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IJSL 2012; 217: 7598

DOI 10.1515/ijsl-2012-0050

Desmond Fernandes

Modernity and the linguistic genocide of


Kurds in Turkey
Abstract: Zygmunt Bauman, Alexander Laban Hilton and Paul Havemann,
amongst others, have argued that genocide is intimately linked to modernity.
Modern discourses on development, modernization and western science as well
as key meta-narratives of modernity (advancing the teleological myth of progress
and civilization), gardeners visions and the very categorization and standardization of national languages (crucial to the biopolitical formation of global populations under the system of modern nation-states) have all legitimated and effected policies and practices that have been genocidal in their nature and scope.
This article examines and details the extent to which all these identified aspects
of modernity can be observed in the case of Turkey. The findings indicate that
linguistic/cultural and physical genocide of Kurds in Turkey has taken place
(overthe past eight and a half decades) as a direct consequence of the Kemalist/
Ataturkist modernity project. Language policy which has advocated linguistic
imperialism alongside linguistic genocide has been a critical tool for the creation of the modern Turkish nation-state.
Keywords: Kurds; modernity; genocide; triage

Desmond Fernandes: The Campaign Against Criminalising Communities.


E-mail: desmond2222@gmail.com

1Introduction
In recent years, a number of scholars, drawing upon a range of case studies and
wider structural analyses, have engaged in a number of debates and concluded
that genocide inclusive of linguistic genocide and modernity are closely
interwoven (Hinton 2007: 420). They have argued that modern discourses on development, modernization and western science as well as key meta-narratives of
modernity (advancing the teleological myth of progress and civilization), the
gardeners vision (Bauman, cited in Noakes [2010: 1]) and the very categorization and standardization of national languages (crucial to the biopolitical formation of global populations under the system of modern nation-states) have all

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l egitimated and effected policies and practices that have been genocidal (inclusive of linguistically genocidal) in their nature and scope.
These studies are of considerable relevance to linguists who are engaged in
linguistic human rights advocacy and who are seeking to analyze how and why
linguistically genocidal policies, educational programs and practices have been
conceptualized and implemented (and often legitimized) by nation states as part
of wider cultural and physically genocidal plans to westernize, develop, modernize and civilize societies. This paper presents the key conceptual findings of
Visvanathan (1988), Solomon (2010) and Havemann (2005) and integrates them
for the first time into a case study analysis of the genocide of Kurds in modern
Turkey.
The findings of this study emphasize the manner in which genocidal (inclusive of linguistically genocidal) processes in Turkey against the Kurdish Other
have not been accidental by-products of the states modernity project: they have
been central aspects of the drive to transform society. Linguistic genocide, in this
sense, is analyzed within the wider context in which Kurds have been geno
cidallytargeted. The presentational style that has been adopted which is used
in a number of journals, papers and academic publications by scholars such
asBourke (2000), Ahmed (2003), Shoup (2006), Banerjee (2007), Laing (2008),
Zeydanlolu (2008, 2009), Uarlar (2009) and Skutnabb-Kangas (2010)
extensively draws upon selective and block quotations to highlight key findings.
This study emphasizes the value and relevance of reflecting upon the manner
in which the linguistic genocide (alongside other forms of cultural and physical
genocide) of Kurds in modern Turkey has taken place at a time when, all too
distressingly:
The Turkish state still persists in branding such debate as thought crime
(Fernandes 2010a).
Many visiting as well as resident genocide scholars, linguists, journalists,
academics, MPs, editors, publishers and human rights analysts in Turkey
have been reluctant to even address the Kurdish modernity and/or genocide
(inclusive of the linguistic genocide) question due to the oppressive situa
tion that exists (Beiki 2009: 2; Fernandes 2007, 2010a).
People who have dared to engage in such thought crime have found them
selves being removed from their university posts in Turkey or (if they are
visiting Turkey) denied entry to the country or detained, deported and
subjected to harrowing, lengthy and expensive court cases, criminalization,
death threats and/or even murder by state inspired forces (Fernandes 2007,
2010a, 2010c; KHRP 2010). As Rafferty (2005: 1) confirms: The Kurdish
question otherwise known as the genocide of ... Kurds is one of the
most contentious issues in Turkey today.

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Linguistic genocide in Turkey

Several publishers in Turkey, fearful of criminalization, have exercised


self-censorship and mutilated a number of international texts (when
translating them into Turkish) that address these concerns, thereby
depriving readers (including linguists) from accessing key findings that
could be of use to their future work (ngr 2007; Fernandes 2010a).
Many Turkish universities, fearful of state targeting, have continued to stifle
academic debate in these areas and barred a number of students from
researching these subject areas (Lofti 2007: 1; Fernandes 2010a).
The physical, linguistic, and cultural genocide committed by Turkey
against the Kurds is generally treated with silence and/or considered
controversial. The status of the Turkish government in denying their actions
has created pressure on the United States and other Western Nations
governments, universities, and media organizations to treat this holocaust
as delusions of the Kurdish people (Swartz 2007: 1).
Herman and Peterson (2010: 88) have additionally identified a remarkably
deep ideological bias but also a consistent, even a rigid one over a long
period of time that has resulted in genocide not really being significantly
addressed or debated in much of the US mainstream press, as far as
Turkeys treatment of its Kurds in the contemporary period is concerned.

