When the multiethnic Ottoman Empire disintegrated as a result of World War I, the nationalists led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk1 instigated a coup that left them in control of large parts of the army and established the Turkish Republic as a successor state in 1922. Anatolia, eastern Thrace and northern Mesopotamia, which became the new republic's territory, had a highly heterogeneous population culturally and linguistically. Under the Ottoman Empire, all ethnic and religious groups were granted full rights. In return, it was demanded that they be loyal to the state. Atatürk had disagreed with the Ottoman acceptance of the empire's multiethnic character. He had also disliked the disparate groups' claims for independence, which he thought would result in the empire's dissolution. It is on the basis of such an understanding of history that Atatürk swore by the principle of a unitary Turkish state.2
The nationalist attempt to create an ethnically and linguistically homogenous population initiated a long process that has resulted in widespread repression, abuse of power, harassment and discrimination on ethnic grounds. In the period 1914-23, hundreds of thousands of Greek Orthodox individuals were systematically displaced from Western Anatolia, and in 1915 around 1.5 million Christian Armenians and Assyrians were ethnically cleansed by the same government elite that later emerged as the republic's founders. The authorities placed Tatars from Crimea and other non-Turkish Muslim immigrants from the Balkans and the Caucasus on the land and properties of Greeks and Armenians in many parts of Anatolia. Tatars and various Muslim peoples had immigrated to Anatolia as a result of the Crimean War of 1853-56 between the Ottomans and Russia and other liberation wars against the Ottomans in the Balkans in 1912-13.
After the establishment of the republic in 1923, Turkish nationalism was renamed and officially declared "Atatürk's nationalism"3 (Atatürk milliyetçiliği). At this time, the Kurds already felt left out of the new republic. They suspected nationalists in Ankara wanted to build an authoritarian republic on ethnic Turkish culture alone. An ethnically based state is, according to Juan J. Linz, a country where certain ethnic groups enjoy full democratic rights, while others (often minorities) are largely or completely denied them.4 Such a state is further characterized by highly concentrated and centralized power, the maintenance of political repression and the exclusion of potential challengers.
In proclaiming the republic, it was most important to Atatürk to retain the form of government that he established in 1923. Second, it was key in his view to introduce the one-party state (a dictatorship), which lasted until 1946. A third objective was to create an ethnically homogeneous society. Essential to this form of government was that all positions of power be held by ethnic Turks, and that this group's superiority be maintained through discrimination and oppression of other ethnicities.5
The republic is almost "sanctified" as the community of those who define themselves as Turks; it represents their common spirit and mentality. This ideological construct is not relativistic, but ethnocentric. It is not rooted in absolute values of cultural diversity and equality and shared human dignity, but represents only one ethnic group — Turks — due to their similarity to the nation's founders.6 People who are not part of this group, such as Kurds ("mountain Turks," as they were, until recently, officially called) and other cultural minorities who do not deny their ethnic background, are ostracised because they do not perceive themselves as Turks and are regarded as expensive for the state. Therefore, the Kurds are excluded from the administration and other state institutions, such as the army, bureaucracy, universities, media and political decision-making process.
TWO IDEOLOGICAL CURRENTS IN POLITICS
Since 1908, when the young Turks (Jöntürkler) rebelled against Sultan Abdul Hamid II and introduced a constitutional monarchy, two main ideological currents have developed in Turkish politics: Turkism (türkçülük) and Turkish-Islamic synthesis (Türk-Islam sentezi). Both represent versions of Turkish nationalism. The tension between them has figured prominently in Turkish politics until today.
Yusuf Akçura (1876-1935), a Kazan Tatar who immigrated to Anatolia, was both a close friend of Atatürk and a central representative for Turkism.7 He contributed greatly to the design of the ideological foundation of the formation of the new Turkish state in the 1920s.8 In several articles published in 1904,9 Akçura discussed the fundamental Ottoman state policies: Osmanism, Pan-Islamism and Turkism. Osmanism refers to a doctrine built on the consolidation of Turkey's position in the Islamic world. This doctrine was dominant until the end of World War I. Pan-Islamism is a term for a political movement of the 1800s that worked to renew Islam through the collection of all Muslims under a caliph — the form of government of the Islamic state. The term is also used for the period when the Islamic empire (also called the caliphate) was essentially under one caliph after the death of the Prophet Mohammed.10 Turkism's foremost goal is to unite all peoples of Turkish origin in one state. Islam is also regarded as good if it reinforces national pride. It is also said that the Quran is good if it does not poison genuine Turkish characteristics.11 Akçura advocated Turkism; his articles are considered in Turkey as the first manifestation of it.12
The Kurd descendant and Durkheim-inspired Turkish thinker Ziya Gökalp (1876-1924) is regarded as the brains behind the other ideological current, the Turkish-Islamic synthesis. He also helped shape the ideological foundations of Atatürk's nationalist state (often called kemalist devlet, or Atatürk's State, among Turks). Both had been active in the young Ottoman uprising in 1908 and were concerned about how the new Turkish Republic would define its nation. Akçura argued that the nation must be defined through a political community based on blood ties and ethnic descent, rather than through the religious community.13 He interpreted Islam and Islamism as a secular form of politics. An important point for Akçura was that the mobilizing force of Islam must be used to benefit a Turkish national project. For him ethnic descent was more important than Islamic affiliation. Islam should only be used to legitimize state power.14 Akçura thus argued that the new Turkish state should pursue a purely ethno-linguistic nationalism as the basis for both the state's existence and the creation of a new national identity. It was also intended as a substitute for Islam. Racial thinking or racial logic was a central idea in this time period. A notion that people are "born that way" racially affected the social construction of the world at this time.15
How Atatürk's state should define Turkishness was also central for Gökalp, but he represented a different version of Turkishness. His ideological project was based on a synthesis of all three streams, Osmanism, Pan-Islamism and Turkism, with greater emphasis on the latter two.16 Turkish-Islamic synthesis was, for him, like Osmanism, based mostly on the political equality of all citizens irrespective of their nationality. For Gökalp, national affiliation was more a question of ethnic and cultural community than descent and blood, which Akçura's Turkism project referred to. He believed that the basis for the relationship between the new republic and the people should be, on the one hand, one's Muslim heritage and, on the other, one's language and culture. Gökalp's Turkish-Islamic synthesis has been interpreted in different ways. Turkishness does not come from any inherited ethnic descent, but is shaped by the interplay between "Muslimness" and "Turkish practices." While some claim that Gökalp's Turkishness concept argued that one is first and foremost a Turk and then a Muslim, others believe the opposite. One thing is certain: his version of Turkishness was inclusive of Muslims of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Both currents otherwise seem to have expansive intentions; they are more or less authoritarian in style and have ambitions for adding other countries' territories to Turkish control.
