Like the concept of ‘terrorism,’ now notions and strategies of ‘safe zone’ or ‘security zone’ are shaping the colonialist state’s expansionist wishes and international illegitimate actions. Today, powerful nation states, such as the USA against Mexico, India against Kashmir, Europe against North Africa, Saudi Arabia against Yemen, Russia against Ukraine and China against Uygur, continue to expand their political and economic interests and their authority at the expense of others. This is what Turkey is currently doing with Kurds in Syria and elsewhere. The strategy of ‘safe zones’ is a new name for old style colonization, which continues to enable monopolistic privileges of ethnic or religious groups over others.
The twentieth century was the century of genocides. Many serious crimes against humanity took place. Turkey alone, at least twice committed this crime; once against Armenia (1915) and the other against Alevis and Kurds (1937-38). Atrocities continue. Regimes of evil and their immoral reasoning, methods, rule of government and administration evolve together with the state and economic apparatuses that support them.
To understand new forms of colonialism we need to critical analyze the effects of imperialism as well as the role of predatory politics. Ottoman colonization and acts of slavery spread and affected many different minorities in three different continents. Turkey inherited this style. Turkey has occupied Kurdish land and population for over a century as well as half of Cyprus in 1974, under the legitimacy of ‘peace operation’ and ‘Turkishness.’ Between 2011 and 2016, Turkey helped ISIS and other jihadist groups in their actions against Kurds, and bought cheap petrol from them in exchange of military equipment. Kurdish civilians in Afrin were killed and their wealth looted in the beginning of 2018. It was not just that Kurds were disabled physically and economically, their land was destroyed. Millions of olive trees were cut and sold for the benefit of Turkey. The rich fertile farmland turned into almost desert. That means predatory politics over minorities does not only destroy human life but the natural habitat too.
A couple of weeks ago, Turkey decided to expand its border at the expense of the Kurds again, paralyzing their economy and provoking its people’s emotions. To promote these actions, Turkey chosed another very peaceful name for its occupation, Peace Spring. Like previous ‘peaceful’ actions (e.g. the Olive Branch Operation), Peace Spring brought death, blood and misery for Kurds and created again temporary fuel for the Turkish economy. Hundreds of civilians died, and hundreds of thousands have lost their homes. These recent figures add to the more than fifty thousand Kurdish people in Turkey who have lost their lives since 1984, and the millions who have had to leave their land because of these so called ‘peace operations’ and the concept of nation state’s security.
Turkey has used Kurdish village guards against Kurds in Turkey for decades. Since the Syrian war started, Turkey has trained and armed former Al Qaida and ISIS members, Salafists, bounty and booty hunters, looters, and all types of jihadist mercenaries. Most of these were selected from Syrian refugees who were forced to join the Turkish state for its own current colonization actions in the Kurdish land. It is not even a secret. Turkish state authorities are doing this very openly, in front of the rest of the world. Now Syrians are killing other Syrians for Turkey as some Kurdish village guards did for a long time. This is also not a new phenomenon. Ottoman created armed forces, Janissaries, from different minority groups, especially kidnapped or forced Christian boys. The families of these boys were killed, their land occupied, the boys forced to convert to Islam and the girls forced to be part of Ottoman Sultanates or one of the generals’ harem. After long military training, these boys turned into killers and were sent to be guardians of Ottoman borders. People trained and armed in the ‘Free Syrian Army’ or, with the new given name, ‘Syrian National Army,’ are not much different from Janissaries. They are also sent to kill their local neighbors or kinships in the name of a Jihad that serves the interests of Turkey. Erdogan tweeted in Arabic during the latest operation against Kurds, “I kiss the foreheads of all the hero members of the Muhammadian army” who were entering Syria, invading Kurdish land.
Powerful states not only use their army and resources for the wars against minorities or occupied lands. British used Indians against Indians, Arabs against Arabs, South Africans against South Africans; France did similar things in North Africa; Spain and Portugal with the same tactic created empires and ruled vast lands and stole the resources of others. This similar method continues today. Saudis use Yemenis against Yemenis. Iran follows a similar approach from the other side. Afghans have been killing Afghans first for Russia in 1980s, and in the last decades for the USA. Libyans are slaughtering Libyans for others. Turkey first used ISIS against Kurds. After ISIS was defeated by Kurds, Turkey changed the uniforms of the leftover ISIS members, merged them with some other Syrian and Turkish killers and renamed them the National Syrian Army.
Not only the conservative Sunni Muslim, Kemalist and nationalist Turks, but many so-called leftist groups, Turkish intellectuals, journalists, and some academics who have made their career out of the Kurdish issue in Turkey and outside Turkey, have also been supporting Erdogan’s invasion in Kurdish land in Syria and the destruction of Kurdish cities and towns in Turkey. In these circumstances, the travesty of knowledge and false evidence become more important than factual and critical knowledge. Instead of being ashamed of what is going on in their country and by the actions of the oppressive regime, some so-called intellectuals don’t even mind to find some justification for the government’s false claims. They act and think like a state, for the state; as Antonio De Lauri described in a different context, academics and intellectuals become bureaucrats.
During chaotic times, silence is also a form of support of the brutality of predatory politics. To be an intellectual is to take a risk, to be critical and to fight for the value of truth, even if this means facing hard criticism and losing position and career prospects. This alone will make a life worth living.
Where will intellectuals stand in this umpteenth tragedy of the Kurdish people?
See also Tas, L., Regimes of Evil: Colonization Continues. OpenDemocracy, 24 October 2019.