2Key terms and definitions


Key terms need to be defined at the outset of the study. Modernity can best be
described as a set of interrelated processes that characteriz[e] the emergence
of modern society. Politically, modernity involves the rise of secular forms
of government ... Economically, [it] refers to capitalist expansion and its
derivatives.... Socially, [it] entails the replacement of traditional loyalties with
modern ones and culturally, it encompasses the movement ... to an emphatically secular and materialist worldview which, in many ways, was epitomized by Enlightenment thought (Hinton 2002: 7, 8). Social scientists, according to the Encyclopedia of Science, Technology and Ethics (2005, cited in Book
Rags [2006: 1]), describe modernity as a particular form of culture or society dependent on and supportive of science and technology, with the process of creating such a society defined as modernization.... Modernization is a ... term for a
concept known in the nineteenth century as the civilizing process, and during
the first half of the twentieth century as Westernization.
Genocide is defined in this paper along the lines set by the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, as well as by Lemkin when he originally coined the
term:

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By genocide we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group.... Generally


speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to
signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves....
Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group;
the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. (Lemkin 1944: 80).

In sociolinguistic terms, Lemkin identified the following acts as genocidal when


assessing Nazi policies and practices:
In the incorporated areas ... local institutions of self-government were destroyed and a
German pattern of administration imposed. Every reminder of former national character
was obliterated. Even commercial signs and inscriptions on buildings, roads, and streets,
as well as names of communities and of localities, were changed to a German form....
Nationals of Luxemburg ... were required to assume in lieu thereof the corresponding German first names; or, if that is impossible, they must select German first names.... The destruction of the national pattern in the social field has been accomplished ... by Germanization of the judicial language and of the bar.... The local population is forbidden to use
its own language in schools and in printing. According to the decree of August 6, 1940, the
language of instruction in all Luxemburg schools was made exclusively German. (Lemkin
1944: 83, 85)

Linguistic genocide is prohibiting the use of the language of the group in daily
intercourse or in schools, or the printing and circulation of publications in the
language of the group. This was how linguistic genocide was defined in Article
III(1) of the final draft of what became the [Genocide] Convention (SkutnabbKangas 2000: 1). Although this article was voted down for questionable political
reasons when the Convention was finally accepted, those states then members
of the UN were in agreement that this was how the phenomenon could be defined (Skutnabb-Kangas 2000: 1). Policies of assimilation aimed at eradication
of indigenous/minority education which linguistically, often also culturally
result in transference to the majority group, can also be held to be genocidal,
according to Articles II(e) and II(b) in the present convention (Skutnabb-Kangas
2000: 1) and Lemkin (Docker 2004: 13).
Ethnocide, as defined by Lemkin (who coined the term alongside genocide)
and several other scholars, is often held to be synonymous with the term and
phenomenon of genocide (Lemkin 1944; Lukunka 2007). Constructive genocide
is defined in the following manner:
In some instances, racism becomes so dangerous and extremist that it becomes directed
against the very existence of a people nationally, ethnically, and culturally, and thus partakes of some of the attributes of genocide without the direct acts of [physical] annihilation.

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Linguistic genocide in Turkey

Racism ... which denies the very existence of its victims, can safely be termed, in law, constructive genocide. When a people ... are not recognized as existing, when they are denied
their homeland, their national existence and identity, and the basic rights and fundamental
freedoms accorded to other peoples what, in such circumstances, remains of them and for
them as a people? They become non-people and the individuals non-persons. Is this not in
effect ... constructive genocide? (Al-Qasem 1977: 13)

Phillipson defines linguistic imperialism as:


... a theoretical construct, devised to account for linguistic hierarchization, to address
issues of why some languages come to be used more and others less, what structures and
ideologies come to be used more and others less, what structures and ideologies facilitate
such processes, and the role of language professionals.... Linguistic imperialism is a subtype of linguicism.... Linguistic imperialism takes place ... where language interlocks with
other dimensions, cultural (particularly in education, science and the media), economic
and political. (Phillipson 1997: 238239)

3Modernity and genocide: theoretical


considerations
Modernity is fundamentally about conquest, the imperial regulation of land,
the discipline of the soul, and the creation of truth (Turner 1990: 4), a discourse
that enabled the large-scale regulation of human identity even in a linguistic
sense both within Europe and its colonies (Ashcroft et al. 2000: 145). Such
regulation and standardization was often effected in the name of promoting western science, the nation state, modern empires, civilization and progress. Alvares
(1988: 32) argues that this application of reductionist science sought structurally
to reduce ... diversity by eliminating it, and introducing more simplified, mechanized designs instead.... The process of elimination ... [in] ... the domain of
language was, consequently, all too often rationalized and undertaken to standardize the popular language and eliminate anarchy in the domain of the peoples speech and the peoples use of other languages (Alvares 1988: 32). Most
significantly, all ordinary experience was to be recast in the official language,
stamped with official approval, to be considered worthy of human use (Alvares
1988: 32).
To Devy (2009: 46), the rhetoric of modernity and the ideology of progress
boiled down to what Gandhi called violence. The resulting ethical framework
surrounding technological civilization, when not countered or effectively questioned, has lead to nature and people who are termed backward often, for
using unofficial and/or unrecognized languages and embracing outmoded values

