Recognizing Kurdish Nationhood

Recognizing Kurdish Nationhood

“It was difficult not to be moved. It was difficult not to be admiring,” says journalist Michela Wrong, in the opening of her book on the political struggle for independence in Eritrea (“I Did’t Do It For You,” London: Harper Parennial, 2005), but her book has more emphasis on the shortcomings of long and painful political struggles. Despite Wrong’s warning that observers of freedom fights should think twice before being an admirer, I could never manage “not to be moved and not to be admiring” of the Kurds’ struggle for freedom.

Moreover, those Kurds of Turkey who fight for freedom have long ceased to be separatist and have given up the dream of a Kurdish state. I think that it is a big chance for Turkey to reach a consensus with Kurds for formulating some sort of peaceful coexistence with Kurds without denying rights and freedoms. Nevertheless, for Kurds, giving up on having a nation state is not giving up on being a nation. We have to recognize this fact in order to be able to find a formula for peace with Kurds. The Kurds’ struggle for rights and freedoms is still based on the idea of some sort of “nationhood,” and indeed this sense of nationhood is still the essential part of their collective existence.

This is what I felt once more, after I spent a few days in the southeast of Turkey last week. First I went to Nusaybin for a symposium on “Mezopotamian History.” The panel discussions were focused on Nusaybin and the “Nisibis school” (in the history of Eastern Christianity). I am sure the audience was not excited by theological debates of Eastern Christianity, but excited about the fact that their land had historical significance. After the Symposium ended, I travelled (with the mayor) to a small town, Şenyurt, a district of Mardin, to observe the transportation of humanitarian aid to “the other side of the border.” I was lucky that I witnessed such an event, since it was an occasional permission by the government to open a way for aid to be delivered to Syrian Kurds. Almost the whole town was waiting at the border to offer their help since, first of all, it was their relatives who are living on the other side of the border. But it was not only that they were desperate to help their relatives, it was the “sense of solidarity” with the Kurds on the other side of the border fences. Besides, the point was not only to help the needy fellow Kurds, but to help “Rojeva” (as they call Kurdish region in northern Syria) to protect their regional autonomy which was gained after Assad forces withdrew and now under the threat of Salafists’ attacks. Then I went to Diyarbakır to attend an event commemorating the anniversary of the Kurdish journalist Musa Anter’s assassination. The sight of a group of teen girls who were singing Kurdish-Kurdistan songs for the event, were no different than similar sights of any other national event that one may come across in any part of the world. 

The distant past and history writing is an essential part of “collective pride,” events of tributes to sufferings and struggles are an essential part of “collective memory” and a sense of solidarity is an essential part of the idea of “collective future” and all means deliberation for nationhood.

Nevertheless, Kurdish nationhood has long been trying to adopt the norms of multicultural and democratic values to survive the challenges of the new political realities, and so far it does not fail the test of genuineness. After all, we can only succeed in reaching a formula for a peaceful coexistence with Kurds by recognizing their nationhood. It is a golden chance for us who live in Turkey that Kurds are treying to modify their sense of nationhood to a political formula of democratic coexistence rather than seeking for a nation state of their own. After all their suffering, they refuse to be vengeful but truly seek a peaceful future. “It is difficult not to be moved. It is difficult not to be admiring”.