One of the leading figures of the conservative community Cemal Usak has criticized the community both for its view about the Kurdish Issue and its test with power saying: "Freedom of the Kurdish Language, which was said to be licit, should have been defended but that was not the case."
Why Cemal Usak?
Cemal Usak is an intellectual, participated since the foundation of the Association of Writers and Journalists, which is known for its proximity to the Gulen Movement and now he is the vice president of it. More importantly, he represents the common sense among the conservative community. Recently he shared a personal anecdote about the Kurdish Issue and wrote a critical article about the conservatives’ test with power. One must listen to Usak, especially when the tension about the Kurdish Issue is determined by the media, majority of which is possessed by the pious.
You talk about your first encounter with the Kurdish Issue in your book "Anatolian Conscience" published by Open Society Association. When was it?
Back in 1974 I was a student. I was in the Nur movement but not in the Gulen Movement as it is called today. Of course I personally had a deep sympathy and an interest in Fethullah Gulen. So I was taking care of 4 student houses in Kadikoy at the time. There was a group of 6 or 7 students and most of them were from Bingol and Urfa. One day I was at their house and I asked where Halim and Mehmet was. It turned out they were cooking in the kitchen. As I approached the door I heard a language, which at the time was called unknown by the state. Later I found out that it was Zaza Language (A dialect of Kurdish). When I came in they panicked and stopped. And they tried to explain apologetically: "We're sorry, it will never happen again. We just missed our mother tongue." It seemed like a police bust.
What was your reaction?
I told them it was their mother tongue and they were free to speak. At first they could not believe me and they said Hasim, who was an older Kurdish boy from Urfa, prohibited them from speaking it. When I talked to Hasim afterwards he said he too was not happy about not being able to speak in his mother tongue but he was just trying to keep them out of trouble. But still this explanation doesn’t justify the indifference of the congregation.
Licit meaning optional
Could you open that indifference of the congregation a bit?
In the book that includes Bediuzzaman’s interviews with the Kurdish clans in 1911, there is a part that suggests: Educational language of the region is Kurdish, Arabic and Turkish. The saying "Turkish required, Arabic needed and Kurdish licit" was pretty popular among us. We understood the word licit as optional meaning anybody who wishes to learn Kurdish was free. Even though this saying was popular it was never applied in practice.
What do you mean?
The freedom of Kurdish language, which was said to be licit, should have been defended but that never happened. Because the official discourse of the state dominated the pious as well. So even though my community accepted the existence of Kurds, they got carried away with the official discourse and could not do what their conscience suggested. Overall us the pious and the nationalists, we sympathized with Turkistanis who suffered under the cruel rule of the Chinese and the Turks in Bulgaria who even couldn’t obtain Turkish names. Whereas we ignored the sufferings of Kurds who were just in front of us.
Why did this happen, is pious being victims of the state the only explanation?
Well, the first reason was us being under the pressure of the state as well. The second one is that everyone had their own agenda and they didn’t want to clash with the state meanwhile. Because the official discourse against the Kurdish Issue was obvious. So the pious were also the victims of the state just like the Alevis and Kurds.
So did the pious say we cannot defend the rights of the Kurds, when we already have so many problems of ourselves?
The pious community did not want a second burden so they ignored the Kurdish Issue. I don’t approve of it but I understand it. Was this the right attitude? No. Because a sufferer should sympathize with other sufferers. In this country, Alevis, Kurds, Rums, Armenians and Jews have sufferings. Even if nobody understands this, the people who make religion the core of their lives should.
Isn’t them internalizing the official discourse the reason behind this?
Well, there was a misconception that suggested: "Essentially there is no Kurdish Issue, this issue is being created by some foreign powers by the way of manipulating the traitors within us." Notably the people with the National View (Milli Gorus) supported this idea. And they thought that the solution was the brotherhood of Islam.
The Brotherhood of Islam
Late Erbakan defended this idea until his last days...
Okay but what is the brotherhood of Islam? It is not something like a medicine capable of solving your problems overnight. The important thing was being a part of the ones trying to solve the problems of Muslim Kurds. That idea never really had a concrete solution for the issue. In the Qur’an it says: "The diversity of your languages and colors is from the verses of Allah." 15 years ago I grasped the meaning of this verse like this; The Almighty wanted to be prayed by different languages. So if I have faith in the Creator, I must respect the different languages He mentioned in his verses. National View community couldn’t do this so they were not able to go beyond some slogans.
How did Gulen Movement’s view about the Issue changed in years?
I am not in position to speak on behalf of the movement but I have been here since the foundation of the Association of Journalists and Writers which is quite popular among the congregation. The association studied the subjects to pave the way for a better Turkey as the likes of; state-religion relation, religion-democracy relation and democratic law state. Mr. Erdogan presented the secularism as a value in his visit to Egypt but everyone knows that, in the political fraction he comes from, this is not the case. So in the years when the association organized a secularism gathering, secularism was in a contradicting position in Erdogan’s political tradition compared to today.
