TURKEY'S PERCEPTION OF THE KURDISH ISSUE (2): Kurds are unable to convince Turks they do not want a separate state
Hatem Ete, Ertan Aydın, Today's Zaman , 10.09.2009
One of the most significant findings of a study conducted jointly bythe Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) andPollMark, titled “Turkey's perception of the Kurdish issue,” is thatthe majority of society views the Kurdish issue as the most importantpolitical issue of Turkey after unemployment, which can be seen as aneconomic problem.

According to the research, the nation upholds that policies focusing on the security dimension of the problem alone and avoiding the complex dimensions of the issue in the last 25 years have failed (71.1 percent of respondents). Likewise, a vast majority (55.6 percent) holds that the defeat of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) by the Turkish military or the PKK ceasing its violence will not be adequate to end the violence and terrorism issue. For this segment of people, the resolution of the Kurdish issue is possible by considering other dynamics excluding the PKK. This places responsibility on political actors.

To this end, the research shows that the Kurdish issue, independent of the terrorist violence, is perceived as Turkey's biggest issue by the majority of people. This also confirms that denying the issue is no longer sustainable and that people are ready to extend their support for an alternative resolution based on correct political communication.
Political actors and institutions responsible for resolution
The nation, which holds that eliminating the PKK will not fully solve the problem, refers to several other alternatives as possible solutions to the Kurdish issue. One of the most important findings of the survey shows that the majority of people expect political actors to take action. To this end, 59.9 percent of respondents believe the parties represented in Parliament should develop an initiative, whereas 64.5 percent hold that the government and the military should cooperate to devise a solution.
If political actors and institutions are expected to solve the issue, then what do the people think about the recent initiative offered by the government? According to the survey, 48.1 percent of respondents support the government's initiative. While 75.7 percent of Kurds firmly back the plan, 42.7 percent of Turks favor the solution publicized by the government. A full 16.5 percent remain undecided. Of the respondents polled, 36.4 percent find the policies of the ruling party negative, though their unsupportive stance toward the opposition is far more visible: 64 percent of people hold that the Republican People's Party's (CHP) reaction to the government action is wrong while 62 percent of the participants accuse the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) of not adequately addressing the problem. Only 16 percent of people hold that both parties are doing right in their opposition. Thirty-five percent of respondents find the Democratic Society Party's (DTP) reaction to the government's opening plan positive while 41 percent consider this party's stance unconstructive.
Sixty percent of Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporters, 40 percent of MHP voters and 33 percent of CHP voters find their parties' stance positive. Therefore, it appears that the AK Party is able to secure extensive support from voters in general as well as its supporters whereas both the CHP and the MHP have failed to attract support for their policies even from their party bases. It is also apparent that 59.7 percent of the respondents do not agree with these parties' accusation against the AK Party suggesting that this recent move is aimed at dividing the country; 55.9 percent of Turks and 79.1 percent of Kurds dismiss this allegation and accusation.
Kurds unable to convince Turks they do not want a separate state
At this point, attention must be paid to the differences between Turks and Kurds in their perceptions of political issues as well as different attitudes toward the probable solutions of society, which considers political institutions and actors as responsible for finding a solution. Eighty-five percent of respondents hold that national and religious values are important for viable unity whereas 90 percent consider Turkish citizenship as the common bond; this shows that there is strong integration and unity between Kurds and Turks, who are connected through familial and friendship ties. Research findings show that every one out of three Turks has a Kurdish friend, relative or neighbor. However, despite this social integration between Kurds and Turks, there are obvious and visible differences with respect to political issues. This lack of correlation between social and political lives implies that there is a possibility that, unless the issue is resolved, the existing integration and unity may be disrupted. To this end, all responsible actors, including politicians, opinion leaders and even ordinary citizens, should be focused on the emergent dissociation in political matters despite current efforts at unity and integration created by coexistence through the centuries.
