Can a Turkish, Armenian and Kurdish picture be taken together?

By Solin Hacador: Kurdistan Tribune – 18.6.2013 – Today, I have seen a picture of three women from different ethnicities – Kurdish, Armenian and Turkish – taken in the Ottoman times of Turkey. I wonder whether the same kind of photo could be taken in the current Turkish society.Unfortunately, people’s understanding of friendship between different ethnicities in Turkish society is very thin. Moreover, it is at its racist-provocative stage.

Non-Turkish people cannot openly state their ethnicity, and they often hide their origin from each other. This unpleasant situation is worrying. Through this picture we can see that different ethnicities could set up friendship easily in the past but now it is quite hard to bring these people together. This situation did not happen overnight; it happened as a result of Turkish long-term racist educational system and massacres, genocide against Armenians and massacres against Kurdish people.

Kids from an early age are being taught Atatürk’s theories. They are taught how to be proud of being Turk. Children from different ethnicities are being kept under the same educational system. This issue is supported by Turkish media. The media usually follows a biased approach towards other ethnicities and independent journalists are mostly scared to criticize any governmental mistakes.

If we go back to the Ottoman Empire, in the sixteen century it was the most powerful state but, by the nineteenth century, its power was reduced and it had lost most of its land in Africa and Europe. This created economic and political losses too and the Empire started to pressurise internal ethnicities enormously. Armenian people within the government were treated suspiciously. Non-Muslim people were put under immense pressure. A series of massacres against Armenians took place during Sultan Abdulhamid II (1876-1909)’s administration. The same Sultan also used some Kurdish people by setting up the Hamidiye corps (literally meaning “belonging to Hamid”, with the full official name of Hamidiye Hafif Süvari alayları, Hamidiye Light Cavalry Regiments) in 1890.

These were well armed, irregular Sunni Kurdish, Turkish, Turkmen, Yörük and also Arab cavalry formations that operated in the eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire. The intention of Sultan Abdul Hamid II was to use this corps against Russia. However, the Hamidiye were more often used by the Ottoman authorities to harass and assault Armenians living in Western Armenia.

We Kurds need to accept what has happened in history and the fact that some Kurds under the Hamidiye Alaylari took part in massacring Armenian. This shameful crime against Armenians was ordered as explained above. However, we should not generalise this crime and must not blame all Kurds for it. We all know that this is a tactic of the Ottoman-Turkish state, and so the state from time to time applies an armed group against Kurdish armed revolutionists. We know that the village guard (Kurdish armed group) was set up by the Turkish state in order to fight against the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) but they were usually used against innocent civilians.

Finally, the Armenian Genocide (1915) hugely damaged Turkish, Armenian and Kurdish friendship.

Some people become alarmed because they are not very aware of their friend’s customs, likes and dislikes. They may unwittingly say or do something that is offensive, without ever knowing the reason. Having this awareness does not mean that you have ever been a person who has harboured prejudice or racist thoughts about people from other ethnic, national or cultural backgrounds.

Many contemporary writers in the west tend to present friendship as private, voluntary, and happening between autonomous individuals. According to this view ‘friendship becomes a special relationship between two equal individuals involved in a uniquely constituted dyad’ (Bell and Coleman 1999). This contrasts in key respects with the classical view. Furthermore, as Graham Allan (1989) has argued, relationships that are often presented as voluntary, informal and personal, still operate within the constraints of class, gender, age, ethnicity and geography and this places a considerable question against the idea that friendship is a matter of choice.

Aristotle provides us with one of the great discussions of friendship. He distinguishes between what he believes to be genuine friendships and two other forms: one based on mutual usefulness, the other on pleasure. These two forms only last for as long as there is utility and pleasure involved, whereas genuine friendship does not dissolve. I personally believe that we need to work on this and do our bit to get rid of any errors or unpleasant issues from our society in order to set up Turkish, Armenian and Kurdish friendship. This issue is very important for the peace process which we need to start from scratch. The Turkish state should also get rid of its racist educational system and bring its citizens together through social, economic and cultural reforms and respect for the rights of individuals. I assume a new picture of three ethnicities can be taken by then.