Why did secularism become a value then?
Like everyone else he and his entourage changed too. Recently a law suggesting the return of non-Muslims’ seized property was accepted in the parliament . This is a crucial turning point. When we first invited a patriarch and a rabbi to an iftar, Islamic newspapers didn’t approve of it. So if someone from this political tradition decides to return the property of non-Muslims, that means they have changed. Likewise the EU process affected this transformation.
An Identity Issue
I see.. You were just talking about the Gulen Movement’s view of the Kurdish Issue, secularism interfered...
At the beginning, generally we touched the issues in Turkey. Then we organized some meetings from the perspective of Kurdish and Alevi issues. Our meetings about the Kurdish Issue was in Erbil, Ankara and Abant. But if you go back 15-20 years, I can understand why the people, who are striving to exist, have put their own issues in front of others’.
How is the situation now?
Listen... Government’s spokesman can explain their stance on issues but we’re not in the same spot.
A movement is a sociological organism, it is represented by its followers. There’s even a television channel named "Dunya TV" founded by Fethullah Gulen’s followers and it broadcasts in Kurdish. An attorney in our Abant Meeting said he’s had some suspicions about our sincerity but he said the atmosphere in the meeting has persuaded him.
Do you think the sincerity of the community is being questioned in the region?
I don’t think so, of course it depends on the people you get in touch with. People from Diyarbakir, Mardin and Urfa express their appreciation of the study centers, training centers that the movement opened and the aid "Kimse Yok Mu" provided in the region. Whereas the PKK and its sympathizers claim they’re being assimilated this way. This claim would be a slander that is hard to believe for the congregation. So the volunteers will open schools in Philippines or in Madagascar accepting those people with their identity and when it comes to Turkey they will try to assimilate people. That’s nonsense.
Okay but aren’t you teaching Turkish in those countries?
Turkish is not obligatory in all countries. When you say a Kazak-Turkish school or a Philippine-Turkish school Turkish is in the curriculum but in several other schools Turkish is not obligatory.
What do you think about the government’s stance on the issue?
Of course there is a relation between the terror issue and the Kurdish Issue but even if you solve the terror issue overnight, Kurdish Issue wouldn’t be solved. Pkk stemmed from the Kurdish Issue. So at first there was only the Kurdish problem. They didn’t use to accept the Kurds whereas now they accept them but they link the problem with terror and this makes it even more complicated. There is a wrong perception among the pious and the nationalists; "Okay Kurds have sufferings but first we have to solve the terror issue" I definitely don’t agree with this idea. Kurdish Issue is essentially the problem of the freedom of the language and the identity.
For some the establishment of TRT ŞEŞ(6 in Kurdish) and the Kurdish courses are enough to solve the issue. What do you think?
There are Kurdish, Babani and Surani dictionaries and grammar books published at the Ottoman time. What does freedom of a language mean? If I were a Kurd, would the only way I could maintain my mother tongue be speaking it at home ? This is the situation today. But no language can be maintained that way.
Then you believe they have every right to education in their mother tongue?
Education of the mother tongue cannot be compensated with only language courses. Kurds should be in the educational system wherever they are in the country. So if a Kurd comes up to a school and says he would like his child to learn Kurdish, that option should be offered. Without a doubt, the TRT ŞEŞ has a symbolic importance. The ruling party pushed the law to the limits and took a risk by doing it but still it is not enough. As the obstacles on the way to the freedom of Kurdish are still valid.
So if the pious seriously defended the rights of the Kurds in the past would we be in a different situation today?
Absolutely, some columnists who claim to have Islamic sensitivities still can’t see this. They are nearly at the point where they can even say "the Kurds are off the line, they have enough rights already." The people who call themselves faithful should accept the freedom of different identities and languages. They should also do whatever is needed to achieve this freedom. Pious couldn’t carry out this responsibility.
Are there any others among the conservative community who self-criticize like you do?
10 years ago the pious in Turkey were suffering from poverty. Today they are wealthier and competent. This new situation comes with new responsibilities and creates a new test for them.
How are they doing in that test?
I can say that some of them are failing. I was saddened by seeing some municipalities’ extravagant organizations during Ramadan. You know our people say "the liquor doesn’t stay as it stays in its bottle." Power is just like that. When it enters and flows through your body, it changes people.
Do you think that the Prime Minister changed too?
Without a doubt he did. There’s no turning back from this. As a faithful, my wish is that these changes do not turn into degeneration.
Original article published [in Turkish] on Radikal Daily, 10 October 2011, Monday
English version retrieved from http://www.hizmetnews.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=363:we-the-pious-did-not-feel-for-the-suffering-of-the-kurds&catid=81:interviews&Itemid=265 on 10 January 2012, Tuesday