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and belief systems being routinely destroyed.... Modern civilization is based


on unrestricted violence (Devy 2009: 46). For Visvanathan:
Theories like racism in anthropology, orientalism in linguistics, IQ in psychology, social
Darwinism in political economy and biology, are bracketed off as pseudo-sciences or as
distortions of normal [modern] science. I suggest an alternative explanation. The marauding genius of science needs these spaces these pseudo-sciences for the free play of its
imagination. This collective unconsciousness of science constitutes an integral part of the
scientific experiment. Marking it off saves science as a phenomenon but contributes little to
our understanding of it. It does not explain why these theories so often recur in science. One
can see the same trend in the modern discourse on development. Development should be
regarded as a [modern] scientific project. It represents the contemporary rituals of the laboratory state. As a project, it is composed of four theses, ingrained in the logic of western
science, of modernity as technocracy. One can call them:
1.The Hobbesian project, the conception of a society based on the scientific method;
2.The imperatives of progress, which legitimize the use of social engineering on all those
objects defined as backward or retarded;
3.The vivisectional mandate, where the other becomes the object of experiment which in
essence is violence and in which pain is inflicted in the name of science;
4.The idea of triage, combining the concepts of rational experiment, the concept of obsolescence and of vivisection whereby a society, a subculture or a species is labeled as
obsolete and condemned to death because rational judgment [by those overseeing the
modern nation-state] has deemed it incurable.
Development as a [modern] technocratic project includes all four themes. (Visvanathan
1988: 258259)

As he argues:
In fact, if concepts could ever be death warrants, the above glossary could be regarded
as genocidal.... Lurking quietly within modernity-as-a-scientific-project is the idea of
triage.... If progress demands the summoning of the Other into modernity, triage is the
dispensing with of the Other.... Societies and cultures are now being destroyed because
they are considered refractory to the scientific gaze.... The western encounter with the
other ends in its eventual logic as erasure.... Science [in this context] has no place for
thedefeated except as objects of an experiment.... Social triage ... is a deliberate decision
or act of a state to define a target group such as a minority within its territory as dispensable.The decision, however, must also be articulated on rational grounds. For, though triage is genocide, it involves the rational imposition of death on those regarded as refractory
to the scientific gaze. It is in this sense that the term helps us to understand the particular
quality of violence of which scientific rationality is capable. (Visvanathan 1988: 259, 271,
272)

For Visvanathan, the nation-state cannot permit ethnicities which serve as competing sites for power.... The Hobbesian project which encapsulates modernity
as a creation myth was literally a contract between state and science to manufac-

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Linguistic genocide in Turkey

ture the idea of a mass society of equal and uniform individuals. Modern society
was monocultural in more ways than one (Visvanathan 1988: 276). With the realization of such projects, as May (1999: 1, 2) has observed: Not surprisingly,
education as a key institution of the nation-state has played a central part
historically in the subjugation of indigenous languages and cultures and the related assimilation of indigenous peoples into the dominant or common language
and culture of the nation-state. In the process, indigenous languages and cultures were specifically proscribed, demeaned and diminished indeed, often
subjected to linguistic/constructive genocide and linguistic imperialism (Fernandes 2010a) by the state via its education system.... Consequently, indigenous languages when acknowledged as existing, that is and cultures
[often] came to be constructed as antediluvian and unnecessary in the modern
world a vestige of primitive cultures best left in the past. In contrast, national
languages and cultures or, more specifically, the languages and cultures of
dominant ethnic groups were viewed as the apogee of modernity and progress
(May 1999: 1, 2).
For Solomon (2010: 44): Historically-speaking, it goes without saying that
language policy has been a critical tool for the creation of the modern nationstate and a constant site of state intervention. Indeed, in what has virtually
been a universal process, modern nation-states have established themselves
linguistically by the elimination of difference through standardization along
with the concomitant displacement of minority populations and the appropriation of minority lands (Solomon 2010: 44). And education, as Alvarado (2010:
1) observes, is such that it plays a vital role in shaping both language standardization and its primacy over alternative language use.
For Solomon (2010: 45), looking at the history of modern linguistic trans
formation, postcolonial writers have shown not only how the colonial and postcolonial state mobilized language in the creation of invented traditions, but
also how the establishment of national literary and linguistic traditions ... in
metropolitan social formations originated as a technique of colonial governance
in which other languages were often subjected to linguistic imperialism and
linguistic/constructive genocide. To Havemann (2005: 57, 59), colonization is a
key feature of modernity in which indigenous peoples:
... have been [perceived as] chronic obstacles to modernization to be overcome by whatever
means typically by violence concealed behind liberal legalities.... Modernity [in this
context] ... generates waste: both the physical detritus of industrialisation ... and those
human beings who impede the level of growth and degree of order required. For centuries,
such people have been disposed of on a genocidal scale. The survival of the modern form of
life depends on the proficiency and dexterity of the techniques for waste disposal of both
kinds. (Havemann 2005: 57, 59)

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Consequently, in its imperial/paleo-imperial/colonial context, the law defines


both the citizens bundle of rights and the excludeds absence of rights.... [The
excluded] occupy a zone of exception wherein the sovereign suspends its laws
protection from them and their land or lives may be taken with impunity (Havemann 2005: 59, 60). Torture, incarceration (in camps and prisons), deculturation,
forced resettlement, forced cultural transfer of children through educational language programmes, cleansing and/or disappearance within a genocidal context
become rationalizing instruments that are used by modern vivisectionist, laboratory states.
Modernity related discourse[s] dehumanize potential targets and construct
them as enemies of the state, terrorists and traitors, effectively placing
them outside of the states protection and denying them their citizenship rights
(Zeydanlolu 2009: 5). Technologies tied in to the western, colonizing, moder
nity project railways, dams, telegraph systems, aircraft, poison gas have also
been used to crucially advance quite specific genocidal agendas (Fernandes
2010a). To Hinton:
European [modernity linked] expansion was largely driven by a desire for new lands, converts, wealth, slaves, and markets, [and] some scholars refer to the resulting annihilation of
indigenous peoples as development or utilitarian genocides.... This devastation was legitimated by contradictory discourses that simultaneously asserted that the colonizers had
the burden of civilizing the savages living on their newly conquered territories and that
their deaths mattered little since they were not fully human.
Metanarratives of modernity supplied the terms by which indigenous peoples were constructed as the inverted image of civilized peoples. Discourse about these others was frequently structured by a series of value-laden binary oppositions (see also Bauman 1991;
Taussig 1987): modernity/tradition, civilization/savagery, us/them, centre/margin, civilized/
wild, humanity/barbarity, progress/degeneration, advanced/backward, developed/
underdeveloped.... Maybury-Lewis [2002] describes how the inhumane and genocidal
treatment of indigenous peoples was often framed in meta-narratives of modernity, particularly the notion of progress. (Hinton 2002: 9, 10)

