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May 21, 2012, Monday

The subsiding fever of nationalism

The Republic of Turkey was founded upon the basis of a delayed and therefore rushed nationalism. The Ottoman state that collapsed in World War I was a multinational empire. The nationalist ideology that was needed to transition to a nation-state was strongly exaggerated because it arrived subsequent to a disastrous period. The republic’s 90-year-old history is full of examples of this exaggerated nationalism. The plan to build one nation was carried out in conjunction with assimilation policies. The current Kurdish problem in Turkey emerged out of reaction to these policies.

Despite the influence of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the third-largest party in Parliament with 70 seats, the fever of nationalism is being alleviated in Turkey. The dominant atmosphere where Turk and Kurd nationalism foster each other remains tense; however, a political style based on ethnic roots and the idea of nationalism is being replaced by universal beliefs and approaches.

Recently, I visited Muş province for a conference that college students attended. Upon an invitation from a professor, I talked to students in a class. I listened to their questions and thoughts. Muş is a predominantly Kurdish city. Young people are pretty sensitive about the Kurdish issue. They tend to be sympathetic to Kurdish nationalism. The conclusion I drew is that the pressure upon the Kurdish issue has been diminished. There are now efforts and attempts towards a solution rather than conflict. The view that attracted my attention most is the idea that nobody in Turkey would attain peace over ethnic identities. Many young people hold this idea, and they believe that common denominators should be accentuated and promoted further.

One of the dynamics behind this détente was standing right next to us. Muş Alpaslan University (MŞÜ) is proud to be the first university in Turkey that has launched a department of Kurdish language and literature. The department is currently planning to admit students next year. The Kurdish language will be taught at the department by relying on the Botan dialect that is widely spoken in Turkey. The positive influence of this program is visible upon the young people.

The strong assimilation policies introduced early in the republican era placed bans on the Kurdish language. It took eight years to ban Kurdish songs in 1983. It is generally accepted that these bans are the actual reasons behind the violent tendencies among the promoters of pro-Kurdish policies. An opposite tendency has emerged in state institutions since 2007. The launch of Kurdish TV stations by the state has become a remarkable turning point. There is now no such thing as humiliation or banning of the Kurdish language. The state is only expected to assume a constructive role and offer Kurdish education in consideration of the right to education in the mother tongue.

The 28-year period of violence has created an atmosphere where the methods the state employed or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) relied on have been questioned. In particular, the Kurdish and Turkish people have done this questioning pretty effectively. This inquiry has been transformed into a broad basis of support for attainment of a solution to the Kurdish issue. And this questioning is the real reason for the retreat of Kurdish and Turkish nationalism.

As a delayed nationalism, Kurdish nationalism included extremism because of the strong reaction against the assimilation policies concerning Kurdish identity. Since the pressure from the state is being alleviated, Kurdish identity and nationalism adopt a more lenient approach. Sixty percent of the Kurdish people have a great deal of experience coexisting with Turks in the western part of Turkey; this experience reduces the fever of nationalism. This suggests that the environment is conducive for taking action towards resolving the Kurdish issue.

Previous articles of the columnist