It should also be noted that the governments of Adnan Menderes in the 1950s, Turgut Özal in the 1980s, Necmettin Erbakan in 1996-97 and Recep Tayyip Erdogan since 2002 have broadly followed Gökalp's Turkish-Islamic synthesis. They accepted established traditions and Islamic customs to a greater extent than Atatürk and the Kemalist Republican People's Party (CHP) did. They aimed to unite Western modernity with traditional Turkish and Islamic values. Özal, in particular, but also Erdogan, tried to combine liberalism with traditional populism. But they all cracked down on critics, introduced press censorship, and imprisoned writers and journalists.
Atatürk's followers, mainly the military and the CHP, are, however, often described as totalitarian. Akçura's Turkism project was implemented by the CHP and the military. The latter ruled Turkey through at least four military coups or interventions from 1960 to the most recent, in 1997, where the Kemalist military overthrew elected prime ministers four times. The military, police, judiciary and government elite (the private sector and academic institutions) all undertook the role of defending Atatürk's nationalism. All military coups were justified as a response to the political elite's failure to follow Atatürk's principles. Under the Kemalists,17 ethnic and religious minorities have been particularly vulnerable to repression.
These two movements thus formed the ideological foundation for two different versions of Turkish nationalism; however, Atatürk incorporated Akçura's Turkism into state practice.]18 Turkism was also constitutionalized in 1924, 1961 and 1982. In order to realize this, it was necessary to pursue the essence of Turkishness. In 1930, a theory was launched (the solar and language theory19) claiming that Turkish is the mother of all world languages, that they all originate from Turkish. The theory further claimed that the Turkish civilization has been a model for all other civilizations, and so on.
Atatürk's choice of Akçura's version of Turkism as state practice was not accidental. Like Akçura, he had himself emigrated from Greece to Turkey. No serious sources can confirm that Atatürk was of Turkish descent. Most likely, he was born and raised in a family of Albanian origin. Until the end of the 1900s, a legion of immigrants from the Crimean Peninsula, the Caucasus and the Balkans or converts to Islam had immigrated to Anatolia.20 They and their biological descendants actively supported Atatürk's republic. Immigrants from these areas still account for a significant part of the power elite and are regarded as the inheritors of the later manifestations of "Ittihad ve Terakki" ideology: Kemalism in Turkey today. Atatürk himself was a member of Ittihad and Terakki.21
THE KURDS' STATUS
Most Kurds see themselves as a people with a common language, culture and historical memory. Under the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds kept contact with the power center in Istanbul through religious ties and ties to the caliphate. Prior to the establishment of the republic, Kemal Atatürk often said that Kurds were an essential component of a future Turkey. In 1919, he said that "Turks and Kurds will continue to live together as brothers around the institution of the caliphate."22 With the dissolution of the caliphate in 1924, the Kurds lost a source of legitimacy and power. The day the caliphate was dissolved, a ban was introduced against the Kurdish language and Kurdish schools, organizations, publications and religious communities. The words "Kurd" and "Kurdistan" were removed from dictionaries and history books, any expression of Kurdish identity was effectively sanctioned, and Kurdish place names were replaced with Turkish ones.23 McDowall claims that from then on Turkey "clearly embarked upon a racist policy which proposed to expunge all non-Turkish expression."24 This racist policy characterises Atatürk's interpretation of the nation-building project.
Atatürk called his "nation-building" a "modern republican project." The newly homogeneous nation was to be secular and Western-oriented and an example for the rest of the world. There are many who have questioned this and think that the project had nothing to do with modernity. As the documentation below shows, Atatürk's interpretation of the nation was not based on demos — principles such as citizen equality, voluntary social pacts between peoples with common rights, shared commitment, and popular sovereignty. His view of the nation was characterised by ethnos — Turks as a chosen ethnic group in which the cultural community is based on pure Turkish culture and can be distinguished from outside groups.25 It lacked a basis for unification around shared institutions and principles. The Turkish nation is therefore not considered a natural unit in the geographical space shared by Turks, Kurds and other national minorities.
