By Haluk Gerger (1)
Occasional Paper No. 28
Published by Middle East Research Associates (MERA)
Turkey is living through the gravest crisis in its history. The once universally revered project called the ‘Kemalist Republic’, with its strong international support and wide emulation in the Third World, seems to be painstakingly vulnerable to a wide variety of challenges and utterly incapable to cope with them. The systemic inertia, almost complete impotence in accommodating social demands and obstinate resistance to reform, have long paralyzed the country into a prostrated state of ineptness and decay.
The consensus on the pervading crisis is astonishing; not only informed international opinion or the general public, which is naturally weary of its destructiveness, recognize and admit it, the confession is echoed intermittently by the highest echelons of the state. In a political culture where concealing the flaws of the polity is regarded as the highest mark of statesmanship and covering up its shortcomings as the ultimate duty of the politicians, this admission in itself shows the significance and urgency of the system’s predicament. In terms of its moral, political, economic, social, cultural and ideological costs the crisis is fast degenerating into general bankruptcy and in certain critical areas into bona fide breakdown.
The Kemalist experiment to create a modern, ethnically homogeneous, secular, westernized republic seems to be trapped in a vicious circle of fear-violence-decay almost from the beginning. In other words, the Republican Project was destined to insecurity, which bred fears, which in turn inevitably engendered recourse to violence on the part of the ruling classes, resulting ultimately in a general decay of the system.
The basic insecurity that characterized the system and the resultant fear that shaped the behavior of the ruling elite have their roots in history. That is, both in the imperial heritage upon which the republican reconstruction was attempted, and the very essence of the structure that was created. This phenomenon is now being augmented in all its dimensions by the war against the Kurds.
To be sure, the multi-faceted and all- pervading violence also has its own distinct historical/cultural roots and its own inner dynamics, which allow it to reproduce itself at the societal level. Basically, however, it emanates from and feeds upon that fear and therefore must be related to it. Although it is manifested in various physical forms, we are concerned here with two of its unique, sine qua non, characteristic expressions, namely militarism and chauvinism.
Turkish militarism is characterized by the rampant prominence of its values in society, the preponderance of the military establishment in politics, and by the unabashed legitimacy accorded to violence both at popular and official levels. Turkish chauvinism is expressed in extremely aggressive ultra nationalism, in xenophobic Turkism, in excessive bigotry and in the irrational and superfluous ‘master race’ and ‘one-nation state’ ideas.
In order to fully comprehend the systemic decay, it is necessary to enumerate the main historical and (domestic and external) structural roots of the fear-violence-decay cycle that dominates the life of the Republic and the ruling elite. To complete the picture I shall then dwell upon the Kurdish Question and the war, which infinitely magnify the regime’s problems, heighten its perennial fear, amplify its violent nature, deepen its crisis and intensify the decay. By way of conclusion, this paper will briefly consider the prospects for change and possible solutions to the crisis.
Historical and structural roots
The Turkish psyche is almost enslaved by the spectre of the long, painful and humiliating dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Turkish nationalism was born in lost territories. One current, articulated by personalities such as Acura, Agog, and others, was conceived in parts of the Empire lost to Russia. The other has its origins in the Balkans, the birthplace of Mustafa Kendal himself and a stronghold of the Progress and Union Movement, against a background of fateful defeats. Coupled with the traumatic disintegration of the Empire, these developments engraved the following on the Turkish psyche and nationalism: fear, a reflexive aggressiveness against the outside world, an almost impulsive urge to violence for survival, a bellicosity stemming from a strange interaction of inferiority and superiority complexes and a xenophobic seclusiveness, a reclusive rigidity that reinforces reactionary traits.
The warring Empire’s record is tainted with crimes against its subject peoples. The Armenian genocide is but one recent felony still haunting the consciousness of humanity. Although the transition from the Ottoman Empire to the Turkish Republic was not a smooth transfer of power but a sever rupture, the psychological, cultural, political, social and in some areas even legal bonds between the two made the latter appear as a natural extension of the former. The new ruling elite in later years could not and would not fully repudiate the Ottoman heritage and its efforts to be selective in reaping the benefits and disavowing responsibilities were not totally successful. The guilt would put its scar on the social-psychological make-up of the Republic. The newly independent neighboring states made up of former colonies and the minorities left in Anatolia aggravated the feeling of insecurity, ignited old fears and fueled xenophobia as living examples of the guilt.
The militaristic traditions of the crusading Empire, the asphyxiating heritage of the imperious and despotic state, and other cultural/ideological sources emanating from dogmatic Islamic and Asiatic/nomadic background interacted with the Kemalists’ petty-bourgeois radicalism, bureaucratism, and Jacobinism. Taken together, these factors magnified militarism, chauvinism and in their mold shaped a violent society.
The founding fathers of the new Republic, in their endeavour at social engineering, have objectively positioned themselves against the overwhelming majority of their countrymen. This rather ill-fated existence, naturally, had far-reaching effects on their way of governance and on the system they created. The very substance and the nature of the structure they erected over the ruins of the Ottoman Empire could never escape nor overcome the unfortunate consequences of this separation of the ruling bureaucracy from the people.
