The Kurdish Question for Beginners - Part I

The Kurdish Question for Beginners - Part I
Update: 26 October 2022 16:24
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Former HDP Co-chair Selahattin Demirtas offers a series of questions for readers to see if they have a “Kurdish issue”

The Kurdish question should have been clearly recognized by everyone by now. After all, it is one of the most fundamental problems of our country, which has remained unresolved for many years. However, I regret that there has been no clarity about the nature of the problem. While some people have only recently heard about the Kurdish question, there are even those who say that there is no such problem.

To make a long story short: The problems experienced by the Kurds, which started in the late Ottoman Empire, deepened in the early years of the Republic, branched out over a hundred years and became widespread and deep-rooted, are called the Kurdish question. In other words, the problem is not the Kurds, but what has been inflicted on the Kurds and what has come out of it.

After this brief definition, I must point out that the Kurdish question is a multidimensional and highly complicated issue. It is not easy to explain the history of this problem, which has many social, political and economic aspects, in several books, let alone in one article. Therefore, it is not possible for me in this article to fully answer the question posed in the title in all its aspects.

The Kurdish question is a well-known issue. Nevertheless, many people in Turkey are not fully aware of the reality of the problem due to the misperceptions created by the AKP. Moreover, there is a significant group of people who think that the problem is solved, again because of AKP-created perceptions.

In other words, the Kurdish question, which was previously claimed to be "non-existent," is now being called "resolved." Neither the first nor the second are true.

Do you have a Kurdish issue yourself?

I will ask a few questions for those who are not exactly familiar with the Kurdish question that is supposed to be resolved.

However, I have one request. Please use your conscience and answer the questions as honestly as you can.

After all, we are going to talk about the most pressing problem of Turkey, one that has been killing and hurting people for many years. To truly understand and learn, put aside all your prejudices and let's start a friendly, collective conversation. Maybe it is not only the Kurds who have a Kurdish issue, but you have one too, and if there is an issue, then it is a mutual problem for all of us.

I will not bombard you with historical or chronological information, but rather give examples from daily life.

First question:

●I love you.

●Ich liebe dich.

●Je vous aime.

● Ez ji te hez dikim.

Which of the above phrases do you think is an expression in Kurdish, the language of the Kurds, whose population is about 50 million worldwide and 20 million in Turkey, and whom you call "our thousand-year-old brothers"?

Can you guess which one? If so, could you understand a single word? No? Then you have a Kurdish problem too.

If you can understand or speak English, German or French, but you do not understand a single word of the language of your twenty million compatriots whom you have called your brothers for a thousand years, then there you go, this is your Kurdish issue.

Here's another question:

●Our kin in Bulgaria

●Our kin in Azerbaijan

●Our kin in Cyprus

●Our kin in Germany

Who do you think is referred to by the term "our kin" above?

Exactly, you figured it out this time, it's Turks.

Now let's take a look at Article 66 of the Constitution which reads as follows: "Everyone bound to the Turkish State through the bond of citizenship is a Turk."

However, none of the people you referred to as "Turks" in the above question are citizens of the Republic of Turkey. Why then, if the concept of Turkishness is declared in the constitution to be tied to citizenship, do we draw a genealogical connection with Turks outside Turkey and call them "cognates"? Surely there is a logical error here?

No, because in reality Turkishness is not a super-identity, but an ethnic identity that defines an ancient nation. If it were not, why would the Turks of Bulgaria be our kin and the Kurds of Iraq not so much? It is because the Turks of Bulgaria are ethnically Turkish, so we consider we are related.

How can we be related to them but not to the Kurds in Syria, the Kurds in Iraq, the Kurds in Iran, the Kurds all over the world?

Isn't the logic here flawed? No, it's not, well done again.

This is because they are not Turks. At this point, the logical error in Article 66 of the constitution becomes apparent. Let us assume that a Kurd living in Syria becomes a citizen of the Republic of Turkey. According to the law, he is immediately considered Turkish. But does this person really become a Turk?

The concept of Turkishness does not include the Kurds. Even those who theorize that Turkishness is an overarching identity see it in practice as an ethnic identity, as the identity of a separate nation. It is precisely for this reason that they regard Turks outside Turkey as their kin. Which is the right approach.

