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Ontological

Security and the


positive
potential of
anxiety
An exploration into the role of
ontological security within the
Kurdish conflict in Turkey

Inge van der Spek


UNIVERSITY OF KENT – BRUSSELS SCHOOL OF INTERNATIONAL
STUDIES
MA DISSERTATION – MA INTERNATIONAL CONFLICT AND SECURITY
ACADEMIC YEAR: 2016-2017
NUMBER OF WORDS: 15.046
1
Abstract

This dissertation argues for a more widespread use of and research into the new approach to

ontological security that steps away from securitisation and rather emphasises the positive

potential of anxiety and change (Rumelili, 2015a), the importance of adaptability instead of

stability (Browning et al., 2016), the importance of being critical of one’s own ontological

security (Rossdale, 2015) and the related focus on processes of de-securitisation (Rumelili,

2015a) followed by thick recognition, and simultaneous self-transformation and other-

transformation. (Strömbom, 2014) It will be shown that there is currently a very limited use of

the positive potential of anxiety, due to a strong focus on securitisation and physical security

rather than ontological security within IR. The theoretical framework concerning the positive

potential of anxiety must be further developed through the conduct of more academic research.

Within such research, it must be taken into account that different state institutions have

different identities and different ontological security needs. Furthermore, the individual

dimension of identification and its relation to ontological security of the state must be further

explored. These conclusions are reached on the basis of application of the theoretical framework

and analysis of its role within the Kurdish conflict in Turkey.

2
Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my dissertation supervisor Professor Maria Mälksoo for her support and

guidance in writing this dissertation. Many thanks also go out to my closest friends and family,

for supporting me in the stressful days of writing.

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Title Ontological Security and the positive potential of anxiety: an exploration

into the role of ontological security within the Kurdish conflict in Turkey.

Author Inge van der Spek

Institution University of Kent – Brussels School of International Studies

Study programme MA International Conflict and Security

Academic Year 2016-2017

Number of words 15.046

4
Table of Contents
Abstract .................................................................................................................................................. 2
Acknowledgements ............................................................................................................................... 3
List of Abbreviations ............................................................................................................................. 6
1. Introduction ................................................................................................................................... 7
2. Theoretical framework.................................................................................................................... 10
2.1 Ontological security: an overview ............................................................................................ 10
2.2 Anxieties and fears .................................................................................................................... 11
2.3 The positive potential of anxiety .............................................................................................. 13
2. A historical background: collapse of the Ottoman Empire ....................................................... 17
3. The Kemalist era: 1923-1983 ..................................................................................................... 20
4.1 The first years of Turkish independence ................................................................................. 20
4.2 Kemalist policies and identity formation................................................................................. 21
4.3 Increased Kurdish mobilisation ............................................................................................... 23
4.4 Theoretical analysis ................................................................................................................... 25
4. Turgut Özal: 1983-1993 .............................................................................................................. 27
4.1 Özal as a ruler............................................................................................................................. 27
4.2 Özal and the Kurds..................................................................................................................... 28
4.3 Theoretical analysis ................................................................................................................... 31
5. A return to Kemalism: 1993 – 2002 ........................................................................................... 34
5.1 A return to restrictive policies .................................................................................................. 34
5.2 Theoretical analysis ................................................................................................................... 37
6. Erdoğan and the AKP: 2002-now ............................................................................................... 39
6.1 An introduction to Erdoğan and the AKP ................................................................................ 39
6.2 Developments in the first period of AKP rule.......................................................................... 40
6.3 The Democratic Opening ........................................................................................................... 42
6.4 The nationalist turn ................................................................................................................... 45
6.5 Theoretical analysis ................................................................................................................... 46
7. Conclusion ........................................................................................................................................ 50
Appendix 1: Poem by Ziya Gökalp (English) ..................................................................................... 53
Appendix 2: Poem by Ziya Gökalp (Turkish) ..................................................................................... 54
Bibliography ......................................................................................................................................... 55

5
List of Abbreviations

AKP Development and Justice Party


CHP Republican People’s Party
CUP Ottoman Committee of Union and Progress
DTP Democratic Society Party
GNA Grand National Assembly
ICG International Crisis Group
IR International Relations
KADEK Freedom and Democracy Congress of Kurdistan
KGK Kurdistan People’s Congress
PKK Kurdistan Workers’ Party
RECH Revolutionary Eastern Cultural Hearts

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1. Introduction

This dissertation offers an exploration into the theoretical concept of ontological security, and

argues for a more widespread application of and research into the concept. The concept of

ontological security originally comes from psychology and was thus first applied to individuals.

Individuals have a need for security of the self. Security of the self is argued to be constituted of

“a biographical continuity; the construction and maintenance of a web of trust relations; self-

integrity and dread.” (Croft and Vaughan-Williams, 2016) In the early 2000s, ontological security

as a concept was picked up by the International Relations (IR) scholarship for the first time.

Within IR, the concept of ontological security is applied mostly to states and other major political

actors. (Mitzen, 2006) Within IR there are different approaches to ontological security such as

the interactional approach (Mitzen, 2006), the social constructivist approach (Steele, 2001) and

the narrative approach (Kinvall, 2004; Somers, 1994; Subotić, 2016)

Many scholars have criticised the focus on securitisation within studies of ontological security in

IR. Criticisms of securitisation go hand in hand with criticisms on the focus on stable identities

and the portrayal of change as negative. Browning and Joenniemi (2016) write that “the

concept’s [ontological security] use to date has been too much geared to questions of identity-

related stability, with change viewed as disturbing and anxiety-inducing.” In the general

conception of ontological security, change is seen as undesirable as it can have a destabilising

effect on the identity and security of being. (Browning and Joenniemi, 2016) Within this

dissertation, a theoretical framework is presented that steps away from this focus on

securitisation and stability.

The framework presented is based on the assumption that the ultimate goal is to achieve a

situation of ontological security combined with physical asecurity for all actors in the conflict.

Physical asecurity is defined as a situation in which there is no perceived threat or danger, and

therefore there is no need for policies countering threats. (Rumelili, 2015a) In order to move

7
towards this ideal situation, it is important to look at ontological security in a radically different

way.

The presented theoretical framework emphasises the positive potential of anxiety and change

(Rumelili, 2015a), the importance of adaptability instead of stability (Browning et al., 2016), the

importance of being critical of one’s own ontological security (Rossdale, 2015) and the related

focus on processes of de-securitisation (Rumelili, 2015a) followed by thick recognition, and

simultaneous self-transformation and other-transformation. (Strömbom, 2014)

This dissertation argues for a more widespread use of and research into this new approach to

ontological security. It will be shown that there is currently a very limited use of the positive

potential of anxiety, due to a strong focus on securitisation and physical security rather than

ontological security within IR. The theoretical framework concerning the positive potential of

anxiety must be further developed through the conduct of more academic research. Within such

research, it must be taken into account that different state institutions have different identities

and different ontological security needs. Furthermore, the individual dimension of identification

and its relation to ontological security of the state must be further explored.

The usefulness and suitability of the presented theoretical framework will be explored and

demonstrated through an application of the theoretical framework on the case of the Kurdish

conflict in Turkey. An overview of different periods in Turkish history will be given, starting

from Turkish independence until the current day. Explanations of developments in these

different periods will be combined with theoretical analyses. This dissertation will start off with

a presentation of the theoretical framework. This is followed by a short background giving

information about the last decades of the Ottoman Empire.

The third chapter concerns the first 60 years of Turkish independence from 1923 until 1983.

1923 was the year in which the Ottoman Empire ended and Turkey became an independent

country. By that year, it had become clear that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – the new Turkish leader –

had a policy of creating a strong Turkish identity based on secularism, nationalism and unity.

8
Other religions and cultures were therefore seen as a threat to Turkish existence. (Bozarslan,

2008) Since the declaration of Turkish independence, the Turkish government has therefore

followed a strong policy of “assimilation, repression and containment” with regard to the

Kurdish people. (Yeğen, 2015) In 1978, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was formed, and

violent clashes between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces followed. (Ünal, 2016)

Following this will be a chapter about the period of Özal’s rule from 1983 until 1993. The

Turkish position towards the Kurds changed when President Özal came to power in 1983.

President Özal opted for “weak recognition” of the Kurdish problem which led to the

implementation of more accommodative policies. In March 1993, a ceasefire was established

between the PKK and the Turkish armed forces. However, President Özal died on the 17th of

April of that same year, after which the ceasefire collapsed. (Yeğen, 2015)

Chapter 5 concerns the period from 1993 until 2002. During the period after Özal’s death,

successive governments returned to more restrictive policies with regard to the Kurds. Such

policies were the “intensification of cross-border operations into northern Iraq, increased village

evacuations in the Southeast, and extrajudicial killings conducted or tolerated by the security

forces.” (Pusane, 2014)

The final chapter focuses on the period of AKP rule that started in 2002. The current governing

party in Turkey started off with a more open approach to the Kurds as well as to other cultures

and religions in general. In the first years of AKP rule, the Turkish government implemented

accommodative policies towards the Kurds. However, over time this changed and the AKP has

returned to restrictive policies and oppression of the Kurds. (Polat, 2009)

9
2. Theoretical framework

This chapter will explain the development of the concept of ontological security. An overview of

the scientific debate and criticisms will be followed by the presentation of a new approach to

ontological security.

