The PKK, piety and the Gülen movement by Adem Palabıyık*

The PKK, piety and the Gülen movement by Adem Palabıyık*

PHOTO Cihan, İsmail Avcı

March 29, 2012, Thursday/ 17:34:00

A Chinese proverb notes that if you kill somebody, you intimidate thousands of others. To this end, the assaults against the Zaman offices in Europe by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) supporters in recent times appear to be relevant to this proverb. Intimidation… But why the Gülen movement? The reason for this could be summarized as follows.

PKK’s concerns

It has been observed that the Gülen movement has been involved in the Kurdish issue recently because of its education policies and that it has been making efforts towards the resolution of the issue. For instance, the first activity of the movement in Turkey’s Southeast was noted in 1984 or 1985. The activities that started in houses through private and intimate conversations have expanded to cover almost all places in the East and Southeast. Today, the number of people benefiting from the study halls and reading houses run by the movement has exceeded 100,000. Even those who strongly oppose the Gülen movement in local politics prefer its schools for their kids. The launch of Gaziantep-based Dünya TV, which along with TRT Şeş, broadcasts in Kurdish, is one of the most important issues that disturbs the PKK. The PKK was particularly disturbed by the fact that the movement carries out extensive activities in the Kurdish region in Iraq. The PKK is unnerved also as the schools over there are protected by Neçirvan Barzani and that the Abant Platform meeting was held in Arbil. Growing attention by the movement to the region, the launch of reading and study halls in the region, its greater degree of institutionalization in places like Yüksekova, Hakkari province, funds allocated to sponsor talented kids for their study in their private schools and the distribution of the meat for the Feast of the Sacrifice (Eid al-Adha) may be viewed as visible interest in Kurds and the region.

The fact that the Gülen movement has a religious aspect makes the PKK and the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) furious. The emergence of a religious generation is the greatest fear among the PKK, PKK supporters and the radical pro-Kurdish movement because the secular religion approach advocated by the PKK cannot hold its ground in the face of the Ahl-i Sunnah approach promoted by the Gülen movement. The Ahl-i Sunnah approach upholds Shariah Islam, whereas the PKK argues that Islam is not a religion to govern but a lifestyle and that it serves as a reference for different issues.

In addition, the Gülen movement’s focus on youth, the weakened power of the PKK associated with the wave of migration from rural areas to urban ones and its failure to preserve its domination in the cities make the PKK uncomfortable. This is where the Gülen movement has started: Efforts have been made to reintegrate young people, who hold prejudices against Turks due to events of the past, with society, and the most visible positive outcome of these efforts is observed in the families of these young people.

The parents of the youngsters have confidence in the structures of the movement, such as schools and residences, and this prevents the spread of separatist activities through the families and their children. In terms of linguistic efforts, the Turkish Olympiads organized by the Gülen movement and their eagerness to make Turkish the lingua franca of the world is not welcomed by the PKK/KCK because they are working hard to ensure that Kurdish is declared an official language, and for this reason, the spread of the Turkish language displeases PKK supporters.

Another reason for the growing discomfort is the attention paid to Said Nursi within this movement as a Kurdish Islamic scholar. It is in fact easy to understand why those who seek to raise a non-religious generation are strongly opposed to close contact of young people with Said Nursi considering that the Kurds have always been religiously inclined and that most of the scholars in the region are of Kurdish origin, because secular youth would be the main source of further igniting the conflict, and religion is the only force that would address this destructive storm. Religious people hold a religious approach towards the issues in the region. The PKK is an organization that has been trying to resolve its issues by armed violence, whereas the Gülen movement strongly relies on nonviolence and education. And for this reason, the PKK is unable to deal with such an entity because they know nothing other than violence. In addition, the Gülen movement is based on voluntary work; it is civilian and it protects the interests of its country. Even though the PKK presents itself as the defender of the rights of the working class and the peasants and it argues that it sides with the victims and the weak, it is apparent that this is not the case. A general look at the outlook of the Gülen movement in the world would reveal that it is able to stand against the international status of the PKK/KCK. And lastly, it could be said that the good relations between the Gülen movement and the political administration is a source of jealousy. The support the Gülen movement extends to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) offers great advantage for this party to become influential in the region.

