died while defending their homeland from occupying powers. After the Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK) burst onto the scene in 1984, martyr came to mean a soldier who died while defending the homeland from occupying powers and terrorists attacking from inside the homeland. Today, according to the military headquarters, it means all of the above as well as foreign jihadists fighting in Syria.
The lexicon part of the problem does not change the fact that people have been dying in their thousands over the course of a year and politics remains the same ugly politics, Turkish or Kurdish. The spiral has not changed even by an inch since 1984: There is a terrorist attack. We mourn our martyrs in emotional moments. Condolences pour in. The nation unites in grief.
Our politicians promise vengeance. They attend martyrs’ funerals. We see coffins wrapped in the Crescent and Star. We weep. We weep more when we see martyrs’ parents weep – they never belong to the “upper class” unless the bomb explodes at a shopping mall or at an airport. Then the Turkish military begins reporting, daily, how many enemy targets were hit in airstrikes and how many terrorists were killed. Politicians promise to finish off the terrorist groups. The spiral… Parents say they are prepared to sacrifice their other sons for the homeland. More emotional moments in which we weep. Parents vote for the same politicians who live in safety and keep promising to finish off terrorist groups. Then come more coffins wrapped in the Crescent and Star. We weep again. The military strikes terrorist hideouts in and outside of Turkey. It reports how many targets were hit and how many terrorists were killed, daily. Politicians promise to finish off terrorist groups.
Life returns to normal. No one remembers when was the last day of mourning, until the next day of mourning. Then the military starts reporting how many targets were hit and how many terrorists were killed.
The politicians make new promises to finish off terrorist groups. Terrorists strike back. We mourn again. More coffins are wrapped in the Crescent and Star. More emotional and bigger speeches are made. The military strikes again. More terrorist targets are hit, more terrorists are killed. Good. Then come more martyrs. Coffins are wrapped in the Crescent and Star. More airstrikes. More terrorists are killed. Good. Then come more martyrs. Coffins are wrapped in the Crescent and Star. Politicians make more emotional speeches and promise to finish off terrorist groups. Good news. Parents keep weeping and voting for the politicians they always vote for.
This spiral will go on. How does this columnist know? Simple. We keep making the wrong diagnosis. According to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, we keep having martyrs because the West is “mad and jealous” about Turkey’s spectacular per capita income (at around $8,000 vs around $30,000 in the West). The West is jealous about Turkey’s roads, airports, hospitals, weapons systems and its wealth. So it is plotting against Turkey, using terrorist groups. That is why we have martyrs. No one asks why the PKK
started acts of terror in 1984, when Turkey’s per capita income was barely $3,000. Was the West jealous about a country with barely $3,000 per capita income?
Wrong diagnoses will always lead to worse health. In Turkey’s case, they will lead to more coffins wrapped in the Crescent and Star. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) did not disappear because a British prime minister declared it non-Irish. Nor will the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) disappear because Mr. Erdoğan declares it un-Islamic. By the same logic, renaming the PKK
as, say, the “Peaceful Kurdish Kinship,” will not end violence. The IRA killed in the name of Irish nationalism/homeland; ISIL kills in the name of Islam; and the PKK
kills in the name of Kurdish nationalism/the homeland, not because the West is jealous of Turkey’s “rise and rise.”