A Self-Governing Group or Equal Citizens? Kurds, Turkey and the European Union

By Kuzu, Durukan | Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE, July 1, 2010 | Go to article overview

A Self-Governing Group or Equal Citizens? Kurds, Turkey and the European Union


Kuzu, Durukan, Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE


This study shows how the theoretical debate between liberal egalitarianism and multiculturalism corresponds to the problem of minorities in Turkey. The differentiated group rights supported by the latter are contrasted with liberal egalitarianism policies to identify which is better suited to the goal of increasing equality in Turkey. The multiculturalist perspective is represented by the European Union (EU) which favours differentiated cultural group rights, while the liberal egalitarian perspective is represented by Turkey's constitutional citizenship policy. The central argument of this study is that awarding self-government rights to national minorities would not be sufficient to create equality in Turkey's culturally diverse society. The article points to potential injustices that might result from providing different treating to distinct groups in Turkey, and discusses these with reference to inter-group and intra-group inequalities. Within this framework, the article then provides empirical evidence for the egalitarian critique of multiculturalism and seeks to demonstrate that EU minority conditionality, and in particular the selfgovernment rights that it proposes, are unlikely to create a more democratic society in Turkey.

Keywords: Turkey, Kurds, EU, egalitarian liberalism, multiculturalism.

The Kurdish problem is one of the major barriers to Turkey's accession to the EU, and has prompted Turkey to search for an equitable mechanism for accommodating cultural diversity in its society. This article focuses on how the debate between liberal egalitarianism and multiculturalism corresponds to the problem of minorities in Turkey, and provides a theoretical basis to point out the most possible egalitarian solution to the Kurdish problem. The main argument of this study is that the selfgovernment rights presented by multiculturalism contradict the egalitarian principle of classical liberalism and cannot generate equality in a multicultural Turkey. This claim will be considered through empirical evidence as I explore the potential injustices that might stem from extension of these rights to the Turkish context. These injustices will be discussed with reference to inter-group and intra-group inequalities that would arise as a result of the differentiation of groups in public life.

Theoretical framework

In this section I will compare the theories of multiculturalism and egalitarian liberalism. The differentiated group rights supported by the former will be compared to individual egalitarianism to identify which system is better suited to the goal of increasing equality in Turkey. In the literature, leading supporters of differentiated multicultural rights, such as Will Kymlicka (1995), Bhikhu Parekh (2000), and Tariq Modood (2005), have argued that minorities should be given positive rights in order to rectify the inequalities inherent in diversity. According to them, the official language used in providing public services automatically puts other linguistic minorities at a disadvantage (Kymlicka, 2001: 247). It creates inequality and leads to assimilation, which is why the state should recognize group differences and take an active role in acknowledging their different needs in public discourse. Parekh (2005) argues that providing everybody with the same rights and duties cannot create full equality, because these duties might not be compatible with the beliefs of different cultural groups and consequently may either prevent their involvement in social life or assimilate them into the majority culture. He argued that providing people with undifferentiated rights and duties cannot achieve equality of opportunity in any real sense. For him:

Opportunity should be understood as subject-dependent and a facility, a resource, or a course of action is just a mute and passive possibility and not an opportunity for an individual if she lacks the capacity, the cultural disposition, or the necessary knowledge and resources to take advantage of it (Parekh, 2000: 41). …

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