The Kemalists were set to create a national bourgeoisie to be the driving force of development. To this end, the entire capacity of the country, the full services of the state, and the potentialities of the laboring classes were mobilized ruthlessly. The toiling masses were forced to carry on this mission under truly wretched conditions. In the process the bureaucracy was dead set against labour. Also, the Kemalist elite had brutally broken its promise to the Kurds and embarked upon a ruthless policy of complete denial of the Kurdish existence and forced assimilation.
The new rulers have started a radical transformation of the society aiming directly at the cultural norms, social mores and the way of life of the masses. From religion to attire, from the alphabet to the role of women, the whole social fabric and institutions were effectively dismantled only to be recreated in the image of Kemalism. This revolution from above was mercilessly executed and later on unrelentingly enforced. It inevitably caused wide-spread opposition and resentment, and polarized the society further, widening the gap between rulers and citizens.
This polarity that set a minority ruling elite against the majority of the people – the working classes, the Kurds, the conservative Muslim masses – produced its natural outcome: the rulers began to fear their own people. When this happens, it is imperative that the insecure ruling classes shun democracy, dread popular participation, violate fundamental human rights and instead use oppressive methods to rule over disenchanted and disenfranchised masses. In other words, fear inevitably produces repression and violence. This is exactly what happened in Turkey. The result was a one- party, or rather a one-man, dictatorship that was later reproduced in different and even seemingly contradictory forms. In time, the Kemalist bureaucracy did create a bourgeois class, thus fulfilling its declared mission.
Here was a new class pampered by the state and nurtured to rule in congruence with its mentor, namely the bureaucracy. The Turkish bourgeoisie took over the banner of nationalism as a late comer that has never experienced the revolutionary and progressive traditions of its class-brethren in Western Europe. It was burdened by the fear of labouring classes and allied itself with the feudal landlords. The new class was also beleaguered by the problem of ‘accumulation’. In addition to this lack of material clout, it was backward, culturally unfit to impose its hegemony of values, without a solid background in administration and as yet inexperienced in social manipulation. Dependent upon the state and the bureaucracy rather than on the dynamics of a civil society, the new class was ill-advised, indisposed and, what is more, materially incapable of satisfying societal needs, delivering necessities and meeting demands. These objectively prohibited it from establishing the rule of law based upon a democratic consensus. Its urgent need to accumulate capital and wealth necessitated concentrated exploitation within an unreasonable time span that was beyond the capabilities of the working masses. Allied with the coercive tools of the state machinery, the reactionary landowners and monopolistic international capital, the dominant classes strained the meagre resources of the country to the utmost through repressive undemocratic means. The problem of insufficient capital not only encouraged a bias towards primitive, that is non-economic, forms of accumulation but also interacted with related problems such as the heavy burden of debt servicing, sharing meagre profits with foreign business, occasional painful structural adjustments, and periodic devalutations to produce frightening dislocations and crises.
Various incapabilities and impotencies added fuel to the fire. The ruling elite’s class fears inevitably produced militarism. And when ideological manipulation of the populace and playing on the base feelings of their prey substituted the art of statecraft, demagogue politicians capitalized on extreme nationalism in which the destitute masses took refuge. The whole society was enslaved within the rigid confines of an ‘official ideology’ called Kemalism. This was much more than a personality cult. It was a body of general edicts, a gospel to impose a totalitarian and monolithic edifice pragmatic enough to be manipulated at will in accordance with the daily needs of the system. It was accompanied by an extreme rhetoric of nationalism and distortion of history, extolling the state and militaristic values. To imprison the multifarious reality of Anatolia in its ideological straightjacket required the ruling elite and to resort to violence.
The distortion of history prevented the nation from coming to terms with its past, to find inner peace through new harmony with the formerly subject peoples. Instead, it created a deceptive atmosphere of grandeur associated with bellicosity and intolerance toward other cultures and nationalities. The need to build up a ‘modern’ nation out of the peasant folk of the Ottoman realm only further instigated the fervour. The nation- building process degenerated into a permanent indoctrination campaign brainwashing successive generations with the most extreme varieties of nationalistic and racist ideologies. Official ideology persecuted dissent, banned free debate, stifled progress, hindered change, suppressed hope, overwhelmed the human spirit and therefore suffocated social dynamism.