2.1 Ontological security: an overview

The concept of ontological security originally comes from psychology and was thus first applied

to individuals. Individuals have a need for security of the self. Security of the self is argued to be

constituted of “a biographical continuity; the construction and maintenance of a web of trust

relations; self-integrity and dread.” (Croft and Vaughan-Williams, 2016) In the early 2000s,

ontological security as a concept was picked up by the International Relations scholarship for

the first time. Within IR, the concept of ontological security is applied mostly to states and other

major political actors. (Mitzen, 2006)

Within IR, there are different approaches to ontological security. Mitzen (2006) has an

interactional approach to ontological security. Within this approach, it is argued that political

actors try to minimise their ontological insecurity through routinizing practices. An important

aspect of the routinisation of practices has to do with structuring relations and interactions with

significant others. This helps political actors in making sense of who they are and where they

stand in relation to these significant others. The routinisation of practices decreases the

conscious awareness of political actors, which makes it easier to take decisions, build trust and

predict future actions of other actors. The other actor can then adapt its own identity to these

predictions. The identity of political actors is dependent on their relationship. (Mitzen, 2006)

Steele (2001) has a more social constructivist approach to ontological security. He argues that

states “pursue social actions to serve identity needs.” (Steele, 2001) Social actions directed at

self-identity are seen as strategic actions just like actions aimed at safeguarding physical

security. Maintenance of ontological security is in the interest of the state. Shame occurs when a

state’s vision of self-identity is not in line with its actions. Shame signifies a lack of ontological

10
security. The feeling of shame then serves to confront these disrupted visions and once again

gain ontological security. (Steele, 2001)

A third approach to ontological security is the narrative approach. Within the narrative

approach, political actors use stories to define who they are and to decide what to do. Somers

(1994) has explained that “this ‘doing’ will in turn produce new narratives and hence, new

actions; the relationship between narrative and ontology is processual and mutually

constitutive.” Subotić (2016) explains that narratives are normative in nature. This is how they

can guide policy actions and choices. Especially when there is stress and therefore ontological

security, narratives can be useful to alleviate ontological insecurity. (Kinvall, 2004)

Ontological security is different from the more traditional concept of physical security, which is

related to state sovereignty. Physical security is about the tangible security of one’s own

territory and property as a political actor. Ontological security is often referred to as the security

of being, whereas physical security is referred to as security of survival. (Rumelili, 2015a)

Maintenance of physical security is mainly and most clearly expressed through the protection of

borders. (Mitzen, 2006) Although inherently different, Steele (2011) argues that social actions

directed at self-identity are seen as strategic actions just like actions aimed at safeguarding

physical security. Maintenance of ontological security is thus in the interest of the state.

2.2 Anxieties and fears

In order to better understand ontological security – and its relation to physical security – it is

important to distinguish between anxieties and fears. This is a distinction that Rumelili (2015b)

puts forward in the introduction to her book called “Ontological security and conflict resolution:

peace anxieties.” Rumelili (2015b) first of all writes that both anxiety and fear are individual

emotions. However, if such emotions are felt by many citizens it has an impact on the state and

its ontological security as well as on its physical security. The feeling of anxiety is a general

feeling of the individual that is not directed towards a clear object. It is therefore mainly

experienced internally. Fear, on the other hand, is an emotion that is aimed at a specific object or

11
threat. As a result, clear actions can be undertaken to counter this fear thereby taking the

emotion into the external sphere. (Rumelili, 2015b)

Rumelili (2015a) has created a scheme that shows all the possible combinations of levels of fear

and anxiety relating to different states of both ontological and physical security. A high level of

anxiety corresponds to a state of ontological insecurity whereas a low level of anxiety

corresponds to a state of ontological security. A high level of fear corresponds to physical

(in)security – whether it is security or insecurity depends on the policies in place to counter

threats - whereas a low level of fear corresponds to physical asecurity. In the case of physical

asecurity there is no perceived threat or danger, and therefore there is no need for policies

countering threats. (Rumelili, 2015a) Waever (1998) has written that in a situation of physical

asecurity, the “security community is defined by the impossibility of imagining violence.”

Combinations of each of these states of ontological and physical security are possible. The ideal

combination “from a normative perspective”, according to Rumelili (2015a) – and I agree with

this – is a combination of ontological security and physical asecurity. She writes that “in this

state of security, conflicts are sustainably resolved; issues that have propelled conflict in the past

are either settled or have shed their physical security-ness, and are negotiated in normal

political channels. Yet, identity differences maintain their ontological security-ness as groups

reproduce their distinct identities through various social and cultural practices.”1 (Rumelili,

2015a) The different combinations are shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1. Combinations of Ontological (in)security and Physical (in)security/asecurity. (Rumelili, 2015a)

1
Physical asecurity, of course, is a theoretical analytical category. This is not to say that situations of
physical asecurity exist in real life. It is, however, still possible to strive towards a situation that
resembles as accurately as possible a situation of physical asecurity.

12
Anxieties can challenge the ontological security of political actors. This is why political actors

often try to turn anxieties into fears. Political actors prefer feelings of fear over feelings of

anxiety because it is more easy to return to a state of ontological security when there is fear. The

move from anxiety to fear is made through practices of securitisation. (Rumelili, 2015b) Like

Waever (1998) has explained: “Security is a practice, a specific way to frame an issue.” By

labelling something as a security issue, “the actor has claimed a right to handle it with

extraordinary means, to break the normal political rules of the game.” (Waever, 1998) Within

such securitisation practices, other political actors are often presented as dangerous and actions

of these political actors as threats. Through such securitisation practices, the sense of self and

stability returns thereby safeguarding the ontological security. Anxieties are replaced by fears,

thereby creating a situation of physical (in)security. (Rumelili, 2015b)

Such securitisation practices, thus, also have an impact on the physical security of the concerned

political actor. Physical security and ontological security are thus concepts that are inherently

different but that still influence one another a lot. (Rumelili, 2015b) Mitzen (2006) writes that

ontological security is defined in interaction with significant others. In a conflict situation, this

can mean that a state derives its ontological security from the conflictual relationship with the

other conflict party. About such cases, Mitzen (2006) writes that “on a deep level, they prefer

conflict to cooperation, because only through conflict do they know who they are.” This shows

that sometimes – and especially in conflict situations – ontological security is obtained at the

expense of physical security. Steele (2001) confirms this. He writes that “states pursue social

actions to serve self-identity needs, even when these actions compromise their physical

existence.”

2.3 The positive potential of anxiety

Many scholars have criticised the focus on securitisation within studies of ontological security in

IR. Criticisms of securitisation go hand in hand with criticisms on the focus on stable identities

and the portrayal of change as negative. Browning and Joenniemi (2016) write that “the

13
concept’s [ontological security] use to date has been too much geared to questions of identity-

related stability, with change viewed as disturbing and anxiety-inducing.” In the general

conception of ontological security, change is seen as undesirable as it can have a destabilising

effect on the identity and security of being. Therefore, Browning and Joenniemi (2016) argue

that ontological security until now has been studied in a very restrictive way, focusing too much

on identity and securitisation.

They claim that ontological security should also be related to adaptability instead of solely to

stability. Identity is not to be seen as one and the same thing as ontological security, but rather

as a means towards achieving it. Being able to adapt one’s identity, therefore, can safeguard

one’s ontological security. Based on the mistake of seeing identity as similar to ontological

security, the assumption is often made that securitisation – which is defined as “the construction

of identities on the basis of the negative difference provided by radical otherness and enmity” –

and locking up of identities is helpful in maintaining ontological security. This assumption is

thus criticised by Browning and Joenniemi. (2016)

Rossdale (2015) has argued that being critical of one’s own ontological security, can lead to

positive change. This is, however, impeded by the current focus on stability and routine in

creating ontological security. Kinvall and Mitzen (2016) mention that “ontological security

scholarship focuses disproportionately on negative security dynamics.” They therefore advocate

for a bigger focus on the “non-securitising dynamics of ontological security-seeking in world

politics.” (Kinvall and Mitzen, 2016)

Rumelili (2015a) has, in accordance with the above criticisms of securitisation, tried to

emphasise the positive potential of anxiety. Anxiety creates space for new possibilities and

positive change. This is often overlooked. A state of anxiety can create a moment of freedom and

choice. The option of choosing anxiety over fear in the short run opens up the possible prospect

of new systems of meaning in the long run. These new systems of meaning are central in the

establishment of a new identity and re-creation of ontological security.

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As mentioned before, in the most ideal situation there would be a combination of ontological

security and physical asecurity. Ontological security necessitates low levels of anxiety, and

physical asecurity necessitates low levels of fear. Currently, the standard reaction to anxiety is to

start processes of securitisation. However, this creates fears and therefore prohibits the

attainment of this ideal situation. Anxieties must thus be dealt with in a different way. What is

necessary in such a situation is a short period of ontological security, combined with non-

securitising processes of meaning constitution through alternative channels.

Taking even a further step, there is a need for de-securitisation. In many conflict situations,

securitisation practices have already created feelings of fear. This has led to situations of

ontological security combined with physical (in)security. De-securitisation processes will lead to

the replacement of existing fears by anxieties. The replacement of fears by anxieties creates a

situation of physical asecurity, combined with ontological insecurity. It is then necessary to treat

anxieties in such a way that they lead to non-violent and non-securitising processes of identity

transformation and routinisation leading to ontological security.

This relates to what Strömbom (2014) has written about thick recognition. Thick recognition as

a concept can help better understand intrastate conflict dynamics. Such conflicts are often

identity conflicts, in which there is mutual misrecognition between the conflict parties. In the

path towards conflict transformation, this misrecognition must be replaced by recognition.

Thick recognition is more than the official granting of rights and policies. It is rather about deep

acknowledgement and acceptance of differences. Key are empathy and an understanding of the

identity of the other. When such thick recognition is established, this can be the first step

towards conflict transformation. (Strömbom, 2014)

In obtaining thick recognition between conflict parties, it is important that self-transformation

and other-transformation go hand in hand. The way a conflict party sees the other, must align

with how the other sees himself. In this way, the identity of the other is recognised. Strömbom

(2014) argues that “it is important to emphasise that the aim is to accept and recognise

15
difference, rather than to achieve forced unification and joint narratives.” This also relates to the

interconnection between collective identity and commemorative narratives, as these form

understandings of history.

In order to obtain the ideal combination of ontological security and physical asecurity, there thus

needs to be a low level of anxiety and a low level of fear. This can be achieved through de-

securitisation processes followed by non-securitising meaning constitution and identity

transformation. What such processes need to look like exactly is not something I will address in

the rest of this dissertation. What I will focus on is a case-study of the Kurdish conflict in Turkey.

Throughout Turkish history, there have been different government approaches to the Kurdish

issue. The different approaches will be looked at in the light of the theoretical framework laid

out in this chapter.

16
2. A historical background: collapse of the Ottoman Empire

This chapter provides a concise historical background of the Turkish state, by describing the last

decades of the Ottoman Period.

