Showing posts from February, 2013
Suleiman the MagnificentWhy must things be kept simple? Must there be a Turkistan?
Regarding the Turkish/Kurdish problem in the Republic of Turkey, while many if not most citizens feel some sort of adjustment should be made to bring an end to the conflict, people keep coming back to a solution that is not acceptable to a very large number of Turks. It presents itself as something like this: if we give in to the Kurdish demands, we will split the country in two: “Kurdistan” and “Turkistan”, and this will be the end of our nation.
This solution does not work, and not because so many people don’t want it: it fails to recognize certain realities. The Kurdish area has lost its earlier boundaries that might have been drawn a hundred years ago. Much of the area where only Kurds lived now have mixed populations. Any “Kurdistan” solution would create new minorities and new grievances. Besides that, Istanbul and the rest of Turkey have a vast Kurdish population that would be further isolated with…
What is a Turk?

The answer should be obvious. A Turk is, well . . . a Turk.  Then what is a  Kurd?
 At the beginning of the school day school children in Turkey recite a pledge,   similar in some ways to the American pledge of allegiance to the flag.
Türküm, doğruyum, çalışkanım,  I am Turk, I am honest, I am hard working
It goes on to extol certain virtues and to hail Ataturk, pledging to follow his path, and it ends with his words: How happy for the one who says 'I am a Turk'! Ne mutlu Türküm diyene!
The pledge is inspiring but it can produce a certain dissonance in the classrooms of the few Armenian and Greek schools that are left and also in the schools with a predominantly Kurdish population.
Ataturk had a vision of a strong united Turkey with all citizens following one path. In the end this led to a policy of assimilation of the Kurdish people and other ethnic minorities.  And this produced tremendous conflict and the shedding of much blood.
Today the Turkish Republic has a stron…

The Kurdish language(s) and Kurdish Identity

“Kurds don’t have a language. They only have 400 words.”
This is the kind of nonsense I would expect from the village idiot, but in fact it was said to me when I first arrived in Istanbul in 2001 by one of the top businessmen in Turkey. I was not totally surprised, because I had encountered such prejudice before when I was head of a small school in the Caribbean.
I was standing outside of a bank that fronted on the water of the harbor of Willemstad. Two black men were arguing with great animation about the stock market, and what they were speaking  was not Spanish and not Portuguese but Papiamento. Papiamento is a melodious creole language, a blend of Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch spoken by the descendants of slaves in the Dutch Antilles. A Dutch friend of mine expressed the opinion that Papiamento was not a language - just some babbling used by the natives. Like the businessman in Istanbul, he was blinded by social and political prejudice. Even though it was spoken by about 80% of th…

Coordinated Attacks in Kirkuk Kill at least 30. So what?

Coordinated Attacks in Kirkuk Kill at least 30

Here is a headline that might catch the attention of the average American or European reader for, perhaps 20 seconds - and then only if the accompanying picture was grisly enough.  But we will remember it well enough if this is the flash point for the next conflagration in the Middle East.
Tehran, Yes. Tel Aviv, Yes. But Kirkuk???????? Why should I worry?
We live in world that is so complex and interconnected that we find it almost impossible to figure out what is important, what could actually end up killing us.
Think about the words of Neville Chamberline in September 1938 as he flew off to try to buy peace by selling out Czechoslovakia, an act that led directly to the beginning of World War II.
“How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country betweenpeople of whom we know nothing.”
The problem is knowing nothing. Kirkuk is far away in northe…

Kurdish women: one foot in the 10th century . . .

Readers will know that the traditional homelands of the Kurds are divided between Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. In many places the position of Kurdish women may be politely described as "traditional", but more accurately as "primitive".

Kurdish society in Iraq is being modernized at breathtaking speed, in part thanks to the region's vast mineral wealth. The women in this picture are at the forefront of this process. As teachers they will help the next generation of women (and men) have a better life.

However the plight of many women in Iraqi Kurdistan is horrific. The Kurdistan Regional Government has initiatives now that are aimed at creating a safer environment for women and in the urban centers, women's rights have gained tremendously. But this story from Rudaw, a local Kurdish newspaper gives a realistic snapshot of what the government is up against. Be forewarned: this does not make for easy reading.

A much mor…

A view of where some of the Kurds live.


Kurdistan - the great taboo

When I arrived in Turkey in 2001, I had very little knowledge of the country and its politics. I was the new head of Robert College, a prestigious secondary school in Istanbul. I had only been there a month, when I was sitting with a group of teachers and mentioned that I had a friend in the States who traveled to "Kurdistan" to buy rugs. You would have thought I had let a skunk loose in the room.

One of the senior teachers explained angrily to me that there was no Kurdistan and that I should never use that word. It was forbidden. It wasn't till later I came to understand how frightened Turks were at the possibility that the Kurds in their country would secede and destroy the integrity of Turkish national boundaries. In fact the use of that word or the publishing of a map showing where Kurds live in Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq was illegal and could land one in prison.

Naturally my curiosity was aroused, and I have been following the Kurdish question ever since. In the sp…