Posts tagged ‘Kurdish persecution’

September 5, 2010

Turkey and the myth of secularism

Turkey and the myth of secularism


By Lee Jay Walker
The Modern Tokyo Times

Turkey and the myth of secularism

Turkey is often praised for being secular and a future role model for other mainly Islamic societies because of its rich history of secularism. America and the United Kingdom, and other nations, often claim that Turkey is a beacon of hope and that it is evidence that democracy and secularism can exist within a mainly Muslim nation state. However, during this so-called “golden age” of secularism it is clear that religious and ethnic minorities have suffered greatly in modern day Turkey. Therefore, how true is it that Turkey is secular?

If we look at the founding father of modern day Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, then it is clear that he himself supported Turkish nationalism and the destruction of Christianity which continued to take place after the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Orthodox Christian genocide of 1915.

Therefore, it is clear that Turkish nationalism and secularism is tainted by its anti-Christian nature and also its anti-Kurdish nature. After all, the nation state of Turkey was about Turkish nationalism and secularism did not protect the religious or ethnic minorities of this diverse nation.

In spite of this, the myth of modernity and secularism based on the founding father prevails and Western nations are very optimistic about Turkey. Yes, Ataturk faced many difficulties and from a Turkish point of view he was very astute because he preserved a Turkish state when it was threatened by others. Yet in order to do this he crushed others and therefore the “bedrock” from the start was “frail” because it was based on Turkish nationalism.

Ataturk did implement many reforms in order to modernize Turkey and he did lay the foundation stone for a secular based state. In this sense he crushed Islamist hopes of a Sharia Islamic state and he gave more rights to females which did not exist in the old Ottoman Empire. However, his legacy of modernity and secularism is tainted by the overt nationalism of old Turkey and this nationalism is still strong in modern day Turkey.

Therefore, if secularism means having the right to crush Christian minorities, moderate Muslim minorities like the Alevi, and ethnic minorities like the Assyrians, Syriacs, Armenians, and Kurds, in modern day Turkey; then it is not the secularism which I support. Given this, modernization and secularism is tainted by this overtly nationalist nation state and of course the Sunni orthodox mindset means that religious inequality is the norm?

In the 1990s the Alevi Muslims witnessed an upsurge in attacks against them. For example, David Zieden, who wr ote an article called The Alevi of Anatolia, states that “Renewed inter-communal violence is sadly on the rise. In July 1993, at an Alevi cultural festival in Sivas, a Sunni fundamentalist mob set fire to a hotel where many Alevi participants had taken refuge, killing 35 of them. State security services did not interfere and prosecution against leaders of the riot was not energetically pursued. (41) In 1994, Istanbul municipal leaders from the Refah Islamic political party tried to raze an Alevi tekke (monastery) and close the Ezgi cafe where young Alevis frequently gathered.”

Meanwhile, if we focus on recent times then it is clear that persecution is still continuing. After all, in 2007 three Christians had their throats slit. Two of the victims had converted from Islam to Christianity, therefore, Necati Aydia, 36, and Ugur Yuksel, 32, were killed by Islamic fanatics on the grounds of merely leaving Islam. While the other murdered Christian, Tilmann Geske, 46, was a German citizen. One of the killers stated in the Hurriyet newspaper, that “We didn’t do this for ourselves. We did it for our religion. May this be a lesson to the enemies of religion.”

Before concluding it is important to state that you have many positive elements within Turkish society who desire change and who support a genuine democratic Turkey, which is inclusive. Also, if we view this nation from its past history and from a Turkish point of view, then clearly this nation faced many obstacles. For Ataturk, the infancy of Turkey was about survival and many Turks also suffered greatly. Given this, it is apparent that you have many positive elements within modern day Turkey and this nation does desire to join the European Union. Also, for America, Turkey is a vital strategic ally and a valued member of NATO.

Despite this, if we look at the rights of Alevi Muslims and Christians in modern day Turkey, and the persecution of Kurds; it is clear that orthodox Sunni Islam and nationalism is still being used by conservative elites. These elites still desire to crush both religious minorities and ethnic minorities. Therefore, it is clear that ethnic and religious minorities are not equal in modern day Turkey.
In recent years you have had several Christian murders and it is clear that Sunni Islam is favoured at the expense of all other faiths, including minority Muslim faiths like the Alevi. Therefore, nationalism and religious bias still hinders Turkey and the current leader of Turkey clearly favours a return to the past. The overall conclusion is that secularism remains a distant dream in modern day Turkey because of the nature of Islam and the mindset it creates towards all others.
Lee Jay Walker
July 4, 2010

Non-Arabs of the Middle East and Persecution

Non-Arabs of the Middle East and Persecution



Ancient Kurdish Festival —The Kurds are an Ethnic-Iranian ethnolinguistic group mostly inhabiting a region known as Kurdistan, which includes adjacent parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Some Kurds also exist in the cities of western Turkey, and can also be found in Lebanon, Armenia, Azerbaijan. They speak Kurdish, an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch. Wikipedia

When most people think about the Middle East the usual images arise, for example the religion of Islam and the role of Arabs in this vast region. However, in many societies you have a rich mosaic of differences and the so-called “Arab Street” ignores this rich diversity. Also, for many minorities who reside in mainly Arab nations in this region, their suffering and pain is being largely ignored.