With an ethnos based on national perception, Atatürk ignored Anatolia's regional diversity and took a racist and sexist turn that created major problems for future generations. In a speech to the Turkish Association of Craftsmen on March 16, 1923 (just before the proclamation of the Republic), Atatürk gave a hint of what elements the Turkish nation would include:
Our friends have said in their speeches that other elements should be included. Armenians have invaded our art and they dominate it. They turn out to be the owners of this country. Injustice and arrogance can surely be no more than that. The Armenians have no rights in this fertile land. It's your country, Turks. In history this country was Turkish, accordingly, it is Turkish, and will remain Turkish forever. …26
The Turkish historian Ayşe Hür27 describes this statement as both racist and exclusionary of minorities, a view shared by other researchers including the sociologist Ismail Besikci.28
This exclusion also manifests itself in the civic context. In the Constitution of 1924,29 it is stipulated that all citizens, regardless of religion or racial background, are Turks. However, Article 12 of the same constitution states that "those who do not read and write Turkish cannot be elected to parliament or other political posts." This law was used actively to prevent Kurds and non-Muslim minorities from participating in politics.30 Article 12 disregards the idea of the nation state as a civil community, and it also steered the idea of the Turkish nation in another direction. Since then, Turkey has often been on the brink of civil war. The first major Kurdish rebellion, in 1925 (the Şeyh Said rebellion), was in response to this exclusion. If Kurds do not feel the same loyalty to a "common national heritage" or "way of life," what should the idea of citizenship build upon?
Another example of ethnos perception: After the rebellion was brutally struck down, Prime Minister Ismet Inönü gave a speech with a clear message to the Kurds. The speech, printed in the newspaper Vakit, could be construed as a declaration that the Atatürk regime would insist on racism, with the goal of legitimizing discrimination based on ethnic background.
Turks are our only unifying nationality. Other elements do not have the power to influence the majority against the Turks. Our task is to convert to Turkishness immediately. We'll [liquidate] the elements that resist Turkishness and Turkism. The desired qualities for those who serve their homeland are primarily that they are Turks and defend Turkism. ...31
In a report from 1935, Inönü writes that only ethnic Turks can claim ethnic rights.32
Anthony Smith distinguishes between a "Western" and "non-Western" nation: the Western version is called a civic nation and the Eastern an ethnic nation.33 Atatürk's nation project is closer to the Eastern form. Atatürk's project of creating a homogenous Turkish nation presupposed total cultural homogeneity, without creating any common ground that binds these groups together. For some minorities, especially the Kurds, the result has been very little support for what the Turks have considered society's shared values. In other words, there is no acceptance of the inhumane policies (including a denial of Kurdish culture and identity) that Atatürk's nationalism introduced. Therefore, there is a need for a new form of unity, a consensus on society's shared values or principles that bind the different cultures together through recognizing differences. This will create an environment in which different cultures can engage in a dialogue that is mutually advantageous. But when proposals are raised to build a more open, equitable, diversity-based social order to benefit all, one is faced with fear and threats.
When choosing Akçura's version of Turkism for state practice, Kemal Atatürk created a homogeneous population that was to be nationalistic. This presupposed a Turkification plan, which Atatürk explained as follows: "We are direct nationalists. The Republic relies on ethnic Turks. The more republican members feel submerged in Turkish culture, the stronger the republic will be."34 His statement confirms that ethnic Turks will form the basis of the new republic, a view that is identical to Akçura's claims of a purely ethno-linguistic nationalism. It could also be interpreted as expressing a strong desire to create a superior Turkish nation. With indirect reference to the Kurdish minority, Atatürk's prime minister, İsmet İnönü, is thought to have said: "Only [someone of] Turkish origin is entitled to ethnic and national rights in this country. No other element has any such right."35 Therefore, all citizens should see themselves as Turks. Emphasising the greatness of one's own nationality means a corresponding devaluation of other nationalities. Implicitly, other ethnic and cultural characteristics and identities would be tolerated. Turkishness was defined as the main characteristic of an ethnic group, rather than a political or cultural phenomenon.36 From 1930 onward, it was officially declared that there were no "races" other than the "Turkish race" in Turkey.37
With reference to the Turkification plan, Atatürk's justice minister, Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, concluded: "The Turks are this country's only Lords and owners. Those who have no real Turkish origin have only one right in this country: the right to be servants for Turks, the right to be slaves for Turks. Friends and enemies, and even the mountains, must know this truth."38 This type of racism is related more to a belief in Turkish supremacy than to the racism that usually finds fertile ground in societies where economic and social disparities are linked to certain ethnic groups.39
With reference to the second Kurdish uprising in the Agri province, which was put down in 1930, Bozkurt said:
[Kurds] have in their lives not learned what pain is. They are barbarians, aggressive, they are wild and cruel. They are very short and they are predators. They will not kill you with a bullet if they catch you. They take out the eyes, cut the nose and remove the nails and then they kill! ... Their women are also like them. ...40
These statements indicate what kind of treatment the non-Turkish minorities would face. However, one suspects that it was Atatürk behind these and similar statements. Neither the prime minister nor the minister of justice was able to issue statements on his own; Atatürk held all the power in his hands.41
Shortly after the republic was proclaimed in 1923, a systematic campaign of purging the Kurds was initiated. In 1924, the Atatürk regime approved a law on minorities42 that was based on deporting Kurds to western parts of the country and deploying migrants of Turkish origin from the Balkans in the Kurdish areas. Since the Kurds felt that they were forced to accept the Turkish republic's form of government, even though they had no place in it, in 1925, they started a greater rebellion in protest against the nationalist republic that failed to fulfill the promise of autonomy. They felt betrayed by the nationalists, despite the fact that they had been promised autonomy during the liberation period, 1919-22. The uprising was brutally suppressed, and 48 leaders were executed.