With regard to the Ottoman Period, it is important to note that minorities were recognised on

the basis of religion rather than ethnicity. The Kurds were part of the Muslim majority, and

within that majority, they had a great level of autonomy. Also, there was a lot of room for

diversity and difference during the Ottoman Empire in general. (Pusane, 2014)

In the beginning of the 20th century, there was a lot of instability in the Ottoman Empire. The

Young Turk Revolution of 1908 aimed at achieving democracy, which brought the Ottoman

Committee of Union and Progress (CUP) to power. Only some years after this uprising, the First

World War broke out in 1914. The CUP, during these years, worked on creating a more Turkish

identity as opposed to an Ottoman identity. They only started considering Turkish independence

as a feasible possibility towards the end of the First World War. The First World War ended with

the signing of the Mudros armistice in October 1918. (Hanioğlu, 2008)

After the armistice of Mudros was signed in October 1918, fighting continued. This would later

be called the Turkish War of Independence. The Allied forces violated the agreement in order to

gain power geopolitically. Ottoman leaders attempted to keep as much power as possible. The

CUP’s power in government was weakened because the cabinet resigned just before the

armistice of Mudros was signed. Meanwhile, civil society flourished and gained strength. Mustafa

Kemal Atatürk, who would later become the first president of independent Turkey, started

organising a movement against the Allied occupation of the Ottoman Empire. He joined forces

with officers of the disarmed Ottoman army and local opposition movements that had been

formed directly at the end of the Great War. In 1920, the Grand National Assembly (GNA) of

Turkey was formed, with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as its president. (Kayali, 2008)

17
During the Turkish War of Independence, the Kurds were afraid of a revenge from the

Armenians2, and preferred to be on good terms with the Turks. (Bozarslan, 2008) Many Kurds

supported Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in his resistance against the international occupants, and the

Kemalist movement promised fraternity between Turks and Kurds. (Massicard, 2009)

Simultaneously, however, an independence movement emerged mostly focused around the

Society for Kurdish Elevation. There were negotiations with the Armenians to assure the future

independence of both Armenia and Kurdistan. The Sèvres Treaty of 1920 provided a good

possibility in this regard. (Bozarslan, 2008) The treaty stated that a “part of Anatolian Kurdistan

was to be recognised as the new state immediately” (Sèvres Treaty, 1920) and it stated that “if

within one year from the coming into force of the present Treaty the Kurdish peoples within the

areas defined in Article 62 shall address themselves to the Council of the League of Nations in

such a manner as to show that a majority of the population of these areas desires independence

from Turkey, and if the Council then considers that these peoples are capable of such

independence and recommends that it should be granted to them, Turkey hereby agrees to

execute such recommendation, and to renounce all rights and title over these areas.” (Sèvres

Treaty, 1920)

The Sèvres Treaty, however, was rejected by notable Kurdish leaders (Bozarslan, 2008) and by

the GNA. The GNA opposed occupation of Ottoman territories by the Allied forces as well as

Kurdish attainment of territory. The signing of the Sèvres Treaty therefore caused more

opposition amongst Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his followers, as it was inherently opposing the

beliefs and ideas of the movement. (Kayali, 2008)

In the first period after the Sèvres Treaty was signed, there was quite some political unrest.

Different political centres were challenging each other. Also, several groups were standing up

against Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s resistance movement. Rebels from the Koçgiri tribe in the

similarly named Koçgiri region where prominent in this. The Koçgiri region was more

2
Between 1894 and 1896, at least 100,000 Armenians were massacred. Also, the Kurds decided to occupy
many Armenian villages leaving the original inhabitants displaced. (Bozarslan, 2008)

18
economically underdeveloped than other Kurdish regions, and it was inhabited by Alevi

Muslims. When Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the Ankara government claimed that an independent

Kurdistan and related conditions in the Sèvres Treaty could not be realised, the rebels decided to

start a revolt (1921). The military reacted with force. Burning and plundering of villages took

place, and many civilians were either killed or forcedly displaced. Kemalist sources claim that

these events were a necessary reaction to the rebellion, but more critical sources argue that this

is part of the more widespread Kemalist policy of homogenisation. (Massicard, 2009)

19
3. The Kemalist era: 1923-1983

This chapter will give a historical overview of the first 60 years of Turkish independence. This

will be followed by a theoretical analysis.

4.1 The first years of Turkish independence

In 1922, the GNA voted on “a motion providing for the separation of the office of the sultanate

from the caliphate, and the abolition of the former.” (Kayali, 2008) This decision marked the end

of the Ottoman Empire. Ankara then sent a delegation to Lausanne for international negotiations

with the Allied forces. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk continued to silence opposition within its own

government, by organising new elections in 1923 and making sure they would not gain any

seats. In the same year the Lausanne treaty was signed and the borders of modern-day Turkey

were agreed upon. In comparison with the Sèvres agreement, Turkey had gained a lot from the

armed struggle. It was, however, subject to a certain level of international supervision under the

Lausanne Treaty. (Kayali, 2008) As part of the Lausanne Treaty, it was agreed that minority

status would be granted only to non-Muslim minorities. As the Kurds are Muslim, they are not

legally recognised as a minority in Turkey resulting from this treaty. (Polat, 2009)

By 1923, it had also become clear that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had a strong policy of putting in

place a Turkish identity in which different religions and cultures were seen as a threat to the

existence of Turkey. The multiple identities that were once part of the Ottoman Empire now all

had to become Turkish citizens with one Turkish identity. The new Turkish state was to be

based on an identity of secularism, nationalism and unity. This was later to be called the

Kemalist ideology or Kemalism. (Bozarslan, 2008)

Existence of the caliphate had been a main reason for cooperation between the Kurds and the

Kemalist movement. Also, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had promised earlier that after the War of

Independence, southern Kurdistan would be liberated. This promise was not kept, however, as

the region was left to the British. This is where the alliance between the Kurds and the Kemalist

state ended. Following the end of this alliance, there were several revolts. In 1925 the Şeyh Said

20
revolt took place; in 1930 there was the Ararat revolt; and 1936-1938 were the years of the

Dersim revolt. (Bozarslan, 2008)

Armed forces reacted violently in order to suppress these revolts using methods such as the

destruction of villages, killing of civilians and forced displacement of entire populations. Co-

optation of tribal leaders was furthermore a commonly used strategy. The end of the Dersim

revolt in 1938 was followed by a long period of silence on the side of the Kurds. This was a result

of several factors. Firstly, there was strong policing and state coercion that kept down armed

conflict. Also, the Second World War started, and affected both Turkish and Kurdish-inhabited

areas. Thirdly, there was once again more political pluralism and the Kurdish elite was allowed a

way into Turkish politics as long as they subdued strong Kurdish nationalist discourse and

adopted a certain level of Kemalism. This led to more integrative policies. This period of silence

lasted until 1961. (Bozarslan, 2008)

4.2 Kemalist policies and identity formation

In 1935, Prime Minister Ismet Inönü published his Kurdish report. In this report, he stated that

“the situation in the province of Dersim (today’s Tunseli) was particularly critical, and there was

therefore a need to set up particularly in that province a rather repressive regime.” (Heper,

2007) He proposed putting in place civil servants in the region with wide powers. (Heper, 2007)

In more general terms, he suggested to put in place an assimilation policy. At the same time he

asked for a movement of Kurdish people from the east to the west, and a movement of Turks

from the Black Sea area eastwards. Investment and improvement of education facilities would,

according to him, be an incentive for Kurds to move closer to the Turkish identity and devote

themselves to the Turkish state. Also, in this period, the Turkish government spoke of the

Kurdish issue as a security issue thereby moving it out of the political arena and into the military

sphere. (Efegil, 2011)

Since the declaration of Turkish independence, the Turkish government followed a strong policy

of “assimilation, repression and containment” with regard to the Kurdish people. (Yeğen, 2015)

21
Bozarslan (2008) writes that the trajectory of the Kurdish issue has been determined by two

features: “the state’s denial of its existence; and the emergence of its radical challenge to the

state. Official state policy either denied the very existence of a distinct group called Kurds, or

presented the Kurds as a threat to Turkey and the Turks as a national entity.” On top of this,

Loizides (2008) describes an “absence of a culture of accommodation involving collective rights

for minorities in Turkey despite admittedly some progress on cultural rights for the Kurds in the

past decade.” Cavanaugh and Hughes (2015) write that “all public expressions and institutions of

Kurdish identity were banned along with Kurdish schools (madrassas), associations,

newspapers, and religious fraternal organisations were closed.”

Mills (2011) also writes that denial and ignorance of the Ottoman history was an important

strategy in creating a new Turkish identity. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG,

2016), the Turkish state and the PKK have both used their own different narrative in describing

the same history. According to Mills (2011), “the Ottoman legacy is much more than an

imagination of a local past; it is, rather, an ongoing dynamic intersection of global discourses,

local histories, and competing visions of the future.” Avedian (2012) mentions that it was mostly

nationalistic political actors who have influenced the formulation of modern-day Turkish history

as it is written in Turkish history books.

Abbas and Yigit (2016) argue that Kurdish nationalism arose simultaneously with Turkish

nationalism. After periods of strong repression of the Kurdish identity, the transition to political

pluralism in Turkey provided an opportunity for a Kurdish nationality to develop. Kurdish

media and political manifestations were main ways through which people developed their

Kurdish identity. One way of repressing the Kurds was through the forced displacement of

Kurds to Anatolia. (Abbas and Yigit, 2016)

According to Gunes (2013), the formation of a Kurdish national identity is a reaction to the

Turkish national identity which is based on Kemalism. He also speaks of “antagonistic relations

between the Kurds and Turkey.” Inherent to the Turkish nationalist discourse is the oppression

22
and assimilation of Kurds that are regarded as simply Turkish. The Kurdish reaction to this

discourse is the framing of their own national discourse, emphasising their distinct culture and

history of exploitation by the Turkish. As a result, the Kurds started regarding Kurdistan as an

occupied territory that could only be liberated by a “revolutionary movement led by the Kurdish

working class.” (Gunes, 2013)

The Kurdish minority have posed “the greatest threat to the creation of a homogeneous Turkish

nation-state.” Denial of existence of the Kurds has been a major strategy of the Turkish

government. Other policies were those of Turkification and assimilation. The Kemalist ideology

has been central in the creation of a Turkish common identity. Kurdish language and culture

have been criminalised. (Yildiz, 2012)

4.3 Increased Kurdish mobilisation

As mentioned before, the end of the Dersim revolt in 1938 set off a long period of silence on the

side of the Kurds. This period of silence lasted until 1961. (Bozarslan, 2008) In the 1960s, there

was increased Kurdish non-violent mobilisation due to Kurdish revolts in Iraq and a rise of left-

wing political activism in Turkey. As a reaction to this increased Kurdish mobilisation, the

Turkish state arrested Kurdish intellectuals and started a military offensive in Kurdish-inhabited

regions in 1968. Kurdish youth also increasingly started organising independently of the left-

wing movement, more strongly focusing on decolonisation of Turkish Kurdistan. In 1970, a new

organisation was formed called the Revolutionary Eastern Cultural Hearts (RECH). Initially, the

RECH was non-violent but when the Turkish left-wing movement started a guerrilla warfare

some militant factions started to develop in the RECH as well. (Bozarslan, 2008)

The Turkish military used force to silence the Kurdish movement. The state saw the Kurds “as an

ontological threat to its very existence, a threat that is capable of undermining the constructed

‘Turkish national’ bond between the Turkish state and society.” (Ercan, 2013)

Several military coups took place during these years. These coups always resulted from military

concerns about possible threats to state secularism. There were military coups in 1960 and

23
1980. Also, in 1971 there was a military memorandum, which is a softer type of military coup.

