[Originally published in Turkish Daily News]
Anybody who follows Turkish politics these days will notice that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is quite reasonable on matters relating to the Kurdish question. First, Prime Minister Erdoğan has resisted the calls from other parties and the “mainstream media” to launch a massive war against northern Iraq. He, instead, insisted on building an effective cooperation with the United States to crack down on the terrorist PKK — and only the PKK, not Iraqi Kurds. Plus he managed to build that cooperation in his meeting with U.S. President Bush early this month.
More recently, Erdoğan opposed the closure of the Democratic Society Party (DTP) — which is commonly and aptly called “PKK’s Sinn Fein” — by Turkey’s Constitutional Court. In fact the prime minister severely criticizes the DTP for not renouncing terrorism, but he also wants to keep its cadre in the democratic game rather than “sending them to the mountains.”
No Cowboys Here
As the Turkish Daily News reported yesterday, the prime minister also said the priority is to make the terrorists lay down their weapons and not launching an offensive into northern Iraq.“We are not cowboys with guns in our hands,” he reminded. And he said so in the face of harsh accusations from Devlet Bahçeli, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), who blamed him for “treason.”
Ruşen Çakır, a senior journalist and an expert on Kurdish politics, notes in his latest column that Erdoğan is the dove on the Kurdish question while Bahçeli is the hawk. Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Baykal, according to Çakır, is somewhere in between. (Whereas I think he is rather close to Bahçeli.)
TDN columnist Semih İdiz points to the same fact about AKP. In his piece in daily Milliyet, which is titled “The way of Erdoğan is the most reasonable way,” İdiz argues that Erdoğan “follows a pragmatic policy based on humane, legal and democratic parameters instead of a revanchist line.”
President Abdullah Gül, who is coming from the same political tradition with Erdoğan, is similarly sensible. Yesterday, during his official visit to Georgia, he made reconciliatory remarks about Iraqi Kurdistan and its leader, Massoud Barzani. He added that Turkey would isolate terrorism only with “stronger democracy”.
Now, how should we explain all this? Why the AKP people are much more open-minded than others on the Kurdish question? These people are called “Islamists,” right? So they are supposed to be more dogmatic than their secular rivals such as the CHP folks. But the reality is just the opposite. Why is that?
I think the answer lies in a very basic fact about Turkish politics. Here, the most rigid dogmatism is what the former president Ahmet Necdet Sezer proudly called “state ideology.” The political scene is divided between those who believe — and even worship — the state ideology, and those who rather believe in plain reality.
Kurds are the litmus test here. According to the state ideology, there are no Kurds. They simply aren’t supposed to exist on the face of the earth. If they live in Turkey, they are called “mountain Turks.” (They at best can be a trivial branch of the glorious Turkish race.) If they live in Iraq, then they are called Iraqis. If someone dares to call them Kurds, the adherents of the state ideology go crazy. They even go crazier if someone utters the term “Kurdistan.”
But a reality-based mind would see no problem in any of these terms, because they have been is existence for centuries. In the Ottoman Empire, eastern provinces such as Diyarbekir were called “bilad-ı ekrad,” which means “the lands of the Kurds.” In mid 19th century, the Ottomans even established a “Kurdistan province,” which included much of today’s southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. For the Ottomans, people were called what they were. Theirs was a reality-based empire.
Then came the ideology-based republic, whose elites had decided to rename and re-identify the whole country. This, these elites presumed, was the only way to modernization. And they have tried really hard to realize their dream.
But reality is a stubborn thing. The more you attack it, the more it hits back. And it did.
The Reality-Based Community
Today reality has become much more vindicated than it was in the Cold War years. The brave new world of globalization takes everything hidden under the carpet puts them in the middle of your living room. All the diversity that exists within the Turkish society is becoming more visible and vocal. We now have Kurds, Sufi orders, other Sunni communities, Alevis, Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Protestants, Shiites, and so on. Unlike the neighboring Iran, we even have gays and lesbians.
Now, the question is how to build a new Turkey which will accept all these differences and give them space under a liberal, pluralist democracy. The AKP folks get that, because they are not brainwashed by the “state ideology.” This doesn’t guarantee that they won’t make mistakes, which they do. But it means that they have the mental capacity to understand reality and act accordingly. And, alas, that’s not a very common talent in our officially-ideologized Turkey.