Speaking to Today's Zaman, Vural said this so-called question is used as a tool to weaken the state apparatus and provoke secessionist sentiments. “I do not see this as a social problem. To me, it is a problem created by those who want to see Turkey partitioned based on political arguments. Western countries make reference to this problem by linking it to human rights. The only thing going on here is a fight between armed terrorists and legitimate security forces,” he explained.
Vural further noted that every single ethnic group in the country has had an influence on Turkish culture, adding that this is the major reason why racist attacks do not exist in Turkey. Arguing that the West has a quite a bad record of racist violence, Vural said: “They should tend to their own problems. There were 100,000 racist attacks in Britain this year. There have never been such problems between social groups and families in Turkey. The only thing we can talk about is attacks conducted by terrorist organizations. Basically, there is some sort of political thinking that wants to make sure there is a problem, and this political thinking should not be ignored.”
A candid conversation over breakfast
Interestingly, Oktay Vural grew up in the Southeast. Vural, born in Siirt's Tillo district, said: “I am from Tillo, and for this reason, I know the people of the region.” Noting that changing the name of Tillo to Aydınlar was not a political decision, Vural argued that this is something that was done in most parts of Turkey. Recalling that recent legislation that made the trial of military officers before civilian courts possible had increased tension, Vural gave details about what happened that night. Noting that he had warned others about missing parts in the bill, Vural asserted that their faith had exploited by word games. Speaking on the discussions about HSYK appointments, Vural underlined that the AK Party had pursued a policy of tension in an attempt to drag the judiciary into political discussions.
The MHP deputy underlined that the problem should be defined properly, stressing that unless this is done, others will impose their own definitions and scenarios. Vural further stressed that while other parts of Turkey suffer from similar problems as the Southeast, they do not have terror issues. Admitting that some mistakes have been made in dealing with terrorism, Vural stated that people in the region should be saved from the stress of terror for a better solution. Vural, arguing that the government's recent moves to resolve the Kurdish question actually contribute to the agenda of the leader of a separatist terror organization, said: “This terror organization leader will make an announcement on Aug. 15. The prime minister says they developed a package of measures in order to take action before him. Where have you been for seven years? Have not you prepared anything in seven years?”
Speaking on the government's recent work on the Kurdish issue, Vural argued that the government is sending the message that it wants to take the lead and stay ahead of Öcalan. “The way I see it is that the government wants to take advantage of this process and leave the terrorist leader out of the picture,” he explained.
Seeking political solution takes country to brink of collapse
Vural, arguing that relying on a political solution actually means changing the core properties of the state, further noted that this will leave the country in the same chaotic state of affairs from which northern Iraq has been suffering. “To achieve a political solution, you have to develop political definitions. There are some attempts to define a nation as both a cultural and political entity. Then you will have to change the definition of a nation and the state that governs the nation,” he said. The MHP deputy further stressed that his party will not accept a political solution focused on identity politics rather than national sovereignty.
Commenting on remarks made by Prime Minister Erdoğan, who said there are 36 ethnic groups in Turkey, Vural asked, “Will the prime minister make 36 different moves and launch 36 different TRT channels?” Noting that the Turkish nation had waged a wholesale struggle toward national independence, he said: “The nation and the homeland are integrated; they are inseparable. We stressed that sovereignty rests with the nation; we agreed that no privileges can be recognized for minorities. Now we are seeking a solution that ignores these facts. What sort of solution will this be? How will we define the new state? Let's just say you've achieved defining it; then you will have to govern the country by this definition. They are calling for a government based on recognition of autonomous regions. This is the political resolution they want. Isn't Iraq a federal state today? Was not it redefined? This is the model presented as a solution for Turkey. This model calls for a loose government and a political alternative that will eventually partition the country.”
Reliance on universal values will bring the solution
Stating that there is no such thing as ethnic democracy, Vural said reliance on universal values and principles is a must for a viable and lasting solution.
Noting that Turkey could achieve a globally competitive model, Vural explained: “As a nation living in this geography, we have to agree on moral and noble values and convey these values to a universal platform. What we are doing now is localizing our national values. On the other hand, Western countries present their cultural values as universal; and by doing this, they assert they are in service of the whole world. So, we need to go after some universal models that will take us to a universal platform.”
Vural noted that some elements of Turkish identity signal undisputable integration. “We are so integrated that this can be observed in marriages and common foods. Our joys and sadness are common. We do not have separate cuisines; lahmacun, keşkek and tarhana all belong to Turkish cuisine. We love ethnic foods; they are all ours. We do not consider them elements of other cultures. So we have achieved a pretty unique cultural synthesis. There is no more effective tool of communication than culture for a better understanding. Now there are attempts to dilute the great unity that has been achieved over centuries. This is unacceptable. For this reason, we have to think about how we could praise and promote the common values that connect us more tightly,” he said.
