Questions for Xxxx (was: When to support nationalism?)

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at
Thu Feb 1 02:43:52 MST 2001

Richard Fidler wrote:

> >Xxxx, I have a few questions for you, prompted by your very interesting post of
> >Jan. 30 (Digest 3161). I hope you will take the time to address them.
> >1. You seem to agree that the Kurds have the right to self-determination,
> >although you balk at characterizing them as a "nation". You say they are an
> >"oppressed ethnic group".

What I meant is that Kurds are an ethnically and culturally distinct minorities
divided among the contiguous areas of four Middle Eastern states (referred to as
Kurdistan): Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

> >What do you mean by this distinction? At the same
> >time, you say the Kurds are _part of_ the Turkish, Iraqi, Syrian and Iranian
> >"nations". It may be that when you say "nation" you are referring to states. But
> >isn't Turkey a multinational state, with substantial ethnic minorities that
> >could be characterized as internal nations, most or all of whom (including the
> >Kurds, of course) are oppressed by the dominant Turkish national-ethnic group?

Yes, in a way,  Kurds are oppresed by dominant Turkish national-ethnic group.For
example, the Kurdish populated areas in  Turkey and Iraq live in relative poverty
compared to _dominant national_  groups such as Arabs and Turks , but their
oppression is the result of capitalist underdevelopment of Kurdistan  in general,
rather than a result of  super exploitation and colonization by dominant groups.
Yes, Kurds were encouraged to assimilate into Turkish society, but there was no
colonization in the sense of cultural assimilation or racial exclusion, such as it
happened to blacks, American Indians, Palestinians elsewhere. PKK is illegal in
Turkey, so is  the Communist Party, so are  the Lesbian organizations.. These
problems stem from the character of the bourgeois regime in Turkey,  not from the
issue of  one group _colonizing_ another group. If you guys can show me that Iraq or
Turkey colonized Kurds like the British put blacks  into manual labor in sugar
plantations, I can agree with you.

There were two types of property ownership in the Ottoman Empire: _mulk_ and _miri_
Mulk was a property held in full ownership such as urban real estates, building and
movable in the cities . In the rural areas, most agricultural land  was _miri_
land. Individuals could acquire the right of possession, but with ultimate ownership
still vested in the _state_. Lands were technically the lands of Sultan, belonging
to the state. Property was owned in accordance with the Islamic law of inheritance.
Many factors played a role in the acquisition of property such as clan politics,
religion, kinship etc.  There was no capitalist enterprise in the areas dominated by
Kurds extracting surplus value from the population. What you had was poor peasants
taxed by the local authorities who were receiving patronage from the state to
maintain order and loyalty to the empire as the safeguards of the state. In the 16th
century, Ottoman rulers made a pact  with Kurdish chieftains that recognized 16
autonomous principalities and many small _fiefdoms_. Their rulers were granted
privileges and placed in offices,  in exchange for providing military support to the
Ottoman rulers in times of war.

In the 19th century, Kurds became army officers, politicians, and officials in the
governments of the Ottoman Empire. They were the ones who articulated modern ideas
of Kurdish nationalism. They were inspired by the idea of national self
determination  set in motion at the end of the W.W.I: Wilsonianism Ottoman empire
was defeated by the Allies, and the British occupied the Southern Kurdistan. At
first, the British planned to establish separate Kurdish and Armenian states, both
to be carved out of the defeated Ottoman empire. In 1920, allied powers convinced
the Ottoman state to accept the Treaty of Sevres, whose provisions included the
establishment of an independent Kurdistan. The borders of Kurdistan were
artificially drawn by  imperialist powers: _Dersim, Diyarbakir, Amadia, Urmia_.
Period. With this idea of Kurdish  independence, the British wanted to ensure their
control over Mosul oil fields, over which Turkey was also making claims. As a
result, Kurds never achieved the political statehood they were granted in the Serves
treaty. They were divided among Turkey and Arab dominated territories of Iraq and
Syria, which were to be _mandated_ by the British and the French respectively.

> >That is, the Kurds have their own language and culture; they have a common
> >history, and even a common territory although it traverses four or five state
> >boundaries. And they seem to have a collective consciousness of themselves as
> >Kurds. Aren't they a nation, then?