Before focusing on minorities within the Arab dominated nations, it is worth remembering the nations of Iran and Turkey respectively. After all, both societies have very small Arab minorities and the overwhelming majority of people belong to different ethnic groups.

In Turkey, it is clear that the two dominant ethnic groups are the Turks and Kurds and both ethnic groups can be found in other parts of Asia. For the Kurds, they are pressed between competing nationalisms. Therefore, the 25 million plus Kurds face Arab, Turkish, and Persian nationalism in Iraq, Iran, and Turkey respectively, and they also face problems in parts of Syria.

However, while the Palestinian cause gets the majority of the global attention, the more numerous Kurds are largely neglected and the desire for a united Kurdistan remains. Therefore, the Kurdish issue impacts greatly on a vast part of the Middle East region.

If we focus on Egypt, then the indigenous Coptic Christians who number between 8 and 12 million, depending on different data; also face enormous problems in their own homeland. After all, just like the vast majority of Arab dominated nations in this region, the Arabs conquered and colonialized many parts of the Middle East.

However, despite enormous persecution in the past, and continuing problems in modern day Egypt, the Coptic Christians are a further reminder of the rich mosaic of the entire region. Also, the legacy of Coptic Christianity applies to monasticism and the “Christian heart” is still “beating” despite Islamic dhimmitude and inequality.

Christianity is also vibrant in Lebanon, and in Sudan the Christian faith helped different ethnic groups, for example the Dinka and Nuer, to fight-back against Arabization and Islamization. So once more, the dominant thinking of the Middle East is complex because in Lebanon and Sudan you have many non-Arab ethnic groups.

In modern day Lebanon the Christian population is approximately 39% and the Christian Maronites can trace their lineage back to ancient Phoenicia. Also, when a DNA survey was done several years ago it was noticeable that many Maronite Christians carried the male chromosome called the WES1. This chromosome is usually only found amongst West Europeans, at the same time, most Muslims in the test in Lebanon carried the J1 chromosome which is related to Arab expansionism from the 7th and 8th centuries.

Therefore, the “Arabness” of Lebanon is clearly “vague” and you also have a vibrant Armenian Christian community in this nation. While in the religious field it is clear that the Druze community is very different from both Sunni and Shia Islam and this all adds to the rich mosaic of Lebanon.

In modern day Iraq around 23% of the population is non-Arab and this applies to the Assyrians, Kurds, Turkomans, and others. For the Assyrian Christians, Arabization and Islamization is still a great threat and hundreds of thousands have fled since America invaded Iraq. However, the Kurds have a major stronghold in northern Iraq because of military and ethnic factors.

Yet people often refer to Iraq being an Arab nation, however, the Assyrians are the indigenous people and the rich civilization of this nation belongs to the ancient Assyrian Empire. Meanwhile, today, it is clear that Arabization and Islamization is a serious threat to the Christian minority in Iraq.

However, for the Kurds, it is clear that a “real Kurdistan” remains in the offing in the future because the 25 million plus Kurds of the Middle East desire an independent homeland. Therefore, Iraq appears to be the most likely start of this new nation.

Yet for other minorities in Iraq, notably the Assyrian Christians, the Mandaeans, the Shabaks, the Yazidis, and Turkomans; they face a very fragile future and many may not survive the current crisis in modern day Iraq. After all, you have competing nationalistic forces in parts of Iraq which threatens all the minorities. Added to this, you have radical Sunni Islam which is bent on crushing the minorities within Iraq, therefore, Christians, Shabaks, and Yazidis, are under siege.

The current crisis in Iraq, just like in Sudan, does tell us about past history. After all, the African Dinka and Nuer, and other African tribes in Sudan, had to use military force in order to prevent Arabization and Islamization. Therefore, just like in modern day Iraq, where Assyrian Christians, Shabaks, Mandaeans, and Yazidis, face daily persecution, it is clear that past conquests pushed out the indigenous population.

Berbers also face Arabization policies in Algeria and just like the Kurds who are mainly Muslim, it is clear that Islam is secondary because Arab nationalism in more potent. The same of course applies to African Muslims in Sudan. Given this, Arab nationalism is still a major threat to many ethnic minorities and the Berbers in Algeria and African Muslims in Darfur are witnesses to the mass negatives of Arab nationalism.

Overall, it is clear that the Middle East is very diverse and many minorities exist within this vast region. Meanwhile in nations like Iran and Turkey, it is clear that they are mainly non-Arab nation states. Despite this, we often hear about the “Arab street” or the “Arab Middle East.”

However, new forces are shaping the Middle East and many ethnic minorities have moved to different Gulf States in order to find work. So while some ethnic groups face Arabization policies, persecution, or assimilation; other new ethnic groups in places like Dubai are changing the ethnic map. Therefore, the next time someone talks about the Arab Middle East, just remember the “real Middle East” which is a patchwork of many different cultures and identities.

Also, I have only “scratched on the surface” because you have many other ethnic and religious groups in this vast region. At the same time, you have great richness within the Syriac world and others. If we lose sight of the past and how minorities are struggling today, then we are also losing out on a rich history which gives beauty to this world.