Certainly, it needs to be recognized that, within these types of ideological frameworks and planning contexts, cultural destruction even in the post-1945 period
has become an accepted key process that has often been advocated in par
ticular modernization-linked development programmes. Escobar (1994: 4) has
revealed the way in which one of the most influential documents of the postSecond World War period on development, prepared by a group of experts convened by the UN with the objective of designing concrete policies and measures
for the economic development of underdeveloped [Third World] countries,
suggested indeed, factored in no less than a total restructuring of un

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Linguistic genocide in Turkey

developed societies. It clarified that: There is a sense in which rapid economic


progress is impossible without painful adjustments. Ancient philosophies have
to be scrapped. Old social institutions have to disintegrate. Bonds of caste, creed
and race have to burst, and large numbers of persons who cannot keep up with
progress have to have their expectations of a comfortable life frustrated (Escobar
1994: 4).
As Visvanathan (1988: 277) has argued: Underlying modernization is a substratum of intolerance. The variegated traditions of ... the nomadic, the tribal,
the pastoral and the peasant conceptually and practically have to be bulldozed
into a flatland called modernity and there is little time for consultation.... To the
laboratory state, these people are ... ethnics practising styles of life ... which are
refractory to science. Consequently:
According to the logic of development, they must either acculturate or disappear.... In the
process, [allegedly] peaceful development [of this kind] has created more refugees.... What
we are in fact confronting here is development as slow genocide.... Intrinsic to all such
technocratic projects is the idea ... [that] a mechanical scheme [can be] ... imposed on a
culture without any consideration for the traditions of the community.... [And with this]
... large dams literally become experiments on the people.... The technology of most large
dams is basically vivisectional.... For the scientist-technocrat, the development of all land
is inevitable.... The movement from cultural destruction through obsolescence to triageas-erasure is a short step. (Visvanathan 1988: 277, 278, 279)

For Visvanathan (1988: 280), then, the example of the elimination of the Ache
Indians in Paraguay has raised in a fundamental way the problem of genocide
through development. The process of resettlement, involving slow death through
deculturation, does fall within the clauses of the Genocide convention. Item three
of the Genocide convention of the UN includes: Deliberately inflicting on the
group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole
or in part. Consequently, to remove tribal people from their natural habitat
would be cultural ethnocide.... The fact [is] that the laboratory state now deems
certain cultures dispensable (Visvanathan 1988: 280) and, in this respect, the
notion of calculated dispensability, of erasing people from the commons of the
world (Visvanathan 1988: 280) becomes a rational, modernizing bureaucratic/
accounting consideration (Neu and Therrien 2003). Rojas (1996: 1), in reviewing
Rostows 1960 modernization theory which has so influenced Turkeys Cold
and post-Cold War development-cum-counter-insurgency programme in the predominantly Kurdish East (Fernandes 2010a) has observed the manner in which
it conceptualizes action against opponents of its top-down development vision.
Social disturbances which may take place in the form of peaceful agitation,
political violence, nationalism, revolution or guerrilla warfare are perceived to

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be anti-progress and inimical to the interests of the modern, western state. It


follows that crushing human beings involved in these social disturbances even
in a genocidal sense, if need be (Fernandes 2010a) takes the form of humanitarian actions to preserve social order and social peace to maintain the balance
[of the] family-civil society-state (Rojas 1996: 1). Maybury-Lewis, moreover, concluded in 2002 (cited in Dean 2009: 1069) that all too often [nation] states feel
they cannot modernize effectively if they tolerate indigenous cultures in their
midst.

4The modernity project in Turkey and


the genocidal targeting of Kurds
It is important to appreciate that Kemal (Atatrk), the founder of modern Turkey,
together with the ruling elite, embarked almost immediately upon a modernitydriven project that was inspired by US and European imperialist, western civilizational experiences (Fernandes 2010a). Turkish modernity, in its Republican
movement, certainly arrogated to itself enlightenment values of rationality,
progress and universality. So, for example, the 1931 statutes of the Republican
Peoples Party (the only party in the parliament) at the time, stated that: The
party has accepted the principle that all laws, regulations and procedures used in
the administration of the state should be prepared and implemented ... in accordance with the foundations of and the forms of science and technology in
modern times (Houston 2001: 89). Houston (2001: 89) clarifies that, in its bid
to create civilization, the state took upon itself the task of liberating the people
from tradition.
For Bart (2005: 1), ethnocide quickly became the raison dtre of ... the modern Turkish state.... Not only have successive Turkish governments denied the
genocide they perpetrated against Armenians, Aramaeans and Assyrians but
they have attempted to destroy the Kurdish nation in every conceivable way bar
total [physical] extermination.... Turkey lives in a permanent ... republic always
bordering on insanity and genocide. As I have noted elsewhere: Kemal embarked on a genocidal course in order to effect greater Turkish unity, reinforce his
own authoritarian power base, and realize hyper-nationalistic, colonialist and
modernist ambitions. The same methods have been applied elsewhere against
the Other as a basic mechanism of empire and the national state (Simpson
1993: 3, 4) (Fernandes 1998: 66). The modernity project itself, as numerous analysts have shown, also drew inspiration in places from the earlier Ottoman/CUP
and War of Independence period (Fernandes 2010a; Hobsbawm 1989).

