Hizmet and the Kurdish question

It is only normal that many people wonder what the stance of the country’s »»

It is only normal that many people wonder what the stance of the country’s most influential civil society movement (Hizmet) is on the country’s most burning problem. Nevertheless, in our good old “Shallowland” it is futile to expect a full account of the issue from people who pretend to be discussing the issue.

The most you can get are some columns that only tangentially touch on the issue and make grand accusations about Hizmet without any evidence. In this context, some people have been claiming that Hizmet wants the Kurdish issue to be dealt with only by security measures and opposes any other initiatives. What is more, these people claim that Hizmet even illegally stops the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government taking positive steps by imprisoning civilian Kurdish politicians through Hizmet-controlled police and judiciary forces.

You should not expect any credible evidence or plausible argument in support of these claims. These people do not even bother to give you a full picture and full account of the issue. They only mention it as if it is a given fact taken naturally and normally by everyone. Since, in most cases, they only accuse Hizmet by implication, they do not give Hizmet a chance to respond properly. All these are traditional tactics of the Kemalist bureaucratic oligarchy in Turkey and we are accustomed to them. What is new here is that this game is now being played by some so-called liberals, some AKP-supporter media personalities and some think tank analysts. I must underline that these people are only exceptions in their wider groups, but since the issue is sensitive, it needs to be dealt with.

One cannot deny that Hizmet in its infancy had some Turkish nationalist sentiments. Yet, Hizmet has always understood this as an inclusive, constructive and civic nationalism. Hizmet called this “positive nationalism” and considered it helpful as long as it is in the service of God, Islam and humanity. Since it is a faith-based movement rooted in Islam, it has to embrace all nations, races, colors, etc. One of the most influential intellectual predecessors of Fethullah Gülen, Bediüzzman Said Nursi was a Kurd and everybody in Hizmet deeply respects him. In the pre-1980 era, almost everyone who was not a communist was a nationalist to a varying degree, thanks to the credible threat of a Soviet invasion.

Yet, since 1980 and especially after the 1990s, the nationalist element in Hizmet has been fading away and maybe an understanding of “multiple positive nationalisms” is emerging, with all positive nationalisms peacefully coexisting. If you do not take into account the processes, dynamic interactions, creative tensions and emerging hybridities, you can always find a sentence or two uttered in the 1970s and claim that Hizmet is nationalist. It is obvious that this approach neither serves academic endeavors justice nor to the truth. Since the 1990s and especially in the 2000s, Hizmet has been becoming less and less nationalist and more and more cosmopolitan without betraying its roots. Hizmet is also influential in the predominantly Kurdish areas and there are thousands of ethnically Kurdish Hizmet participants who have not assimilated into Turkishness, and thus are still culturally Kurdish but feel comfortable within Hizmet. One does not have to mention the thousands of non-Turkish Hizmet volunteers and donors, ranging from Pakistan to the US.

On the Kurdish issue, as far as I can read, Hizmet roughly advocated two simultaneous approaches. While the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorism needs security measures as the PKK keeps attacking innocent civilians in the streets by suicide bombings and so on, the wider Kurdish issue needs cultural, socio-economic and political measures. Hizmet has been helping to raise the socio-economic status of Kurds by offering them a very good quality education without assimilating them into Turkishness for decades. Hizmet has been asking for full democratization, human rights for everyone, language rights for Kurds, the EU membership, full transparency and accountability of the state. It is only schizophrenic to have a security-centered approach to the Kurdish question while at the same time asking and strongly working for these.

Last but not least, many people agree that the KCK is a terrorist organization. The AKP government has been in full control and in support of the judicial operations against the KCK. Erdoğan voiced his support many times. Many liberal and democratic writers and pro-AKP columnists who are not affiliated with Hizmet have insisted that the KCK is a terrorist organization. Many of us, including myself, objected to the wide-scale detention of civilians, journalists, etc., and this underlines that in essence the KCK judicial operation is right.  But without any credible evidence and actually quite shockingly, Hizmet has been claimed to be the only force behind these operations. The only evidence these so-called liberal writers come up with is that the media outlets affiliated with Hizmet have been supporting the KCK operations. Is this proof that all police officers, prosecutors and judges who deal with the case are Hizmet people? Why do these so-called liberal writers prefer to ignore the support of the AKP government, pro-AKP media, and many liberal and democratic writers?

If we employ their flawed logic, we could even argue that Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit’s coalition government comprising the Democratic Left Party/Nationalist Movement Party/Motherland Party (DSP-MHP-ANAP) was owned by Hizmet and that all of their deputies were Hizmet people. Evidence? Hizmet and its media were in full support of the Ecevit government’s pro-EU legislation and reforms.