(Geri, 2016) In the military coup of 1971, several hundreds of Kurdish activists were captured

and tortured. They lost faith in the legal system and further radicalised while in prison. Kurdish

prisoners were released in 1974. In 1978, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was formed. The

PKK believed that violence was the only way of achieving an independent Kurdish state. This led

to increased violence and insecurity in Kurdish-inhabited areas. (Bozarslan, 2008) Military

action and repressive measures by the Turkish state have intensified civilian support for the

PKK. This thus means that the way that the Turkish government views the PKK influences their

own policies. These policies then influence the way that Kurdish people view the Turkish

government, and the way they view the PKK and its actions. (Unal, 2012)

Since 1971, four political parties have been abolished because they supposedly posed a threat to

state secularism. Also, 13 political parties have been abolished because they advocated

separatism thereby posing a threat to the state unity. The political parties that were abolished

for promoting separatism were pro-Kurdish political parties. (Cavanaugh and Hughes, 2015)

This shows how the Kemalist principles of secularism, nationalism and unity manifest

themselves in practice.

Ercan (2013) writes that “until the 1980s, the Turkish state’s deployed a strategy of containment

to deal with the Kurdish question, which included several elements: (1) denying the existence of

Kurds as a separate people and imposing severe policies of cultural assimilation, (2) silencing

Kurdish political actors advocating for collective rights, and (3) obstructing any attempts of

bringing the Kurdish question to the attention of the Turkish public.” He writes that on the one

hand, these harsh policies made sure that the Kurdish struggle was indeed contained. However,

as a result Kurds increasingly started supporting the PKK as a legitimate actor and started

seeing the Turkish government as illegitimate. The Turks, however, started to be radically

opposed to the Kurds and the PKK as a direct result of Turkish policies. (Ercan, 2013) This thus

created a polarisation and solidification of conflictual relations.

24
As mentioned above, there was a military coup in 1980. The military coup happened because of

concerns in the military about threats to state secularism and unity. The Turkish army took

control, and the country was ruled militarily until 1983. In that year, the military decided to

open up elections for a transition to democratic rule. The elections were, however, not

completely democratic. Many existing political parties were not allowed to participate in the

elections. In the end, only 3 parties were allowed to participate in the elections. One of these

parties was the newly established Motherland Party led by Turgut Özal. This is the party that

finally won the elections with 45% of the votes. (Aydin-Düzgit and Gürsoy, 2008)

4.4 Theoretical analysis

The rulers of the ‘new’ Turkey started creating an own Turkish identity for the new state. The

fact that a Turkish state had not existed before that meant that there was not yet a Turkish

identity. There was thus a high level of anxiety, which is a symptom of ontological insecurity. The

groundworks of the ‘new’ Turkey then were presented by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He decided

that the Turkish state would be built upon secularism, nationalism and unity. The presentation

of these principles can itself be seen as a securitisation practice aiming to reduce anxieties,

create an identity and obtain ontological security. At the same time, this creates fears. These

fears were clearly directed at the Kurdish people who posed a threat to the established Turkish

identity of secularism, nationalism and unity. The fact that, as written in the Lausanne Treaty,

only non-Muslim minorities could gain minority status in Turkey is a clear policy aimed at

safeguarding the Turkish ontological security by silencing the Kurdish identity.

The fears created by the Turkish government were further fed through subsequent policies. As

mentioned in the earlier parts of this chapter, there was a period of relative silence from 1938

until 1961. This is a result of different factors. One factor is strong Turkish state policing and

repression. This is again a practice of securitisation. As a result of the policing and repression it

was difficult for the Kurds to destabilise the Kemalist state identity. Also, Kurdish politicians

were allowed into office as long as they subdued to a certain level of Kemalism. This thus means

25
that there was a slight recognition of the existence of the Kurds and that they could – to a certain

extent – express themselves and their concerns. During this period, it seems that the

securitisation policy of the Turkish government was strong enough to effectively repress the

Kurds and to stabilise the Turkish ontological security as well as the physical security.

The Kurdish revival after 1961 was again a challenge to the Turkish national identity. The

Turkish government once again turned ontological anxieties into fears through securitisation

policies. The Turkish government thus continued to put in place violent and repressive policies

towards the Kurds. The violence on the side of the Turkish state compromised the physical

security of the Kurds, which is argued to be a main reason why the Kurds increasingly supported

violent Kurdish organisations – mainly, the PKK. The PKK used violent methods and thereby

compromised Turkish physical security. It is thus clear that states of ontological security and

physical security influence one another. At this point in time, there was a situation of physical

insecurity for both the Turkish state and the Kurds. The Turkish state can be argued to have had

a relative state of ontological security, obtained through securitisation practices.

The abolishment of Islamist and (Kurdish) separatist political parties once again is a government

practice to safeguard the ontological security of the Turkish state and that compromises the

ontological security of the Kurds. It is a securitisation practice, as these political parties are

presented as a threat to the Turkish state and its principles of secularism, nationalism and unity.

26
4. Turgut Özal: 1983-1993

This chapter describes the period in which Turgut Özal ruled Turkey as leader of the Motherland

Party. A historical overview is followed by a theoretical analysis.

As mentioned in the previous chapter, there was a military coup in 1980. In this year, the

Turkish army took control and then ruled the country militarily until 1983. In 1983, the military

decided to open up general elections to start a transition to democratic rule. The general

elections were, however, not completely democratic. Many existing political parties were not

allowed to participate in the elections. In the end, only 3 parties were allowed to participate in

the elections. One of these parties was the newly established Motherland Party led by Turgut

Özal. This is the party that finally won the elections with 45% of the votes. (Aydin-Düzgit and

Gürsoy, 2008) Turgut Özal was then prime minister from 1983-1989 and president from 1989-

1993. (Al Qurtuby, 2015)

4.1 Özal as a ruler

For Özal, the Islam was very important. For his time, Özal was considered a modern Muslim as

he drank, smoked and showed affection in public. His idealism and drive stemmed from religion,

but the way he tried to achieve his goals was mostly secular. During his term as president, he

didn’t put in place any specifically beneficial policies for Islamist people. He was against political

Islam, and strongly subscribed to science and rational knowledge. He was a follower of more

moderate Islamist intellectuals, amongst whom Gülen. (Heper, 2013)

It is argued that Özal made significant contributions to further development of democracy and

consensual politics3 in Turkey. (Heper, 2013) Özal did not want to use or fit into the traditional

categories of left-wing and right-wing, although he was considered centre-right by others. He

wanted to be innovative, break taboos and move the country forward. Because of this, he could

talk with people from many different ideological backgrounds. (Çandar, 2013) However, at some

3His party, in the beginning, aimed to unite people from the center-right, center-left, the ultra-nationalists
and the Islamists. (Heper, 2013)

27
point (when he became prime minister and later president) he started focusing more on one-

person rule. He wanted to take all decisions himself. (Heper, 2013)

Özal’s main goal as a president was to liberalise the Turkish economy, so to do away with the

protectionist economic policies. (Heper, 2013) Özal believed that economic liberalism and

political democracy are results of the same political process and developments in society.

Economic individualism and independence create more possibilities to defend one’s own

political rights. (Özal, 1987) Also, he wanted to challenge the active secularism that prohibited

people from publicly practicing their religion, to increase religious freedom and create a “passive

laicism.” (Heper, 2013) He tried to combine Islamist cultural values with Western economic

development. (Heper, 2013) During the time of Özal’s rule, many policies were put in place that

led to economic development. Some of these policies were the liberalisation of foreign trade and

policies aimed at establishing a realistic exchange rate and a positive interest rate. (Özal, 1987)

4.2 Özal and the Kurds

On the Kurdish issue - which was a real taboo at the time (and maybe still) – Özal’s opinion was

that “all possible solutions to deal with that problem, including federalism, should be freely

debated.” (Heper, 2013) For Özal, “the Kurdish question was first and foremost a matter of

humanity and conscience.” (Çandar, 2013) Özal wanted to implement social, political and

cultural rather than military policies, and he didn’t frame his policies within public security

concerns. (Efegil, 2011) Abramowitz (2013) – a former US ambassador to Turkey during the

time of Özal’s rule – observed that Özal “was also preoccupied with the Kurdish problem and

recognised the inherent existential problem created by the denial of Kurdish identity in Turkey.

Here too he was the first Turkish leader to begin to seriously address the problem, which also

made the military and other nationalists more suspicious of him.”

Özal made steps away from the policy of assimilation, repression and containment towards

acknowledgement of the Kurdish identity. He advocated for peaceful, non-violent approaches

and dialogue with regard to the Kurdish question. He tried to restore relations between the

28
Turks and Kurds. His policies were less Kemalist than policies implemented by earlier

governments. He brought the Kurds and Turks closer together, but also caused great division

within the Turkish elite with regard to the issue. (Al Qurtuby, 2015) Özal did not only implement

accommodative policies towards the Kurds, however.

The PKK – officially established in 1978 – started fighting in 1984, one year after the election of

Özal’s Motherland Party. The Turkish government, as a reaction, established so-called ‘village

guards’. These village guards consisted of local Kurdish groups that then had to fight the PKK.

(Ercan, 2013) Starting in 1990, it became more and more common to openly support the PKK

and express Kurdish identity claims. The Kurdish movement became increasingly vocal. (Gunes,

2013) One way in which this manifested itself was the creation of a legal pro-Kurdish political

party in 1990, which entered into parliament in 1991. (Ercan, 2013) Next to this, there were

several uprisings between 1990 and 1993. Many Kurdish people participated in these uprisings

in eastern Turkey, and they were confronted by the police. There was heavy fighting. (Gunes,

2013) Ercan (2013) also writes that the heaviest period of fighting took place in 1991 until

1995.

Even though Özal openly acknowledged the existence of a Kurdish identity and allowed for the

establishment of a pro-Kurdish political party, he also passed the Law to Fight Terrorism (Act

no. 3713) in 1991. This law officially defined ‘terrorism’ as a crime and - as Bjorkheim (2013)

writes – “the fight for Kurdish cultural rights were effectively defined as ‘terrorist’ acts.”

