Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year, but Little New from Gul

Diyarbakir's BDP-governed municipality welcomed President Gul with a banner in both Turkish and Kurdish. The banner welcomes "our respected president."  PHOTO from Hurriyet Daily News

President Gul is scheduled to end the year with a trip to Diyarbakir, the de facto capital of Turkey's largely Kurdish southeast. While things have significantly calmed in the region since the PKK's declared ceasefire in August, memories of a particularly violent summer remain vivid, both in the region and the rest of Turkey.

Gul's visit comes just two weeks after the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) announced proposals related to autonomy and language rights. In recent months, the DTK has been messaging that the region should adopt bilingualism. Gul, as expected, did not address the DTK proposal directly, instead returning to what the president has said before about diversity and a nation of many ethnicities. From Hurriyet Daily News:
peaking at a dinner with local businessmen in Diyarbakır late Thursday, Gül focused on unity, but said diversity should not be perceived as a threat.

“We are all pieces of a huge nation. There are differences in a big nation. However, we should see [our] diversity as richness,” Gül said. “If we see those differences as a threat, there may be problems.”

. . . .

The president also said there was nothing to be afraid of as long as each citizen saw Turkey as his or her homeland.

“However, there are things we should be afraid of. If we start to behave as if our beliefs, traditions, and opinions on major matters are different, or as if this is not our shared homeland, that would sow the seeds of factionalism in this nation,” he said. “Then an atmosphere to be afraid of might emerge. Therefore, we should all act responsibly.”
As I have written here before, the difference between nation and ethnicity here is important to understand. Gul's understanding of "one nation" would be much more palatable to Kurds if it was based on civic identity. However, under the current constitution, all persons who belong in Turkey are a member of the "Turkish nation" and should be "happy to call [themselves] a Turk."

Turkish nationalists have long argued that Turkish identity is not based on ethnicity, but on a sense of being wedded to a larger Turkish nation, one defined by "one language," " one flag," and "one people." It is no coincidence that interviews with Kurdish nationalist groups reveal the same sentiment about the Kurdish nation. Resolving the two nationalisms in a common civic identity free of ethnic chauvinism will be the challenge over the years, but so far nothing new from Gul here.

The president did gain the scorn of ultra-nationalist MHP leader Devlet Bahceli for visiting Diyarbakir's multilingual city hall, but scorn from the MHP's variety of ultra-nationalism is also nothing new.

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