By Brandon Roselius
On March 15, President Recep Erdogan of Turkey stood before a crowd in Turkey’s Balıkesir province and boldly declared that the Republic of Turkey never had a “Kurdish Problem”—that all of Turkey’s Kurds have been treated as equals as their Turkish brothers and sisters.
This is a horribly blatant lie.
Until 1991, Turkey’s Kurds were unable to legally speak their own language. Furthermore, for much of Turkey’s history, Kurdish culture had been systematically removed from school curriculums, suppressed throughout Turkish media, and vilified as backwards and uncouth. It was not until recent decades that Turkey’s Kurds have even been allowed to publicly identify as Kurds.
While there have been some very recent gains—Kurdish television channels and Kurdish language classes in some schools, Turkey’s Kurds still suffer the state backed oppression of their identity and the systematic economic deprivation of the Kurdish dominated regions. It seems that for President Erdogan, this does not represent a “Kurdish Problem,” and I must say I wholeheartedly agree with him. This represents a Turkish problem—an intrinsic failure of the Turkish state to fulfill its duties to more than 20 percent of its 75 million citizens.
Now this is where the Turkish nationalists stand up and boldly claim that Turkey has been nothing but a benevolent and forgiving father to Turkey’s Kurds, even as the Kurds waged “war and terror” against the Turkish state. In a completely black and white analysis of the 20th century, the Turkish nationalists may be right. Sadly, even a cursory look into what prompted the Kurdish uprisings will uncover enough evidence to place a substantial amount of blame at the foot of the Turkish state.
But I digress, the history of Turkey and its Kurdish population may have been written; the future, however, has not. Erdogan’s outrageous and nationalist claims risks throwing even more gasoline on the ever burning fire that is Turkish-Kurdish relations.
With current tensions in Diyarbakir (one of Turkey’s predominately Kurdish provinces) rather strained—the recent killings of several Kurdish children by Turkish Nationalist groups have prompted a number of protests, almost all of which were then violently suppressed by the Turkish police—Erdogan’s speech seems even more alarmingly ridiculous.
Even though the jailed leader of Turkey’s Kurds, Abdullah Öcalan, called for a disarmament of the PKK and an end to the armed struggle just this past weekend, progress towards equality and peace within Turkey cannot begin until the Turkish state accepts the multiethnic background of its country and embraces the inherent complications that stem from that.