What will the reconciliation process resolve?

Published 12.11.2014 02:16

There is much talk about the Kurdish reconciliation process in Turkey, but people provide various answers to what this effort will resolve. The authorities identify the peace process as a procedure of disarmament. The PKK and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), in turn, imagine that they can attain a form of regional autonomy akin to the Soviet Constitution of 1936 as a result of dialogue. This, at least, is how things appear from the outside.

The Middle East experiences most bloody wars and widespread violence. Communication serves as both the source and result of the extent of violence. Where communication channels are inadequate, different groups manufacture their own versions of reality. Each group identifies what is good, bad, friendly and hostile according to their own perspective. Nationalist, religious, secular and other mystifications tend to transform such abstract categories into blind faith. Communication, in turn, becomes unnecessary: Evil must be defeated. Wrongs must be corrected. The enemy must be neutralized.

Some believe that the Kurds are the problem. Others identify Turks, the Alevi community, Sunni Muslims, Islamists or secularists as the root of all evil. Efforts to eliminate these self-proclaimed enemies make wars holy and render violence more grave – even though these enemies are not genuine. As such, this entire conflict is built on a huge lie.

Now let's take a look at Turkey: The country's founders had designed a nation-state. From the 18th century onwards, the Ottoman Empire's gradual downfall led intellectuals and political elites, under the influence of nationalism, to seek new approaches. Mahmoud II oversaw a rapid process of political and administrative centralization. Public administration became more homogeneous. Although a pluralistic constitutional monarchy emerged in the early 20th century, misguided political decisions and outside influences pushed the country to the Balkan wars and, subsequently, to World War I. The empire collapsed and the people came to believe that building a nation-state remained the only viable option. The forced settlement of Ottoman Armenians in 1915 took place against this particular background.

When political elites opted for the nation-state, political institutions had to follow. The state, they believed, had to be centralized and, as if the country's population were homogeneous, develop cultural, educational, legal and other policies. At once, the authorities assumed and, through education, sought to manufacture some sense of homogeneity. They attempted to eliminate group identities and even replaced Turkish identity with a generic, modified version.

At the time, though, Turkey was nothing but a smaller version of the Ottoman Empire scaled down to some 784,000 square kilometers. This alone should provide a good idea about the degree of trauma. Still, the country is multi-national and houses people from diverse ethnic, linguistic, faith and cultural backgrounds. Another key fact is that the authorities correctly identified the high level of diversity in 1920 and sought to build a legal and socio-political order upon it – which was, shortly afterward, swept under the rug. This approach did not heal but worsened the nation's trauma. Meanwhile, denialism and repression effectively empowered the identity groups they targeted. As reality became elusive, new lies and misconceptions surfaced.

Today, Turkey represents a battlefield where such lies compete. The confrontation often ignores facts and causes serious harm. Identity politics continue to poison the people and, instead of revealing the facts, works to numb their senses. The reconciliation process represents a rather important start to eliminate violence, facilitate communication, and allow citizens to reach out to and understand each other. After all, the outcome of dialogue, lacking such dimensions, would only make room for new identity groups and new misconceptions. We must, instead, let violence run its course in a secure environment. Closure and the new Turkey's emergence will come later. The reconciliation process, therefore, represents the sole means to genuine peace.

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