The single main vehicle of the awesome power of the new state, namely, the monopoly of violence, was bolstered by other means too. So the Turkish State jealously held to the strategic control over religion, being yet another source of its immense power. Turkish secularism, as founded at the inception of the Republic, in fact represented a firm monopolistic state control over religion. What was created was an unrivaled official Islam under strict State supervision which augmented the official ideology and acted as a base for State power. Hundreds of thousands of mosques became, in a sense, public (state) offices as the imams who run them turned into bureaucrats directly paid by the state. The Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) was planned to be just another department within the State’s organizational scheme. Of course, control over religion also gave the state more leeway to control the cultural/ideological domain and bolstered command over the deeply religious troops who formed the backbone of its other monopoly; therefore, the cultural and militaristic roots of state power were reinforced through religious hegemony. Under the protection of the army, Turkish ‘secularism’ blended religion with chauvinistic nationalism and profoundly corrupted Islam. By deploying official Islam against popular Islam, the state began to fear religion itself. This gave a new bent to ‘Turkish secularism’, degenerating into another tool of persecution and oppression. Once again, fear yielded violence. Later, more than once, the existence of ‘currents against secularism’ was cited as a pretext for military coups d’etat. (2)
After the Second World War when the rising bourgeoisie demanded its share of political power, Turkey began to experiment with liberal policies. Under the Democratic Party (Demokrat Partisi, DP), this experiment was stalled in 1954 due to a severe economic crisis. In 1946 the country had registered a surplus in its balance of payments. It was to be the last one. The crisis of the 1950s not only effectively ruined hopes for political liberalism, the chronic deficit in the balance of payments since then has haunted the dominant classes. (3)
From the mid 1940s on, the urgent need for foreign economic aid and Western credits combined with military needs related to the Cold War. Economic, social, political and military problems in the emerging post-war international system, leading to the division of the world and plunging into bipolarity, alarmed and terrified the authorities. To be eligible for much-needed Western economic aid, political support and military assistance, the guardians of the regime introduced in 1946 a superficial and carefully controlled multi-party system apportioning among themselves the roles and posts that go with it.
To obtain ‘aid’, however, Turkey needed to deliver something in return. The system blatantly volunteered for a militaristic role against the Soviet Union as a member of NATO and opted to police Western interests in the Middle East. What Turkey could concretely offer was the advantage of its strategically (militarily) important geopolitical position. As a payoff, generous American ‘aid’ poured in. In the new international market for global hegemony, the only asset they had, the only merchandise they could offer, were the geopolitical benefits that the country’s location would deliver to the Western Alliance. These they earnestly undertook.
Since then, Turkish foreign policy has been almost totally geared to obtaining Western military and economic aid in any form (credits, loans, lease, grants, gifts, etc.). In order to keep an uninterrupted flow, it was imperative that the market value of the ‘geopolitical position’ be kept as high as possible. Strategic importance, however, normally fluctuates in relation to the state of the international system. It is more relevant and significant in times of crisis and conflict. The more critically consequential it is, more value is attached to it. As a result, Turkish foreign policy, dreading the consequences of a drop on Western aid, invested in crisis and conflict as against harmony and co-operation, in cold war as against detente. It provoked and promoted discord, trouble and antagonism and banked on an international order in strife. Since conflict paid and paid well, a disposition towards militarism became part of Turkish foreign policy. In time, violence has become a built-in attribute of Turkish diplomacy.
This structural feature continued to work even after the demise of the Soviet Union. It has always been useful to relate the internal enemy to the external one, like the local communists who were portrayed as an extension of Moscow’s plans for world domination. After the Cold War, new domestic enemies were invented in political Islam and the Kurds. When the regime looked for ways to market its geopolitics in the unstable and conflict-ridden Middle East and Caucasia, these movements could readily be linked to new foreign enemies such as Iran and Syria.
Turkey’s bonds with the West forged at the onset of the Cold War have also bolstered the country’s predisposition to militarism. With the active participation of the United States and NATO, a cold war democracy, a national security cult and apparatus were created in Turkey. The National Security State incessantly searched for enemies to destroy. The system began to feed upon the existence of internal and external enemies. The state fabricated enemies to fight against and designed a permanent witch hunt. It became the ultimate duty and loyalty for all to take part in this holy crusade to contribute to the protection of the nation from sinister enemies. The government also needed enemies to play on Western fears, in order to make the West underwrite its populist policies. The frenzied structure thus created engulfed the society in militarism. Successive American administrations were happy to see, and therefore instigated, militarist authoritarianism in a country they considered a critical proxy in the Cold War. In Turkey they perceived a contradiction between democratization and protection of Western interests. The infection of this imported bigotry was socially devastating in Turkey, since it found fertile soil to grow, interacted with the already existing propensity to violence, and magnified its destructive contamination. The authorities frightened Turkish society, and with the help of the ideological expertise of the American cold warriors, reaped the harvest in the form of hysterical anti-communism, aggressive prejudices, paranoia, jingoism, et cetera.
In the end, the mixture of various historical and structural factors created a grotesque regime, a democracy without human rights where a deceptive pluralist image concealed a militaristic monolith looming above, and a commanding official ideology behind that facade. In this multi-party system, political parties represented different factions of one all-embracing ‘State Party’. The civilian politicians were assigned to run the day-to- day business of the omnipotent Machine acting at the same time as its public relations personnel. State domination of society, which is a typical feature of fascist regimes, has also been a permanent peculiarity of the Kemalist experiment. While the bureaucracy, moneyed sectors and the political class appropriated the sole right to meaningful participation in public affairs and in the decision-making process, millions of citizens were turned into decorations of the political extravaganza. All dissent outside the confines of the permissible was invariably persecuted with utmost severity. Millions were shepherded into the parochialism of their culturally desolated and materially impoverished private domains. The ancient Greeks would define a man who was immersed solely in his private sphere as idiotic, referring to the privacy of ‘one’s own’ (idion). Two thousand years later, in Anatolia, this was imposed upon the people as a way of life.