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Linguistic genocide in Turkey

Concerning the nature of this project, Atatrk is recorded as emphasizing


that the Turks have only ever gone in one direction towards the West (cited in
Spiegel 2010: 1) ... For everything in the world for civilization, for life, for success, the truest guide is knowledge and science (cited in Kinzer 2001: 36)....
Gentlemen, uncivilized people are doomed to be trodden under the feet of civilized people.... We will live as a progressive and civilized nation in the arena of
civilization (cited in Zeydanlolu 2008: 155, 160), where we will take science
and technology from wherever it is and insert it in the head of each member of
thenation. There is no restriction and condition on science and technology.... If
[ignorance] is not eliminated, we will stand on the same spot. If something is
standing on the same spot, this means that it is going backwards (Atatrk, cited
in cited in Zeydanlolu [2008: 160]).
For Conversi (2006: 326), Atatrk could only conceive development as utter,
remorseless and complete Westernization. As far as the founders of the Turkish
Republic were concerned, the European ... experience of the past century was
central to their project.... Emphasis was given to developing a sense of nationhood based on the Turkish language (Kirisci 2004: 276). Indeed, Tachjian (2009:
2) concludes that it was just as important to Turkify it economically, linguistically and demographically as it was to liberate the land. Indeed, the aim of the
leaders was to establish a [modern] nation-state that was based exclusively on
Turkish identity. Consequently, the presence of other ethno-national groups, the
question of their cohesion and investment in the development of their community became insupportable. Colonial genocides against Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Syriacs, Greeks and Others have, not surprisingly, taken
place (Fernandes 2010a, 2010b, 2010c).
For ngr:
... the key discursive devices which the Kemalist centre employed to represent their relationship with the Kurdish periphery was civilization.... The non-Turkish population of the
eastern provinces was looked down upon as primitive and inferior, fit [only] for colonial rule
by a Turkish [westernized] master nation which operated in the name of progress and rationality. They were viewed, moreover, as inherently treacherous and anti-Turkish and hence
threats to security against which Turkish state and army personnel had to be permanently
on guard. (ngr 2008: 32)

Forging a uniform nation out of the heterogeneous Ottoman population meant


official intolerance to differences. Intolerance meant either forceful assimilation
i.e. through cultural and linguistic/constructive genocide (see Fernandes 1998,
2007, 2010a) or clearance of different groups that resisted assimilation (Ergil
2009: 1). Clearance, as Musa Anter and others have clarified, often meant physical

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genocide of Kurds (Fernandes 2007). So assimilation followed by eviction and


decimation of the others became inbuilt characteristics of the republican regime (Ergil 2009: 1).
It was the discourse of westernization/modernization, Mesud Yeen (1999)
contends, that led the Republic to perceive and de-legitimize the Kurdish resistance as a resistance of pre-modernity and brigands (Uarlar 2009:
117).Atatrk, indeed, is recorded as justifying repressive indeed, genocidal
state action in the following way: Could a civilized nation tolerate a mass of
people who let themselves be led by the nose by a herd of shaykhs, dedes, sayyids,
chelebis, babas and amirs? (McDowall 1996: 196). The physical existence of
Kurds, moreover, could even be rejected and denied by Turkish state-discourse
though the application of modern pseudo-scientific theories (Fernandes 2010a).
After the elimination and forced removal of the Kurdish elites from the
East, using such rationalizations, the Kemalists saw the remaining Kurdish
population ... as raw material for the Turkish nation (ngr 2008: 33) to be
disposed of at will (Nezan 1993; Fernandes 1998, 2010a). The Turkish constitution, moreover, consecrated Kemals voluntarist fiction, according to which
Turkey is strictly Turkish (Chaliand 1994: 30). As the modern state was founded
on an extreme fascist kind of nationalism, like that of the Nazis in some respects(Hayri, as cited in Akturk et al. [2001: 479]) and that of Mussolini in Italy
(Tirman 2005; Beiki, as quoted by Van Bruinessen [2005: 28]), impulses that
made genocide a conscious strategy amongst the Kemalist elite became even
more pronounced (Fernandes 2010c). Orientalism and other western pseudoscientifictheories justified and inspired genocidal assaults against the Other. For
Zeydanlolu (2008: 159): The Kemalists took on what I call the White Turkish
Mans Burden in order to carry out a civilizing mission:
The making of the Turkish nation went hand in hand with the forgetting, postponing and
canceling of the Kurdish ethnic identity ([Mesud] Yeen 1999: 120) ... and the suppression
of the Kurdish ethnic identity was made possible by a state knowledge-production that relied on European Orientalist constructs and racial theories. Etienne Copeaux (1998: 52) has
underlined that Turkish historiography and linguistics are children of Western Orientalism;
they are its products. (Zeydanlolu 2008: 161, 162, 163)

In practical terms, Turkish Orientalism was crystallized in Kemalist pseudoscientific theories: These theories were disseminated widely throughout society,
especially in school textbooks, and still continue to influence the discourse of
Turkish nationalism today (Zeydanlolu 2008: 164). The application of torture
in a genocidal context (Fernandes 2010a) has also been directly linked to the
making and maintaining of Turkey as a homogenous nation-state of Turkish
speakers (Zeydanlolu 2009: 76).

