Turkish Empathy fatigue and Kurdish Heteronomy.

The reality indicates a bitter fact for the Kurds.


Monday, 25 February 2013 – A recent poll conducted by Metropoll has presented astonishing results concerning the Turkish population’s opinion about Imrali talks, i.e. dialogue between the Turkish State and the detained leader of PKK, Abdullah Öcalan about a prospective disarmament of PKK and possible peace in Turkey. The poll indicates that 56% of the population is against any dialogue between the two parties. Adding the fact that the Kurds in Turkey have favored the so-called peace dialogue, one can imagine that this rate of 56% is much more, which means that more than two third of the Turkish population is against any peace initiatives in Turkey. How can peace be possible when a significant number of the population is against the idea of ‘dialogue’ which is the stepping-stone of peace.
The reality indicates a bitter fact for the Kurds. The Turkish attitude, which the ruling party often refers to as Turkish sensitivities, is closely related to the social education of Turks during the late Ottoman and the entire Republican era. The Turkish nationalism has created a false consciousness among both Kurds and Turks without recasting the Turkish political and social culture. False consciousness is defined as the holding of false or inaccurate beliefs that are contrary to one’s objective social interests and that contribute to the maintenance of oppression or unjust inequality in society. Similarly, according this usage, the disadvantaged (the Kurds) possess false consciousness when they genuinely come to believe that they are inferior, deserving of their subordinate role in the social hierarchy.
Throughout the history of the Turkish Republic there have been numerous prominent personalities that have served the republic and turned their back to their own people – in best cases. In severe cases they have been used as pawns against their own people. Common for all of them is their belief in the superiority of the ruling group (the Turks) over an inferior group (the Kurds). These beliefs have led to the emergence of consensual stereotypes that are used to differentiate between the advantaged (Turks) and disadvantaged group (Kurds) in such a way that the existing social order, with its attendant degree of inequality, is seen as legitimate and even natural.
For the average Turk it is natural for them that their country has a clear Turkish identity and the righteous owner of the country are the Turks, because they have fought for every inch of the country, while the Kurds, a kind of unwished plague, should vanish or in the best case adjust themselves (assimilate) to the conditions. The Kurds are routinely stereotyped by themselves and by the Turks as less intelligent, competent, and hardworking than Turks. Latest fashion in Turkish media is to depict the Kurds as perverted child-molesters and criminals. These complementary, off-setting stereotypes have led the Turks to show increased support for the status quo and system justifications. However, the long-term consequences of system justification can differ for both groups. Whereas Turks experience increased self-esteem and subjective well-being to the extent that they engage in system justification, the Kurds who buy into the legitimacy of the system suffer in self-esteem and subjective well-being and hold more ambivalent attitudes about their own group membership.
This false consciousness has also permeated the psyche of the Kurdish movement in Turkey. The post New Left Kurdish movement in Turkey does not possess any Kurdish identity; it does not put the Turkish and the Turkishness as its “other”; rather it exhibits a linguistic and cultural Turkish identity. It is not opposing the Turkish supremacy; be it culturally, socially, linguistically or politically. This movement, hence, – except for its infancy period – did not aim at self-governing, or in political terms autonomy. Autonomy concerns the extent to which a nation acts are self-determined instead of being coerced or compelled. The Kurds, in general, are prone to heteronomy, the opposite of autonomy, which refers to regulation by “otherness” and thus by forces “other than,” or alien to, the self. In Kurdish vernacular we call it “kesayetiya xulametiyê” that is “servant personality” hinting those many Kurdish rulers, lords and political leaders who have served the opponent nations. Kurds have been subordinating their existence entirely to that of the Turkish State. No room was left for the existence of free choice or, more often, rational critical reflection.
To change the Turkish consciousness first they have to be acquainted with the notion of empathy, a process in which the Turks have to centrally imagine the feelings, emotions and narratives of the Kurds. Or as the scholar Gordon says the Turks have to have “an empathetic simulation that involves an imaginative shift” in the reference of indexicals, where the imaginer (the Turks) re-centers their egocentric map. If we survey the empathy simulation of the average Turk, who answered the poll, then we should ask some questions. 1. Does the average Turk know the Kurd’s internal state, including his or her thoughts and feelings? 2. Does the average Turk adopt the posture or matching the neural responses of a Kurd? 3. Will he come to feel as the Kurd feels? 4. Does the Turk intuit or project himself in the situation of a Kurd? 5. Does the Turk imagine how a Kurd is thinking and feeling? 6. Can he imagine how he would think and feel in the Kurd’s place? 7. Can the Turk feel distress at witnessing the Kurd’s suffering? 8. Can he feel for the Kurd who is suffering?
These are only questions about empathy, but they are also premises for a genuine reconciliation process. I cannot imagine that that high percentage of Turks who opposed “peace talks” can answer “yes” to any of above mentioned questions. There is a tiny minority, especially among intellectuals, who sincerely are distressed over the Kurdish suffering and who are not so much concerned about “Turkish sensitivities”, rather “longing for peace”, as the Turkish actor Kadir Inanir expressed. However, as the conservative opinion forming intellectual Ertugrul Özkök expressed, “can Kadir Inanir convince his own fellow townsmen in Black Sea coast about this?”
It is hard to imagine that Inanir would have any success in this endeavor, since the very Prime Minister lacks the slightest of empathy for the continuous suffering of Kurds. Every basic right – like Kurdish broadcasting and recognition of the existence of Kurds in Turkey – that he has acknowledged to the Kurds has been considered as charity. With firm seriousness, he addresses the Kurdish question as a question of terrorism. I tempt to go as far as to say that the late president of Turkey in the beginning of 90s, Mr. Özal, was more empathic than Erdogan. They differentiate in that Özal had the quality but not the power to solve the Kurdish question, while Erdogan has power but not the quality of solving it.
Turkey can only solve its Kurdish question if it creates, as Jeremy Rifkin labels it, “the Empathic Civilization”, in which empathy is the “social glue” that keeps society functioning as a cohesive whole. Society, as he argues, requires being social and being social requires empathic extension.
The Kurds in Turkey suffer from century’s long heteronomy and the Turks lack the “social glue” to be able to acknowledge any rights to the Kurds. The Turkish State may disarm the PKK, but the Kurdish question is far from being solved. I wish I were wrong.

By Behrooz Shojai


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