If, for example, the term "Turkiyeli" (from Turkey) was used to refer to different ethnic identities with different languages and it was claimed that this was the overarching identity, this could be a contentious position.

Let me try to explain this with an example. A dish that contains tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, and meat cannot be called a "tomato dish." Even if one of the elements of the dish is the most prevalent, it cannot give the dish its name. Thus, the dish I am talking about cannot be called "tomato dish," "eggplant dish," or "bell pepper dish," but it can get called "casserole." In other words, not with the name of one of the components of the dish, but with another, all-encompassing name.

Therefore, "Turkish" does not include "Kurdish." Turks are an ancient nation and their history goes back thousands of years to the steppes of Central Asia.

Kurds are not Turks nor will they ever be. To call a Kurd a Turk or to try to Turkify him is the core of the Kurdish question. Because the Kurds are also an ancient people whose history goes back thousands of years to Mesopotamia, to the geography of today's Kurdistan.

Even the languages of the two peoples are from different language families. Kurdish belongs to the Indo-European language group, while Turkish belongs to one Ural-Altaic. This fact alone determines a lot by itself.

If you say, "There is no language called Kurdish. We are all Turks and everyone's native language is Turkish," then you do indeed have a Kurdish issue.

Imagine you live in a village, town or city center in Sakarya or Yozgat. Your little daughter Ayse has reached school age and you have enrolled her in elementary school. On the first day of school, you take little Ayse by the hand and walk to school. On the way there, you do your best to warn Ayse, but at the same time you are afraid of what if she doesn't make it. Still, you warn your little girl, "Listen, my daughter," you say, "don't speak Turkish at school and don't say that we are Turks, okay?"

Little Ayse feels terrified because she doesn't know any language other than Turkish! She enters the classroom in that state before the teacher arrives with a smiling face. Ayse's heart swells. She is about to burst into tears. Ayse in the classroom is not Ayse at home, not Ayse on the street. She can't be herself. She looks around, almost the entire class is as scared as she is. Because the teacher speaks in Kurdish and in a way that the children can barely understand, she says: "Belê zarokên rinde, îro pê axaftina Tirkî qedexe ye. Em hemu Kurd in û zimanê me Kurdî ye." (Yes, beautiful children, speaking Turkish is forbidden from now on. We are all Kurds in here and our language is Kurdish.)

How would you feel if you were a mother or father who had to endure something like this? How would you feel if you were Ayse? If you say that you find all this normal, forgive me, but then you will have a Kurdish issue.

Do you think that this example belongs to the past and is irrelevant today? Forgive me yet again, but you're misguided in your thinking again.

No Kurdish lessons in Turkey

If you think that Kurdish language classes are available in Turkey, you are mistaken. There are only two hours of elected classes offered in Kurdish per week, and almost everything is done to ensure that these classes are not elected.

Want an example? During the appointment season in recent weeks, two teacher quotas were announced for the Kurmanji dialect and one for the Zazaki dialect. 

How would her parents feel if Ayse only had two hours of Turkish classes a week as an elective? If not enough Turkish teachers had been hired and even though she had chosen Turkish as an elective, she was not receiving those two hours a week?

Wouldn't you feel sad and get angry? And what would you think, especially when you consider that what is happening is happening in Ayse's homelands? This is the same thing what Kurds are suffering in their homelands.

For almost a hundred years, Kurdish children have been denied education in their mother tongue. Millions of Kurdish children are introduced to Turkish at school and assimilated over many years under the pretext of education in a language they have difficulty understanding.

Kurdish children are forced to compete in the same exams with Turkish children who are taught in their native language. For decades, the twenty provinces that perform worst on university exams have always been Kurdish provinces. Do you think this is a coincidence? Forgive me, but if you call that a coincidence...

This short video speaks volumes:

By all means, everyone should learn Turkish, the official language, in school. Turkish is the common language of all of us, which is one of our common assets that unite us. Undoubtedly, we should also learn English as it has become the world language. But at the same time, every child should have the opportunity to learn their mother tongue and be taught certain subjects in that language. This is the practice in many developed countries, and our country's potential is in every way suitable for this. Nevertheless, mind you, Article 82 of our Constitution states that in Turkey there is no native language other than Turkish, and even if there were, it cannot be the language of instruction.

The Kurdish Question for Beginners - Part II