After a long interval, we are again optimistic about the Kurdish question. The introduction of Kurdish as an elective course into the educational curriculum is a first step toward solving this issue. This is a very important accomplishment, especially because for years Turkey’s official policy was based on a denial of the Kurdish state. Indeed, this should be considered a major leap forward.
However, this is not enough.
Turkey does not have a Kurdish problem, or an Armenian one. Turkey has a Turkish problem. The founding fathers of the republic established Turkey’s identity on a narrow and exclusive ethnic definition. What I mean by the “Turkish problem” is the imposition of Turkishness on other ethnic groups and the endeavor to assimilate them. This policy is epitomized in one of Atatürk’s sayings: “How happy is the one who says ‘I am a Turk!’"
We should admit that these assimilation policies failed to make these groups forget or forsake their own identities. If we want to overcome these issues, we need to redefine the basis of citizenship in this country.
The French identity is an inclusive one that recognizes the different ethnicities it encompasses, such as the Franks, Bretons, Occitanians and the Flemish. The Spanish identity unifies Castilians with the Catalans, Basques and Galicians. The Italian identity fuses the Latins, Lombards and Sicilians.
Though there may be some exceptions to this, heterogeneous and democratic nation-states are based on geographic identities rather than ethnic ones. To impose the Turkish identity on those who do not perceive themselves to be part of it is to deny our own cultural richness. Moreover, this policy has political consequences. This kind of assimilation-based national understanding generates reactions to its unjust and oppressive nature. These reactions then become the catalyst for the disintegration and decay of that same state.
Even if you insist that the term “Turk” describes citizenship rather than including any ethnic connotation, nobody is convinced by this explanation.
Therefore, we must go to the root of the problem to solve this “Turkish issue.” This includes redefining citizenship and finding a new term for the citizens of Turkey. We need to find a more comprehensive identity that goes beyond the Turkish one to define the citizens of the Turkish Republic.