The two new universes of Kurds and Turks

The two new universes of Kurds and Turks

Arriving in Diyarbakır a day before Nevruz (Newroz in Kurdish) has been bliss; away from the dark Western side of Turkey. On the same night, Prime Minister Erdoğan declared a ban on Twitter, a massive attack on freedom of expression. Nonetheless, Diyarbakır was living in a different world; Newroz is celebrated with great joy and enthusiasm. It was difficult not to surrender to the joyful mood, as I did.

Yet, it was the bliss of “escapism,” if not of ignorance.

The imprisoned leader of the illegal Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) Abdullah Öcalan’s message was read out during the celebrations and ensured the Kurdish movement’s decisiveness concerning a peaceful resolution. Despite all of the rumors of division within the movement concerning the peace process, I had the same impression when I talked to the head of the outlawed Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) Cemil Bayık two weeks ago in Kandil. It is a relief to feel that the armed struggle is over and the Kurdish movement is firmly committed to democratic politics and political negotiations.

Nevertheless, Turkey has never been so divided by two different worlds. The Twitter ban and Öcalan’s message on the same day could not be more symbolic to show the separation of the two different universes of Turks and Kurds. Moreover, this time the divide is not between Turkish nationalism and Kurdish rights and freedoms, but the issue of the priority of democracy or peace.   

For someone like me who is so committed to the peaceful solution for the rights and freedoms of Kurds, it is utterly hard to take sides. I feel caught up between feelings of hope and hopelessness on one hand, joy and sorrow on the other. It is easy to blame Kurds for turning a blind eye to Erdoğan’s autocratic rule, yet it is ruthless not to understand their caution and concern. Kurds are not only concerned about endangering the prospect of the peace process, but very scared of the possibility of rising a nationalist block in the case of Erdoğan’s demise. Nevertheless, their concerns no longer overlap with those of many of their old friends in the Western sphere of Turkey, who see Erdoğan’s rule as the major threat to democracy. Under the circumstances, it is no surprise that some leftist, democrat, liberal old friends of the Kurds have started to separate their ways and the feelings of solidarity are being constrained for both sides.

Nowadays, even some very anti-Kemalist leftists, democrats and liberals have started to consider an alternative democratic block and peace front as opposed to the Kurdish alliance with the Ruling and Justice Party (AKP). Yet, Kurds are not convinced the People’s Republican Party (CHP) can be a viable political alternative, especially because of its tacit election alliance with nationalists and the Gülen movement. In fact, Kurds are quite justified for their caution. Besides, peace with Kurds cannot and should not exclude the conservative majority. Nevertheless, the major problem of Kurdish politics is to fail to see the present government has ceased to be a legitimate political actor to be able to make a deal with the Kurds, even if it wins the elections. Turkey is in political turmoil and it is political blindness to dismiss the fact that no political deal with the Kurds can work under these circumstances. It is not to say the peace process is over; it is not and it should not be! Yet, the Kurds need to wait and see, rather than risking their moral superiority by turning a blind eye to the rising authoritarianism in Turkey.

Unfortunately, Öcalan’s message endorsed some crucial terms which resonated in the AKP’s current discourse, like “coup,” “plot” and “international conspiracy.” It is no happy coincidence. I am sure the Kurdish leader knows the political value of moral superiority better than anyone, since his lifelong struggle has been based on a firm belief in the moral dimension of politics.