The apex of the crisis: the Kurdish question, the war and decay
No other social entity had to endure the wrath of Turkish militarism and its systematic violence more that the Kurds.
A form of latent structural violence in and by itself, the obstinate refusal to accept Kurds as a distinct national entity with their own separate culture, traditions and language inevitably stimulates chauvinism and brings about unabashed militarism in the Turkish society. As a natural extension of this denial, the coercion of forced assimilation meant for the Kurds an ominous form of violence. Kurds were officially declared to be mountain Turks and Kurdish a deformed Turkish/Persian dialect. This has become the basic scripture of the official ideology. A taboo was created which in fact perverted Turkish intellectual life and morality more than anything else.
Over the years, this moral genocide has infinitely been intensified and combined with the physical violence of sheer brute force when all the peaceful and democratic channels were effectively closed to the Kurds to express themselves in their own language and on the basis of their ethnic identity. As a matter of fact, through denial, forced assimilation, oppression, poverty, imposed underdevelopment and the like, normal conditions of life have been made unbearably violent for the Kurds. Those who tried to resist were suppressed with the ruthless might of state power.
Yet, the persevering existence of the Kurds, their language and culture, their stubborn resistance to assimilation and adamant refusal to forgo their national identity, have turned into a nightmare for the regime. Occasional uprisings and resistance movements in all parts of Kurdistan have kept the anguish alive. Oppression intensified, violence escalated and militarism held sway in Kurdistan.
Ultimately, Kurdish resistance and Turkish fears and violence culminated in the full scale war following the armed uprising of the Kurdistan Workers Party (Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan, PKK) in 1984. When the occasional skirmishes between the two sides subsequently turned into an institutionalized conflict and a protracted war, it tested the loyalties of millions, aroused passions on all sides and gripped the whole society. The utter inability and unwillingness of the regime even to permit any quest for a political settlement and to open peaceful and democratic channels to the Kurds to express their grievances, voice demands and expectations, further complicated the problem and deteriorated the situation. The regime’s adamant persistence on violence and war, the jingoistic policies, manipulation of mass media to sow the seeds of social animosities and ethnic enmity, provoked the Turkish masses into a renewed frenetic nationalism.
Now the war and its ferocity profoundly shape the entire system, set the parameters for the behaviour of all systemic actors, condition the political discourse and engulf and mold society. The war and its active support are the ultimate reference points for all participants in the political processes.
This war is waged without any regard to moral norms or legal rules of warfare. There is no reasonable proportional relationship between the aim, scope and character of the hostilities, and the magnitude of force utilized and the degree of violence used. One cannot discern any morally justifiable war aim. The was has no social content, for no section of the Turkish society has a meaningful role in its conduct or has a say in its direction. It is also devoid of any political substance, for the regime has no political perspective, no politically feasible suggestions of a diplomatic dialogue or a political settlement even on terms most favorable to the regime are perceived as outright treason. Abstracted from social and political realities, war inevitably degenerates into limitless dead-end violence, a senseless vengeful terror, the ferocity of which defies the very meaning of war itself. It is no more a continuation of politics by other means’ but a genocidal consternation.
The war is thus the apex of systemic corruption and decay. Its preponderance directly and in a most negative way influences, burdens and strains the regime and its foundations. Its consequences are devastating for the country. It exhausts capabilities, saps scarce resources, debilitates institutions, disintegrates the social fabric, demolishes the nascent civil society, perverts morality, distorts ideologies, and crushes whatever democratic rights could ever have been acquired over years of painful sacrifices and struggle. The political class, the universities and the press, the judiciary, the trade unions, and institutions of civil society, in their addiction to violence, in their blind servitude to the state, in brazen advocacy of the official ideology have surrendered whatever autonomy they used to have. In their silence, in corruption, in submission to fear, in capitulation to intimidation, in subservience to undemocratic authority, they have relinquished their already meagre moral leverages. In the whirlpool of a crazy drift towards militarism and chauvinism, they have effectively forfeited their democratic missions.
The scene was entirely left to the owners of the means of violence. The National Security Council (4) took firm and absolute control. The owners of the means of material production and those engaged in intellectual production, in their greed, lust and moral bankruptcy, chose only to profit from this absolute militarization of Turkish life. Certainly all this had its toll on the system. The multi- dimensional collapse, the multi-faceted crises has manifested itself at every level.
First of all, the regime has virtually lost the Kurds and Kurdistan. The Kurdish people are now experiencing the most radical and final break from the Kemalist system and its values. Kurdistan’s natural habitat was ravaged, its demographic make-up brutally disrupted and its economic base devastated. In accordance with the policy to ‘dry the sea to catch the fish’, the civilian population was targeted and thousands from the most astute representatives of the Kurdish Awakening were hunted down, killed, maimed, made to disappear, tortured, imprisoned. Millions had to flee their burnt down villages. As a result, through its violence, the regime also deprived itself of the riches of Kurdistan and the immense contributions of the Kurds to the social and economic life of the country. The Kurdish existence ceased to be an asset for the colonial system.