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Linguistic genocide in Turkey

In terms of the manner in which metanarratives of modernity supplied the


terms by which indigenous Kurdish peoples were constructed as the inverted image of civilized peoples, Ayce Akturk has detailed the manner in which Kurds
were called kuyruklu kurt, meaning Kurd with a tail, or kiro, meaning uncivilized, uneducated, rude, worthless, one who knows nothing. Meanwhile, the
Kemalist inspired, modern mass education system and media indoctrinated
people that Turks were the heroes of the world (Akturk et al. 2001: 479, 480).
With the Republic becoming the great storyteller of the nation, sponsoring the
grand narratives of nationalism, independence and secularism, Kurdish discourses were cast as villains (Houston 2001: 89). During the Tunceli [Dersim]
rebellion, unsurprisingly, it was said: What the Republican regime has been
doing in Tunceli i.e. its linguistic/cultural and physically genocidal assault
against Kurds (Socialist Party of Kurdistan [PSK] 2008; Fernandes 1998, 2010a,
2010c) is not a military operation, but the march of civilization (Mesud
Yeen 1999: 560). The Turkish position was that these primitives and bandits
should give way to modern civilization, just like the American Indians had. This
should be effected by their assimilation to the supposedly superior Turkish culture and the physical elimination of those who resisted (Van Bruinessen 1994b:
167, 168). After the Dersim rebellion had been suppressed, other Kurdish regions
being civilized from above knew better than to resist (Van Bruinessen 1994a:
12, 13).
Military reports call[ed] all people of Dersim indiscriminately bandits
even as the Law on Resettlement provide[d] the legal framework for a policy
ofethnocide (Van Bruinessen 1994: 149, 150, 152, 153). Inn, right hand and
successor of Atatrk, indeed, expressed the official position: We are frankly
[n]ationalist.... We must Turkify even in socio-linguistic terms the inhabitants of our land at any price, and we will annihilate those who oppose the Turks
or le turquisme (Barkey and Fuller 1998: 10) (Jongerden 2001: 81).
Concerning the impacts of the Southeast Anatolia Regional Development
(GAP) Project, intended to modernize, civilize and develop the predominantly
Kurdish East via the construction and operation of 19 power stations, 22 dams and
linked developments, the top-down project has always been underpinned by the
long standing assimilation policies of the Turkish state with regard to [indigenous] Kurdish people their forced inclusion into mainstream Turkish culture
and society (Ronayne 2005: 36), using genocidal processes and techniques (Fernandes 2010a). For Gerger (1997: 18), modern Turkish national, secular values as
advanced by Kemalism had ensured that the nation-building process degenerated into a permanent indoctrination campaign brainwashing successive generations with the most extreme varieties of nationalistic and racist ideologies. Salih
(2006: 1) confirms that the ideology of Kemalism has been enshrined in the 1982

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88

Constitution as sacrosanct which cannot be amended; even proposals to do so


may constitute a criminal offence.

5The Kurdish genocide, 19242010


The consequences of this paleo-imperialist march towards modernity and civilization have been devastating. Not only the Kurds, but others have been subjected
to ongoing genocidal assaults as modern laws, administrative, developmental,
educational and accounting/propaganda systems, penal codes (some fashioned
on Mussolinis fascist codes) and rational military and counter-insurgency methods and techniques have been applied (Fernandes 2010a, 2010b, 2010c). In
Besikcis (1990) view, the law on the pacification and modern reform of Tunceli
undoubtedly served to legitimate genocide (Van Bruinessen 1994b: 183).
It is also important to appreciate that Atatrk, as its first President, saw the
unification and modernization of education as the key (Commission on Social
Issues 2008: 1) towards framing culture within a modernist-Turkish nationalist
straight-jacket. Under this guiding framework, the diversity of languages in
Anatolia was an obstacle to the construction of a homogeneous cultural identity
that would become the basis of a national one. Thus, the imposition of Turkish
language in schools, law courts, press and media outlets and all public recreational and work spaces became the most significant instrument of the state
for creating a Turkish national identity. The new link between the state, its citizens and the national identity was enforced by the obligation of Turkish as the
national language, whose alphabet [even] replaced Arabic letters with the Latin
script in November 1928 (Uarlar 2009: 120):
The Latin script was introduced not only to undermine the power of religious leaders ... but
also to break ties with the Ottoman past in order to accelerate the reforms in favor of
westernization.... Furthermore, the expected increase of literacy was supposed to serve
the construction and spread of the concept of [the modern] nation.... Moreover, the Turkish language was [itself] purified from the Arabic and Persian words that represented the
Islamic and backward Ottoman past. (Uarlar 2009: 121, 122)

For Shafak: In the name of modernization, our language shrunk tremendously


(cited in Lea 2006: 1).... Very few people in Turkey question today the Turkeyfication of the language that we went through. I find that very dangerous because
I think that linguistic cleansing is something comparable to ethnic cleansing
(Shafak 2005: 1). To facilitate these modern transformations, ethnic and linguistic studies were also institutionalized by the state. In 1931, the Society for the
Study of Turkish History ... was established, and morphed four years later into

