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Identity, Narrative and Frames: Assessing Turkey’s Kurdish Initiatives

In 2009 the Turkish government launched a novel initiative to tackle the Kurdish question. The initiative soon ran into deadlock, only to be untangled towards the end of 2012 when a new policy was announced. This comparative paper adopts Michael Barnett’s trinity of identity, narratives and frames to show how a cultural space within which a peaceful engagement with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) would be deemed legitimate and desirable was carved out. Comparisons between the two policies reveal that the framing of policy narratives can have a formative impact on their outcomes. The paper demonstrates how the governing quality of firmness fluctuated between different connotations and references, finally leading back to a deep-rooted tradition in Turkish governance.

Identity Narrative and Frames Assessing Turkey s Kurdish Initiatives
A supporter of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party waves a flag as she attends the party’s congress in Ankara. AFP / Adem Altan
 

Since 1984 when the PKK commenced its armed struggle against the Turkish state, Turkish security policies have been framed around the Kurdish question with the PKK presented as the primary security threat to be tackled. Turkey’s Kurdish question has its roots in the founding of the republic in 1923, which saw Kurdish ethnicity assimilated with Turkishness. In accordance with the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), only three minorities were and continue to be officially recognized in Turkey: Armenians, Jews and Greeks. These three groups were granted minority status on the basis of their religion. Kurdish identity – whether national, racial or ethnic – was not recognized by the republic, resulting in decades of uprisings by the Kurds and oppressive and assimilative politics by the state. For a long time, the Turkish state denied the Kurdish question’s ethno-political nature by presenting it as a socio-economic problem. By the early 1990s, the state’s perception and methods regarding the Kurdish question began to change as a result of the growing discontent and increased level of armed clashes between the PKK and the military. The ethnic dimension of the question began to be slowly recognized and as the politics of oppression continued throughout the 1990s, the unrest was now viewed as ethnic separatism that required military measures. Therefore, during the 1990s the issue was thoroughly securitized.1

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