9th Dec 2013 - The so-called Kurdish issue has been a thorn in Turkey’s side since the PKK launched its terrorist struggle against the Turkish government in 1984.Turkey’s current government, led by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party or AKP), however, has vowed to bring a peaceful resolution to the conflict and has to this end launched its ‘Kurdish overture’in 2009.
The overture’s preparatory moves have now come to some kind of fruition and to prove the point, the ever-popular yet equally divisive PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on November 16, flew to the southeastern city of Diyarbakır to conduct some meaningful meetings. Once on the ground, Erdoğan first visited the offices of the Metropolitan Authority of Diyarbakır, meeting Mayor Osman Baydemir, as well as the independent members of parliament Ahmet Türk and Leyla Zana, two important names in the Kurdish political landscape of Turkey. This half-hour visit was followed by the PM going to the governor’s office.
This orchestrated tour of Diyarbakır’s government buildings carried some extraordinary weight. While Tayyip Erdoğan was in the air, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (or KRG) in Northern Iraq, Massoud Barzani, took the land route from Erbil in time to meet the governor M. Cahit Kıraç and Tayyip Erdoğan in the offices of Diyarbakır’s Governor’s Office. Later on Erdoğan, accompanied by his Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, met with Barzani for face-to-face meetings at the Green Park Hotel, where the KRG President was staying.
On the sidelines of these high-level meetings, other important get-togethers took place as well. In Barzani’s retinue the popular Kurdish singer Shivan Parwar, originally hailing from Turkey, also came to Diyarbakır. Living and working in exile since 1976, Parwar, met the incredibly popular Turkish singer of Kurdish descent İbrahim Tatlıses. Together these two cultural icons performed duets singing in front of large crowds including Tayyip Erdoğan and Massoud Barzani as well as various top members of Turkey’s government. Tatlıses addressed the crowd in Turkish as well as Kurdish, stating that the day stood out as a feast day of peace and stressing that there is no difference between a Laz, a Circassian, an Arab, a Kurd and a Turk.
Those words may very well give many Turks, particularly those opposed to Erdoğan and his AKP-led government, pause to think as, to their mind, sentiments like these could destroy the glue of Turkish nationalism holding together the country and its people.
Even though the republic has always been at pains to stress that Turkey is a unitary nation state with a homogeneous population, the reality is that Turkey’s population is ethnically diverse and an heterogeneous amalgam of individuals. Anatolia has always been home to a wide variety of ethnic and religious groups and sub-groups, and today, the makeup Turkey’s population is the result of Ottoman government policies carried out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These policies were aimed at transforming Anatolia (the heartland of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic’s geo-body, using Thongchai Winichakul’s coinage denoting the territory of a nation as expressed on a map and inscribed on the people’s consciousness) into a Muslim homeland where refugees from the Russian Empire and the Balkans were settled.
In the early 20th century, Anatolia was thus home to ethnically heterogeneous Muslim groups: in addition to a large majority of Turkish Muslims, there were Kurds, Arabs, Lazes, Muslim Georgians, Greek-speaking Muslims, Albanians, Macedonian Muslims, Pomaks, Serbian Muslims, Bosnian Muslims, Tatars, Circassians, Abkhazians and Dagestanis among others. Prior to the formulation of Turkish nationalism as an ideological binding-force, the diverse ethnic groups in Anatolia were united by their common identity as Muslims and their allegiance to the Ottoman Caliphate, abolished in 1924.