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March 31, 2010, Wednesday

Chechens, Kurds, vicious cycles of violence

When I was a high school student, I was a huge fan of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). I used to read the biographies of IRA leaders with great enthusiasm. For me they were freedom fighters who revolted against oppression. When I look back at it all now, I can understand my own psyche.
As a teenager, reading these kinds of books and identifying with IRA members was a “harmless” way of expressing my own anger towards the military junta that created a suffocating atmosphere in the country after the 1980 coup.

After enrolling in a university, I started to observe leftist movement, of which I was also a sympathizer. In those years I seriously reflected upon political violence and violence in general, and these reflections led me to lose all my sympathy for the “revolutionary” left. I remember hearing about a shocking incident in those years and how disgusted I was with it. A group of leftist militants were caught in a police operation. While in prison, they found out that one of their friends was unable to bear the torture and gave the police some “information.” His friends decided to punish him for his “infidelity” to the organization. The mob killed their friend and staged a “revolutionary” dance (devrimci halay) around his dead body. I was astonished by the cruelty of these leftists towards their friend, who -- not intentionally but under heavy torture -- gave the police some information.

Ever since I have had no sympathy for any organization if it resorts to violence. This is why I have never had any sympathy for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) despite my deep compassion towards Kurds, who have suffered from Turkey’s cruel practices. When it comes to the Kurdish question, the violence the Turkish state has resorted to is beyond one’s imagination. When I witnessed the violence used by the Turkish state apparatus against Kurds, I understood how easy it was for the PKK to recruit new members. Violence has its own dynamics and when it starts, it creates a vicious circle in which every violent move feeds and justifies its counterpart.

I have for many years been very clear on violence: I am against it. I do not believe anything can justify violence. But in those years I also observed a paradox, one which I may even have had difficulty confessing to myself. To be very honest with you, if there were no PKK and its violent methods, the world and Turkey would not have been talking about the Kurdish question. I wish there had been a civil disobedience movement here in Turkey; I wish we had a Gandhi who would lead the masses to fight against the oppressive state apparatus with wisdom and through peaceful means. Unfortunately, we do not have them. But the PKK put the “Kurdish question” on the table.

Oppressive states and authoritarian regimes provoke violent “opposition.” However, when a group starts to resort to violence, “their” values start to degenerate. There is no escape from it. If the ends justify the means, the value of human lives becomes zero. Violent organizations create authoritarian structures that reflect the structure of the state against which they are fighting.

All these things came across my mind after reading the news yesterday on the Russian metro station bombing. Thirty-eight innocent people lost their lives and many others were injured. I feel really bad for them. I also read Putin’s immediate reaction, in which he mentioned “destroying terrorists.” We know the rest of the story. Racism will increase in Russia, Chechens will be insulted everywhere. Russian forces will attack Chechen targets, they will torture more Chechens. More Chechens will become suicide bombers. Oppressive regimes create their own psychopathic children who speak the same language as their fathers. Chechen terrorists know very well that we would not be talking about Chechens or Chechnya if these bloody attacks did not take place yesterday. This unfortunately is very true.

I think this particular phenomenon of a human tragedy of our times is waiting for a Shakespeare to illustrate the human state through the art of language. Until then our comments will remain insufficient to explain this tragedy. Violence…

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