Even in its sub-standard presence, democracy has been one of the main victims of the war. The most fundamental rights of the Turkish citizens lost all meaning. A Turkish citizen, individually or collectively through associations or parties, does not have access to independent or critical information concerning the Kurdish Question. Turkish people do not have the right to information that contradicts the official ideology. Freedom of speech on these matters is restricted to echoing the officially- sanctioned views or to articulating the official ideology. Dissent is prohibited by law and anyone expressing thoughts outside the narrow limits of what is officially permissible is punished severely. To try to understand the reasons or to criticize the violence that mortgages the future of society result in almost automatic persecution and accusations of subversion. To demand peace or to dare to mention the legitimate Kurdish rights immediately arouses the extralegal wrath of the regime. Even a governing political party faces immediate closure if it merely mentions, in its program or by-laws, the existence of a ‘Kurdish people’ in Turkey or uses the expression ‘Kurdistan’.
For the regime, calls for respect for human rights is a sinister plot to absolutely undermine its war effort and it considers democracy and success in the battle field to be mutually exclusive. All institutions have lost autonomy and are forced to become helpless tools in the psychological warfare. Universities, political parties, research institutes, the media, even voluntary associations, non-governmental organizations, and civic societies are all corrupted into agents and carriers of militaristic values. For those who refuse such ominous roles there is no place within the legal framework.
The economic consequences of the war are disastrous. The billions of dollars spent yearly for the war effort and armaments, the politically motivated irrational investment policies to bribe certain Kurdish sections into loyalty, inflationary pressures caused by military expenditure, the total collapse of agriculture and animal husbandry in Kurdish regions and the misdirected economic concessions granted to foreigners solely aimed to obtain political support against the Kurds, have all created severe economic dislocations. To finance the war and to pay the salaries of state employees, successive governments heavily borrowed money in the international and the domestic market at fantastic interest rates. Frequently the government would need fresh money to borrow simply to repay the interest accrued from previous debt obligations.
The social cost of years of three-digit inflation, daily devaluations, scandalously high rates of unemployment, dramatic declines in the volume and quality of public services, et cetera, have naturally been calamitous. The wide-spread social discontent aggravated the dominant class’s perennial fear of social unrest. Like any ruling elite utterly incapable of solving economic problems and alleviating resultant social ills, the regimes’s guardians took refuge in violence and sought comfort in inciting jingoism. All this inevitably resulted in chronic political instabilities which truly cripple the system. The mainstream parties continuously lost electorate support and are in shambles. The protest votes were channeled to the Islamist opposition and this further aggravated tensions. Abdicating even the most elementary responsibilities and instead becoming inept servants of the state, the political class not only gave up any aptitude for reform but also created wide-spread apathy and disappointments. The political system seems to be fully and fatally paralyzed.
Exploiting the war’s so-called ‘urgent needs’ and the need to find ways and means to finance the extralegal arm of the war, the Mafia stepped in. Corruption involving members of the security forces, state officials, politicians and the semi-official paramilitary death-squads who make ample use of extrajudicial rights and privileges accorded to them by the invisible state, reached new heights. The nationalist rhetoric helped to cloak corruption, impotence, abuse and the war itself is used to justify organized crime. The warlords have therefore developed a vested interest in the perpetuation of the war. The Turkish Gladio, that secret arm of NATO dating back to the fifties, has gained a new lease of life when the authorities began to utilize its deadly expertise against the Kurds and the war- opposition. The violence in Kurdistan is replicated daily in Turkey proper in systematic torture, disappearances, extra- judicial executions, etc.
The main victim of this decaying crisis and violence can clearly be seen in the moral/cultural spheres. The ideological onslaught and abuse that the Turkish people were subjected to by the dominant classes is horrendous indeed. First of all, the conflict is used to strengthen internal discipline and to make working people refrain from voicing their legitimate rights and their economic and social demands. Secondly, it is a useful means to divert the public’s attention away from dire problems and the shortcomings of the system. The ruling elite, having realized that it is incapable of terminating the war and thus unable to solve vital economic and social problems, lost all hope to construct a democratic consensus binding the disenchanted working masses to their order. They know that without accommodating demands made upon the system, without satisfying basic needs and expectations of the people, it is simply not possible to win their voluntary allegiance sufficiently to quell fears of social protest, agitation, unrest and even disorder. So ideological manipulation of popular prejudices became a premeditated plot. An indoctrination program to brain wash the populace into the extremes of jingoism perverted social sensitivities and tolerance. A society addicted to violence was designed where magnanimity, respect for the other peoples and cultures, values of social solidarity, altruism and humanitarian compassion have been slowly but surely eradicated from the social spirit. A militaristic and violent order needed a militaristic and violent people and the ruling elite used all the means at its disposal to reproduce chauvinistic values in daily life, in the family, in the mosque, in school, and in the barracks. The moral and cultural costs of this campaign perhaps made the Turkish people the main victim of the war. The scar that this official offensive inflicted on the Turkish soul and its damage to the social fabric are so severe that dire repercussion will continue to blemish Turkish society for generations to come.
