Public Perception of the Kurdish Question in Turkey
SETA & POLLMARK Research Report, October 2009
Bülent Aras, Ertan Aydın, Hatem Ete, Hüseyin Yayman, İbrahim Dalmış, İhsan Dağı, Selin M. Bölme, Taha Özhan, Talip Küçükcan & Yılmaz Ensaroğlu
Public Perception of the Kurdish Question” is based on a Turkey-wide survey conducted by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) and Pollmark. The main objective of this large-scale survey was to map public perceptions of the Kurdish question and the government’s intensively debated Democratization Initiative or in other words, Kurdish Initiative. This report presents the main findings of the survey.
This is not the first time that Turkish public is discussing the Kurdish question and it seems that this issue will remain an important item on the agenda for years to come. However, understanding the emerging dynamics and new dimensions of the problem has become extremely complicated in light of recent events and developments. Today, there is almost a completely new context in the approaches to Kurdish question as far as the political dynamics and grounds for discussion are concerned. Undoubtedly, this new ground builds upon the tensions, successes, failures and transformations in the last twenty-five years.
At this present time, however, it is no longer possible to use the language and rhetoric that were employed during the past ten or twenty years. To put it more precisely, the framework used to discuss the Kurdish question will have to differ in the future in order to pursue a meaningful debate. It is not an overstatement to describe the current period as the beginning of such a transformation. The most important characteristic of this new period is that the Kurdish question is increasingly considered a political problem by the public in contrast to the previous perspectives, which used to take the issue essentially as a security problem.
The importance of this survey lies in its ability to clearly capture the picture of this transitional period. At the same time, the report touches on the structural and periodic features of the Kurdish question and discusses how the public perceives all these variables. This research presents voluminous data on how Turkish society perceives the Kurdish question, where it sees the solution, what the public thinks about the positions of the ruling and opposition parties towards the new initiative. It also documents what Turkish people think about the origins of the Kurdish question and demonstrates the common values that can facilitate social integration in Turkey. We believe that the data presented in this report will increase the quality of discussion on this issue by enabling the readers to see different aspects of the problem.
The survey revealed that public perception of the Kurdish question in Turkey has three essential features.
The first significant finding is that the majority of society views the Kurdish issue as the most important political issue in Turkey. Moreover, great majority of the respondents upholds that policies focusing on the security dimension of the problem alone in the last 25 years have failed. In stark contrast to that, the majority of people put responsibility on political actors such as political parties, government and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM), and expect them to take action for the settlement of the Kurdish question. In this context, the results show that there is strong public support to the Kurdish Initiative and majority of society does not approve the policies of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) towards the initiative.
The second significant finding of the survey is the presence of strong integration between citizens who describe themselves Kurds and Turks. The research shows that roughly every one out of three Turks has a Kurdish friend, relative or neighbor and two out of three Kurds have a Turkish friend, relative or neighbor. Likewise, despite all the suffering and tensions caused by the Kurdish question, no significant perception of enmity has emerged among the people. Neither the Turks nor the Kurds have developed hostile sentiments towards each other. In addition to the strong social integration and trust, majority of respondents attribute the greatest importance to common faith and values in maintaining a viable social unity. While these findings imply that the ideal for a common future is shared by all segments in the country, there are visible differences among them in their approach to the political issues between the Turks and the Kurds.
The third significant finding of the research relates to political differences between Turks and Kurds. Despite the greater support for Democratization Initiative there is a political divergence between the Kurds and the Turks, which becomes most notable on the matter of believing if the Kurds want a separate state. Majority of citizens who identify themselves as Turks believe that Kurds want their own independent state, which leads to the emergence of strong feelings of fear that the country will be divided along ethnic lines. Because of this fear and concerns, there is a visible resistance, particularly among Turkish people, on the issue of constitutional recognition of Kurdish identity, liberalization of policies on the Kurdish language and the introduction of a more liberal constitution that will address the objections of the Kurds. However, it should be noted that the respondents seem to be more lenient with respect to cultural rights and concrete democratization actions such as launching of TRT-6’s broadcasting in Kurdish language. In contrast to Turkish respondents, Kurdish respondents do not see the separation as the ultimate goal of the Kurdish political demands.
This lack of convergence between social and political perception of Turkish and Kurdish respondents implies that, unless the issue is resolved, there is a dangerous possibility of disrupting the existing integration and unity in Turkish society. To this end, all responsible actors, including politicians, opinion leaders and even ordinary citizens, should be focused on addressing the emergent divergence in political discourses of Turkish and Kurdish citizens of Turkey, despite current efforts at unity and integration created by coexistence throughout the centuries. Furthermore, this disparity displays the immediate need to find a resolution of Kurdish question.
SETA & Pollmark, ISBN: 978-605-4023-06-6