Political dissociation between the Turks and the Kurds becomes most concrete on the matter of whether Kurds want a separate state. A full 64.4 percent of respondents hold that Kurds want a separate state whereas only 24.6 percent do not agree with this statement. This perception becomes even more obvious in terms of ethnic background. A total of 71.3 percent of Turks hold that the Kurds want a separate state whereas only 17.9 percent do not agree with this statement. On the other hand, 59 percent of Kurds indicate that they do not seek a separate state. The figures show that there is a visible perception suggesting that the Kurds want their own independent state. This leads to the emergence of strong feelings and fear that the country will be divided along ethnic lines. To this end, the most serious obstacle before the fulfillment of the government's recent opening seems to be this perception held by Kurds and Turks with respect to demands over fundamental rights and freedoms.
Because of these fears and concerns, the opening will face serious barriers and obstacles in the field of recognition of cultural rights, liberalization of the Kurdish language and the introduction of a more liberal constitution that will address the objections of the Kurds. The perception of the two sides on this matter is pretty disparate. As such, the perception holding that the Kurds have a hidden agenda affects society's stance toward demands for further rights within the framework of the democratic opening. Yet it should be noted that the respondents seem to be more lenient with respect to cultural rights. A full 47.9 percent of participants believe the recognition of cultural rights will not lead to the partition of Turkey whereas 42.5 percent argue that such a move will be detrimental to the unity of the state and the nation.
In terms of ethnic background, there is a visible difference in the attitudes and approaches of Kurds and Turks. A total of 47.3 percent of Turks believe that recognizing rights will do some harm to the indivisibility of the country (42.6 percent of Turks believe otherwise) whereas 74.6 percent of Kurds stress that this is not the case. Of the respondents polled, 45.8 percent hold negative views vis-à-vis lifting bans on the use of the Kurdish language whereas 44 percent see such a move as a positive contribution. A full 78.2 percent of Kurds state that bans should be lifted whereas 52 percent of Turks say this is unacceptable. The picture is even graver in the case of constitutional discussions. A total of 65 percent of participants hold that this demand should be dismissed while only 24 percent agree with the need for amendments to the Constitution. A full 74 percent of Turks find recognition of the Kurdish identity in the Constitution unacceptable while 67 percent of Kurds believe that this is a crying need.
Change in attitude
It is possible to witness the impact of the differing positions of political actors toward the fulfillment of demands on recognizing cultural rights. In recent years, it has become obvious that the changing attitude and approach of state actors, including the government and the military, that partially legitimize demands for the recognition of cultural rights have also changed the view of the people with respect to this issue. It is possible to notice this in the case of society's approach toward the launch of the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation's (TRT) TRT Şeş station. Fifty-one percent of people find this move fairly positive whereas 38.6 percent hold the opposing view. In terms of ethnic breakdown, 48 percent of Turks find this move positive. The issue of TRT Şeş and the recognition of cultural rights reveal the impact of political actors over the change of views held by the public with respect to these matters. It is obvious that political actors should assume responsibility to address the concerns and fears of the people.
To this end, preventing the emergence of new tension within the people with respect to alternative solutions to the Kurdish issue heavily depends on the ability to change the perception that the Kurds want a separate state. As long as this perception dominates the public view, it is likely that any move to resolve the issue will cause tension and unease among the people. For this reason, all actors paying attention to social cohesion and peace should act responsibly and contribute to the process. To this end, as in the case of TRT Şeş and cultural rights, political actors should take immediate action to address fears and concerns over the partition of the country.
Likewise, circles focusing on the Kurdish issue to ensure their survival should reorient themselves and develop a discourse stressing national unity. However, segments judging the recognition of every single right to the Kurds as treason should realize that this attitude constitutes a big obstacle before the realization of public justice and that their stance does the greatest harm to national unity and peace. Lastly, the media have a great responsibility to address this issue, where perception precedes reality.

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