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89

Linguistic genocide in Turkey

the Turkish Historical Foundation. The aim of the foundation was to create a
national [modern] education in the service of political aims (Uarlar 2009: 121,
122).
To Uarlar: Every attempt by the Turkish elite to eliminate the hegemony of
the Kurdish elite over the Kurdish people also aimed to destroy the political, economic and social elements of Kurdishness, as well as the consciousness of Kurdishness among the people.... It is not so striking that the Kurdish language was
targeted in the service of [modern] nation and state building (Uarlar 2009:
125).
In terms of the painful adjustments that were deemed to be necessary to
progress to the level of contemporary civilization, certain Kurdish sources have
estimated that over half a million [Kurdish] people were deported, of whom
nearly half died en route between 1925 and 1928 alone (Lustgarten 2003: 6). During the aftermath of the failed Sheikh Said uprising of 1925, seen by many as a
nationalist and religious response by Kurdish factions to the secular and Turkification linked reforms of the modern state (Leicht 1998; Fernandes 2010c), Randal
(1999: 121) has concluded that hundreds of Kurdish villages were burned, and
between 40,000 and 250,000 peasants died in the ensuing pacification. Over
thenext dozen years or so, perhaps a million Kurdish men, women and children
were uprooted and shipped to Western Anatolia. Large parts of the Kurdish
population were sent to concentration camps in the western provinces (Frodin
1944: 5).
The Turkish Prime Minister reportedly stated in 1938: We will carry out a
military operation in Dersim.... There will be an extermination action.... Our
army ... will begin maneuvers in the area, ridding it of its inhabitants. In this
way, the problem will be pulled up by its roots (Dersimi 1999 [1952]: 289). Atatrk,
in a speech at the opening of parliament in 1936, similarly clarified that: We have
to remove this abscess [Dersim, renamed Tunceli in Turkish] at its roots. To deal
with this problem, we will give wider powers to the government (White 2000:
79). Such powers led to further genocidal massacres, slow death measures,
Turkish place name-changing, forced assimilation and forced resettlement (Fernandes 1998, 2010c).
In linguistically and culturally genocidal terms, in March 1924 i.e. one year
before the first Kurdish rebellion/uprising the public use of Kurdish and the
teaching of Kurdish was prohibited. Influential Kurdish landowners and tribal
chiefs were forcibly resettled in the west of the country (Zrcher 2004: 178). Modern law courts refused to accept Kurdish (Fernandes 2010a). Article 12 of the 1924
constitution also closed the Parliament to the Kurds who would resist forgetting,
delaying or canceling their identity and language (Uarlar 2009: 121, 122). Turkish place names began to replace Kurdish ones (McDowall 1996: 191).

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According to the 1925 Plan for the Reformation of the East, the cities and
towns where Kurds live were listed, and speaking Kurdish there was banned
(Bayrak [1993: 486, 487], cited in Malmisanij [2006: 6]). Kurdish speakers found
themselves being fined according to a tariff for every Kurdish word spoken (Fernandes 1998). Kurdish language, music and national costume were outlawed....
Like it or not, everyone within Turkeys borders were by legislation declared to be
Turks. The words Kurds and Kurdistan like Armenia and Pontus were forcibly
erased from dictionaries and literature even as many slogans were coined: One
Turk is worth the whole world!... Turkish blood is clean, pure and superior!
(Baksi 1986: 103). Broadcasting and publishing in the Kurdish language was prohibited (Fernandes 2010c) even as the newly established nationalist institution
called Peoples House (Halkevi) would gear Turkish identity and Kemalist ideology to the popular audience (ngr 2008: 33).
The compulsory adoption of surnames in 1934 served to turn numerous
Kurdish families into Trks, ztrks, Tatars, or zbeks (Van Bruinessen 1997: 6).
Alnak reiterates the view that Turkification of Kurds via the schooling system
and forced resettlement were core objectives advanced by nn and Marshal
akmak during the 1930s (nderolu 2010: 1). For Jongerden:
In the 1930s and 1940s, government policy in Dersim ... resembles the conquest and
occupation of enemy territory.... The building of an educational structure was given
priority.... It was even suggested that Kurdish children be sent to boarding schools where
they would speak exclusively in Turkish.... Right up to the present day, boarding schools
are established in the Kurdish areas in order to have more control over the childrens education and to enforce a switch of their identity. (Jongerden 2003: 77, 78)

In Dersim, after the 19371938 genocidal onslaught, the Turkish army kidnapped
many Kurdish children who were under the age of seven and placed them in Turkish families in western Turkey (Koivunen 2002: 99). The Tunceli law ensured
that educational establishments engaged in assimilating orphan Kurdish girls
strictly enforced the teaching of Turkish, whilst banning the Kurdish language
(Fernandes 2010a). The Resettlement Law of the 1930s, moreover, abrogated
any legal recognition of Kurdish tribes and their leaders, thus permitting the automatic sequestration of their immovable assets. All settlements in which Kurdish
was the mother tongue were to be dissolved, and the displaced Kurds were to be
resettled as part of the Turkification drive in localities where they would
make up no more than 5% of the population.... It was further prescribed that
those who speak a mother tongue other than Turkish will be forbidden to form
villages, quarters or groups of artisans and employees. The intention was to destroy Kurdish identity and language in its entirety (Lustgarten 2003: 7). The
law also aimed at the dismembering of the Kurdish community even down to the