After the rebellion of 1925, the Atatürk regime prepared the Reform Plan for the East (Şark Islahat Planı),43 aimed at the denial of Kurdish culture and identity. The plan directly suggested that the tribes that had participated in the Kurdish rebellion, as well as tribes that did not accept Turkification, would be deported to western Turkey. The plan was implemented thorough strict military rule in the Kurdish provinces. Turkey's foreign minister, Tevfik Rüştü Aras, issued this statement regarding the Kurds in 1927:
…. their cultural level is so low, their mentality so backward, that they simply cannot be in the general Turkish body politic. … They will die out, economically unfit for life in competition with the more advanced and cultural Turks. … As many as possible will migrate into Persia and Iraq, while the rest will undergo the elimination of the unfit.44
The minister obviously thought that Turks have qualities that make them more valuable than Kurds, and used this to legitimize forced deportation based on ethnic background. This view was presumably shared by all of the Kemalist elite. As he refers to the Turkish government's legitimate right to discriminate against the Kurds as an ethnic minority, he is not just expressing a personal opinion; it is the position of the state itself.
The plan for ethnic cleansing intensified in the 1930s. In 1934, Act 2510 on forced settlement (Mecburi Iskan Kanunu)45 was enacted, aimed at forcing the displacement of those who refused to give up their Kurdish identity. Acts on the Tunceli province46 followed in 1935 (Tunceli Kanunlari), ordering the evacuation of villages and mass deportations in the Kurdish province of Dersim (now called Tunceli). A large part of the Kurdish area in eastern Turkey was given status as a military zone and closed to foreigners until 1966.47 Approximately one million Kurds were forcibly relocated between 1925 and 1938 and scattered in small groups in western Turkey. This was done to prevent their forming a majority in any area. Many migrants of Turkish origin from the Balkans, the Caucasus and Middle Eastern countries were relocated to Kurdish villages. The Kurdish language was also banned; individuals and families who spoke Kurdish at home were punished with heavy fines. Research into demographic conditions in the area was prohibited.
Parallel to the acts that forced displacement of the Kurds, an intensive campaign called "Compatriot, speak Turkish" was initiated with the goal of turning "Anatolians into Turks." But language was only a small part of the Turkification plan: "[T]he new Turks should be disciplined so that they are as culturally homogeneous as possible and most loyal to the Turkish state."48
To legitimize the "new Turk project," Kemal Atatürk initiated a series of so-called scientific conferences in 1930. During one of these, the "sun-language theory" was discussed and accepted: all that is good, advanced and civilized is, in essence, Turkish. Turkish was supposedly the proto-language that formed the basis for all human languages.49 The name was chosen because the theory claims that the sun was the first thing the Turks named. The theory was allegedly put forward by an Austrian, Hermann Kvergic, PhD. It was rejected by most linguists in Turkey, and it soon turned out that Hermann Kvergic was a pseudonym. One suspects that Atatürk was involved; the sun-language theory disappeared with his death in 1938.
The objective of these acts was clear: to create a homogenous Turkish nation. To achieve this goal, Atatürk initiated a comprehensive deportation of minorities.50 He justified his cleansing of the Kurds by referring to the need for modernisation of minorities: "Gentlemen, uncivilized people are doomed to be trodden under the feet of civilized people."51
The main element of Atatürk's nationalism was support for creating a "new Turk" nation that would be culturally Turkish, as stated in the Constitution of 1924.52 Early on in the establishment of the republic, it became clear that support for the Turkish language and culture was mandatory. Atatürk's nationalism demanded that citizens fulfill the needs of the Turkish nation and reject the ties they may have had to other cultures, and the Constitution emphasised absolute loyalty to his nationalism.53 But a requirement of loyalty presupposes a national community that also includes minorities. Atatürk's demands for loyalty lacked such a basis. Civic issues were pushed into the background. He built a nation bound together by ethnic identity based on language, history and other unifying cultural traits. The Turkish nation could only preserve its ethnic identity through state power, an idea that was also central for Akçura.
The nation is more than legal formal citizenship, however; it is a form of political solidarity. The basis for a national community between peoples was thus pushed away. Accordingly, there was no consensus on basic institutions and rules for dispute resolution. This led to divisions between Kurds and Turks that have since created vast differences between them, requiring state institutions to sustain rules by force. Atatürk's national perception was untenable, as it lacked democratic institutions and legal principles. No group, regardless of size and characteristics, can declare itself to be an independent nation without regard to the demands of minorities.
