Posted by: hevallo | November 6, 2010

>The Kurdish Promise is Peace and Democracy!


By Zafer Yoruk

Kurdish question continues to dominate the agenda of Turkish politics. The recent bomb blast in Taksim Square of Istanbul, in which a suicide bomber was killed and 32 people, including 15 policemen were injured, sparked the discussion on whether to continue the peace process or not. The PKK disowned the attack and extended the ceasefire until the approaching June 2011 elections. While the nationalists try very hard to exploit the bomb attack to return to their “good old days” of military conflict, this time the government seems to be resisting the provocation.

The current barometer of the Kurdish question, however, seems to be the ongoing trial of 151 Kurdish political activists, including a number of mayors and former Parliamentary deputies, for the charges of KCK (Koma Civakên Kurdistan – Union of Communities in Kurdistan) membership. This trial has received extensive coverage mostly for the Kurdish defendants’ insistence on performing their defense in “an unknown language”, according to the judges.

Upon the Kurdish defendants’ insistence, an expert, Prof. Baskin Oran, was invited to the court to state his opinion that defense in Kurdish was a legal right according to the Lausanne Convention of 1923. The judges, however, decided to expel the defendants from the courtroom. Referring to Kurdish as an “unknown language” is a typical symptom of the “Turkish question”, which consists of a primordial fear of dismemberment leading to authoritarian/violent denial of multi-national, multi-ethnic and multi-faith nature of Turkish society.

The situation at hand invites recollections of the famous trial of the French revolutionary Auguste Blanqui in 1832 for the charges of involvement in “subversive activities”. Asked by the magistrate to give his profession, Blanqui responds: “proletarian”. The magistrate goes angry and says that “this is an unknown profession”. In turn, Blanqui states that “proletarian” is the profession of thirty million Frenchmen “who live off their labor and who are deprived of political rights”.

Similarly, Kurmanci is certainly the language of at least 20 million Kurdish people in Turkey, who are deprived of cultural/political rights. The analogy, however, ends here. Instead of being removed from the courtroom, Blanqui wins the right to be referred to with the name that he prefers. The court rules to include “proletarian” in their list of professions.

This is precisely what the judges in Diyarbakir are afraid of. If they accept the defense in Kurdish, they will have to include Kurdish in the Turkish State’s list of languages and of national/ethnic identities. Instead, the judges are likely to regress to their 1999 position, which was officially stated during the trial of the Kurdish party HADEP: “There is only one identity in Turkey, that is, the Turkish identity. Demands for recognition of the Kurdish identity are but the first step of a devious attempt to divide the country.”

Jacques Rancier sees in the case of Blanqui the definition of what he calls democracy. For him, democracy is won through carving out of a place in the community of speaking beings. In other words, democracy involves, above all, “the right to speak” and recognition, that is, “the right of being heard“. In Rancier’s account democracy always involves a rupture, that is, a break from the prevailing order, (“police regime”, in Rancier’s terms.) Moreover, this rapture also involves an act of intervention, that is, the intervention of democratic experience to reconfigure that order. In other words, democracy occurs as a revolutionary transformation, which follows a process of democratization. Moreover, the agent or the subject of democratization is always that group of people, who is systematically denied “subjectivity” (Rancier, Hatred of Democracy.)

Democracy, therefore, is brought about not by an executive decision of the political authorities, but through the struggles of recognition of the oppressed groups of people. The opposite of democracy, ‘the police regime”, is the condition in which these groups are not merely oppressed, but systematically denied a voice.

The nature of the regime in Turkey has once again been revealed through the KCK trial in a courtroom of Diyarbakir. This nature consists of the systematic denial of a voice to 20 million Kurdish people of Turkey. But the democratic experience, that is, the Kurdish struggle of recognition, persistently intervenes in the existing order in order to reconfigure it. The agent of this intervention or the subject of democratization of Turkey, is that group of people, the Kurds, who have been systematically excluded from the republican order of political subjectivity.

Although the regime’s guardians continue to resist, the conventionally denied voice of the Kurdish people can no longer remain unheard. While the court refuses to hear “an unknown language”, the government has to admit that, for a political solution to the Kurdish question, they are engaged in negotiations with the Kurdish party BDP, PKK leadership and their jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan. In other words, the Kurds have been carving out a place for themselves in Turkey’s community of speaking beings.

What Rancier teaches us is that the Kurds’ recognition as equal subjects, with their right to be different, will not only liberate the Kurdish people but transform the whole social and political order from a “police regime” to democracy. And when that imminent moment of democracy arrives, it will be the Kurds’ turn to ask the judges: “Kurmanci Dizani”- Do you speak Kurmanci?

Zafer Yörük taught political theory at University of London between 1997 and 2006. His research interests range across politics of identity, discourse analysis and psychoanalysis. He writes a column for Rudaw every Friday from Izmir.


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