As  I said,  Kurds are divided within the borders four nation-states. So they are
technically ethnic minorities _sharing_ a common language, history and culture. This
being the case, Kurds take the cultural characteristics of  the societies they live
in. I am not quite sure if a Kurd living in Istanbul share the same attitudes and
beliefs with a Kurd living in Tehran. Kurds are also divided along clan, religious,
urban- rural and political lines. Istanbul contains more Kurds than Kurds living in
Kurdistan.Where is the homeland of Kurds then?  With regard to religion, most Kurds
in Iraq are Sunni Muslims. Some are Shiis; other are Alevis or Yazidis. Past and
present, each Kurdish political movement has been supported by some of  these
clan/religion type divisions or opposed by others.

> >2. You indicate that the Kurdish opposition in Turkey unanimously favours
> >secession - not just the PKK but the whole left, as do the bourgeois leaderships
> >(Barzani, the PUK). This seems to say that all known political representatives>
> >of Kurdish public opinion desire a separate Kurdish state. If so, does that not
> >suggest that the Kurds have already determined, to some degree, the state form
> >that they wish to have, and it does not include being a part of the Turkish or
> >the other states?

First of all, there is no unified strategy among Kurds about how to build a national
movement to begin with.1) On the one hand, you  have a sectarian establishment like
the PKK  who does not hesitate to call the regime in Turkey _fascist_ (  big
sectarian mistake!!)  Some of  PKK  militants have sought  help from Western powers
who abused and continue to abuse the Kurdish situation as an excuse for humanist
interventions.  2) On the other hand, you have bourgeois reactionary forces of
Barzani and Talabani  (PUK and  KDP) working in close cooperation with the United
States and her allies in the region (Turkey and Isreal) to fuck Saddam left and
right. During the Gulf War, US called the Kurdish opposition  to resist Saddam.
Kurdish leaders *foolishly* interpreted this request as a promise of US support, and
in March 1991, they organized a rebellion. Pitting Kurds against the Iraqi
government, US was responsible for the destiny of Kurds displaced by Saddam, and
within a month Kurdish refugees were fleeing  toward Turkey and Iran promoted by US
led humanitarian coalition against Saddam to establish a *protected zone* in Iraqi
Kurdistan.  A year later, Kurds declared a federated state (Oct 1992) backed by UN &
US forces.

> >If so, your opinion "that what Kurds needs is a serious
> >recognition of these rights [language and cultural freedoms], not a full
> >independence from Turkey" does not seem to coincide with the overwhelming
> >opinion among the Kurds, an oppressed people. Based on our general position >of
> >support of the right of self-determination of oppressed nations or peoples, why
> >would we Marxists not be sympathetic to this demand for a state, while of course
> >seeking to show the Kurdish masses that a truly sovereign national state would
> >have to strive for independence from imperialism, with all that implies?

I explained the character of the Kurdish national movement above.

> >3. Your opposition to a Kurdish state seems to rest in part on the fact that, as
> >you say, "Kurds are not technically colonized by Turkey." That may be, but a
> >nation may be oppressed by another nation without being colonized by it. Turkey
> >is not imperialist, you say. So be it. But again, not all oppressor nations are
> >imperialist. And of course Turkey is a long-standing member of NATO, an
> >imperialist military alliance, and a candidate for membership in the EU, an
> >imperialist economic alliance.

Turkey is a long standing member of NATO and the US since 1945. It is an imperialist
ally, but it is not a full sovereign state.You have to consider the reality Kurds
are living in. As long as Turkey _remains_ to be an ally of US, Kurds won't gain
anything from pressing independence from Turkey. They will be a neo-colony. So it is
better to weaken, if possible to eliminate, Turkey's dependence on NATO _in the
first place_. What is out there to promise liberation for Kurds ? corrupt Barzani
and Talabani forces? sectarian PKK who has a record of calling Kemal a fascist?  If
Kurds want to be liberated as a nation they should first seeek possiblities of
cooperation  with progressive Turks _together_ against US imperialism in the region.
This is a necessity that *both* the Kurdish and the Turkish left should realize.
Sectarian particularism will only help conceal further neo-colonization of the



Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
Ph.D Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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