Time to talk frankly about Kurdish politics
The tragedy of being or trying to be “a democrat” in Turkey is being a member of a very tiny minority. I do not think especially nowadays that the majority of society in so-called “advanced democracies” are constituted by perfect democrats, but in societies like ours, the challenges are far too great.
For long, secularist hegemony denied the rights and freedoms of the conservative majority and labeled the few democrats who defended conservatives’ rights (like removing the ban on headscarves for university students) as “supporters of enemies of secularism.” Then, when ex-Islamists came to power under the name of “conservative democrats,” it turned out to be the triumph of conservative authoritarianism. Under their rule, democrats started to be defined as “closet Kemalists,” members of the “alienated elite” and non-democrats at best when they became critical of government politics. As for the supporters of Kurdish rights, they have always been accused of being traitors, at all times, by all sorts of nationalists. Nevertheless, the Kurdish political body proved to be no less intolerant when their policies faced criticism.
The Kurdish opening of 2013 was a rare happy time to discuss Kurdish politics, but it too lasted short and came to a terrible halt when clashes started shortly after June 7, 2015. Since then, the Turkish government and Kurdish politicians and the leaders of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have accused each other of starting the confrontation. The event of July 15 coup attempt could have been used as an opportunity for a cease-fire to open the way for negotiations.
In fact, the governing party hinted at some willingness for a new start by putting all the blame for the wrongs on Kurdish politics on the Gülenists. The PKK, however, chose to continue its confrontational politics by intensifying its attacks. Despite this, Turkey’s democrats are expected to form a “democracy front” and defend Kurdish rights and are accused of “surrendering to the government” or being covert Kemalists or simply of being inept if they fail to do so. In fact, Kurdish attacks only help to arouse nationalism and popular bitterness and do nothing to create space for democrats and democratic politics.
Kurdish politicians are so accustomed to having the unconditional support of left democrats that they cannot see the fact that a guerrilla war and armed attacks which kill even civilians cannot be defended on democratic grounds. I, for one, think that Kurds have the right to discuss or demand even autonomy. I for one, was among those who supported negotiations with the PKK and still think they are necessary, but no one who genuinely believe in democratic ways can be a supporter of the Kurdish strategy of revolution and armed confrontation.
Besides, it seems that the Kurdish political body, with its PKK military wing, has started to prioritize regional goals, especially in Syria, and is shaping its strategy in accordance with that goal. It is understandable for Kurds to be concerned by the fate of other Kurds in the region and in Syria in particular, but wait a minute, a democrat in Turkey cannot be expected to accommodate him/herself to Kurds’ Syrian or regional policies. We object to our governments’ regional policies if we think they are sectarian, irredentist or pan-Turkic but support Kurdish political/military strategies to achieve pan-Kurdish national goals as part of democratic politics. On one hand, Turkey’s interference in the Syrian war and, on the other, Kurdish regional calculations have thus far put the democrats of Turkey in an awkward position. As left democrats, we are expected to object to our government’s policy in the name of democratic politics, but at the same time, support Kurds’ regional politics without any criticism, again in the name of “democratic politics.” Moreover, nobody dares to point out this insensible and unsustainable political position for fear of being ostracized among left democrats and intellectuals on one hand and concern for playing into the hands of nationalists and militarists on the other.
Under the circumstances, it is becoming tremendously difficult, or even downright impossible, to try to be an ordinary democrat in this country.