Turkey's "indivisibility of territory and nation" is a principle that enjoys the protection of the constitution and laws. It has implications for citizens of Kurdish origin, whose culture is regarded as a threat to the state.54 To achieve such a homogeneous Turkish nation, repression of Kurdish ethnic identity through government coercion and forced Turkification was required.55
To make homogeneity permanent, absolute loyalty to Atatürk's nationalism and form of government was demanded. This was made a requirement in the constitutions of 1961 and 1982, both adopted under military rule. Constitutional references to Atatürk's nationalism emphasised that the constitution had to be understood, interpreted and implemented in absolute loyalty to its wording and spirit "in the direction of the concept of nationalism defined by Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, the immortal leader and the unrivaled hero, and his reform and principles."56 The constitution further states that no thoughts or considerations contrary to Atatürk's nationalism can be protected.57 The constitutions of both 1961 and 1982 conferred the role of protecting Atatürk's principles to the president and the National Security Council. Turkey also has many laws that protect against criticism and violations of the honor of Atatürk, including Act No. 5816. The military interventions of 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997 were interpreted as the military's response to the political elite's failure to follow Atatürk's nationalism.58 This speaks volumes about the position of Atatürk's nationalism in Turkish society.
In the fight against the PKK, Turkish authorities have tried, both before and during the AKP government of the 2000s, to promote Atatürk's principles as a "nationalism of citizenship." It would reportedly give citizens a "supra-ethnic identity," without compromising citizens' ethnic identity.59 It is said that this republic requires loyalty to the supra-ethnic identity, but that citizens' ethnic roots are otherwise a private matter outside the state's sphere of power. But this is not the case. The Turkish Foreign Policy Issues (TFPI) interpret the country's constitution this way: "What the constitutional order in Turkey rejects is the approach of 'collective identities' and the allegation that there is a separate 'Kurdish people' in Turkey apart from the 'Turkish people.'"60 It must be added that the Turkish Supreme Court has banned the use of the term "Kurdish nation" in public debate.61
The Constitution of 1982, under which Turkey is still governed, deprives citizens with a mother tongue other than Turkish of the right to receive education and training in their own language.62 These laws clearly legitimize linguistic discrimination. Prohibitions against the Kurdish language, schools, culture, identity and history and a number of other restrictions from Atatürk's time are thus maintained by the constitution.
ATATÜRK'S THOUGHT SYSTEM
Atatürk's nationalism was further strengthened by establishing the so-called Atatürk thought system (Atatürkçü düşünce sistemi), which permeated the whole society. Turkish legislation, for example, portrays a school as the central institution in which to learn about Atatürk's nationalism and thought system. Article 41 of the Constitution mandates that education be delivered in accordance with Atatürk's thought system, principles and reforms. Other laws, such as the Act on National Education,63 present the overriding objective of educating people to become "citizens who believe in the principles and reforms of Atatürk and Atatürk's concept of nationalism."64
Two other concepts that were central to strengthening Atatürk's thought system are Milliyetçilik and Askeri, roughly translated respectively as "nationalism" and "governing." Nationalism was defined as "one fatherland, one people and one language, Turkish."65 Askeri means that the military ranks especially high in the state apparatus and is committed to guarding the republican form of government, i.e., Atatürk's nationalism. Article 35 of the Constitution, which was recently amended, gives the military the opportunity to intervene and dismiss the elected government, parliament and judiciary if it felt that republican principles were threatened or put aside. As mentioned, the military has since 1960 deposed elected governments, parliament and the judiciary at least four times.
A RACIST IDEOLOGY
Two renowned Turkish scientists, the historian Ayşe Hür66 and the sociologist Ismail Besikci,67 both interpret Atatürk's nationalism as racist. They referr to Atatürk's denial of the Kurds as a people and of their right to live as Kurds, in addition to his extensive efforts to define the Turks as superior to others (cf, the constitutionalization of Akçura's version of Turkism as state ideology in the constitutions of 1924, 1961 and 1982 and the solar-language theory). Since the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the authorities have used the state apparatus to promote "Turkishness" through coercion, leading many to perceive Atatürk's nationalism not only as ethnic, but also racist.68 The constitution of 1982 protects the rights of "true" Turks, citizens who through their words and action commit themselves to Atatürk's principles.69 Those who criticize Atatürk's principles are more or less without legal rights. The legal sanctions against this type of political dissent most frequently affect Kurds.
A prominent Turkish constitutional expert, Ergun Özbudun, alleges that Atatürk's nationalism is essentially neutral in relation to ethnic diversity and that the law does not discriminate between citizens of different ethnicities.70 However, this is only the case as long as Kurds deny or conceal their cultural identity, respect Turkish as the superior language and show loyalty to Atatürk's principles. They may, for example, not become members of parliament or hold other public office as a Kurd. They must present themselves as Turks. When they engage in politics as Kurds, they meet with harsh punishment.
