By Kamal Soleimani
Gülen’s latest speech does not come as surprise to the Kurds in Turkey. His speech just corroborates what the Kurds have been saying about Gülen all along. Kurds have long said that if Gülen had his way, he would not be any more lenient than the Turkish military when it comes to the Kurdish question. There is no denying that Gülen is internationally recognized for his image as a lenient religious figure who is eagerly trying to promote world peace and interfaith dialogue. He has been very successful in presenting this image. Of course, even if he were sincere about this — which I doubt — the speech should not be seen as something that contradicts Gülen’s nationalism. Gülen has always promoted the Turkish image, language and culture just as much as he publicizes his interpretation of Islam. His religious interpretation is very much at home with some aspects of Turkish state nationalism. It is a type of missionary nationalism that some of its aspects of shared particularly by the current foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu and by AKP in general.
Gülen’s nationalism is now challenged by Kurdish demands. It should be noted that the Kurdish question is the greatest challenge to Turkish religious nationalism, à la AKP or à la Gülen. Previously, when these groups were in the opposition, they had to make instrumental use of the Kurdish question against the military and the Kemalist establishment. To them, talking about the plight of the Kurds was beneficial for at least two reasons: it would help their standing both at home and abroad and it would further delegitimize the Kemalist military’s rigid political space. In addition, it was a way for them to get the Kurdish electorate behind them. Of course, Gülen himself has always been extremely reticent in expressing his views on Kurdish issues. Others, like the AKP, were more outspoken. However, the entire spectrum of what could be called the Turkish religious nationalist consensus has never offered a meaningful solution to the Kurdish question. Aside from obsolete slogans such as Turkish-Kurdish Kardeslik (brotherhood), these groups have never offered a well-defined project for dealing with the Kurdish question.
This has been the case until last spring, when there was a referendum for the amendment of the Turkish constitution. Despite all the ambiguities in its narrative of constitutional change, AKP received 58% of the vote, and while the Kurds overwhelmingly supported the pro-Kurdish BDP’s stance in that referendum, the BDP separated itself from all the Turkish political parties: the AKP was trying to consolidate its power by amending the constitution, while the rest of the Turkish political parties were content with the existing constitution, which was the product of the military coup of 1982.
That election was a defining moment for both the Kurds and the AKP. After the referendum, the AKP came to the realization that they could no longer rely on the Kurds for support, and the party has had to take care to appease the Turkish electorate. This event would become determinative for the AKP to abandon all the ambiguities in its rhetoric on Kurdish question. The Kurdish question was transformed in the AKP political narrative into the Kurdish citizens’ problems, to use Erdogan’s expression. Consequently, Kurdish politics was about to change and be expressed in forms that were not common until then. For the first time in the last thirty or forty years, the Kurds used their religiosity against a government that is recognized as having a strongly conservative religious background. The Kurds began to challenge the government on its home turf by challenging state-sanctioned religiosity and religious institutions. Many Kurds refused to pray behind the imams appointed by the state and preferred to initiate their own collective Friday prayers on the streets. The Kurdish Friday prayers were a spectacle as they were performed on the streets, while hundreds of hippies and left-minded Kurdish youth for the first time started praying in the face of the heavy-handed police force. This novel strategy was a major step toward unmasking Turkish religious nationalism and toward calling their bluff, because similar strategies hand been used before by Erdogan and his allies when they were in opposition. Now, the AKP and Gülen’s followers have no problem with the state’s religious institutions, such the Directorate of Religious Affairs; it has now been completely baptized since it is used and directed by the ruling party and pro-Gülen figures. This novel strategy enraged the Turkish religious nationalist establishment to a degree that Erdogan publicly declared that the Kurds’ prophet is Abdullah Öcalan, to question the religiosity of the new challenge. Gülen’s latest assertions on Kurds are expressed partly against this background. He seems to be frustrated with the fact that his mission in Kurdistan to naturalize Kurdish nationalist demands is failing.