The listing of the PKK as a terrorist group has legal implications. Even when a group is

recognised internationally to fight for self-determination, once it is listed as a terrorist group the

law of armed conflict does not apply anymore. In the definition of terrorist organisation, there is

no room for the political reasons for certain actions. Sentas (2015) argues, therefore, that law

should be seen as a political practice. The goal of listing then is to delegitimise support for the

listed group. Listing aims to disrupt the social relations that allow for the self-organisation of a

Kurdish movement aiming for self-determination. Listing thus leads to the absolute de-

29
politicisation of armed conflict and undermines emancipatory forms of conflict transformation.

This fits within the broader Turkish policy of containment of the Kurdish issue. (Sentas, 2015)

At the end of 1991, Özal legalised public use of the Kurdish language. According to him, past

repressive policies against the Kurds were a mistake. In 1992, Özal granted amnesty to some

Turkish Kurds, and he started more structured negotiations with the PKK. He was respected by

Turkish Kurds which was one of the main reasons why Öcalan was open for negotiations with

him. Possibly as a reaction to this accommodative approach on the side of the Turkish

government, Öcalan declared that he was open for reaching a diplomatic solution instead of

secession for the Kurds. (Al Qurtuby, 2015) In 1991, the PKK officially decided that a federalist

solution to the Kurdish question was acceptable for them. Özal argued already in 1992 that it

was important to involve the PKK in the political process. (Abbas and Yigit, 2016) At the same

time, Özal started secret negotiations with Iraqi Kurdish leaders. (Pusane, 2014)

One step back in the relationship between the Turks and the Kurds is the incident around the

Nevruz celebrations. Nevruz is originally a Persian/Iranian New Year’s celebration, that

celebrates the arrival of Spring around the 21st of March. Since the 1980’s, Nevruz has also been

associated with Kurdish culture. In 1991, the Turkish government decided to introduce Nevruz

as a Turkish national holiday. Hereby, it took over this cultural practice from the Kurds, taking

away the cultural meaning it had for the Kurds. (Yanik, 2006) This led to violent clashes, in

which many people died. Öcalan and the Kurds were of the opinion that the previous

accommodative policies were only a show but not a practical reality. (Al Qurtuby, 2015)

Later, on March 16th 1993, Özal managed to achieve the first-ever ceasefire with the PKK. The

PKK declared to be willing to cooperate on achieving a political solution. A month later, the

ceasefire was renewed unconditionally and for an indefinite period of time. Öcalan once again

declared his willingness to work on achieving a political solution. He stated that “the Kurds in

Turkey want peace, dialogue, and free political action within the framework of a democratic

Turkish state.” (Al Qurtuby, 2015) Özal died a day after this declaration, and the cause of his

30
death was unclear for a long time. Some speculate that the military killed him because they did

not agree with his reconciliatory policies. (Al Qurtuby, 2015) In 2012, additional research

proved that Özal’s body had been poisoned. (Butler, 2012) Still, it remained unclear by whom he

had been poisoned. A court case followed against former General Levent Ersoz, as he was

suspected to be responsible for poisoning Özal. He was, however, not judged guilty. (Cevik,

2013)

The ceasefire ended quickly after this, and the next period was the most violent one in the entire

Kurdish conflict. (Çandar, 2013) Following leaders returned to Kemalist and military approaches

to the Kurdish issue. Kurdish people as well as people in favour of reconciliation were

imprisoned. (Al Qurtuby, 2015) After the death of Özal, the Turkish government returned to

Kurdish repression that was harsher than ever before. (Yeğen, 2015)

4.3 Theoretical analysis

The military coup and subsequent 3-year long military rule is an extreme example of

securitisation. The military coup happened because of concerns in the military about threats to

state secularism and unity. Resulting anxieties were turned into fears of these threats, that were

to be countered through military rule. It must be noted that this was of course not a government

policy, but one specifically of the military. This demonstrates the fact that the state and the

military are two different institutions, with different identities and that can therefore challenge

one another’s ontological security. Even though the state might - depending on the government

in power - take small steps away from the strong Kemalist ideology, this ideology is still deeply

ingrained in the military identity. Just like the 3-year long military rule should be seen as a

securitisation practice, the transition to a democratic government that occurred in 1983 is to be

seen as a de-securitisation process. However, it is a de-securitisation process only to a limited

extent as the military had strong control over the parties that were able to participate in the

elections.

31
As mentioned before, Özal was a Muslim but he tried to obtain his political goals in a secular

way. One of his political goals, however, was to challenge the active secularism that prohibited

people from publicly practicing their religion, to increase religious freedom and create a “passive

laicism.” (Heper, 2013) Özal thus tried to challenge and partly change the existing state identity

of strong secularism. His aim was to take away the image of religion as a threat to the state. By

taking away this perceived threat or fear, he would create anxiety instead. As explained in the

theory chapter, this de-securitisation and removal of fears is a first step towards reaching the

ideal situation that combines ontological security with physical asecurity.

General democratisation processes combined with economic liberalisation started off during

this period should also be seen as de-securitisation processes. As stated, Özal believed that

economic individualism and independence creates more possibilities to defend one’s own

political rights. Such democratisation for example led to the entering into parliament of a legal

Kurdish political party in 1991.

Özal’s general attitude towards and approach to the Kurdish issue was different from

approaches of previous governments. Özal “recognised the inherent existential problem created

by the denial of Kurdish identity in Turkey”. (Abramowitz, 2013) This means that Özal

understood that the Kurds also had a need for ontological security, and that this ontological

security was compromised by the repressive Turkish government policies. Özal understood that

there was a need for other type of policies that would not be such a challenge to the Kurdish

ontological security, and that would not in the end lead to violence against the Turkish state.

Özal didn’t frame his policies within public security concerns. He rather looked at the issue from

a humanist perspective. He believed that the Kurdish issue should not be addressed through

military policies but rather through the political, cultural and social policies that have been

described. This therefore indicates a de-securitisation process. By not looking at the issue as a

security threat, he took away the fears thereby moving towards a situation of physical asecurity.

The anxieties on the side of the state were addressed through the new narrative that Özal used.

32
This was the narrative focusing on liberal economy, western principles, more openness to

religion and to other cultures such as the Kurdish one.

The approach that was taken by Özal led to suspicion on the side of the military. As mentioned

above, the military and the state are clearly two different entities with different identities. The

military strongly adheres to a Kemalist identity based on secularism, nationalism and unity. The

process of identity transformation of the Turkish state started by Özal challenged these

principles and therefore created anxieties on the side of the military. It compromised their

ontological security. Özal’s possible assassination fits within this military practice of

securitisation.

Özal had a two-fold policy with on the one hand an accommodative approach, but also several

fear-based policies have been implemented during the period of Özal’s rule. The Turkish

government was thus still addressing fears. It is possible that these fears were pre-existing fears

resulting from previous periods when there were many more securitisation practices. Özal’s de-

securitisation practices, in this case, haven’t been sufficient to turn all fears into anxieties. The

case of the Nevruz celebrations is especially illustrative of securitisation. Existing anxieties on

the side of the Turkish state were turned into fears of the Nevruz celebrations as a threat to

Turkish culture. The policy of taking over the celebrations and making it something Turkish took

away this threat.

33
5. A return to Kemalism: 1993 – 2002

This chapter describes the period from 1993 until 2002, in which there were different

governments. An overview of developments in this period will be followed by a theoretical

analysis.

5.1 A return to restrictive policies

After the death of Özal, the Turkish government held new elections. During the period described

in this chapter, there were many different ruling governments that all were in power for

relatively short periods.4 These governments were minority governments and coalitions. This

chapter describes the period until 2002, when the AKP party led by Erdoğan came to power.

(Pusane, 2014)

During the period after Özal’s death, successive governments returned to more restrictive

policies with regard to the Kurds. Such policies were the “intensification of cross-border

operations into northern Iraq, increased village evacuations in the Southeast, and extrajudicial

killings conducted or tolerated by the security forces.” (Pusane, 2014)

As mentioned before, the Kurds had formed a legal political party 1990, that entered into

parliament in 1991. In 1994, however, Kurdish members of parliament were put in prison by the

military as they were regarded a threat to the unity of the Turkish state. This happened right

after the PKK had decided in 1993 to put in place a ceasefire as an effort towards peace. (Ercan,

2013) The military was not open for this reconciliatory approach, and Kurds as well as non-

Kurdish people openly in favour of reconciliation were put into prison. (Al Qurtuby, 2015)

In 1996, the first pro-Islamic government came to power since 1923. It was a government led by

the Welfare Party. The Welfare Party is the precursor of what would later become the AKP.

4
Çiller government (25-6-1993 until 15-10-1995), Çiller government (15-10-1995 until 5-11-1995), Çiller
government (5-11-1995 until 12-3-1996), Yilmaz government (12-3-1996 until 8-7-1996), Erbakan government
(8-7-1996 until 30-6-1997), Yilmaz government (30-6-1997 until 11-1-1999), Ecevit government (11-1-1999 until
28-5-1999), Ecevit government (18-5-1999 until 18-11-2002). (Turkish Politics & Elections, n.d.)

34
Erdoğan was the party leader. The Welfare Party and Erdoğan were openly Islamist and

challenged state secularism. The military indeed saw this government as a threat to state

secularism. As a reaction, the military initiated the so-called post-modern coup on 28 February

1997. This was a soft coup, that involved a campaign against the government that was then led

by the Welfare Party. (Polat, 2009)

In April of the same year, the National Security Policy Document – a document stemming from

the military – referred to Kurdish separatism and reactionary Islam as “the most important

threats to national security.” (Polat, 2009) It was written in the document that “internal threats

against the territorial integrity of the country and the founding principles of the Republic have

become graver than external threats of military intervention.” (Polat, 2009) Interesting in this

respect is also the way in which citizens view the military and how much they trust it as a state

institution. Results of a public opinion poll conducted between 1999 and 2004 show that the

military was the most trusted state institution by citizens. (Polat, 2009)

In December 1997, Erdoğan – leader of the Welfare Party and at the time mayor of Istanbul –

held a public address in Siirt. At this public address, he recited part of a religious poem by Ziya

Gökalp5. Erdoğan did not exactly recite the entire poem as it was once written. Instead, he

replaced the first part of the original poem – which is a part that aims to strengthen the military

morale – by a religious stanza. The sentence he recited was: “The minarets are our bayonets, the

domes our helmets, the mosques our barracks and the faithful our soldiers.” (Sebnem, 2003) The

rest of the recital was identical to the original poem.6 One year after this recital, in 1998,

Erdoğan was convicted for reciting this poem with a special focus on the part that he replaced.