Atatürk's nationalism, as state practice, promoted the cultivation of ethnic Turkish supremacy ("Turkishness"), which dominated the legal framework as well. Some of his controversial sayings are still in school books: "One Turk is worth the whole world"…. "Happy is he who can call himself a Turk." They can be seen on posters everywhere in Turkey. Legislation on political parties restricts minorities' activities. Paragraph 89 of the constitution states that no party can defend, develop or disseminate non-Turkish language or culture, or seek to create minorities within Turkish territory or destroy national unity:
Political parties are prohibited from stating that in the Republic of Turkey there exist minorities of different nationality, religion, culture or confession, race or language. They are not permitted to have the aim of destroying national unity by creating minorities by means of the protection, development and dissemination of languages and cultures other than the Turkish language and culture, and they are not permitted to develop any activity of this sort.71
The second is the election law,72 which stipulates a threshold of 10 percent for a party's representation in Parliament. This affects Kurdish parties that have strong support in Kurdish provinces (30-81 percent), but that do not achieve 10 percent of the votes nationwide.73
After the constitution of 1982 introduced a total ban on speaking Kurdish, the Kurdish liberation movement (PKK) started an armed struggle against the central government in Ankara on August 15, 1984. The PKK justified this historically, starting with the proclamation of the Turkish state in 1923, when the Kurds lost their rights. The PKK argued that the prohibition of Kurdish meant that armed struggle was the only recourse, as there was no way to legally organize or partake in political activities.
Many Kurds thus feel that the PKK's armed struggle for recognition of their identity and internal autonomy in the Kurdish-dominated areas of eastern Turkey is legitimate. Political parties that oppose the state's "indivisible unity" have been prohibited by law. Since 1992, the Kurds have tried to create legal political parties, such as the HEP, the DEP, the HADEP and the DTP, without calling them Kurdish. All of them were banned by the authorities. This was also the fate of 28 political parties following the introduction of a multi-party system in 1946.
Atatürk's nationalism has heirs in the Turkey governed by the AKP. A statement from the deputy prime minister and government spokesman, Bülent Arinç, reflects a belief in Turkish superiority. In response to demands for recognition of Kurdish as the other official language, Arinç made the following statement in Parliament: "Kurdish is not the language of civilization. Therefore, Kurdish cannot be an official language or a language of instruction."74 Another example is a statement by the MHP leader Devlet Bahceli on the pro-Kurdish party HDP after the 2015 elections, in which it received as many seats as the MHP: "We in the MHP do not consider the HDP as a political institution. For us, they are a nothing."75 Similar statements came from President Erdogan.76 The largest opposition party, CHP, also defends the majority's right to uphold the Turkish state as a nation-state for Turks.
Atatürk had a clear vision for making the Turkish Kurds and other minorities not only politically, but also culturally and socially, Turkish: assimilation.77 This could not be realized without force. It was not justified by arguing that it was easier to govern a society where citizens have a common language and culture, but was aimed at annihilation of culture, language and identity.
Atatürk's idea of forced assimilation is still prevalent in Turkey.78 The first requirement was to learn Turkish and forget one's mother tongue.79 The Kurds had previously resisted such, often brutal, assimilation techniques. In the 1930s, forced Turkification reached a peak when villages, towns, streets, mountains, rivers and other landmarks were renamed in Turkish. Parents were not allowed to give their children Kurdish names. When new history books mentioned the Kurds or used the word Kurdish, they were immediately seized. All art works with Kurdish motifs were either burned or removed from museums. Nothing in museums in Kurdish areas belongs to the Kurds of the modern era. Only the artwork of Turks or the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia are displayed.
Minorities' past histories were reinterpreted and falsified. For example, Turkish historians who are close to the state only write about ethnic Turks. All must be grateful to the state for ensuring that they can live and earn their daily bread. This propaganda is still produced today by the entire state apparatus.
The current AKP government denies that the state has a responsibility for the development of minority languages. They consign them to the private sphere. But the Kurds want recognition of their identity,80 and more: they demand to be valued for their identity. The acknowledgement would mean more than simply ensuring survival of Kurdish culture; it would also mean affirmation of its worth.
The Turkish government refuses to acknowledge that the forced Turkification of the Kurds has been brutal, though it has hit them hard, preventing them from developing their language and culture. As a result, a significant number of them, especially in large cities and areas adjacent to the Turkish-dominated provinces, today have Turkish as their mother tongue and, in many cases, identify as Turkish. Though only a small part, about one-sixth, of those of Kurdish origin either deny or hide their Kurdish background, some of them distance themselves from their Kurdish roots.
A further consequence of Turkification has been economic inequality. Kurds suffer from notoriously high unemployment, low incomes and poor social conditions. This has created a large ethnic underclass, generating increased conflict between Kurds and Turks. One may often hear people say that "Kurds are the Turks' servants" (cf. Justice Minister Bozkurt's statement from 1930). Excluded from the Turkish community, many, especially the young, have moved towards the PKK, increasing ethnic tensions. This can be seen in Syria and Iraq, where the PKK is fighting against ISIS, while Turkey supports the jihadist groups ISIS and Al-Nusra, with the goal of preventing the Kurds from achieving independence in these countries.
STILL A UNITARY STATE
In the public debate, many believe that the unitary-state principle that the Atatürk Republic is built upon still has vital relevance for current Turkish politicians. The country's past is important to understanding Turkish politics of today, in which the fundamental freedoms of speech and association are subject to extensive restrictions81 and the Anti-Terrorism Act.82
The Turkish state is still not "color-blind" towards citizens' identities. Support of the Turkish language and culture is a prerequisite for participation in the public arena. The constitution grants everyone equal rights, but legislation provides no recognition of the Kurds' existence, culture or language, and Kurds still do not have equal opportunities to advance their interests.
The Constitution of 1982 defines Turkey as a liberal democracy, and Turkish authorities use liberalism as a normative reference to defend it. But liberal democracies defend group-differentiated rights in multinational states; citizens' rights are determined by their membership in a cultural community.83 Turkey's refusal to acknowledge these rights cannot be justified within the framework of liberal democracy.
