At a time of heated debate in Turkey on whether Turkish nationalism is on the rise, it is in fact Kurdish nationalism which should be deliberated upon. At the end of the day, both foster and reinforce each other. Because Turkey is a predominantly Turkish country, those who discuss the issue are prone to focus on Turkish nationalism. However, the key role in future developments will be played by Kurdish nationalism. Why?
Above all, it should be noted that Kurdish nationalism — both in terms of discourse and methodology — broadly copies Turkish nationalism. In other words, Kurdish nationalists inherited most improper codes from their Turkish counterparts. The Turkish nationalism that emerged during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire proposed detachment from the pluralist societal structure of the time. The Ottoman intellectuals who were desperate vis-à-vis the separatist movements within the empire dreamt of an imaginary world (named Turan in their unique conceptualization) where the Turkish nation would be the primary constituent. For them, Turk had no friend other than Turk.
This was an understanding based on self-isolation that fostered hostility towards other nations with whom they shared a long past.
One other point that should be underlined is the acute Turkish nationalism that emerged from the collapse of the empire focused on Turkishness before the inception of Islam simply because the latter rejected racism. Similarly, today’s Kurdish nationalists stress pre-Islamic Kurdishness. For instance, the Fırat News Agency, known for its close ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), publicized the results of a survey it conducted among PKK militants. The results were published in the pro-PKK newspaper Ülkede Özgür Gündem on Jan. 30, 2006. According to the survey, PKK militants are mostly interested in Zoroastrianism. The same survey shows that the Prophet Muhammad placed third as the militants’ favorite leader. However, the vast majority of Kurds are Muslim. It is not a coincidence to see that the militants prefer Zoroaster and Jesus. Extreme Kurdish nationalists — just like Turkish nationalists — maintain that Islam has made them considerably passive. It should be recalled that Turkish nationalists of the Ottoman Empire put a special emphasis on shamanism, the religion of the Turks before Islam. For this reason, racists in particular detach themselves from Islam.
Lastly, intellectuals of Turkish nationalism have never embraced plurality and democracy owing to the similarity of their organization to military hierarchy. One voice, one discourse, one truth… This is now the case with Kurdish nationalists. Remember that there is no rightist, leftist, liberal, socialist, Islamist or atheist Kurdish nationalist. Because the PKK intimidates with violence, no distinct political identity developed among the Kurds. Of course, the 10 percent election threshold of the Turkish electoral system has had a significant effect on the lack of multiple Kurdish political discourses. Concerns over non-representation in Parliament because of the existence of multiple political parties competing in elections lead ordinary Kurds to move towards the only party affiliated with the PKK. However, the issue is by no means limited to political parties. Where is the pluralist structure formed by Kurdish liberals? Where are Kurdish conservatives and the democratic establishments that would embrace the pluralism of the Kurdish people?
History attests that the extremes of Turkish nationalism were rectified or mitigated by the efforts of the majority of Turks. Extreme Turkish nationalists have always remained marginalized in society. The same stance should be adopted by Kurdish intellectuals and common people. Extreme Kurdish nationalists should be tempered by the moderate approach of the vast majority; otherwise, the provocations of extreme Kurdish nationalists may become trump cards in the hands of Turkish extremists. This would necessarily harm the social fabric in Turkey as Kurds now reside in every corner of the country and their habitation is not confined to the Southeast. Escalating tensions between the racists may destroy the peaceful lives of the majority. It is time for Kurdish intellectuals to realize this danger.