(Sebnem, 2003) He received a jail sentence of 10 months. (Heper, 2013)

5
Ziya Gökalp was a “Turkish sociologist and political activist” who lived from 1876 until 1924. Dressler (2015)
writes that “Gökalp strove for a social and political order in which religious norms and modern institutions
complemented each other harmoniously.” Gökalp was also a poet. (Dressler, 2015)
6
The entire poem, as written by Ziya Gökalp, can be found in the Appendices. Appendix 1 contains the original
poem in English, and Appendix 2 contains the original poem in Turkish. Please note that Erdoğan replaced the
first verse of the original poem with the sentence: “The minarets are our bayonets, the domes our helmets, the
mosques our barracks and the faithful our soldiers.” (Sebnem, 2003)

35
Also in 1998, Erdoğan’s Welfare Party was banned as it was not secular enough. (Cavanaugh and

Hughes, 2015) After this, Islamist parties were banned from Turkish politics until 2002. (Geri,

2016) A new party that stemmed from the Welfare Party was the Virtue Party. This party was,

however, also quickly banned. The Welfare Party and Virtue Party are predecessor parties of the

AKP. (Cavanaugh and Hughes, 2015)

In 1998, Öcalan – the leader of the PKK who was at the time hiding from Turkish security forces

in Syria - rejected separation but underlined the importance of true democracy. In exchange for

dropping the claims for a separate state, Öcalan demanded “the recognition of the Kurdish

identity, practising cultural rights, the right to have education in Kurdish, and the lifting of

Emergency Rule and the village guard system.” The Turkish military, however, was still in favour

of a more military approach instead of reconciliatory policies. (Al Qurtuby, 2015) At the start of

1999, the Turkish government managed to convince the Syrian government to expel Öcalan.

After this happened, Turkish security forces managed to capture Öcalan who was on the run in

Kenya. (Pusane, 2014) Some months after being captured, there was a court case against Öcalan.

During his defence, Öcalan redefined the goal of the Kurdish movement.7 Like Ercan (2013)

writes, “the movement restructured its ideological and political orientation and started more

centrally organising in the legal field and civil society for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.” In

line with this redefined goal, the biggest part of the Kurdish militia stopped fighting. However,

the Turkish army kept fighting. In fact, after Öcalan’s capture, military violence intensified.

(Ercan, 2013)

7
Since this event, the official goal of the Kurdish movement is to achieve democratic confederalism. Öcalan
(2011) describes this as “non-state political administration or a democracy without a state.” He has written that
“democratic confederalism is open towards other political groups and factions. It is flexible, multi-cultural, anti-
monopolistic, and consensus-oriented. Ecology and feminism are central pillars. In the frame of this kind of self-
administration an alternative economy will become necessary, which increases the resources of the society
instead of exploiting them and thus does justice to the manifold needs of the society.” (Öcalan, 2011)
Democratic confederalism is in contrast with the political organisation of nation-states. Öcalan (2011) argues
that “neither total rejection nor complete recognition of the state is useful for the democratic efforts of the
civil society. The overcoming of the state, particularly the nation-state, is a long-term process. The state will be
overcome when democratic confederalism has proved its problem-solving capacities with a view to social
issues.” Therefore, the goal is not to pose a direct challenge to the nation-state but rather to develop
democratic confederalism within the current nation-state system to slowly overcome the system.

36
Also in 1999, Turkey was officially accepted as a candidate for EU accession. In order for

accession negotiations to be initiated, the country still had to fulfil certain criteria. Such criteria

were “a gradual ending of the emergency rule in the Southeast, allowing television and radio

broadcasts in Kurdish, making Kurdish language training possible, and removing the death

penalty from the Turkish Criminal Code.” (Pusane, 2014) These policies, as well as the policy of

facilitating return of displaced Kurds to their villages, were initiated from 1999 until 2005 when

the accession negotiations were started. (Pusane, 2014) According to Polat (2009), there was at

the time a perfect storm. She has written that the post-modern military coup in 1997, the

capture of Öcalan in 1999, and the official acceptance of Turkey as an EU accession country in

1999 have created conditions for de-securitisation. She argues that in the aftermath of these

events there were more open discussions on the re-definition of national security and about

accommodative policies towards minorities such as legalising headscarves and use of the

Kurdish language. (Polat, 2009) These are the circumstances with which Turkey would then

continue to move into the 21st century, the century of AKP leadership.

5.2 Theoretical analysis

As described in the previous part of this chapter, this period is characterised by a return to more

restrictive policies towards the Kurds. It can, again, be seen that the Kurdish movement was

portrayed as a threat to the unity of the Turkish state. A clear example of this is the

imprisonment of Kurdish members of parliament. Kurdish identity claims and statements about

separatism by members of parliament created anxieties for the Turkish state, and therefore led

to ontological insecurity. Through securitisation, these anxieties were replaced by fears, as the

Kurdish parliament members and their ideas were presented as a threat to the Turkish state.

This could then be solved through the imprisonment of these members of parliament. Violent

policies by Turkish security forces should furthermore be seen as an extension of these fear-

based and securitised policies. These policies served to safeguard the ontological security of the

Turkish state, but violent policies undermined its physical security.

37
During this period in Turkish history, there were also many developments around the principle

of the secular state. The first pro-Islamist government created anxieties with the military. After

this, the military turned these anxieties into fears through securitisation. The Islam was

presented as a threat to the Turkish state and the principle of secularism. The Welfare Party was

presented as the embodiment of this threat. The military coup – even though it was ‘only’ a soft

coup – was a strongly securitising move. The imprisonment of Erdoğan was also a way of

securitising other voices that represented non-secular viewpoints. The moment that the Welfare

Party was banned and Islamist parties in general were banned from Turkish politics is one more

example of a securitisation policy, that secured the ontological security of the Turkish state.

38
6. Erdoğan and the AKP: 2002-now

This chapter will give an overview of developments under AKP rule. This overview will be

followed by a theoretical analysis.

6.1 An introduction to Erdoğan and the AKP

Erdoğan founded the Justice and Development Party in 2001, one year before the general

elections of 2002. Erdoğan could not directly become prime minister after winning the elections

in 2002, as a result of the jail sentence he had received some years earlier. He became prime

minister in 2003.8 (Heper, 2013) Erdoğan was prime minister from 2003 until 2014, when he

was elected as president. It was not allowed to be member of a party while being president so he

had to put down AKP leadership.9 (Geri, 2016)

Just like Özal, Erdoğan has an Islamist background – and so does the Justice and Development

Party. Erdoğan is religious. He adheres to Sufism, which is a current within the Islam that is

strongly self-focused. Sufism does not ask of its followers to convince others to become religious.

Accordingly, Erdoğan claims to be in favour of a secular state. Erdoğan, in the first period of AKP

rule, was described as a ruler with a basic respect for democracy. He found it important that

everyone could express their views. Erdoğan had a “non-ethnic approach to nationalism.”

(Heper, 2013) Heper (2013) writes that “according to him, all ethnic groups, including the Kurds

and Turks, should be able to freely express their secondary ethnic identities, and, at the same

time, take the citizenship of the Republic of Turkey as the primary identity of all ethnic groups.”

(Heper, 2013)

While attaching great importance to democracy and having an open approach to other cultures,

the AKP is also conservative and has a strong focus on stability. This becomes clear from what

8
The AKP-party had, by that time, made a constitutional change so that previously convicted people were once
again allowed to become Prime Minister. (Ercetin and de Graaf, 2017)
9
This changed since the referendum of 2017, which was a successful referendum for the ‘yes’ camp. This
referendum aimed to enlarge the powers of the President. Some amendments – among many more - were to
abolish the prime ministry, for the president to replace the prime minister as executive and for the president to
be able to be chairman of a party. (Gungen and Bag, 2017)

39
has been written in the first party programme: “It is necessary to avoid … revolutionary change.

Common-sense should substitute both the rationalism and the revolutionary change. Ideals are

important; yet they should be balanced with other equally important considerations… It is

necessary to avoid being against any kind of change. Everything that existed today cannot be

inappropriate, for they have developed through long centuries of trial and error. Tradition is

significant not because it is related to the past, but because it is a carrier of past experience and

wisdom. However, a nostalgic approach to tradition should be avoided.” (Heper, 2013)

6.2 Developments in the first period of AKP rule

In 2005, prime minister Erdoğan gave a speech in Diyarbakir in which he spoke of the

importance of giving more democratic rights to Kurdish people. (Efegil, 2011) During this

speech, Erdoğan recognised that Turkey had “a Kurdish ‘problem’, a problem that would be

“solved through democracy.” (Cavanaugh and Hughes, 2015) Also, he said that “the state had

made mistakes in regard to the Kurdish issue.” (Polat, 2009) Dalay (2014) explains that “coming

from an Islamic background, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) elites have had

a partial revisionist policy: they do not see Turkishness, secularism, and Western-orientation as

the primary foundations of Turkey’s identity nor do they see the Middle East, Islamism, and

arguably Kurdishness as a threat.” This focus on cultural pluralism made that Kurdish cultural

and identity claims were seen as reasonable, and as something to address in the political rather

than military sphere. The AKP saw the Islam as a bridging factor between Turks and Kurds. As

Pusane (2014) writes: “According to the AKP, granting cultural rights to the Kurds was not a

step that would impair national unity. Rather, cultural pluralism and social diversity would act

as a connective ingredient in Turkey and bring further richness to the society.” One could say

that the AKP’s approach to the Kurds had led to a normalisation of the Kurdish issue.

(Cavanaugh and Hughes, 2015)

During the first period of AKP leadership, several accommodative policies towards the Kurds

have been implemented. For example, it was decided that broadcasting and education – to a

40
limited extent - should be allowed in the mother tongue. (Akdağ, 2016; Geri, 2016) Also, it was

decided that the emergency rule would be lifted in 13 Kurdish provinces. These policies were

implemented in 2004. Furthermore, amendments have been made to release former Kurdish

members of parliament from prison and the ban on Kurdish has been lifted. (Akdağ, 2016) The

Turkish government decided to change town-names in Kurdish regions back to their original

Kurdish names. (Efegil, 2011) The Qur’an was translated into Kurdish and the Nevruz

celebrations were recognised as being Kurdish celebrations. (Al Qurtuby, 2015)

The EU accession process has played an important role in the move towards more

accommodative policies. In order to be able to continue with the actual accession negotiations,

Turkey had to implement certain policies. Such EU demands were, for example, to “eliminate the

practice of torture and ill-treatment, extend the freedom of expression and association, amend

the broadcasting law to allow for broadcasting in languages other than Turkish by public and

private radio and television stations, and permit the granting of Kurdish names to children.”

