The official ideology of the Turkish state is the uniformity
By Toros Korkmaz
The Turkish state, established 100 years ago, has persisted in its aggressive policies towards minority groups and the Kurdish people. Under the shadow of the Ottoman heritage, it aggressively approaches various ethnicities and beliefs.
The Ottoman Empire recognized its multinational nature, utilizing the millet system, which categorized people based on religious beliefs. Non-Muslims were considered second-class citizens, with restrictions on their rights and autonomy. However, they enjoyed some self-governance in community affairs.
In contrast, the Republican administration rejected the Ottoman Empire and embraced a uniform Turkish nationalism, abandoning the principle of Muslim supremacy. This led to the implementation of the 'Turkish-Suni-Islamic Synthesis,' prioritizing ethnically Turkish and religiously Sunni Muslims. This state policy has prevailed over the past century and remains in effect, distinguishing it from the Ottoman administration's approach.
The Turkish state has consistently oppressed and persecuted minority groups since its inception. There are many examples of discriminatory policies, such as the exclusion of non-Muslims from senior government positions and the use of marginalizing language by state authorities and media. The pogrom against Jewish people in Thrace in 1934, the imposition of the Wealth Tax on non-Muslims during World War II, and the forced labor and death of individuals in the Erzurum labor camp are examples of the state's discriminatory initiatives. There is also the pogrom against non-Muslims in Istanbul and Izmir in 1955, the expulsion of Greeks from Istanbul during the Cyprus conflict in 1964, and the false narrative attributing the Kurdish problem to Armenians since the 1980s. Lastly, there is the murder of Hrant Dink, an influential intellectual, in 2007.
Since its beginnings, the official ideology of the Turkish state has been characterized by uniformity, assimilation, and Turkish nationalism. Its primary objective is to assimilate all ethnic groups within Turkey into Turkish identity forcibly. Additionally, the ideology aims to promote Turkism in regions beyond Turkey, including the Caucasus and former Soviet Republics, where Turkish dialects are spoken. It is important to note that this regime, in which the MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) held significant power, embraced the distant objective of Turan.
The Kurdish dimension
After the Armenian, the Pontic genocides, the expulsion of Greeks from Asia Minor, the massacres of the Assyrians and Chaldeans, and the forced displacement of the Greeks and Kurds, the dominance of Turkish nationalism in the Turkish state has been hindered. The Kurdish population, who inhabited the Southeastern Anatolia long before the indigenous Turks, posed a challenge to establishing complete Turkish dominance. If Kurdish resistance could be overcome, Turkish nationalism would further solidify its control. This would have a significant impact on the Turkish geography. It should be noted that in contrast with Kurds, other Muslim non-Turkish communities in Turkey, who have smaller populations and are not indigenous to the region but rather refugees, have a greater tendency to assimilate into Turkish identity.
In the process, in terms of the economic aspect, the Kurdish regions of Turkey have become wealthier because of the GAP Project. The Kurdish regions also have a strategic advantage in accessing the Mediterranean. The Turkish state intends to keep this wealth for its ruling class and does not want to share it with the Kurds. If the Kurds were to achieve autonomy, it would pose a significant challenge for the Turkish capitalist class to exploit these resources in the region.
The way forward
Can the Turkish state renounce the above strategy and embrace democratic principles and multiculturalism? Establishing a positive relationship with the Kurds would undoubtedly be the first step towards this direction.
To achieve the above aim, the Turkish state should prioritize re-establishing the peace negotiations, engaging with Abdullah Ocalan as the leader of the Kurdish movement, allowing imprisoned Kurdish democratic political representatives to participate freely in politics, and returning municipalities to their rightful owners.
Unfortunately, the current regime is moving in the opposite direction. The government is planning to divide the Kurds in the region by aligning with the ultraconservative HUDA-PAR. The regime's actions include bombing Rojava, resulting in civilian casualties. The Turkish state's recklessness can be attributed to the US and EU's reliance on Turkey for the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the refugee crisis.
Unquestionably, the increasing strength of international democratic public opinion and the peace movement can help increase pressure on Turkey to address the Kurdish question. Therefore, it is in the interest of the Kurds for the Ukraine-Russia war to end quickly and for the left in Europe to gain political strength.
Assessing the republican heritage
On its 100th anniversary, the republic experience in Turkey leaves us with a daunting picture. We observe the erosion of fundamental values such as freedom of thought, press, and academic freedoms. Any dissenting opinion that dares to criticize the regime is now deemed a criminal offense. Furthermore, the essential principle of separation of powers, which ensures the autonomy of the legislature, judiciary, and executive branches, along with their ability to oversee one another, has been dismantled.
Following the April 2017 referendum, Turkey has witnessed a shift towards a quasi-autocratic regime, with power concentrated in the hands of one individual. Apart from democratic Kurdish politics and left-socialist parties and organizations, the opposition in the country is constrained by government-imposed limitations on political engagement. Moreover, the revocation of the Istanbul Convention has created an environment that undermines gender equality rather than promoting it.
The repression of religious freedom, excluding Sunni Islam, continues to escalate in Turkey. The recent reconversion of Hagia Sophia, a symbolically significant monument for the Christian world, into a mosque, has caused distress among Turkey's Christian minorities despite their small population. Additionally, the endangerment of secularism can be seen through policies such as the removal of Darwin's theory of evolution from the biology curriculum and the assessment of artworks based on religious standards.
In the past year, Turkey has been striving to overcome its deep economic crisis and forge closer ties with the Western world. However, the Western world perceives Turkey solely as a convenient ally for their interests, lacking a genuine foundation of trust. Turkey, except for Azerbaijan, has struggled to foster trustworthy relationships with its neighboring countries. If the AKP-MHP bloc remains in power, neighboring nations and the Western world will continue to view Turkey as an untrustworthy partner, engaging in transactions solely for their benefit. The initial step towards resolving the political difficulty, where the people of Turkey and the Middle East can coexist harmoniously without marginalization, is the defeat of the exploitative, denialist AKP-MHP alliance
Toros Korkmaz was born September 21, 1977 in Istanbul. Until 2012, he worked as a research assistant at Yeditepe and Bogazici Universities. He received his PhD degree from the Department of Recent History at the University of Zurich with the thesis "Armenians in Turkey: Hrant Dink and the Agos Newspaper" at the Department of Recent History at the University of Zurich. Korkmaz has published academic articles and research papers. He makes a living as a math and chess teacher. He has been living in Zurich since 2012. Korkmaz is a researcher and writer as well as the Swiss coordinator of the SYKP (Socialist Refoundation Party).