From this perceptive, the Gülen movement has identified the main focal point of the solution and it appears that it has been acting through this perspective for many years. And this focal point is education. As noted by Nursi, illiteracy, one of the three biggest problems, could be addressed by education; to this end, awareness is raised among young people and the probable mistakes are prevented beforehand. This is the main reason why Roj TV -- a Kurdish satellite channel which Turkey claims is the mouthpiece for the PKK -- declares the education services of the Gülen movement to be attempts at abuse and exploitation. But of course, there is also something different with this movement: piety. Then why are the PKK supporters so eager to adopt hostile attitudes regarding pious people? This is a legitimate question considering that there are religious people within the PKK. But why they are not allowed to have a say? The answer is simple: They are doing so because education and piety take people away from the PKK.

And the PKK is aware of it as well; for this reason, it realizes that pious people pose a great danger for them, and the emergence of a pious generation is the greatest fear for the PKK, PKK supporters and the radical pro-Kurdish movement. Attendance at Friday prayers, the spread of the headscarf, Quran courses and the emergence of a young generation that is familiar with Islam is the last thing that they would like to see because members of such a generation would not go to the mountains; instead, they would attend Friday prayers and they would fast in Ramadan. Moreover, they would not kill others, they would not be hostile to their state and they would have an Islamic code of ethics. What is interesting is that Islam is a reference for the secular acts because Friday prayers are a unique Islamic precept; there is a different interpretation in regards to Islam. And this interpretation is the attempt to secularize Islam. Could Islam become secular like Christianity? Of course not because the inscription of the Holy Book of Christianity is a secular process, but this is not the case with the Quran. Therefore, what has been done should be viewed as attempts to legitimize Islam as a faith rather than the secularization of Islam.

The impasse of the PKK and its supporters

The PKK is aware that it has to renew its outdated strategies, and in doing so it becomes evident that it is acting relentlessly because the PKK has trouble with Islam. But it is not easy or wise to confront Islam; the Quran notes that the only religion that Allah considers legitimate is Islam. The sociological reality that the radical pro-Kurdish movement attaches importance to is the Kurdish identity held by the religious Kurdish people. True, pious Kurdish people still view themselves as second-class citizens. This is attributable to some sociological and historical reasons, and the pious Kurds are still attached to this historical bond. The sociological reality that keeps them away from the radical pro-Kurdish movement is Islam.

It is obvious that things are getting harder for the PKK because a religious generation is emerging. And everybody knows that the only factor that would address the problems associated with the emotional and political detachment is religion. As the number of religious sociologists studying the PKK, Kurdish movement or Kurdish issue increases, it becomes apparent that the core of the problem could be accessed and discussed. A religious generation employs a religious approach towards the regional issues rather than a nationalist perspective. Kurdishness or Turkishness holds no meaning, whereas Islamic brotherhood matters considerably. And in such an environment, those who justify their existence through nationalism are unable to have a say. In fact, it should be noted that there are attempts to create a reactive young generation; this generation holds secular, modern and non-traditional sentiments, and it also bears nationalist ideologies and an affinity with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. On the other hand, the pious generation holds modern and traditional sentiments; they are pious and have faith in the Muslim brotherhood bond and in Quranic precepts. And the future could possibly be shaped by these two different strands of young generation. A religious generation could offer a lasting solution to the longstanding disagreement between the founding principles of the Republican regime and the people in the region. The method and steps that pious people adopt vis-à-vis the regional problems continues to displease the PKK and its supporters. And we have observed its reflections in France, Germany and the Netherlands. It is obvious that a religion is created against the religion, and the war stems from the weakness of one religion vis-à-vis the other.


*Adem Palabıyık is a research assistant at Muş Alparslan University’s department of sociology.