Nationalism at core of Turks’ support for wars on Kurds

Nationalism that arose in the making of the Turkish state amid the collapse of the Ottoman Empire a century ago is one of the main reasons that most Turks support the government’s “wars on Kurds”, writes Stephen Star in the Arab Weekly. 

Large sections of the population do not support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whom Star describes as “one of the most divisive figures in modern Turkey”, but when it comes to “Ankara’s wars on the Kurds” support is widespread.  

 “When the Kurdish residents of Kobane faced annihilation at the hands of Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists in October 2015, few Turks seemed to care,” Star writes. “When more than 500,000 civilians were made homeless by military operations in the predominantly Kurdish southeast region two years ago, Turkish media didn’t seem to see much reason to comment.” 

Noting that the Kurds have brought stability and security to Syria and Iraq and have been the most effective fighters against ISIS, he said “beer guzzling Istanbul liberals” have been hypocritical in their silence.

“For a decade, they decried Erdoğan in street protests and from artisanal cafes, but they fall silent when it comes to the issue of bombing Kurdish civilians in Turkey or Syria,” Star wrote.

Star said that while it was true that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) had been responsible for “assassinations and targeting of Turkish security and police officers” the deeper reason for this silence is the way modern Turkey was established and the continuation of the education system to ignore “basic facts about the wrongs committed by Turkey”.

“Amid the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, a nationalist movement flourished,” Star wrote. “As it tried to secure support and territory for a new Turkish state, the nationalist movement silenced elements that didn’t fit the idea of a mainstream Turkish identity. Armenians, Christians and Kurds — all living within the borders of the new Turkish state — didn’t fit that national identity. Millions were killed as a result.”