Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

"Prospective-Turks" or "Pseudo-Citizens:" Kurds in Turkey

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

"Prospective-Turks" or "Pseudo-Citizens:" Kurds in Turkey

Article excerpt

This article explores the public images and citizenship status of Turkish-citizen Kurds in Turkey. Kurds in Turkey mostly have been seen as prospective-Turks and accordingly have been subject to the assimilationist practices of citizenship throughout the Republican period. However, recent signs suggest that this image and status of the Kurds are not as secure as they once were. Kurds are now perceived by many as pseudo-citizens. A historical reading of citizenship practices in Turkey indicates that this change in the Kurds' image may be accompanied by a change in their citizenship status and that they may now be subject to the discriminatory practices of citizenship. The article concludes with an argument as to why such a fundamental change has taken place in the image and status of Kurds in Turkey.

Portraying the status of Kurds vis à vis Turkishness is not easy. This is because Kurds' status in Turkey's (national-) political community always has been ambiguous. Although the Kurds have, in principle, been considered proper members of the Turkish nation, there are instances in which Kurds were seen as outside of the circle of Turkishness.

The ambiguity in question is due mainly to several factors. First, legal citizenship as a formal status has never been the sole marker of Turkishness in Turkey. In other words, there always has been a gap between "Turkishness as citizenship" and "Turkishness as such." Secondly, Turkish citizenship itself has not been a firm category. Instead, as I will argue, Turkish citizenship has, from the beginning of the Republic, oscillated between an ethnic and a political definition of the (Turkish) nation. Accordingly, the status of Turkish-citizen Kurds, with respect to the Turkish nation or to the political community in Turkey, has been blurred. Kurds have been subject to both the assimilationist and discriminatory practices of citizenship, which undoubtedly drew legitimacy from the oscillation in question. However, the ambiguity in the status of Kurds vis a vis Turkishness is due mostly to the fact that the Turkish state, or the "establishment"1 in Turkey, has not maintained a stable image of Kurds. The most appropriate term to define this unstable image and perception of Kurds is "prospective-Turks."

As prospective-Turks, or potential members of the Turkish ethno-cultural community, Kurds have long been considered a part of the (national-) political community, i.e. a part of Turkishness as defined by citizenship. Citizenship practices that Kurds have enjoyed have been shaped accordingly. Like many other inhabitants of the country who are considered prospective-Turks (Circassians or Bosnians, for instance), Kurds mainly have been subject to the assimilationist practices of citizenship. In other words, Kurds have, in principle, been invited to become Turkish. Nevertheless, the idea that Kurds are prospective-Turks always has left open the way to a counter-perception that Kurds may not become Turkish. In certain cases this counter-perception has prevailed over the assimilationist one. When this happened, Kurds were considered as outside of the circle of Turkishness, and were left subject to the discriminatory practices of citizenship. In general, however, Kurds have been regarded as a part of the circle of Turkishness and have been subject to intense Turkification. In other words, the idea that Kurds are prospective-Turks has worked almost as a meta-image during the Republican period.

However, today's current images concerning Kurds indicate that this meta-image is not as stable as it has been. Accordingly, this article examines the shifts in the "public" images of Kurds in Turkey. Yet, before investigating why the meta-image of Kurds as prospective-Turks is being challenged, it is first necessary to see how this image emerged and became dominant.

Kurds as "Prospective-Turks"

While Kurds have, in principle, been considered prospective-Turks throughout the Republican period, the public image of Kurds during the years leading up to and including the inception of the Republic (the early 1920s) was different. …

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