To many people, considering Fethullah Gülen as a nationalist might sound absurd and over the top. By many, I am referring to those who are unfamiliar with Turkish nationalist discourse. However, for anyone who is familiar with Turkish nationalist discourse, Gülen clearly stands as a mouthpiece for the state’s rhetoric and approach in his assertions. Gülen complains about the inability of the state to civilize the Kurds. Of course, the politically correct term is educate. A student of Turkish history knows that this discourse can be traced back to the era of Abdulhamid II. He was the first Sultan to establish the Asiret Mektepleri — tribal schools — in 1892, as a step toward civilizing the Kurds, especially the ones who were known for their rebelliousness against the state. This course was continued by the Turkish republic combined with the forced migration and systematic policies of assimilation.
Gülen complains about the failure of assimilationist policies and the state’s inability to kill off all the nationalist Kurds who believe in armed struggle against state policies. Throughout his speech the possessive pronoun “our” is used to claim possession of the Kurds. In his speech, Gülen speaks in the name of the sovereign or the state; this is a well known form of addressing the Kurdish issue in Turkish politics. A student of contemporary Turkish politics may very well remember the late former prime minister Bülent Ecevit’s statement contending that “the Kurds are not a distinct ethnic group; they are OUR citizens.”
Of course, Gülen supports taking harsh measures against the PKK. He is very adamant about this in his speech. He suggests that in the 1980s, the Turkish state could have completely destroyed the Kurdish resistance. However, it can be inferred that he blames Turkish military government at that time for being complacent about the PKK’s emergence. He asserts that the Turkish military state was able to bring the entire nation to its knees; they could jail, kill and oppress whomever they wished, but how in the world the state could be so ineffective in dealing with Kurdish resistance. “It is really shameful, embarrassing (°ayiptir, ardir),” that the state has not killed them all”, says Gülen. He vehemently advocates the killing of every single Kurdish guerilla, and he is unequivocal about this when he says: “let us say there are 15,000 or 50,000 of them. So [addressing the Turkish state], you have around…a million intelligence personnel. I don’t want to mention them all by name but you have several intelligence organizations; you are member of NATO; you are involved in cooperative projects with a number of international intelligence organizations. … So, use these projects and programs and localize, identify and triangulate every single of them and then kill them all one by one…”
As to the question of whether or not Gülen wants to kill Kurdish civilians? Forget about distinguishing civilian and non-civilian, he utters the word Kurd only once and refers to the Kurdish language twice in his entire speech. But if one listens carefully to his speech, his treatment of the Kurdish issue seems frightening. He does not seem to think of the Kurdish question as anything more than a foreign conspiracy. To him the entire enterprise is an artificial phenomenon rooted in a) foreign plot to undermine the integrity of “that beautiful country, Turkey” and b) Kurdish simplemindedness, illiteracy and economic backwardness, which has provided Turkey’s enemies with grounds that are very conducive for plotting against the state.
He does not see the PKK, or any Kurdish political group for that matter, as having a legitimate raison d’être. It is clear that he thinks any politics that is defined as Kurdish is dangerous. It seems to oppose the PKK not just because of its armed struggle or because of what he sees in a negative light as its political strategy. He is against any form of Kurdish politics whatsoever. That is why he believes that if it were not for illiteracy and economic underdevelopment, such a brand of politics would not have come into being. He is well aware that the PKK is more than a just a few thousand guerillas in the mountains. The PKK is the dominant force in Kurdish politics in Northern Kurdistan and it could determine the outcome of parliaments and municipal elections for the Kurdish region and shape the Kurdish political debate. When one reads his prayers against this background, the prayers and the harsh demands entailed in them become even scarier. We should pray to God to ignore Fethullah Hoca’s prayers. I do not think civilian Kurds to remain unharmed if God listens to this type of prayers. For example he asks to God to do the following things for him: “O God, unify us (Allahim birligimizi sagla), and as for those among us who deserve nothing but punishment (o hakki kötektir bunlar), knock their homes upside down (allahim onlarin altlarini üstlerine getir), destroy their unity (birliklerini boz), burn their houses to ash (evlerine ates sal) may their homes be filled with weeping and supplications (feryad ve figan sal), burn and cut off their roots (köklerini kurut, köklerini kes) and bring their affairs to an end (islerini bitir)”