Discrimination against the Kurds and other minorities has also created competing and sometimes extreme nationalist ideologies, whether under republican, liberal, social democratic or Islamic names. One of President Erdogan's recent statements illustrates how closely Turkish politicians are tied to Turkey as a homogeneous state: "There is no Kurdish question, no political negotiations, no counterparties, etc."84 On July 28, he broke off negotiations with Kurdish leaders. "It is not possible for us to continue the peace process," he declared on national television. Not only were talks between the government and the militants over, he said, but Turkey was now engaged in a long war. In response to all Kurdish uprisings since 1925, the Turkish authorities have tried to revive Atatürk's nationalism. As an alternative, the Kurds are promoting their own project within the state structure: pluralism, democracy and protection for minority rights — something new for the Middle East as we know it.85
A consensus model of government, which has been a Kurdish demand since the formation of the republic, could have been an alternative to Atatürk's culturally homogeneous state. The Kurds have been demanding decentralized power and a democratic constitution that gives minorities the right to autonomy. Such inclusive policies could perhaps have allowed the Kurds some joint ownership of the Turkish Republic, had Turkish politicians have been willing to share.
1 In 1934, the Turkish parliament adopted Atatürk (father of Turks) as the last name of Mustafa Kemal. But there is doubt about the legitimacy of the decision because the country was ruled by only one party — the Republican Party that Kemal himself had founded — and the Parliament was appointed, not democratically elected.
2 Mark Muller, “Nationalism and Rule of Law in Turkey: The Elimination of Kurdish Representation during the 1990s,” in The Kurdish Nationalist Movement in the 1990s, ed. Robert Olson (The University Press of Kentucky, 1996).
3 Turkish nationalism had a relatively long history before Atatürk. The real founders of Turkism were primarily Mustafa Celaleddin Paşa, Ziya Paşa, Namik Kemal, Mithat Paşa and, above all, Yusuf Akçura and Ziya Gökalp. Without their input in the second part of the 1800s, it would not have been possible to design a Turkish nationalism. Atatürk himself did not have the intellectual capacity to contribute to the design of Turkish nationalism, but rather he appropriated these people's extensive works.
4 Juan J. Linz, Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000).
5 See Mustafa K. Atatürk, Atatürk'ün Söylev ve Demeçleri [Turkey's Constitution 1924] (T. Düstur, Cilt 26, s.170, Resmi Gazete 15/1/1945-5905).
6 Cf. Turkey's constitution of 1982 art. 1, art. 2 and art 3 (Ankara: Turk Anayasa Hukuku Sitesi).
7 Taha Akyol, Atatürk'ün ihtilal hukuku (Istanbul: Dogan Egmont Yayincilik ve Yapimcilik, 2012).
8 Einar Wigen, "Landsmann, snakk tyrkisk!" — om tyrkere, Tyrkia-boere og såkalte landsmenn," Babylon 9, no. 2 (2001): 36-47.
9 Yusuf Akçura, "Üç Tarz-ı Siyaset," Türk Gazetesi (1904), 23-34.
10 See Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies (Cambridge University Press 2014); and Knut S. Vikør, A World Built on Islam: Overview of Middle Eastern History (Oslo: Samlaget, 2004).
11 Turkism otherwise emphasises hospitality, moderation and courage as typical Turkish properties and further glorifies Turkish leaders like Genghis Khan, Timur Lenk and several Ottoman sultans.
12 See note 3 above.
13 Yusuf Akçura, Üç Tarz-ı Siyaset (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Yayını, 1998).
14 Wigen, "Landsmann, snakk tyrkisk."
15 Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Penguin, 1966).
16 Ziya Gökalp, Türkleşmek, İslâmlaşmak, Çağdaşlaşmak ve Doğru Yol (Istanbul: İnkılap ve Akayayınları, 1976).
17 The term "Kemalist" is used for followers of Kemal Ataturk's ideology.
18 Unconfirmed reports still claim that Ziya Gökalp committed suicide because of Ataturk's choice of Akçura's Turkism.
19 For further insight into this theory, see Ismail Besikci, Bilim Yöntemi, Türkiye'deki Uygulama 2 Türk Tarih Tezi, Günes Dil Teorisi ve Kürt Sorunu (Istanbul: Alan yayincilik, 1978).
20 It is well known that Atatürk's closest associates were immigrants from the Balkans.
21 Emel Akal, Milli Mücadele'nin Başlangıcında Mustafa Kemal, İttihat ve Terakki ve Bolşevizm (Istanbul: Tüstav Yayınları, 2002).
22 David MacDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds (I. B. Tauris, 1996).
23 Helene Støversten, "Konstitusjonelt design i flernasjonale stater : en normativ analyse av den tyrkiske grunnloven av 1982" (Universitetet i Oslo, 1998); and Minority Rights Group International, The Kurds, Report 96 (1996).