There is now a machinery that has lost all constructive capabilities but that is, for the foreseeable future, still able to mobilize and apply its full destructive potential. It is however that very ferocious power itself which causes systemic decay and disintegration. When sheer violence in association with intrigue, corruption and moral bankruptcy becomes the only remedy for a dominant class to perpetuate its rule, then, that very same brute force also erodes the humanely cooperative foundations of any social system. Tyranny, sooner or later, sows the seeds of its own decay and destruction . . .
Expectations and prospects for change
What should then be expected of this hopeless case?
The regime will surely continue to deny the Kurds their legitimate rights, persecute dissent and reject a peaceful political settlement. War will continue to prevail. The authorities believe that the gap between the destructive capacities of the state and the endurance potential of the Kurdish people is to their advantage. In the meantime, its efforts to isolate the Kurdish opposition will be intensified. While further militarizing the issue and denying its political, social and human content, the regime will continue with its disinformation drive to criminalize and demonize the Kurdish struggle.
The regime is fully aware of the fact that it can only maintain its war capability with the uninterrupted flow of military and economic aid from its Western allies, notably the United States of America and the Federal Republic of Germany. The regime will certainly do everything in its power to secure Western complicity in its deadly endeavour. It exploits the ‘fundamentalist danger’ to blackmail the West. It provides economic incentives in the form of investment opportunities, preferential treatments regarding the privatization of state assets, opening up the vast Turkish market to Western capital penetration, and the like, including at times outright bribery. It commits itself to a strategic alliance with Israel and the United States in the Middle East. It now aims to further contain the Kurds and their potential allies in the region. The ‘Safe Haven’ in Iraqi Kurdistan, ostensibly created to protect the Kurds from the incursions of Saddam’s forces, has long become a playground of the Turkish Army to wreak havoc. Fading international concern for the plight of the Kurds and growing indifference within the ranks of an attentive Western public further encourage the war lords.
It is not possible to comprehend the ‘Turkish Reality and Predicament’ without realizing the profound fact that the regime is utterly incapable of reforming itself and that its raison d1être absolutely negates a humane, democratic, tolerant, multi-ethnic and multi- cultural society. The ideological, institutional and social pillars that sustain it cannot endure peace. This objective reality has so much pervaded the collective mind that subjectively, in its hysterical lunacy, the collective will rather risk mutual perish and even self destruction than accepting a peaceful accommodation based upon the democratic and legitimate rights of the Kurdish people. Against such an eventuality the regime will prefer an ‘honorable death’ in line with its twisted logic (5).
Unfortunately, those segments of Turkish society that objectively stand to benefit from, or are perceived to have a propensity towards positive change, are either too insignificant a force to deliver it, or have forfeited their positive roles by actually becoming obstacles to change. The working class has yet to become an agent of social/political transformation. Currently it is infected by and intoxicated under the influence of the ‘official ideology’. Turkish trade unionism has been effectively integrated into the system, acting as the regime’s agent within the working class. The Alevites, women, students, peace activists, the human rights community, etc., though important, are not consequential social actors in their own right. As a matter of fact, some of them act as pillars of the regime. Many Alevites, for example, perceive the Kemalist regime as their ultimate saviour in the face of the Sunni threat and therefore provide it with critical support. Likewise, the modernizing effects of Kemalism have profoundly corrupted the more articulate (educated and ‘Westernized’) sections of Turkish women into a dogmatic and militant loyalty to the regime.
Big business does have problems in establishing new links with the globalized world economy due to the archaically rigid nature of the Turkish system. Its representatives sometimes do voice timid criticism and suggest cosmetic reforms mainly for the foreign audience (6). Yet naturally, it basically is a status quo force, a benefactor of the regime, and after all, it is the system itself in all its manifestations and characterizations. As a creature of the State and in dire need of its continuous patronage, big business is also a strategic and authoritative unit within the command and control structures of the militaristic regime. It is incapable and unwilling to change the system that serves its obese instinct for plunder of social wealth perfectly well. What is more, the new bourgeoisie, the sons, grandsons and daughters have not yet overcome the crippling quandary of their forefathers only a generation or two before.
The Turkish Left is still struggling to shake off the corrupting influences of the Kemalist ideology which has permeated its world view, especially vis-à-vis the Kurdish Question. The Turkish Social Democracy calls itself the ‘National Left’. To be sure, the resemblance to ‘National Socialism’ is not only semantic. The non-Kemalist Left, on the other hand, is too small, divided, isolated and oppressed to be a viable force in the foreseeable future to initiate change by itself.
