We all know the tragic history of the Kurds in Turkey, e.g. the "Mountain Turks" syndrome.
B. Recent Progress
Because of Turkey’s EU candidacy and the resulting AKP reforms of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, Turkey has made considerable theoretical progress concerning the Kurdish issue.
C. Continuing Problems: Turkish Penal Code
1. Article 301 of the Penal Code (TCK) makes it a crime to insult "Turkishness." Under its terms, Professors Baskin Oran and Ibrahim Kaboglu were prosecuted for simply arguing in a report regarding EU harmonization laws and commissioned by the prime minister’s own office, that "Turk" is an identity of only one ethnic group and that Turkey also includes other ethnic groups such as "Kurds." The two also are being prosecuted under Article 216 of the TCK for "inciting enmity or hatred among the population." Their legal problems continue today.
Recent proposed reforms to Article 301 seem merely cosmetic as they still would make it a crime to insult the "Turkish nation," reduce the maximum prison sentence from three years to two, and henceforth have most trials regarding violations of Article 301 take place before magistrate courts instead of criminal courts. The mere presence of Article 301 and the suits that have occurred (e.g. Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink) continue to have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and press in Turkey regarding the Kurdish issue and other issues too.
2. In addition to Article 301 and 216, other repressive Turkish Penal Code (TCK) articles include Article 288, which criminalizes making public declarations about an ongoing court case. Article 220/paragraph 8 criminalizes "propagating an outlawed organization" and has frequently been used against declarations, statements, and remarks made by Kurdish politicians. Article 318 concerns the crime of "discouraging the public from serving in the army." Article 305 criminalizes "engaging in deeds against fundamental national benefits" and Article 304 does the same for "provoking foreign officials to declare war against the Republic of Turkey or insult it." Article 299 makes "uttering insults against the president" illegal. Article 323 does the same against "printing false news stories." Other such articles include: Article 341 against "denigrating the flag of a foreign state"; Article 115 which prevents "declaration of religious, social, political, and philosophical beliefs"; Article 263 on "education in violation of the law"; Article 125 regulating "crimes against dignity"; and Article 217 on "provoking people to disobey the law." In addition, Law 5816 of 25 July 1951 punishes attacking the memory of the Turkish Republic’s founder, Kemal Ataturk. Finally, one should note that these TCK articles can be interpreted in many different ways by ultra-nationalist Turkish judges.
D. New Anti-Terrorism Law (TMY)
Its definition of terrorism is too vague. Article 6 of the TMY has the potential to make anybody who expresses an idea contrary to the official state ideology guilty of being a "terrorist," even when the accused may be completely opposed to the use of violence. Even the establishment newspaper Cumhuriyet criticize the TMY on its front page.
E. Turkish Constitution
Articles 14, 26, 27, and 28 of the current (1982) Turkish Constitution allow Turkish authorities to incriminate nonviolent expression of ethnic identity simply on the basis that they are contrary to the constitutional definition of "Turkish" and a danger to the integrity of the state.
Given the present Turkish Constitution and laws, even Kurdish names containing the common Kurdish letters w, x, and q cannot be officially recognized and used because children can only be given names that use the Turkish language’s alphabet and these three letters do not appear in the Turkish alphabet. In addition, Article 222 of the TCK criminalizes violating a law from 1925 concerning the Turkish alphabet and can be used to prosecute any individual using the forbidden letters. Thus, the most important Kurdish holiday "Newroz" (the Kurdish new year) must be referred to as "Nevroz," while ironically the letter "W" appears on many public toilets throughout the land as well as does the Internet code: "www"! Clearly, the recent theoretical legalization of Kurdish language courses was in practice prevented by these onerous technical requirements.
F. Deep State
Since it would be a contradiction in terms to maintain the current undemocratic position towards the Kurds in a true republic, an arcane or Deep State (Derin Devlet) developed alongside or parallel to the official State to enforce the ultimate principles of the Kemalist Republic. Among these ultimate principles is the belief that Kurdish rights would threaten Turkey’s continuing existence. Susurluk (1996) and Semdinli (2005) are specific documented examples of this Deep State mentality.
The term "terrorist" is often used by the Turkish government as a propagandistic term in an attempt to brand the entire Kurdish movement in Turkey as terrorist. Many might well argue that the real terrorist in all this has historically been the Turkish government and the manner in which it has treated its ethnic Kurdish population. Even today the Turkish Constitutional Court is considering banning the DTP (a legal Kurdish party in Turkey) as well as the ruling AKP of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. All these actions show weakness and lack of self confidence.
The United States also misuses the term in for example officially listing the Mujahaden-e Khalq (an Iranian opposition group) as terrorist, but then supports this group against the Iranian government. Indeed, the United States has fallen into what might be called "The Good Kurd/Bad Kurd Syndrome" when it considers the Iraqi Kurds as good Kurds because they are U.S. allies, but lists the PKK as terrorist because they are the opponent of the U.S. NATO ally, Turkey.
Given his document determination to see Turkey become a modern country and part of the West, it is entirely possible that in today’s world a leader of Ataturk’s mettle would recognize the tremendous progress Turkey has made since his times to the extent that loyal particularisms were no longer inconsistent with Turkish territorial integrity and thus support Kurdish demands for their rights within Turkey as being in contemporary Turkish self interest. Kurdish rights will strengthen Turkey by making its ethnic Kurdish population loyal to Turkey. Indeed one might even argue that it is the Kurdish road that will lead to Turkish democracy and a strong, just Turkish state.
Professor Michael Gunter is a professor of political science at Tennessee Technological University at the United States of America, and teaches during the summer at the International University in Vienna. He is the author of six critically praised books on the Kurdish question, the most recent being The Kurds Ascending: The Evolving Solution to the Kurdish Problem in Iraq and Turkey. In addition, he has published numerous articles on the Kurds. He has been interviewed about the Kurdish question on numerous occasions by the international and national press.
Professor Michael M. Gunter
Tennessee Technological University
Cookeville, TN 38505
Email: [email protected]