We realized a comprehensive study on Turkey's Kurdish problem two years ago. As part of this study, in-depth interviews were conducted with 200 opinion leaders. In particular, two major focus group meetings were organized in Istanbul and Diyarbakır. The findings of the study were significant.
First and foremost, while economic issues prevailed in the countryside of the southeast, identity issues were coming to the forefront in urban spaces. Thus, the primary problem of urban population was becoming secondary for rural population and vice versa.
When the findings of the study were announced, some rejected the primary status of economic issues in the countryside. Particularly, several members of the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and even some political Islamists strongly refused the aforementioned findings.
As political approaches turned into stereotypical presuppositions, public opinion that was exposing itself through demographic data was being denied.
Despite such protests, the study also underlined that identity issues were more central for the citizens in the southeast than in any other. In this respect, the withdrawal of Kurds who lived in western cities as relatively closed communities was emphasized as a problem of urban integration.
Therefore, the main study question was formulated as follows: What is the Kurdish problem today? In other words, what are the economic, political and cultural problems of the Kurdish citizens of Turkey both in the eastern and western urban and rural spaces?
During one of the above mentioned focus group discussions, I clearly asked the opinions and propositions of a resolution for the Kurdish question from the participants who were composed of members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and pro-Kurdish BDP, tribal chieftains and public opinion leaders in order to represent various aspects of the important issue at hand.
The results of these discussions were summed up as follows:
i. The main theme of the participants' speeches was the former and long-lasting oppressive and unjust policies of the state in the region.
ii. The issues related with the Kurdish language were emphasized as one of the most prominent features of the Kurdish problem.
iii. Regarding the economic aspects, the regional inequalities were discussed not only in the general national context, but also through a comparison of the east and southeast of the country.
iv. In order to eliminate the adverse impact of the policy of forced immigration, which disrupted the demographic structure of cities and exacerbated land disputes in rural regions, possible state policies and measures were proposed.
Although the study was conducted 10 years ago, its findings reverberate in the ongoing reconciliation process. In this respect, the AK Party government, which launched the reconciliation process in the first place, dedicated itself on its continuation while the PKK that used to exploit the previous deadlock seems to accommodate its constitutive elements with the new non-violent process of dialogue.
Western countries, such as the U.K. and Germany, have remained skeptical of the ongoing reconciliation process, as it was a process of national integration strengthening Turkey's hand in the international arena.
In conclusion, the problems of Kurdish citizens in Turkey today constitute not only the issue of language but also the predominance of the PKK and BDP in the region.
About the author
İhsan Aktaş is Chairman of the Board of GENAR Research Company. He is an academic at the Department of Communication at Istanbul Medipol University.