Turkish political Islam is neither universalist in the religious sense nor is it democratic. Therefore it cannot accommodate Kurdish Reality. Its etatist and nationalist fervour is reminiscent of Kemalism. Its guiding idea is the nation rather than the Islamic Ummet. The ideology of the Welfare Party is called the ‘National View’ by its protagonists. It is better defined as Turkish-Islamic Synthesis, that is, extreme Turkish nationalism that uses and abuses religious themes. Its chauvinism, militarism and authoritarianism border on outright fascism.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to predict the form of the outcome of the crisis. The monolith might indeed crack under the pressures of Kurdish resistance, the debilitating effects of the war and the crisis. Whether this will create an agent of positive change among the dominant segments, we cannot tell. Some point to the army to initiate a peace process, being the only institution that actually has a first hand knowledge of the war, its appaling ruin and futility. Such a ‘Portuguese model’ does not seem very realistic. The historical conditions, make-up of the respective armies and dynamics of the two societies are too different to draw meaningful parallels. A more likely outcome might be inadvertent reactions on the part of the unorganized, misdirected and manipulated masses that would be utilized by the more sinister forces to lead the country into even more darkness. Under the circumstances even a breakdown a la former Yugoslavia cannot totally be ignored.
Would it be possible at all for the wide segments of ordinary Turks to translate the widespread silent grievances against their plight into a viable and dynamic protest against the war? Would they be able to amass and direct their political passions against the system that uphold it? Would they be able to overcome and get rid of their bondage to the state, to official ideology and to extreme nationalism to complement their break from the economic confines of the system with a comprehensive intellectual rupture? Would they thus be able to free themselves, their social energies and best traditions for constructive change? Would they be able to forge an alliance of peoples with the Kurds to start a new era? In a society where the impulsive natural reactions of the majority of people in politics and in daily life are more prone to the ideological canons of the fascistic Turkish-Islamic Synthesis, it is indeed difficult to be very optimistic.
The hope now lies with the Kurds. First of all, their determination and successes will deepen the crisis, become catalytic in expanding social discontent and keep up hopes for a progressive opposition front.
Secondly, the Kurds today represent the truly emancipated and most vocal social consciousness in Turkey. Both qualitatively and quantitatively, the legal Kurdish opposition, despite the terrible toll it has to endure against systematic repression, put up the single most important democratic challenge to the system. It forms the backbone of whatever political dynamism exists in the country.
Thirdly, by its mere presence in the political scene, the liberated Kurdish collective soul embodies the most concrete and effective refutation of the tenets of the official ideology and of the Kemalist falsification of history. That refutation is strategically important for the Turkish masses to unchain themselves from the servitude to the repressive State and official ideology.
But in my opinion, the Kurds have more to offer to their Turkish brethren. The Kurdish people had to experience the ordeal of life under foreign domination. They have interacted with the three major cultural entities in the Middle East, namely the Persian, Turkish and Arab, under conditions of dependency relationships. They have therefore witnessed and suffered from the less than honourable feature of those civilizations. It is only natural for them as victims to intrinsically reject those negative traits. On the other hand, they have shared and contributed to the development of the very best traditions and social mores of the three major nations of the region. In other words, they rejected the defective sides and internalized the best, blending it with their own to perfection. This gives the Kurds a special place in any democratic renewal and reconstruction in the socially stagnant and politically misdirected Middle East.
It could very well be argued that the Kurds, too, are corrupted by their enemies and by the necessities of the harsher conditions of life that were imposed upon them. The Kurds of the North, i.e. Turkish Kurdistan, however, have been living through a revolutionary transformation and experiencing a social, political and cultural enlightenment that enable millions to thwart the negative influences of their enemies, the cultural/ideological burdens of the legacy of colonial authoritarianism and the moral tarnish their ordeal over the years might have produced. Northern Kurdistan has a determining power in the Kurdish life. It is not only the bigger part that actually hosts the Kurdish awakening. In terms of its diversified economy, relatively high level of modernization and, more importantly, developed human potential, it is the strategic heart of Kurdish existence. In their new experience that is imbued with much heroism, human sacrifice, solidarity and sharing, the Kurds of Turkey are rebuilding the very best of their distorted and bruised traditions. In their agony and resistance they do dust off the residue of negative conditions of life under duress and launch a new consciousness that truly transcend a mere nationalist uprising. Everyday, in their struggle, the Kurds engrave in their social being lofty ideals that humanity cherishes against the background of its disappointed experiments in the Twentieth Century. Against all odds, it is indeed remarkable that the Kurds have never betrayed sincere feelings of fraternity towards the Turks and persevered in demanding democratic and legal channels to peacefully express themselves. Therefore, the Kurds of Northern Kurdistan are well placed for a reforming saviour role in any prospect for future change.
Kurdish emancipation would also mean liberation for the Turks in another, indirect way too. A peace based upon the acceptance of the legitimate, democratic rights of the Kurds would, by definition, mean basic structural changes in the Turkish regime. Such a development would completely transform the Turkish state structure, its institutions and its monolithic, totalitarian and militaristic ideology. A peaceful political solution to the Kurdish question and the war, however it is achieved, would almost automatically crumble the main pillars of the regime, defeat those structures that sustain the aggressive system, profoundly undermine the prestige, leverage and social/political power of the dominant classes. Once the ruinous effects of the official ideology based on the hegemony of a master race is eradicated from social life, aggressive nationalism would also wither away. When a legal reform is undertaken and the repressive institutions democratized, the Turkish people would be freed from the yoke of reaction, militarism and oppression. When state fetishism is defeated, it will be possible to construct a democratic system designed to safeguard the rights of citizens. An end to systemic violence would also mean a new era of peace and participation free of fear for the Turks as well. Then the Turkish people with other ethnic and cultural entities would be able to mobilize social energy for more constructive efforts: for economic, social and cultural development, for reconstructing a more humane and tolerant society that can flourish in ethnic and cultural diversity. The peaceful interaction with different cultures will immensely invigorate Turkish life. The Turkish people would be able to reconcile their history and imperial past with today’s realities and come to learn to respect and appreciate other cultures (7).
