On Thursday, May 11th in the middle of ongoing final exams, a considerable number of students gathered in Café des Taxis to attend the last Professors in the Pub debate before the summer holidays. The topic was “Kurds and Shifting Borders in the Middle East” discussed by two experts on the issue, our Chair of the Politics Department Pelin Ayan Musil and Stefano Taglia, a researcher at the Oriental Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

The Kurdish issue has recently gained a new, more contemporary twist with the rise of extremism and populism that we are seeing all around the world. The “othering” and national discrimination that the Kurds have been experiencing for years is dangerously similar to Trump´s exclusion of minorities from the concept of the United States, or Le Pen´s battle against migrants in France.

The discussion began with Stefano´s historical overview of the Kurdish situation particularly in the 19th century when the Kurds did not yet have a state and were a part of the Ottoman Empire. Stefano brought two examples of this coexistence. First, he analyzed the role of Abdullah Cevdet, the founder of Young Turks Association and later a prominent member of Kurdistan Rise organization. Aspiring to bring down the regime of Sultan Abdul Hamid II., Cevdet and his followers formed the Committee of Union and Progress in 1889, which was the stepping stone of the Young Turk Revolution in 1908. The second example given was the Hamidiye Cavalry operating at the eastern border of the Ottoman Empire. The general assumption is that Hamidiye Cavalry was created by Abdul Hamid II primarily to create a relationship of commitment and loyalty with the Kurds and let them protect the Empire against Russians instead of risking the Russo-Kurd partnership. Following this introduction, Pelin took over with the contemporary perspectives on the Kurdish issue and the Kurdish desire to establish autonomous Kurdistan. This however, seems like an indefinite struggle in part due to the troublesome domestic coordination of Kurds and also due to international problems. The Kurdish movement, even the Kurdistan Workers Party, has been inspired by Marxism-Leninism and the proletarian revolutionary rhetoric. Pelin sees hope in this association with Socialist ideology, which is hopefully turning the Kurds into a progressive leftist society.

The students voiced their concerns over the potential creation of an autonomous Kurdistan. How do we know that Kurdistan would not become a failed state just like Afghanistan? In response, Pelin and Stefano started deliberating on the future form of autonomy for Kurds. The idea of an ethnic federation is not an ideal response to contemporary needs, just as the idea of recognizing a separate state for every language would not be appropriate. Kurds are demanding autonomy rather than a separate state. The most realistic path to resolving the Kurdish problem in Turkey is therefore to revitalize the project of coexistence. This solution would be optimal also because of the passive international responsiveness. It is the sad truth, according to Stefano, that no one expect for Turkey´s closest neighbors (and the professors and students debating at Café des Taxis) care for the Kurdish issue very much. 

Publication date: May 18, 2017