(Pusane, 2014) Also, the EU wanted Turkey to abolish State Security Courts. (Cavanaugh and

Hughes, 2015) These policies have forced Turkey to look at the Kurdish issue mainly from a

perspective of rights and freedoms, instead of from the perspective of national security. Also, as

a result of the EU accession process, the decision-making power of the political elite has been

enhanced in order to limit the power of the military and enhance democracy. Also, development

of civil society has been stimulated. (Polat, 2009)

These accommodative governmental policies have caused some reaction from the state. This

reaction focuses on too accommodative policies as being a threat to state unity, and at the same

time referring to the Islamist AKP as a threat to the secular state. Cavanaugh and Hughes (2015)

write that “by labelling political parties as ‘Islamist’, the Turkish state engaged the Constitution

and the Constitutional Court in regulating democratic self-defense and gave legitimacy to

preventative state measures. These measures also served to marginalise communities (religious,

minority, left) who did not fit within the prescribed Turkish identity.” Also, the nationalist

sentiment has increased since 2005, as some people have the feeling that the EU accession
41
process is a threat to Turkish unity. 2005 is the year in which all criteria were fulfilled for

Turkey to be able to actually start accession negotiations. (Polat, 2009)

From 2004 onwards, PKK violence increased. (Pusane, 2014) On top of this, in the running-up to

the 2007 elections, the AKP slowed down its reformative policies. Next to the higher amount of

PKK attacks, there were also suspicions that the AKP had a secret agenda of promoting Islamism.

The existing government presented Abdullah Gül as the new nominee for the planned November

elections, which led to protests as he was seen as threat to state secularism. Actually, the

Islamist focus of the AKP has intensified since 2005. This is because the government decided in

that year to put more focus on developing stable and peaceful relations with its Islamist

neighbours. (Polat, 2009) Polat (2009) has written that “the President, the Constitutional Court,

the CHP10 and the Army all contributed to the securitisation of the presidential election by

consistently claiming that the government’s candidate was a threat to the secular regime.” There

were many demonstrations aiming to show support for state secularism. This led to the decision

to hold the general elections in July, 4 months ahead of plan. During the election campaigns,

almost all parties (except for leftist ones) used nationalist language and arguments with regard

to the Kurdish issue in order to gain votes from the nationalist citizens. (Polat, 2009) The AKP

also started using more harsh rhetoric regarding the Kurds. (Pusane, 2014) Finally, the AKP won

the general election with 47% of the votes. (Polat, 2009)

6.3 The Democratic Opening

In October 2007, the government decided to take military action in Northern Iraq at PKK camps.

Erdoğan simultaneously invested more money in socio-economic development of southeast

Turkey, and allowed 100% Kurdish broadcasting on one TV channel. The AKP also wanted to

allow headscarves in university, but this was overruled by the constitutional court. (Polat, 2009)

After this incident the AKP was almost banned, as it did not adhere to the constitutional

10
The CHP is the Republican People’s Party which was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. (Gülmez, 2013)

42
principle of secularism. In the end, it only received a financial penalty. (Cavanaugh and Hughes,

2015)

From 2002 until 2007, the AKP had ruled without confronting the power of the military or the

judiciary. After gaining more seats in the 2007 election, the AKP started being more critical. It

wanted to rewrite the constitution to make it more of a civilian document, as the previous one

had been written by the military in 1982. (Geri, 2016)

In line with this idea, the AKP also wanted to dedicate more energy into solving the Kurdish

issue. It presented a policy in 2009 called the Democratic Opening. The goal of this policy was to

find a peaceful resolution to the Kurdish conflict and disarm the PKK. (Pusane, 2014) The AKP

government wanted to tackle the problem through socio-economic development on the one

hand and by disarming the PKK (counter-terrorism) on the other hand. Socio-economic

development was a short-term policy while the disarmament of the PKK was a long-term policy.

(Efegil, 2011) The exact content of this policy was never completely clear but it is generally

understood as including practices such as “restoring the original Kurdish names of certain cities

in the Southeast, allowing elective Kurdish courses at schools, granting an amnesty to the PKK

militants, and eventually amending the constitution in order to redefine the concept of Turkish

citizenship.” (Pusane, 2014)

The military, however, still looks at the Kurdish issue as an issue of national security. The

military regards it as terrorism. From the military perspective, the constitution must not be

changed. 2 things should be sufficient namely to guarantee individual rights and freedom and to

strengthen socio-economic conditions. (Efegil, 2011) Al Qurtuby (2015) has written that

according to the army, “the use of Kurdish language in private and on national television is

viewed to be a violation towards the existing Turkish constitution which only grants Turkish as

the language of Turkish citizens. Granting any such constitutional right means give PKK a path to

separatism. Constitutional rights, the army believes, will lead first to claims for autonomy and

43
then federation, and finally separation.” This is an explanation for the military approach to the

Kurdish issue.

The Democratic Opening policy is generally regarded as a failed policy. Firstly, the AKP did not

want to recognise and incorporate the pro-Kurdish party and Öcalan in the peace negotiations,

despite their popularity amongst Kurdish people. (Akdağ, 2016) Also, the pro-Kurdish party

Democratic Society Party (DTP) was banned in 2009. Many party members as well as regional

Kurdish politicians have been arrested. (Çiçek, 2011) In October 2009, a group of PKK militants

arrived from an Iraqi refugee camp as part of the Habur process, as the first ones of a long

process of disarmament. However, this went different than envisaged by the AKP as the

militants arrived in guerrilla clothes and stated that they felt no remorse for their actions.

(Pusane, 2014) Finally, many negative reactions have come concerning the Democratic Opening

policy from the Turkish electorate, making the AKP unwilling to continue with the

implementation of the policy, at least until the elections of 2011. (Akdağ, 2016)

The AKP has even declared that “Kurdish education, the general amnesty and constitutional

changes … are not on their agenda”. (Polat, 2009) The AKP has thus quickly returned to a more

Kemalist approach to the Kurds. It is true that, since the foundation of the AKP, one very

important aspect of Kemalism has always been present in the AKP ideology; namely nationalism.

Kemalist powers have used the Democratic Opening to criticise the AKP, and the AKP has not

shown the political courage to fully continue with it and to enhance their promised policies.

(Polat, 2009)

Çiçek (2011) writes that “the rise of pro-Kurdish politics both within Turkey and Iraq has nearly

closed the door on the sustainability of the traditional security policy. However, the AKP’s

Turkish nationalist ideological-political character, the lack of the deep democratic values in the

political tradition of neoliberal pro-Islamic politics and its weak administrative capacity about

the Kurdish issue have prevented it from going beyond the traditional national security policy to

solve the Kurdish issue and to disarm the PKK.”

44
6.4 The nationalist turn

During the election campaign for the 2011 elections, the AKP took a nationalist approach to the

Kurdish issue, possibly to try and obtain the nationalist votes. Erdoğan even stated that “there is

no Kurdish problem but Kurds have problems in Turkey.” (Akdağ, 2016) After the election in

2011, the AKP realised it could further increase its own power and minimise the say of other

parties. It decided to postpone the constitutional writing process to wait for a moment with less

opposition, expecting to gain more seats in the 2015 elections. However, in the 2015 elections,

the pro-Kurdish HDP was very successful and the AKP lost seats. This can be seen as the turning

point in the AKP approach towards the Kurdish issue. (Geri, 2016) Ercan (2013) also writes that

“the AKP’s democratisation discourse and dialogue with the PKK continued until it took the

army and other elements of Kemalist bureaucracy under its tight control in 2011. Although

Turkish liberals hoped that the control of the army would help to solve the Kurdish issue

peacefully, the AKP disappointed them by resorting to an increasingly authoritarian Kurdish

policy after it won its fight with the army.” Turkish policies towards the Kurds became

increasingly nationalistic after this event. It is possible that the military identity has co-opted the

previous state identity created by the ruling government. The AKP has stated that it is against

the adoption of Kurdish as one of the official state languages, and also does not want to make a

constitutional change guaranteeing the collective rights of any minority group. (Efegil, 2011)

After this switch, the AKP has obstructed the pro-Kurdish HDP party and has targeted human

rights organisations, bar organisations, academics, the press and activists. Furthermore, “the

AKP today says that there is a terrorist problem, not a Kurdish problem, in Turkey.” (Geri, 2016)

The fact that the PKK is seen as a terrorist organisation, is part of the reason why there is still a

lot of mistrust between the Turkish government and the PKK. PKK members complain that the

Turkish government doesn’t recognise them. Turkish citizens, on the other hand, are sceptic

about a possible peace deal because they see the PKK as a terrorist organisation and not a

partner for peace. (ICG, 2014) It is thus clear that this policy leads to more polarisation. It again

has to do with a lack of recognition of the Kurdish issue. Ercan (2013) describes the

45
characterisation of the PKK as a terrorist group as “an effective discourse of terrorism to

obstruct the visibility and diffusion of Kurdish grievances and demands”. This discourse thus

brings with it a lack of recognition of the Kurdish people and the root causes of the Kurdish

issue.

There is hardly any scholarly analysis of developments in recent years. However, it is at least

useful to mention these developments shortly. In 2013, there were the Gezi protests. These

protests started off as a protest against reconstructions in the Gezi-park in Istanbul, but they

transformed into huge protests against the increasingly authoritarian leadership of President

Erdoğan. More than 10,000 Turkish people went onto the streets. Because of harsh police

reactions, more than 2000 protestors were wounded and 9 people died. After this, institutions

that posed criticisms on Erdoğan’s government were put under strong pressure. This pressure

existed of fines, as well as the abolishment of these organisations and the firing of people.

(Gulsah and de Graaf, 2017)

Relations with the EU have deteriorated. However, in 2016, the EU made the well-known

refugee deal as part of which Turkey receives EU funds to host migrants. In 2016, there were

several terrorist attacks in Turkey. On the 15th of July, there was an attempted military coup. The

military did not succeed, but many people have died and been wounded. (Gulsah and de Graaf,

2017)

In the beginning of 2017, there was a referendum in Turkey that aimed and succeeded in

granting more powers to the president. The results of the referendum were controversial, as

there are rumours that the campaigning process was unfair. The relationship between Turkey

and the EU has cooled down, and Turkey has declared it doesn’t need Europe anymore. The door

is still open for trade, however. (Gulsah and de Graaf, 2017)

6.5 Theoretical analysis

The initial open and inclusive AKP approach to the Kurdish issue should be seen as a de-

securitising process. The policies put in place by the AKP in the first years of its rule were

46
policies in the political, cultural and social sphere instead of military policies. Through this de-

securitisation, fears were turned into anxieties. These anxieties then were addressed through

the creation of a new identity. This identity was based on democracy, inclusion and diversity. As

described in the first part of this chapter, the AKP was at the same time a conservative party

with a strong focus on stability, stating in its party programme that “it is necessary to avoid …

revolutionary change.” (Heper, 2013) When adhering to such a conservative belief of preventing

change, it is difficult to be open to the positive potential of anxieties.

