The “democratic evolution” of the Kurdish Question:Turkish and Kurdish Mothers Campaign for Peace

by Dr. Emel Baştürk Akca
- Turkey -

“We mothers, whose hearts are burning, have come together so that there will be no more pain. We do not want our children to die.” These words belong to Nurten Ekinci, a woman who lost her son during his military service. Another woman, Sakine Arat, lost three children after they joined the pro-Kurdish terrorist organization, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK). "This war does not benefit anyone,” she says. “It has lasted for years, and it needs to end."

Nurten and Sakine are only two women among many who are aggrieved because of the conflicts between the Turkish Armed Forces and the PKK. They came together on September 1st at a meeting with other military and PKK mothers in the Southeastern province of Diyarbakır to promote peace and support the government’s new Kurdish initiative.

Since Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in early August the government’s intention to prepare a “democratic evolution” package for the country’s “Kurdish question,” almost everyone has been talking about the possibility of a peaceful settlement to a long standing conflict. In a show of collaboration, the government has called on all political parties, academicians and NGOs in Turkey to weigh in on how to solve an issue that has placed ethnicity at the center of Turkish politics since the 1970s. “At the end of this initiative, terror will be brought to an end,” asserts Erdoğan. “Turkey will be an example to the world for solving the terror problem through democratization and broadening the area of freedom.”

While the negotiations continue, thousands have come together in different cities around the country to support the government’s initiative in “Peace Meetings” which have been held by civil society organizations. One of these meetings was organized by the Southeast Journalists' Society, where Nurten and Sakine met. It was here that NGOs representing both Turkish and Kurdish interests came together to prove that they would like to live together in peace. Speaking during this meeting, Müslüm Öztürk of the Association for Solidarity for Families of Wounded or Killed Soldiers from the State of Emergency Areas said, "During the thirty-year conflict all parts of our society have paid a heavy price. Some of us have paid with our lives, some of us with our property. However, the heaviest price was paid by thousands of mothers who paid with the lives of their children. We don't want other mothers to feel the pain that our mothers have experienced.”

The Kurdish question is arguably the most serious internal problem in the Turkish Republic's eighty-six-year history. The Turkish secular national-state was founded on the basis of gathering different ethnic and cultural groups that had been living within Turkish national boundaries under the umbrella of Turkish identity. But, because of the inevitable heritage of the Ottoman Empire, which had a multi-faith and multi-ethnical structure, the Turkish Republic has had to struggle with different questions like Islamist currents and the varying demands of ethnic groups.

According to the Lausanne Agreement, which was signed after World War I, non-Muslim communities such as the Armenians and Greeks are recognized as minority groups in Turkey, granting them special rights, such as their own education institutions and temples. The Kurds are a Muslim group that has been living in Anatolia for centuries and sided with the Turkish people during the founding of the Turkish Republic. Though there were some individual attempts to demand cultural rights, it wasn’t until the 1970s that an organizational movement began and Kurdish groups began demanding that the Turkish government recognize their ethnic identity. In order to achieve their demands, some Kurds resorted to terrorist attacks, carried out predominantly in the Southeastern region and in Turkey’s big cities by the PKK. As a result, the Kurdish question has largely been equated with the PKK’s terrorism tactics and subsequent solutions have focused almost exclusively on the “fight against terror” for many years.

On September 11th the Turkish Peace Council held a press conference confirming its members’ support for the new package. Expressing its desire to live in a more democratic, prosperous and peaceful country, the council’s speaker addressed some of the issue’s complexities. “The Kurdish question is not only an ethnic identity problem; but is related [to] the socio-economic problems of Turkey which are intensified in the Southeastern region,” explained Hakan Tahmaz. “Additionally, the Kurdish question is a part of the ‘democratization question’ of Turkey. This is why the question must be examined in all facets and dimensions and an action plan for the solution must be carved out.”

Today, it is clearly evident that the Kurdish question cannot be solved by military force. The Turkish government has declared that it is now ready to grant some cultural rights to Kurds, which include state education and media broadcasting in the Kurdish language, a “repentance law” that guarantees a pardon or lesser sentence for PKK members who surrender, and a possible constitutional amendment to redefine Turkish citizenship. In exchange for these cultural rights, it is expected that PKK terrorist attacks will end. Most people in Turkey – both Turks and Kurds - want an end to terrorism and conflict, which is why, although its details have not yet been clarified, the government’s “democratic evolution” package is supported by most civil society organizations.

Hasan Pençe, board president of The Mesopotamia Association of Those Who Have Lost Their Relatives echoes a sentiment that is growing throughout the country on both sides of the conflict. "We call on everyone to make a contribution towards peace. Let us all forget the past together. Let us get rid of arms, hatred and hostility amongst us. Let us show everyone that we can live in peace."

About the Author
Dr. Emel Baştürk Akca was born in Ankara, Turkey and graduated from Ankara University with a Master’s in Faculty of Communication. She earned her doctorate degree in Journalism from the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Ege (Aegean). During her Ph.D. program, Emel studied at the Old Dominion University in West Virginia, USA. She has published several articles and one book on media discourse, discourse analysis, identity, representation and political communication. Currently Dr. Akca teaches journalism in Turkey.

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