IDENTITY, EMPOWERMENT, AND A DREAM

You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star. ~ Nietzsche

Erdogan has begun a dialog, but it isn’t a dialog that includes Kurds. In fact, I don’t know that I can properly call it a dialog. A dialog requires at least two people or groups of people. Perhaps Erdogan is only engaging in a monologue, which is the nice way of saying that he is talking to himself.

It began in Şemzîn (Şemdinli), when the Turkish PM began talking about Turkish identity and the Kurdish sub-identity but since I don’t know of any Kurds who are willing to concede the sub-identity classification of Kurds–which leads to all kinds of strange implications for the Kurdish people and Kurdish history and Kurdish culture as realities in and of themselves–I think it is true to say that there are no Kemalists who are willing to concede that the wholeness of Turkish identity can bear a sub-identity. But perhaps ordinary Turks are beginning to consider what the next step in the issue of identity might be.

A Washington Times article by Tulin Daloglu, titled, “Who Is a Turk?” pushes Erdogan’s monologue a step further by asking how Turkey should go about “winning the hearts and minds of its Kurdish citizens” in light of the young democracy taking shape in South Kurdistan.

Sooner or later, the United States will withdraw large numbers of its troops from Iraq, but some U.S. military presence will definitely remain there for many years to come. It’s safe to speculate that a good number of the remaining troops will be based in Northern Iraq — statistically, the area where U.S. troops have suffered few casualties, and the place where they will continue to observe and protect the democratic process in Iraq.

First of all, it is not Northern Iraq. It is South Kurdistan or, as the Turkish border bureaucracy at Ibrahim Xalil has learned, “Iraqi Kurdistan.” Secondly, South Kurdistan has not been a place where the US has suffered “few casualties.” It is the place where the US has suffered no casualties. Except for a tragic US friendly fire disaster during the conduct of the war, in which a number of US and Kurdish special forces, including Wajî Barzanî, were killed or seriously injured, the US military has suffered no casualties while living and working among the Kurds.

Yet if necessary precautions are not taken, this exit strategy will most likely bring on a “disaster” in U.S./Turkey relations that will be so much worse than the 2003 decision by the Turkish parliament not to give U.S. troops a northern front to enter Iraq.

Necessary precautions? It is obvious that Turkey will have to take the necessary precautions if it hopes to maintain its sacrosanct border. Ms. Daloglu goes on to describe the apparent economic success of the KRG-administered region, but she does not make it clear that the investments coming into South Kurdistan are the result of Kurdish efforts and not American largesse. However, Ms. Daloglu does get it right when she states that it is just this investment, exactly this strengthening of the economy, that will be the real challenge to Ankara:

Although there are much poorer towns and cities in the Black Sea and Aegean regions, the people did not call for arms against the state. Kurds did, because they demand the right to “self-determination.”

Since Iraq began taking its baby steps toward democracy, Kurds in Turkey began to look up to Northern Iraq rather than follow the dream to become part of the European Union. When a bomb exploded in a bookstore in Semdinli, Hakkari, hundreds rallied against the state, supporting PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan and, according to some accounts, burning the Turkish flag in front of the police station.

Yes, the Kurds of Turkish-occupied Kurdistan are looking to their brothers and sisters in the South for economic opportunity, an opportunity that the Turkish state has so far denied Kurds. In fact, the Turkish state has created the monster for itself and continues to abuse the problem, as in this Financial Times article . The Kurds of North Kurdistan have begun to seek economic relief by creating business between themselves and the Kurds of the South, as I myself witnessed when I travelled through the region this year. In addition to the economic opportunity, the Kurds of Turkish-occupied Kurdistan look to the South as a beacon of hope. If they can do it in the South, we can do it here, is their reasoning.

Other signs of the growing sense of power was observed this last summer, when Mr. Erdogan went to Amed (Diyarbakir), the capital of Greater Kurdistan:

“I want you to know that there will be no going back from the point Turkey has come to… We will not allow any regression in the democracy process,” Erdogan said in an emotional speech in this key city of Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast.

“We will resolve all problems with more democracy, more civil rights and more prosperity,” he said, frequently interrupted by applause from a crowd of some 1,000 people.

Yet both the leader of KONGRA-GEL, Zubeyir Aydar, and Amed’s mayor, Osman Baydemir, noted that Ankara needed to deliver more than words and the skepticism over the words of the Prime Minister are seen concretely in the fact that only some 1,000 people attended his speech while later 70,000 Kurds attended a pro-PKK rally in the same city. Tens of thousands appeared at funeral services for those killed by security forces during protests in the aftermath of the Şemzîn bombing, especially in Gewer and Mersin.

Ms. Daloglu questions whether or not Erdogan’s monologue on the nature of Turkish identity has any relevance given how fast events are moving on the ground and on that point I agree with her. She cites the pull of the EU and its accession requirements, the tug-of-war between the Kemalists and the Islamists within Turkey, and the growing empowerment that the Kurds under occupation feel as they look South. If the Kurds of the North can time things correctly, they will be able to apply just the right pressure at just the right moment to make the first step toward the long-awaited dream.

If this is not what the United States desires, it also needs to work to keep the Iraqi Kurds from encouraging Kurds in other countries to join their journey. Otherwise, borders will change again, and the cost to the U.S. security will likely be high.

If it is not what the US desires, then the US should remember the restive Kurds who began their fight against the Baghdad regime in 1961.

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