Several years ago while I was still based in London with my family, one of our neighbors, who was a refugee Kurd from Turkey, asked my wife if she could teach her and her children how to recite the Quran. My wife gladly obliged and she started visiting our neighbor at her home. She was a practicing Muslim and so was her husband. Nothing unusual so far. One day my wife noticed that they had a picture of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan on one of their inside walls.
Initially, it was my wife who had some conversation on the issue with our neighbor, and then I had a chance to speak to the husband a few times on Turkish politics and so on. For him, the PKK was not a terrorist organization. The babies murdered and shopping centers bombed were the work of the Turkish deep state. Please forgive my ignorance, but until then I had thought that the PKK was only supported by non-religious Kurds. This incident was an eye-opener for me since the Turkish media or the rare academic studies I read about the Kurdish problem did not speak about this aspect of the problem.
Especially after I returned to Turkey for a new job about four years ago, I tried to focus on this aspect. To my surprise, the PKK did not get its support only from non-practicing Muslim Kurds. I, of course, knew that many practicing Muslim Kurds voted for the legal “Kurdist” political parties that have open ties with the PKK. Nevertheless, voting for a party does not mean supporting a terrorist organization and these people could simply be asking for more rights for Kurds as a reaction to the oppressive and ruthless assimilation policies of the “Turkist” state. I also knew that many Kurds were coerced into either voting for the Kurdist parties or aiding and abetting the PKK terrorists. But practicing Kurds voluntarily and almost enthusiastically supporting the PKK was new to me.
Of course, the majority of practicing Muslim Kurds do not vote for the pro-PKK parties and the overwhelming majority of them do not support the PKK. Yet, I would think that these pro-PKK religious Kurds would appreciate that it was not practicing Muslim Turks who oppressed them. They had similarly been oppressed by the state and could not even send their headscarved children to schools. And now, these practicing Muslim Turks were trying to democratize the country and their political representative, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), was not against Kurdish rights, to say the least. In Turkey, we could speak, discuss and debate about everything and the Kurds would get their perfectly legitimate rights in a more democratic Turkey. And this “more democratic” Turkey could only be achieved where we do not have constant terrorist activity by the PKK. For instance, who could oppose the Kurdish names given to the places, parks and streets in a country where almost all shop and business names are English, full of non-Turkish letters? Yet, when the PKK continues to kill civilians in the streets and attacks our police whose only duty is to protect the civilians, people like me who insist on giving the Kurds their rights in spite of the PKK terror would find only a few listeners and Turkish nationalism would be on the rise.
I expect that it would be very easy to speak with a practicing Muslim Kurd about these issues and they would agree that no “sacred” cause justifies bombing civilians in the streets. Yet, nationalism is such a devilish poison that it is not only practicing Muslim Turks like me who complain about it in my column, but also some practicing Muslim Kurds who suffer from it. The Muslim Kurds turn a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the PKK on their behalf.
Until very recently, the Turkish media, politicians, intellectuals and so on would not mention religious Kurds supporting the PKK. However, slowly this concern has come to the surface in the public sphere. The unspeakable is now spoken. Islam is no longer and maybe was never the cement or miraculous glue that binds us together. It is still the strongest one, but obviously it desperately needs some other support, too. To do that, we need to face this agonizing fact. Religious Kurds who are still pro-PKK will (and should) be confronted intellectually about their support for terrorism. On the other hand, the AKP must realize that delaying democratization is very costly and it may lose the support of the remaining majority religious Kurds since there is no plausible justification for delaying the reforms in a country where mighty generals can easily be tried in courts.