Part II: The Violence Against Kurds in Turkey and the Case of the PKK
Are you Really Opposed to Violence?
One of the most frustrating moments of every political debate I have had with liberal-mainstream and pseudo-leftist intellectuals is when they state something along the lines of “I am against violence no matter who commits it”. This statement abstractly sounds just fine. The problem, however, is that it actually hides more than it shows. Many intellectuals, who have had academic training in some fields of the humanities and social sciences, are trained to sound intellectual without ever questioning any of the ideological bases of their neutralized beliefs they inherit from the ruling groups or troubling themselves with the actual problems from which the disadvantaged suffer. If you think about it, just as there are armies of humanitarian NGO workers making a good living from the sheer suffering of entire populations living in extreme poverty, there are tens of thousands of academics doing the same thing. These supposed intellectuals make a living and maintain privileged social positions by lecturing on the subjects of the marginalized, minorities, and voiceless social groups, all the while reinforcing the oppressive order.
Recently I had a conversation with a Turkish professor, who is counted as part of the liberal left in Turkey, about minority issues and specifically the longstanding issue of Kurds in Turkey. Her position was a simple one, to put it quite generously: she explained to me, “even though I support the rights of the Kurds, I am against violence. I am against violence from all sides, both the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party] and the Turkish army”. On the surface this sounds perfectly rational, but the problem is that the rationality itself is irrational if you dig a little more into the actual state of affairs in Turkey.
Still, one would normally hope that this “absolute” rejection of violence would be more common amongst Turkish intellectuals than agendas openly promoting violence. The issue, however, is that this stance against violence on all sides is actually considered the ultimate “leftist” position. If we consider this supposedly leftist stance as a discourse with regard to the historical context of the Kurdish question in Turkey, it is actually not an “absolute” rejection of violence, as it claims; rather, it is a rejection of resistance. Then, why is it considered a leftist stance? In such a country as Turkey, where some 14 or 15 million people are still struggling against 80 years of politics of absolute denial; where, until recently they were not even allowed to speak their language; they cannot give their children Kurdish names; they are systematically displaced and collectively removed from their own country; thousands of their peaceful activists and politicians are living in notorious prisons at the moment; thousands more of their civil society activists have been assassinated over the years; they are systematically deprived of their sources of livelihood; thousands of their children are imprisoned for years for purely political charges within a legal system that is consciously based upon discrimination, oppression, and racism; millions of them are forced by the state into social and economic enslavement in Turkish cities; in such a country, no wonder my friend’s position as a Turk is considered critical and leftist. But is it really critical and leftist, or does it, as a pseudo-leftist discourse, legitimize and maintain the violence of the state, and the rest of the state’s politics of denial, torture, and genocide?
Imagine sixty well-off, strong, aggressive, and overly armed men are engaged in raping and killing fourteen poor, weak, and unarmed children who hopelessly resist, trying to save themselves. No one with any sense of justice would “condemn both sides, the men and the children, for using violence”. Such a statement is actually no better than simply siding with the rapists and killers because it shrouds the actual situation in a discursive context that then distorts the truth in the interest of the murderers. The Kurdish resistance in Turkey against the anti-Kurdish politics of the Republic of Turkey is in fact much like the instinctual attempts of the fourteen children trying to escape and save themselves in the previous scenario. What is happening in Turkey is not a war between Kurds and Turks; it is rather a systematic and historical enterprise by the Turkish Republic to eliminate everything that is Kurdish. One of the means used for that end is physical violence in which no method has been spared, from torture and rape in prisons, to bombardment using F16 war planes. Therefore, if you condemn the PKK and the Turkish army equally in the name of rejecting violence, you are not just condoning or overlooking the initial state-sanctioned acts of violence, but in fact you are also taking the wrong side by all ethical measures.
The PKK is an organization that first appeared as a reaction against the systematic politics of collective humiliation and ethnic genocide, which very few non-Kurds publicly opposed until the 1980s. Since then, the PKK has always asked for a peaceful solution, but it has been denied all rights of negotiation, just as Kurds are denied every possible means of surviving in Turkey. The PKK is composed of a bunch of young women and men who are graduates of Turkish political prisons, the daily police violence on the streets of Kurdish cities, and/or the humiliating brutality of fascist mobs in Turkish cities. They literally escape to remote mountain areas, where they struggle to survive without the most fundamental needs such as shelter and food, and face death every single day at the hands of the Turkish army and air forces. Of course, there must be a reason why these young women and men prefer such danger and hardship to living under the rule of the Turkish state. Even if you know absolutely nothing about the history of the struggle, it takes little thinking to realize that the two sides are not equal, and treating them as equally responsible for “the war” directly supports the actual murderers. Equating the systematic violence of the biggest standing army in all of Europe, which is the Turkish army, with the resistance of a group of freedom-fighters is in itself an act of unjustifiable violence.
Turkey is a leading customer of American weapons, whereas, the PKK is not even allowed to open an office as a political party in any country in the whole world, thanks to Turkish influence. What is perhaps most unfortunate is that the Turkish Republic can at any minute bring about peace by simply putting an end to the bombardment of the Kurdish countryside. In addition to the continual bombardment of these mountain regions, to this moment Turkey is also displacing villagers and destroying villages and harassing, humiliating, imprisoning, and torturing civilians in Kurdistan whose only crime is that they are not Turks. Alternately, there is nothing the PKK has not done to stop the violence. In fact, for more than ten years the PKK has announced and practiced a unilateral ceasefire, but it was always met with massive Turkish military operations. Moreover, the active members of any political party that struggled peacefully for the equality of Kurds and Turks have inevitably been arrested, imprisoned, or assassinated, and eventually their party was abandoned by the Turkish state. Kurds are not allowed to exist as Kurds, whether in the cities or in the mountains. According to the logic of the Turkish Republic and its supporters, they must either die or become Turks.
Pseudo-leftists first need to unlearn what the ideological state apparatuses have been feeding them throughout their lives, and start to challenge the little fascists inside themselves. It is easy to outwardly claim that you reject all forms of violence when you accede to lecturing under a huge portrait of Ataturk and comply with a constitution that is openly racist to the degree that it recognizes only Turks in Turkey. It is easy to live peacefully in Turkey when every institution is structured to empower you over everyone else based not on any merit of your own but on the myth of the Turkish race. As an intellectual or academician, it would be more decent to simply, like the open fascist, say that you take the side of the racist politics of the state than to claim that you reject the resistance against inequality because you are against violence. If you truly want to know what it is like to desperately and sincerely reject violence and strive for peace, try staying alive as a Kurd for just one day in Turkey.