24 MacDowall, 192.
25 Linz, Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes.
26 Ayşe Hür, "Ne mutlu 'Türküm diyene' mi?" Radikal Gazetesi (February 3, 2013).
28 Ismail Beşikçi, I. Science Official Ideology, State Democracy and Kurdish Question (Istanbul: Alan Yayincilik, 1978).
29 See Turkish constitution of 1924, art 88.
30 Hür, "Ne mutlu 'Türküm".
32 Mehmet Bayrak, Alevilik ve Kürtlük (Ankara: Öz-Ge Yayınları, 1997).
33 Anthony Smith, National Identity (Penguin, 1991).
34 Mehmet Bayrak, Kürtlere Vurulan Kelepçe, Şark Islahat Planı (Ankara: Idefix 2013), 526.
35 Nader Entessar, Kurdish Etnonationalism (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1992), 81.
36 Daniel Heradsveit, "Sekulære mottrekk til islamismens framvekst i Tyrkia," Internasjonal Politikk 57, no. 4 (1999): 73-100.
37 Yücel Yeşilgöz, "The Practice of a Century – Kemalism: The Turkish State and Racist Violence" (University of Utrecht, 1993).
38Milliyet, September 19, 1930.
39 Robert Miles, Racism (Routledge, 1989).
40Aksam, September 1, 1930.
41 Bayrak, Kürtlere Vurulan Kelepçe.
42 See Law No. 1505 about minorities in the Constitution of 1924.
43 Şark Islahat Plani, Kurdistan 24.org, May 22, 2014.
44 McDowall, A Modern History (I.B. Tauris, May 14, 2004), 200.
45TC Resmi Gazete, June 21, 1934.
46 Tunceli is the Turkish name of the Kurdish province of Dersim.
47 Minority Rights Group International, The Kurds, 16.
48 Wigen, 43.
49 Ismail Beşikci, Türk Tarih Tezi, Güneş Dil Teorisi (Istanbul: İBV Yayınları, 1991).
50 Welat Zeydanlioglu, "The Period of Barbarity: Turkification, State Violence and Torture in Modern Turkey." Paper for the 2nd Global Conference: Evil, Law & the State: Issues in State Power and Violence, 2008.
51 See Atatürk's speech in the Turkish Hearth (Türk Ocagı) in Akhisar, October 10, 1925 (Atatürk Araştırma Merkezi, 2006), 668.
52 Ergun Özbudun, 1924 Anayasasi (Istanbul: Bilgi Üniversitesi Yayinlari, 2012).
53 Støversten, Konstitusjonelt design, 92.
55 Zeydanlioglu, "The Period of Barbarity."
56 Turkey's constitution of 1982: preface: 1, Law No: 2709 (Resmî Gazete, Kasım 9, 1982, Sayı 17863).
58 Yücel Yeşilgöz, TheTurkish Mafia (Milo Books, 2007).
59 Levent Köker, "Anayasa'da vatandaşlık bağı" (Zaman, April 18, 2013).
60Turkish Foreign Policy Issues (Press Bulletin, 1996), 22.
61 Baskin Oran, "Ulusal egemenlik kavraminin dönüşümü, azinliklar ve Türkiye," Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi Dergisi, Cilt 54, no. 2, (1999); and Ibrahim Kaboglu, "Ifade özgürlügünün siyasi partilerce kullaniminin sinirlari," (Paper, Marmara Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi,1997).
62 See Law No 26, 28 and 42 of the Turkish Constitution.
63 Law No 1739, amended by Act No. 2842 (1989).
64 Støversten, "Konstitusjonelt design."
65 Özbudun, 1924 Anayasasi and Besikci, Bilim Yöntemi.
66 Hür, Ne mutlu 'Türküm.
67 Besikci, Bilim Yöntemi.
68 MacDowall, A Modern History; and Gülistan Gürbey, "The Development of the Kurdish Nationalism Movement in Turkey since 1980s," in The Kurdish Nationalist Movement in the 1990s, ed. Robert Olson (University Press of Kentucky,1996).
69 Støversten, "Konstitusjonelt design," 98.
70 See, for example Ergun Özbudun, "Constitutional Law," in Introduction to Turkish Law, eds. Ansay and Wallace, Jr. (The Hague, London: Kluwer Law International, 1994).
71 Muller, "Nationalism and Rule" (1996) 187.
72 Act 2839 in the Constitution, (Resmi Gazete, 13.06.1983, Sayi: 18076).
73 At the parliamentary elections in 2015, the pro-Kurdish party HDP managed for the first time to get over the election threshold with 13 percent, and won 80 seats in the Turkish parliament.
74 Bulent Arinç, Bir medeniyet dilimidir kürdçe? (Ankara: TBBM TRT, 08.02.2012).
75 NTV, June 26, 2015.
76 CNN Turk, June 27, 2015.
77 See for example Anthony D. Smith, National Identity (Penguin, 1991); and Michael M Gunter, The Kurds and Future of Turkey (St. Martin's Press).
79 Bayrak, Alevilik ve Kürtlük.
80 See the program of the pro-Kurdish, Democratic Party of the People (http://www.hdp.org.tr/).
81 Press Act 5187 (Resmi Gazeta, Sayi: 28726).
82Anti-Terrorism Act 3713, Sections 7 and 8 of 1991.
83 Will Kymlicka, "Liberalism, Dialogue and Multiculturalism," in Ethnicities 1, no. 1 (2001):128-137; and Charles Taylor, "Nationalism and Modernity" in The Morality of Nationalism, eds. J. McMahan and R. McKim (Oxford University Press 1997).
84Taraf, June 22, 2015.
85 See hdpenglish.wordpress.com.