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91

Linguistic genocide in Turkey

family unit. It has been judged that parents, married sons and married grandsons
shall be evicted to different areas (Turkish Human Rights Association 1996: 19).
Other culturally and physically genocidal plans, policies and practices have
been evident since the 1930s (Fernandes 2007, 2010a). Forty nine Kurdish intellectuals, for example, were arrested in 1959 as part of a wider initiative that was
aimed at intentionally murdering 1,000 Kurdish intellectuals (Anter 1991). During
the 1990s, Kurdish intellectuals were once again subjected to assassination and
disappearance (Fernandes 2010a). During the 1940s, a report by the Inspector
General of the First Inspectorate recommended that more Kurdish leaders from
the East be deported even as Turkish language boarding schools for Kurdish
children were to be constructed, where all traces of Kurdish culture and language could be expunged (McDowall 1996: 209, 210). The 1949 Provincial Administration Law further authorized the changing of names of places and this
authority was used quite liberally. Moreover, article 16 of the 1972 Population Law
prohibited giving Kurdish names to new-borns (Yeen 2008: 3).
After the 1960 coup, the military regime in 1961 systematically started to
change Kurdish place names into Turkish and establish regional boarding schools
in order to assimilate the Kurdish population (Uarlar 2009: 129). The Forced
Settlement Law that was passed at the time stipulated that this was done in
order to carry out certain social reforms that would demolish the order of the
Middle Ages that exists in Turkey (Zeydanlolu 2008: 65). General Grsel, as
head of the military regime, lauded a book ... which claimed that the Kurds
were in fact of Turkish origin, and declared whilst standing on an American tank
that: There are no Kurds in this country. Whoever says he is a Kurd, I will spit in
his face (Zeydanlolu 2008: 64, 65).
Waves of place name changing, indeed, occurred and were initiated
[even] under so-called liberal governments (Jongerden 2009: 10). Various government initiatives were aimed at stopping Kurds from listening to foreign broadcasts in Kurdish and even accessing Kurdish educational courses internationally
(Fernandes 2010c). Uarlar (2009: 133, 134) confirms that the military administration (19803) banned strictly the use of Kurdish language.... The assimilation
of Kurdish children into the Turkish language was fostered through the dissemination of compulsory schooling. The Kurdish names of villages that [had] remained intact after the changes of the 1960s were adjusted into Turkish. Kurdish
families were forced to give Turkish names to their children, and this pressure
was still being applied during the first decade of the 21st century (Fernandes 2007,
2010c). Torture has continued to be applied in a genocidal context (Fernandes
2010a), even as Article 89 of the post-coup constitution prohibited the right of
Kurds to political representation.... The constitution also legally enshrined the
ban on the Kurdish language (Zeydanlolu 2009: 81).

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Helsinki Watch (1990: 37) has further detailed the manner in which, in May
1989, the National Security Council launched a campaign denying the existence
of a distinct Kurdish nation and a Kurdish language. Pamphlets were issued and
distributed to schools in the south-east to reinforce this message. SkutnabbKangas (cited in Fernandes [2006: 34]) concluded in 2002 that Turkeys policy
still fit[ted] two of the definitions of genocide in the UN International Convention
on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.... [What is happening] is genocide, according to the UN definition.... In addition, Turkey is of
course also committing linguistic genocide according to the specific definition on
linguistic genocide. More recent assessments have drawn the same conclusions
(Skutnabb-Kangas 2005, 2010; Skutnabb-Kangas and Fernandes 2008; SkutnabbKangas and Dunbar 2010). Even by mid-2010, Cengiz Aktar confirmed that teaching Kurdish at [public] school[s] is not at all on the agenda of the government
and state (Aktar 2010: 1).
With regard to the nature of the states genocidal policies in Turkish Kurdistan between 19841997, some estimates suggest that over three million Kurds
were forcibly displaced and subjected to mental harm, tens of thousands of people were killed, over 4000 settlements were fully or partially destroyed and thousands of people disappeared (Fernandes 2010a, 2010b). In development terms,
too, the Southeastern Anatolian Project has been used to facilitate an ethnic and
cultural genocide against Kurds (Tataii 2010; see also Fernandes 2010a). The
genocidal actions of the Turkish state during the 20002010 period have also
been recognized, as such, by a number of genocide scholars, policy analysts, lawyers, human rights campaigners, political organizations and movements (Fernandes 2010a, 2010b, 2010c). To Gerger (cited in Cudi [2010: 1]), writing in August
2010: The US seems to have reached some sort of an understanding with the
governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) concerning the Kurdish issue:
The previous state strategy was to nationalist-Kemalists, total liquidation through
violence.... Now with the active aid of president Obama, the liberal coalition under the
AKP government tried Alm which meant a new phase liberal phased liquidation....
[But] even this created serious cleavages within the ruling classes and now it seems that
they have met again at the old strategy of nationalist total liquidation through force and
violence. (Cited in Cudi [2010: 1])

6Conclusion
It is evident that Kurds in Turkey have been subjected to linguistic and other
forms of genocide. Social triage, the Hobbesian project and the vivisectional mandate have all been evident. The influence of modernity in shaping and legitimiz-

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Linguistic genocide in Turkey

ing the genocidal process in Turkey has been substantive. For Schulter, it is important to recognize that:
... while the European Holocaust of 19391945 against Jews and other inferior peoples
rightly serves as an ideal case of genocide, the persecution of ... the Kurds under the Turkish Republic, is also genocide in the original and proper sense of the term as coined by the
jurist Raphael Lemkin ... Turkish policy in Northern Kurdistan ... might serve as an example of the attempted cultural destruction of a national pattern by forced ... Turkification. In fact, Lemkins original description of genocide, with its focus not only on the systematic slaughter and starvation of the Jews but also on the imposition of the German
language in places such as Luxembourg, might have cited Turkish policy in Northern Kurdistan. (Schulter 2000: 1)

Today, culturally and linguistically genocidal policies and practices are still in
place and the spectre of physical genocide looms once again (Fernandes 2010a,
2010b). For Havemann (2005: 61): It may be comforting to claim that genocide
was a facet of early/simple/industrial modernity and that it does not happen any
more. The law, state and dominant culture selectively forget, engaging in historical denial: they deny the immediacy of genocide and ethnocide or that what went
on in Australia, for example, ought to be described as genocide. However,
modernization has always produced and legitimated atrocities and suffering....
In Australia, he concludes as I do in this article with regard to Turkey the
apparently civilizing imperatives of modernity ... amount to genocide.... Until
we overcome denial by acknowledging the truth, we can never get to the place
called reconciliation (Havemann 2005: 61, 79).

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