The EU accession process has, however, helped in creating a process of identity transformation.

It has stimulated and supported AKP attempts towards more accommodative policies. It has

helped in approaching the Kurdish issue as a legitimate political problem rather than an issue of

national security. This has thus set in motion a de-securitising process.

As mentioned, some have seen the EU accession process as a threat to Turkish unity. This has

gone together with concerns about threats to state secularism, because of the fact that the AKP is

an Islamist party. These are concerns mostly voiced and stimulated by the military. In order to

protect its ontological security, the military has started a securitising discourse and so-called

preventative security measures. These securitising policies have turned anxieties into fears,

thereby safeguarding the ontological security of the military but compromising the physical

security. Polat (2009), accordingly, has written that “the struggle between the civil/military

bureaucracy representing the centre and the political elite representing the periphery leads to

the framing of political issues as security issues to legitimise non/anti-democratic moves. The

de-securitising moves taken by the AKP has been challenged by the securitising actors including

the army, the higher education leadership and the judiciary.”

As has become clear later on in the previous part of this chapter, the AKP was strongly affected

by securitising moves of other actors such as the military. The fact that the AKP was affected by

these securitising moves relatively easily can be explained by the conservative and nationalist

identity of the party. As mentioned before, this conservative and nationalist identity can stand in

47
the way of positive change and non-securitising processes of identity transformation. Therefore,

when there are challenges to the ontological security of the AKP through the existence of

anxieties, it is easier to resort to securitisation practices that turn anxieties into fears. This is

exactly what has happened when the AKP started using nationalist rhetoric during election time,

and when they stopped the implementation of the Democratic Opening to replace it with an

approach to the Kurdish issue as a terrorist problem. Çiçek (2011) has confirmed that what has

limited the AKP in completely enhancing accommodative policies is their nationalist identity. He

has written that “the rise of pro-Kurdish politics both within Turkey and Iraq has nearly closed

the door on the sustainability of the traditional security policy. However, the AKP’s Turkish

nationalist ideological-political character, the lack of the deep democratic values in the political

tradition of neoliberal pro-Islamic politics and its weak administrative capacity about the

Kurdish issue have prevented it from going beyond the traditional national security policy to

solve the Kurdish issue and to disarm the PKK.” (Çiçek, 2011)

AKP discourse has then increasingly become securitising rather than de-securitising. The

moment when the AKP took more control over the military could have been a big step towards

de-securitisation. However, it rather seems that the military voices within the administration

have influenced the general approach to the Kurdish issue, as well as the general identity. The

government approach has securitised and the identity has become more focused on Kemalist

principles of secularism, nationalism and unity. It is clear that military’s securitisation of the

Kurdish issue has eventually led to the adaptation of the AKP to the same identity and discourse,

thereby falling back into securitisation practices.

During the last few years, the relationship between Turkey and the EU has deteriorated. The

relationship of the EU was one thing that offered the Turkish state a way to transform its

identity and use the positive potential of anxieties. The worsened relationship with the EU, now,

has rather pushed Turkey back towards nationalist and conservative discourse. The policies

aimed at silencing opposing voices that have taken place in the last few years, are again

48
securitisation policies. These ‘other’ opinions/voices are seen as a threat to the Turkish state.

Anxieties are thus turned into fear once again.

49
7. Conclusion

This dissertation has shown that the presented theoretical framework can be very useful in

analysing and understanding the Kurdish conflict in Turkey. However, the Kurdish case does not

stand alone. This theoretical framework can be successfully applied to other (protracted)

conflicts.

The research conducted has shown that in Turkish history, there have been moments of high as

well as low ontological security, and the state of physical (in)security/asecurity has also varied

over time. As has been explained and shown, these different states of security relate to different

levels of both anxiety and fear. Throughout history, there have been both processes of

securitisation as well as de-securitisation. It has become clear, however, than in the cases of de-

securitisation there has been only limited use of the positive potential of anxieties. Positive

identity transformation has only taken place to a very limited extent.

The reason for this can be found, firstly, in the lack of openness to change. Especially the period

of AKP-rule has been illustrative in this regard, showing that openness to change and identity

transformation is important for safeguarding ontological security. The AKP was not open to

(strong/revolutionary) change due to its strong conservative and nationalist identity. The AKP

put in place de-securitisation policies, but the problem is that the anxieties created by these

policies were not dealt with in a positive/non-securitising manner.

Another explanation relates to the role of the military. It has become clear that the military in

Turkey has a different identity than the state in general. The Turkish military has a different

identity than the Turkish state in general, because it is so much apart and has a lot of autonomy.

It has become apparent within this dissertation, that attempts at identity transformation and use

of the positive potential of anxieties by the Turkish state have been met with securitisation

measures from the military. The state has thus challenged the ontological security of the

military.

50
Taking this analysis to a more theoretical level, the fact that the positive potential of anxieties

has only been put to use to a very limited extent can be explained by the general focus on

securitisation and physical security rather than ontological security within (inter)national

politics as well as IR. Already in the theoretical chapter, it was explained that there are currently

criticisms on the strong focus on securitisation within IR-related theories of ontological security.

The lacking focus on positive identity transformation and emancipatory forms of conflict

transformation can lead to a lack of understanding and a lack of knowledge about these types of

conflict transformation.

When looking at the analysis of the Turkish case, it is interesting to think back to the general

conception of ontological security. In this general conception of ontological security, change is

seen as undesirable as it can have a destabilising effect on the security of being. However, it is

exactly this assumption that has been challenged within this analysis of the Turkish conflict. The

analysis has confirmed the usefulness of the presented theoretical framework, which is a

framework that steps away from this traditional view of ontological security and rather

emphasises the positive potential of anxiety and change, the importance of adaptability instead

of stability, the importance of being critical of one’s own ontological security and the related

focus on processes of de-securitisation followed by thick recognition, and simultaneous self-

transformation and other-transformation.

I would therefore like to use these concluding words to urge the IR-scholarship to continue

research on this approach to ontological security. More research needs to be done not because

the presented theoretical framework is perfect (this is unattainable anyhow), but rather because

this approach to ontological security has a lot of potential and urgently needs to be explored

further.

A few things that need to be taken into account, however, are the fact that different state

institutions have different identities and different ontological security needs. In the Turkish case,

the military was a clear example. Ontological security scholarship should thus not only be

51
applied to direct oppositional conflict parties, but also to different state institutions if they

indeed have different identities like in the Turkish case. Along the lines of the theoretical

framework proposed, anxieties then are to be addressed through thick recognition followed up

by simultaneous self-transformation and other-transformation.

It is important to realise that it is the ontological security of a state that must be secured.

However, the state in itself is a very abstract entity. One must realise that the government and

the state are not identical. The government, however, has an interest in safeguarding ontological

security for the state. Therefore, the ruling government is the actor implements policies aiming

to safeguard this ontological security of the state.

It is also important to take into account the individual level. Within this dissertation, I have

mainly looked into the level of the state and main political actors. However, such institutions are

always supported or made up of people. Central for the ontological security of a state or political

actor is the trust of citizens and their identification with the state or concerned political actor. A

state in itself does not have emotions or ideas, as a state is only an abstract and symbolic concept

that is set up by individuals in order to govern a society which is also made up of individuals.

52
Appendix 1: Poem by Ziya Gökalp (English)

Original Poem in English:


A Soldier’s Prayer

“A rifle in my hand, faith in my heart,


I have two desires: Religion and the homeland…
The army is in my heart, the sultan is great…
Aid the Sultan, oh God!
Prolong his life, oh God!

Our path is holy war, martyrdom is its end,


Our religion asks for loyalty and service,
Our mother is the homeland, our father is the nation,
Make the homeland prosperous, oh God!
Uplift the nation, oh God!

My banner is the Oneness of God, my flag is the Crescent,


One is green, the other is red,
Take bitter revenge on the enemy for Islam,
Make Islam prosperous, oh God!
Ruin its enemies, oh God!

Our commanding, powerful fathers,


Our sergeants, corporals, chiefs,
Our ordered and respected laws,
Make the army in good order, oh God!
Make our banner superior, oh God!

Many brave heroes in the battlefield,


Became martyrs for religion and country,
Let the hearth give off smoke, let hope not be extinguished,
Do not let the martyr be mournful, oh God!
Do not let his end be powerless, oh God!”

Source: Archer, A.L. (2015) Before Gökalp and after Gökalp: Ziya Gökalp and Literary Turkism,
1876-1923. https://etd.ohiolink.edu/!etd.send_file?accession=osu1419950705&disposition=inline
(accessed on 18-7-2017)

53
Appendix 2: Poem by Ziya Gökalp (Turkish)

Original Poem in Turkish:


Asker duası

“Elimde tüfenk, gönlümde iman,


Dileğim iki: Din ile vatan...
Ocağım ordu, büyüğüm Sultan,
Sultan’a imdad eyle Yarabbi!
Ömrünü müzdad eyle Yarabbi!

Yolumuz gaza, sonu şehadet,


Dinimiz ister sıdk ile hizmet,
Anamız vatan, babamız millet,
Vatanı mamur eyle yarabbi! .
Milleti mesrur eyle Yarabbi!

Sancağın tevhid, bayrağım hilal,


Birisi yeşil, ötekisi al,
İslam’a acı, düşmandan öc al,
İslam’ı abad eyle Yarabbi!
Düşmanı berbad eyle Yarabbi!

Cenk meydanında nice koç yiğid


Din ile yurt için oldular şehid
Ocağı tütsün,sönmesin ümid
Şehidi mahzun etme Yarabbi!
Soyunu zebun etme Yarabbi!

Kumandan,zabit babalarımız.
Çavuş,onbaşı,ağalarımız,
Sıra ve saygı,yasalarımız.
Orduyu düzgün eyle Yarabbi!
Sancağı üstün eyle Yarabbi!

Minareler süngü,kubbeler miğfer,


Camiler kışlamız, müminler asker,
Bu ilahi ordu dinimi bekler,
Allahu Ekber,Allahu Ekber.”

Source: Gökalp, Z. (1912) Asker duası.


http://www.cetinkose.com/siirlerim_oku_do.php?siirID=1066 (accessed on 18-7-2017)

54
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