A look at the history of the Kurdish question gives clues as to the culture of co-existence between Kurds and Turks. In 1049, the Kurdish Marwani Emirates, which had ruled Diyarbakır and its environs for many years, agreed to join forces with the Selçuk sultan, Tuğrul Bey. The Friday sermon recited in the name of Tuğrul Bey on that day has been the main source of the 963-year-long brotherhood. There were 10,000 Kurdish troops in Sultan Alparslan’s army in 1071 when he started to conquer Anatolia.
In his battles against the Safawid ruler Shah Ismail in 1514, the great Ottoman Sultan Yavuz I had the Kurdish local rulers on his side. In the most difficult days of World War I, Turks and Kurds fought against the same enemy. They fell as martyrs on the same side, fighting against the Russians and others during the war.
The nation-state approach devised after the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in the early 1920s has caused some problems. Turkey has been dealing with a low-intensity conflict over the last three decades, as well as the Kurdish problem. Turkey, which has inspired the Arab Spring countries due to its democratic transformation in the last decade, is now seeking to ensure unity and integrity in its lands. The policy of assimilation and denial has been abandoned by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) administration. The Kurdish reality was admitted in this period and remarkable steps were taken to deal with the problems of the Kurds.
Bans on the use of the Kurdish language were lifted; graduate and undergraduate programs taught in the Kurdish language were opened in several universities. Optional courses on Kurdish language were inserted in the school curricula. The state also held negotiations with Kandil and İmralı in Oslo. However, all these measures and steps did not suffice to end the 30-year-long bloodshed and violence. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) did not abandon its violent struggle. The PKK, which has argued that it was struggling for the rights of Kurds, changed its discourse after the government launched an initiative to expand the cultural rights of Kurds three years ago.
The role that the BDP would play during this process in attaining a solution still remains unclear. Whether the government’s reliance on a discourse referring to fighting terrorism while negotiating with political actors is sufficient remains to be seen. BDP representatives, who avoid taking responsibility by referring to the armed pro-Kurdish circles, also argue that they are the last generation with which talks could be held, implying that they represent an opportunity for a solution. In its most recent issue, the New Yorker Magazine published some comments on the Kurdish issue. The magazine particularly emphasized the discourse raised by Aysel Tuğluk, Ahmet Türk and, more recently, Diyarbakır Mayor Osman Baydemir: “Ours is the last generation that wants dialogue.” This view suggests that the new generation is more radical and nationalist.
Whether or not this approach is realistic raises some controversies. Kurtuluş Tayiz from the Taraf daily notes that this view is an argument polished by those who would like to use young people as instruments in violence. Tayiz holds that this is a deliberate choice to manipulate young people in an attempt to exert pressure and impose their demands and requests for their political goals.
Sociologist Sıtkı Karadeniz from Mardin Artuklu University draws attention to the manipulations by those who base their political career upon the reactions of young people. He stresses that a movement which relies on the anger of Turkey’s youth should not be expected to give up on this card, adding that the spread of nationalism and political radicalization among young people was something that has been promoted by political actors. Karadeniz, noting that young Kurds cannot remain unaffected by the transformation in Turkey and changes in the world, adds that they cannot rely on a one-sided ideological approach at a time when technology and education have become so visibly influential. Karadeniz further notes that in a society where young people are allowed to express their political and social views more freely, manipulation will become an exception.
Political Scientist Dr. Hüseyin Şeyhanlıoğlu from Dicle University holds that the argument that the next generation will be prone to violence is not true. Recalling that violence is deliberately promoted among young people, Şeyhanlıoğlu stresses that it is misleading to believe that everybody tends to be more violent. Şeyhanlıoğlu adds that none of those people who moved from rural areas to cities -- where they could benefit from higher standards of education and all the other advantages urban life offers -- returned to their previous homes.
Şeyhanlıoğlu, who proposed that we focus on a common culture for a solution to the Kurdish issue, attracts attention to an interesting point: “The Turkish state has acted violently, not only against Kurds, but also against religious people. The most visible example is Said Nursi. He was a Kurd but he was brutalized mostly because he was a pious Muslim. Today, the Turks promote his works. The solution is actually simple: Let us unite over our common culture.”
Dr. Süleyman Karacelil, who teaches psychology at Şırnak University, stresses that Şırnak and Hakkari in particular are suffering from a lack of a vibrant social life and cultural activities, as well as education opportunities. “It is not possible to say that the new generation in the region interacts with the world, because most of them are disconnected from the outside world,” Karacelil says. Noting that the young people’s minds are manipulated by one-sided approaches and ideologies, Karacelil further argues that the young generation involved in violent incidents has changed its approach and perception of values and life. Karacelil adds that young people whose minds are manipulated with terror cannot be expected to stay away from nationalism, while religious people act more cautiously and calmly.
Kurdish writer Tahsin Sever, on the other hand, notes that young people are the most dynamic part of society. According to Sever, the methods young people use to express their reactions are visibly relevant to the political system of the country, and he stresses that these reactions are expressed through peaceful and democratic means in democratic political systems whereas in environments dominated by violence, the reactions involve violence. Sever further says: “Undoubtedly, the struggle between the need for social chance and the status quo will be painful. Most of the time, children and young people pay the bill for this struggle. However, the driver of change and transformation is still the new generation.”
The Arab Spring in the Middle East also offers some insights on the young generations and violence. Even in Middle Eastern countries that had to deal with violence and mass massacres in the past, young people subscribe to moderate and peaceful approaches. Al Fatah, an important insurgency movement dedicated to the Palestinian cause, distanced itself from violence. Likewise, Hamas has decided to lay down its arms. Young people have assumed leading roles in the revolutions in Egypt and Libya. In addition, Massoud Barzani, leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government, stresses that the era of armed struggle is over.
For a better understanding of possible links between young generation and violence, it is useful to take a look at the numbers. Due to clashes since 1984, many people have had to leave their original homes in the Southeast. According to figures by the Human Rights Association, 3.5 million people had to evacuate their original land. As a result of the influx of people from rural areas, the population of Diyarbakır has increased from 250,000 to 1.5 million. Nearly 600,000 young people live in the city, but what is the overall number of young people who attend violent incidents and gatherings? The police say that, on average, only 2,500 young people regularly resort to illegal activities during violent incidents. Yunus Koca, chair of the AK Party youth affairs Diyarbakır branch, stresses that the BDP now has to make a historic choice: “They will either use the power the people gave them properly to advance peace, or they, as the last generation that promotes violence, will be history.”