A solution to the Kurdish problem and transformation of Turkey would start a democratization process that could also benefit Arabs, Iranians, and others in the Middle East, starting a new era in the region based upon a voluntary and peaceful association of peoples.
The Kurds occupy a strategic place in- between the Arab, Persian and Turkish states. As a ‘common threat’ the Kurds compel those states into some form of an uneasy cooperation. They cooperate against the Kurds. Being a modus vivendi against something, it is clear that this is a negative type of cooperation. It also incorporates an inherent antagonism for it takes place in an atmosphere of deep mistrust for each is scared of the other that it might use ‘the Kurdish car’ for its own strategic advantage. But the Kurds could forge more useful links between them. Kurds can act as a bridge and be instrumental in establishing positive cooperation between the Arabs, Iranians and the Turks. A loose but nevertheless real Middle Eastern commonwealth could only be hoped to be reconstructured on the basis of such positive links, and multilateral combinations and collaborations.
All this is the Kurdish promise to their tormentors and the only way for a new start out of the crisis.
1-Dr. Haluk Gerger is a political scientist and a former Assistant Professor at the Ankara University. He was dismissed after the 1980 military coup because of his political views. He works as a writer and a journalist. He is currently serving a 10-month prison sentence because of a Œthought-crime1.
2-The recent rift and the crisis between the army and the Islamist Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, RP), which resulted in the forced resignation of Prime minister Necmettin Erbakan and the ban on his party, should be seen in this light. The Turkish State is still very powerful, but is facing grave problems creating spasmodic reactions, insecurity and paranoia among the guardians of the regime. The historical heritage is loosing significance as the state looses the grandeur of Ottoman times. Also, the state1s dominance of the economy is eroded by the growing bourgeoisie and by developments associated with the New World Order, such as privatization and worldwide mobility of capital. The cultural/ideological foundations of state power – its father figure and sacred image imposed and reproduced over hundreds of years – also diminishes as it looses hegemony over values to the forces of modernity. What is left is its monopoly of violence as the single main proponent of its awesome power. In these circumstances, religion occupies the most prominent place in the strategic equation of power politics. Islam is indeed a tremendously potent social and political force in Turkey. As life in all its dimensions gets tougher and even unbearable, millions of people take refuge in its realm. Religion is seizing the commanding heights of Turkish morality, culture, social life, political loyalties, and increasingly even economics. Today, the fundamental political dictum is that he who controls this poten force (and blends it with chauvinism) also controls society. This explains the current struggle between the State and the Islamist politicians as to who will reap the riches of religious power.
3-The import-substitution policies of the 1960s and 1970s only aggravated the problem since the need for foreign exchange multiplied. The newly constructed domestic light industries were wholly dependent upon the import of capital goods from the industrialized West to keep going, and the system was incapable of paying the bill.
4-The National Security Council was established after the 1960 military coup and has been incorporated since then in the constitutional scheme of the state apparatus. Its permanent members are composed of the Chief of Staff and the commanders of the Army, Navy, the Air Force and the Gendarmerie on the military side, and the Prime Minister – with the ministers of the Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Defense representing the civilian facade. The president of the Republic presides over its meetings. Key bureaucrats, military commanders, and intelligence chiefs are also called to take part in its deliberations. Its secretariat is run by a General. According to the Constitution, the Council1s decisions are conveyed to the Government and the Council of Ministers then acts on the basis of those decisions and carry them out.
5-To venture into an analysis of the possible reactions that this may impose upon the Kurds is out of the scope of this paper. Suffice is to say that the Kurds do not as yet reciprocate this fatal irresponsibility and try to counter it with maturity and patience.
6-The much acclaimed recent report of the Association of Turkish Manufacturers and Businessmen (Turkiye Sanayici ve Isadamlari Dernegi, TUSIAD) which asked for democratization and reform has been shelved after heavy criticism from the majority of members. The new Œprogressive1 chairman recently visited Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and said that they were 3at the disposal of the government and ready to obey its orders2. The terminology quenched with military jargon is a revealing Freudian slip on his part.
7-I am aware of the ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma here. It is extremely difficult to harness the positive traits of the Turkish people under the conditions of war. Under the circumstances, the jingoistic feelings are strengthened and the people are easily manipulated by the warlords. On the other hand, peace will likewise be very difficult to achieve without the Turks overcoming their stubborn nationalism and joining hands with the Kurdish opposition. So, instead of a linear development with stages preceding and following one another, we should expect complex, at times contradictory and intermingling processes, simultaneously reacting with each other and in increments creating positive opposition, exercising breaks on the violence, positively influencing the Turkish mentality, bringing the prospect of peace closer, and so on.