Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Matter of Culture

PHOTO by Jodi Hilton / New York Times

The New York Times has a piece today examining the expanded space given to Kurdish culture in Turkey despite existing obstacles. This space is, undeniably, to be owed to the AKP, which worked hard in its first years in power to curb the state's repressive attitude toward Kurds in Turkey at a time when no other major political party lifted a finger on the issue. However, as evinced by the CHP's announcement that it is willing to change the constitution to include a non-ethnic definition of citizenship, there are other players now, as well as, most importantly, an influential, albeit incipient and still quite fragile, Kurdish civil society that is paving a middle way between competing Turkish and Kurdish nationalisms. An excerpt:
Concessions by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in 2009 made way for the first Kurdish national television station, and the government also permitted the teaching of Kurdish language classes in private universities (but not public ones). Token gestures, they made front-page headlines: first because they were signals to the outside world that a democratic state run by an Islamic leader will not automatically become xenophobic or tribalist, and second because even small steps toward acknowledging Kurdish culture can provoke political firestorms inside the country. Turkish nationalists raised a ruckus. Nationalists regard even the most basic Kurdish demand — that their language also be allowed in grade schools and at official settings where Kurds are involved — as treason.

Turkish Kurds respond that increased cultural freedom only encourages their loyalty to the Turkish state. But in this deeply patriotic country, where sentiments are old and entrenched, Mr. Erdogan’s government, guarding its tenuous majority in Parliament on the verge of the elections, has assumed a more and more hawkish line lately. The arrests of large numbers of Kurdish political activists have fed the Kurds’ concern that the government never really had true democracy in mind for them but just cooked up some window dressing for Western consumption. Recent clashes in this city between the police and hundreds of protesters attending the funerals of separatist militants proved how fragile the peace is in the region.
As I have written elsewhere here, Kurdish disenchantment with the AKP is high. That said, perhaps the party will take a less nationalist posture once the elections are over and it is done competing with the MHP for nationalist votes.

No comments: