COMMENTARY – Prof. Dr. Ihsan Dagi : Good for the Kurds, bad for the Turks?

Zaman 29.7.2012 – The Syrian crisis has turned into a crisis testing Turkey’s attitude towards the Kurdish question and the Kurds. The likelihood of the Syrian Kurds gaining control of some northern parts of the country and eventually gaining some sort of autonomy from the center has alarmed the Turks and the Turkish government alike. Almost all commentaries published in Turkish media have told the story with great concern. The prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs have stated that if it becomes necessary, Turkey will not hesitate to intervene in Syria. The opposition has started to accuse the government of idly watching the establishment of a second Kurdish entity on its borders.

Underlying all these reactions is the assumption that developments in favor of the Kurds in the region constitute a threat to Turkey. It is thus inferred that Turkey would prefer the Kurds being ruled by dictators like Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad instead of having a say in their own future.

This is awkward, impossible to justify on any ethical or even practical ground. It is of course obvious that such an unethical position is the result of the security concerns of the state. Or, to put more accurately, it is due to the fact that there are demands from the Kurds of Turkey concerning their political and cultural rights. Once there is an emergence of a new entity populated by Kurds that provides the Kurds with more rights and freedoms, Turkey becomes worried that such improvements may set a “bad example” for its own Kurds. The well-being of Kurds thus is to be prevented by Turkey.

It is futile to try to build a future on the misfortune of the Kurds. Besides, in a world of changes towards democracy and self-government, it is unrealistic to assume that the Kurds will remain under the yoke of this or that nation or dictator. As the world transforms it is normal that the Kurds, too, are increasingly gaining their democratic rights and improving their standard of living.Therefore this reflex of the government and the public at large of regarding any improvement in the conditions of the Kurds as automatically threatening Turkey is not realistic, prudent or right.

Even if there is a zero-sum game between the Turks and the Kurds, what about the Kurds of Turkey? Which side of the equation are they on?

In this line of thinking, the Turkish public and officials thus miss a fundamental point that there are Kurds in this country, and these Kurds enthusiastically welcome developments both in Iraq and Syria through which their ethnic relatives are likely to be better off politically and economically as a result.

It is not unnoticed or regarded as unimportant that the official prevailing view that what is good for the Kurds is bad for the Turks alienates the Kurds of Turkey from this country. Such an attitude serves to justify the position of the secessionists Kurds. The Kurds of Turkey tend to think that they do not have a common bond with the Turks and the Turkish state.

I think it is time to rethink and refute this presumption. And this requires constructing a new language about the “outside Kurds” who are not outsiders in fact to our politics and society.

So long as the gains of the Kurds are regarded as the losses of the Turks there can be no persuasive argument for a common future between the Kurds of Turkey and the Turks. This is simply because it excludes the Kurds from a common “us.” If we do not include the Kurds as part of “us” in practice, it is impossible to tell them that we really want to live together as equal citizens.