Noting that the concept of “Turk” does not refer to ethnicity, MHP Izmir deputy Vural said differences should be respected but cannot be the core elements. Otherwise, it will be impossible to achieve common values and understand each other, Vural said, adding: “The notion of Turkishness cannot be diminished to an ethnic reference. If our schools are separated and TVs are separated and if you do this for the so-called betterment of 36 ethnic groups, what will be the end of it?”
‘Separation is not a viable option, and there is no end to it’
Some military officers have contributed to the process of separation, division and conflict -- as you call it. Some of them have even confessed the mistakes they had committed while on active duty.
These were illegal. They cannot be endorsed as legitimate policies. The state does not commit politically motivated murders. Only the state has the right to rely on coercive measures. But use of coercion depends on the existence of some basic conditions. Yes, some mistakes were committed. But our party, the MHP, was never involved in these mistakes. I should also note that we never governed the country alone; we had to take part in coalition governments.
Even so, none of us made attempts to reveal these mistakes while they were being committed. For instance, people have been denied the right to speak their native language for decades, to choose the name they like for their kids. Do you think that we should have raised our voices against such unjust practices?
These were not the choice of the nation. This was part of a mistaken action and practice. We should not ignore the fact that some plots were staged to undermine the unity of the state and society during this process. We have to consider the core goal and target. So, we need to be alert about such sensitive issues.
Correct me if I am wrong. I understand from what you said that the things being done right now should be done, but the case is different if they are sought by foreign actors.
No, I am not saying this. That would be very categorical. It would be wrong to consider them things that should be done. It is improper to undermine the education system based on the Turkish language. It is wrong to ignore the elements protecting Turkishness. Legislation that legalizes separatism is part of a grave mistake.
I did not mean any of what you said. There is widespread agreement and consensus over most of these things anyway.
Yes, the society has no problem with these. However, if some people argue that they should hold sovereignty in this geography because of their distinct identity, this would be unacceptable. Sovereignty cannot be divided; we cannot accept the idea of partitioning Turkey based on different identities. The prime minister's discourse is similar to the jargon of the Marxists if you look at it from this perspective.
How would you comment on the popular choices in the elections in the region?
Let us take a look at the votes cast for the parties in the region. Is it possible to argue that local people made free and democratic choices considering the pressure from the terrorist organization? I am talking about murdered people, coercively closed stores. The state should do its job and make sure that people go to their workplaces; the state should be able to flex its muscles. It would be wrong if the state assigned new graduates to the region as district governors. You have to eliminate terror first. You should take proper measures to make sure that terror is not used for political ends. You should deliver your messages of brotherhood and peace.
Your party decided not to run in the elections in Diyarbakır; are you having difficulty delivering inclusive messages?
Actually, no; first of all, the [Kurdistan Workers' Party] PKK's major goal was to intimidate Kurdish people. They murdered people over there. Do we make a distinction between the people buried in graves? This organization killed people and buried them in an attempt to create an environment of intimidation and terror. There are some problems in such a fragile environment, and it is just normal. We should eliminate this state of intimidation first. Today, the [Democratic Society Party] DTP and the [Justice and Development Party] AK Party are seeking to attract votes via ethnic messages. Ours is not a party relying on ethnic politics. There is an ongoing competition between the AK Party and the DTP over identity politics. I think that the election results will be healthier and more rational once a state of peace is achieved in the region.
Making references to Turkishness, stressing the Turkish identity and inscribing the famous motto “How happy is he who calls himself a Turk” on the mountains -- isn't that pressure as well?
Unfortunately, this was not the case. I grew up in Diyarbakır. Ziya Gökalp was from the same city. This became a problem after its politicization. It was not something done with bad intentions. It was not done to underline and praise a certain identity. These are all attempts to promote self-confidence. The motto was doing this.
There are rumors that this motto will be erased.
But this is not the problem. Erasing this motto will require political will, but the inscription of this motto on the mountains was not the result of a political decision or action. It was done after some heroic actions. Who knows, maybe [the person] who did this was a Kurd. We should not belittle our common values. You need to tell people how inclusive and comprehensive your values are and make sure that there is no discrimination. If you do this, the problem will be resolved. But separation is not a viable option, and there is no end to it.
The same fact was stated by the prime minister in 1991; he said there is nothing wrong with this motto. I see Turkishness as combination of the common values that we have developed in this part of the world over centuries. I do not see it as a reason for a struggle or competition between Turks and Kurds.