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A Time Collapse In The Kurdish Problem – OpEd


By Ihsan Bal

Turkey today is living through almost the exact opposite of what it experienced in the 1990s, as the BDP, KCK and PKK behave as if nothing has been accomplished for the Kurds. This is inexplicable only if one sees them as being locked in the past.

When we discuss the Kurdish problem in Turkey we find ourselves trapped in a vicious circle: We seem to believe that time has come to a stop and that we need to be acting accordingly. Whenever an aspect of the question comes up, a section of Kurds and thinkers generally always emphasize the 1990s. In doing so they bring to mind the concepts of “the implosion of time” and “chosen trauma” developed by Professor Vamık Volkan.

A society filling the memory of its nation or ethnicity with traumas it experienced at a particular point in time and then mangling all political, social, cultural and economic events on their basis is never a suitable ground for discussion.

Efforts to find solutions that start like this create artificial obstacles preventing the sides involved from seeing the real dimensions of the problem. When we talk about the cultural rights of the Kurds and are living through a time when there are all sorts of favorable developments on matters like identity and language, we are suddenly confronted by people talking about democratic confederalism, powers of self-defense and a declaration of democratic autonomy which in no way relates to the facts.

Breaking Away From the Facts

If one does not perceive proposals of this kind or is completely out of touch with humanity, as if stuck in a time warp or imprisoned in the past, then there can be attempts to explain them. Under normal conditions, when a country is either making preparations to hold elections or has started preparing constitutional amendments, it is expected that support for this process will be forthcoming from political sources. But during the recent period, the objections of the BDP have been growing louder and the DTK which has close links with it has declared “democratic autonomy.” The very day it did that the PKK killed 13 soldiers in Silvan.

Declarations of autonomy, carried out against a contrived background of violence, protests, and a boycotting of the National Assembly turn the entire country upside down at a critical juncture when a spirit of optimism is beginning to prevail. To say that such an attitude reflects a calm, mature, and constructive style of politics is absolutely impossible.

It would appear that there is an attempt to maintain a stance which is rejectionist, reactionary, rage-stricken, and stands shoulder to shoulder with violence. As a result of this fixation with the past, the natural outcome is that discussion begins with experiences in Diyarbakir Jail and continues with killings by unknown assailants and the forced evacuation of villages. And it ends up with an account of the traumas experienced during Turkey’s state of emergency.

Whereas in Turkey today, martial law and states of emergency are long gone and the country is now one where there is zero tolerance of torture. There is a prime minister who proclaimed in Diyarbakir’s main square that the prison building will be demolished and apologized. The same Turkey today has a president of the republic and prime minister at its head who recognize the Kurdish identity, proclaim the Kurdish problem to be their main priority and do not stop there but make all sorts of other arrangements, and have the political will to take positive steps.

Being Imprisoned in the Past, Closing Minds

Today serious amounts of cash are being handed out, not for the burning down of villages but to ensure that their former inhabitants can return to their villages. In the same way large amounts of interest-free loans with repayments waived for five years are being extended to establish businesses. As far as murders by unknown assailants go, not only do they not happen in Turkey today, but the courts are calling people to account for what happened in the 1990s. These examples could be multiplied.

What is happening in Turkey today is just the exact opposite of what happened in the 1990s and the BDP, KCK and PKK line, which claims to be the prescription for a solution to the Kurdish problem and tries to make the atmosphere tense whenever there is a positive development. This can only be interpreted as being trapped in the past and past events.

Behaving as if there have been no positive developments and pointing to events which have nothing in common with them is a symptom of a huge inconsistency.

Naturally enough, possessing a state of mind like that means that the normal effects of the passing of time do not operate. Take a look: Just as the law on closing down political parties is being regulated to end a tradition which parties have suffered from, some people astonish everyone by walking out of the Assembly. And at the same time they can say that they are setting out to obtain democracy but cooperate with groups which support the status quo and militarism and boycott the vote on the constitution. They interpret the opening of Kurdish literature sections in universities and of a TV station broadcasting in Kurdish as a propaganda initiative by the state.

When efforts are made to show this sort of behavior as a normal and healthy political activity, the tension grows further. I think that this is the point which escapes those intellectuals who keep writing and fretting about the Kurdish problem. The mindset which is cultivated in BDP, KCK and PKK circles is a typical instance of what Vamık Volkan refers to as an “implosion of time” and a product of a collective psychology which holds that the practices of the 1980s and 1990s go on today.

Changing Turkey but an Unchanging BDP

This mentality wavers wildly in trying to identify reliable conclusions. So some circles which always analyze the situation as if a common outlook existed are blind to these contradictions and cannot make the correct causal link between the Reşadiye and Silvan raids or the bombings at Kumrular and Anafartalar. Similarly, they cannot give any true meaning to a pledge made by the KCK and the mechanism at work connected with it. Those locked within this outlook cannot properly perceive that the BDP’s policies reduce everything just to the defense of the imprisoned PKK leader at Imrali, hold displays of strength at funerals of militants, and oppose operations.

The way to correctly understand all this is to accept that with all its shortcomings, Turkey has now changed. And we should strongly object to when this trauma is dressed up as being not just a shock in recent history, but a thousand traumatic years of Anatolian history. As some people are now saying, the problem now is not the refusal of the state and Turkey to change. It is the way that its legacy from the PKK and KCK, who insist that there has been no change in the political mentality of Turkey, completely nullifies the policies of the BDP.

In conclusion if we do not identify what is going on correctly, then we are obliged to see that virtual agendas will make no contribution to the solution of the Kurdish problem and will open the way for even more chaos. To be an intellectual means that one must possess knowledge and ideas, and that one must also shoulder moral responsibility. Doing that would mean we would have less loss of human life from now on and perhaps might be able to use the correct diagnoses and empathy to solve this complex problem.

Ihsan Bal
Head of USAK Science Committee

[1]For further description about the term “time collapse” which was coined by Prof. Dr. Vamik Volkan please refer to: Volkan, Vamık. Bloodlines: From Ethnic Pride to Ethnic Terrorism. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997.

Turkish version of this article was previously published in December issue of ANALIST Journal.

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JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).

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