The Kurdish predicament and ‘the radical line’ – By Nuray Mert

 9.12.2013 – Last week I attended the “10th International Conference on the EU, Turkey and the Kurds,” in Brussels (Dec. 4-5) for the fourth time since 2009. The title of the conference this year was “Turkey, the Kurds and the İmralı Peace Process: An Historic Opportunity.” Unfortunately, the day after the conference, some bad news of a clash between the police and civilians came from Hakkari. But fortunately enough it could not spoil the mood of the conference, where the Kurdish side expressed determination to keep up with the peace process and seemed quite keen on not losing this “historic opportunity.”

Nevertheless, once again after such occasions like conferences, panel discussions and public events, I felt the absence of a genuine debate on “the Kurdish political movement” which has become increasingly dominated by the PKK line over the past three decades. For a long time, the Kurdish political movement was defined in terms of “a security matter” by the official Turkish state view and now we all discuss the shortcomings of this approach. Yet, I think, the recent unanimity on the need to talk to or negotiate with the PKK, still tends to dismiss this political line as a remnant of an outmoded, radical leftist/nationalist movement to be tamed or corrected. In fact, this understanding of the issue is one of the basic obstacles in the way of political negotiation since it fails to comprehend the ideological appeal and social depth of the movement which claims the representation of the Kurdish predicament. It is an obstacle since it misreads and misleads.

In fact, the PKK-BDP line indeed is still the sole political representation of “the Kurdish predicament,” not because of its guns and wars, but mostly because it reflects an important aspect of “Kurdish modernization.”

Kurdish identity survived the history modernization in the region without reference to a nation state of their own. Otherwise, Kurds have been assimilated into national identities of the four nation states which govern the regions where they live. The Kurdish survival strategy in the name of their identity has pursued different ways of cooptation or revolt for “emancipation.” On many occasions cooptation depended on the ever changing political status quos and never changing social hierarchies. The leftist/nationalist Kurdish political movement came to the rescue of those who wanted to revolt against paternalist, patriarchal and elitist cooptation strategies of survival, as well as against the strategy of surrender under the politics of assimilation by the nation states in which they live.

That is the secret of the invincibility of the so-called “radical line” in Kurdish politics, and that is why now they are the interlocutors of the peace process rather than any other political actor who claims to represent Kurds. In fact, one has to acknowledge the historical and sociological depth of “Kurdish modernization,” in order to deal with the issue. The millions of ordinary Kurds who support “the radical line” do so not because they appreciate the Marxist origins of their leader’s thought, but nonetheless, “the idea of equality” appeals to them more than an argument from energy lines. Theirs is not only a class choice which tends to revolt and/or resist the temptations of capitalist economy, be it in the hands of Turks or Kurds. But it is also a matter of dignity in the name of their Kurdish identity. Do not believe in textbooks which say that it is only the bourgeoisie which historically needed nationhood and its time is over in a post-nation state world. The search for nationhood can be detached from the classical story of the nation state, and can become a matter of dignity for a larger society. It is a process of modernization which provokes people to search for a new “code of honor” to replace the feudal, traditional and patrimonial codes. The radical line is indeed radical but not in the sense that many political observers understand its radicalism.