Turkish sociologist Ismail Beşikçi, the country’s foremost authority on Kurds, was born in Çorum in 1939. He recounts meeting Kurds for the first time as a student at Ankara University’s Faculty of Political Science. Later he spent time in Turkey’s eastern provinces as a student and during his military service. Out of these extended stays came his doctoral dissertation on the region’s social structure. Published as a book in 1968, it remains the best study of its kind. His publications eventually cost him his post at Atatürk University in Erzurum.
The first of a series of prison terms connected with his studies on the country’s Kurds came after the 1971 military intervention. Released in 1974, he was not accepted into Ankara University and continued his scholarly activities independently. A series of three books published on Kurdish and Turkish history and sociology led to further imprisonment in 1979-81. His letter to the president of the Swiss Writers’ Union led to his rearrest just two months after his release, charged with discrediting Turkey’s image abroad. Further prosecutions ensued from his own defense statements, and he remained jailed until May 25, 1987.
Beşikçi’s studies of Kurds inevitably led him to consider questions of ideology, and his latest works have focused on epistemological questions. Turkey only now appears to be taking tentative steps come to terms with its Kurdish population, having long denied their very existence. Official ideology presents this ethnic group as a Turkic people and Kurdish as a dialect of Turkish. To Beşikçi this falsified history can only distort the totality of scientific inquiry in Turkey, and impede the strengthening of the democratic process. The following excerpts from an article written by Ismail Beşikçi in October 1987 provide his indictment of the Turkish state’s effort to deny Kurdish reality.
The most important condition for the development and enrichment of a society’s intellectual life is the existence of critical thought. In societies lacking critical institutions, ideas which are produced assume an untouchable, non-negotiable and uncontradictable reality. Critical thought is an inseparable part of the scientific approach. Social and political analysis devoid of a critical approach cannot, by definition, be considered scientific.
The following example demonstrates this point: It has been asserted in Turkey that Kurds are really Turks, and that a Kurdish nation or a Kurdish language do not exist. This view is propagated by all the means at the disposal of the state, from the universities to the repressive apparatus. Any opposition to this view is considered subversive and is immediately punished. Official ideology thus presents itself as the greatest obstacle to scientific inquiry. This, of course, is not confined to Turkey. Official ideology stands as an obstacle to scientific inquiry in countries like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, South Africa, Chile and the Eastern bloc countries as well as others.
Official ideology imposes itself on reality. Court decisions “prove” that Kurds do not exist and Kurds are imprisoned for laying claim to reality. In such a situation it is impossible for a scientist to claim objectivity since it becomes impossible to engage in the unrestrained criticism which characterizes scientific discourse.
Social phenomena are composed of a series of interrelated processes. By denying scholars the ability to study a portion of this complex reality, official ideology leads to a false and distorted study. Looking at the 1920s, we observe many political movements such as those among Turks, Kurds, Arabs and Armenians within the Ottoman empire. There is also, among others, the influence of British and French imperialism as well as the impact of the Soviet revolution. If there is a prohibition on raising the Kurdish question, it is not possible to understand the 1920s correctly. A ban on studying a specific social phenomenon might suit a researcher’s purposes but the study would not be an objective scientific product.
Official ideology also bends reality to fit the needs of the state. The official view in Turkey is that the Kemalist movement led the first anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist national liberation struggle, lighting the way for all oppressed nations. This ideological proposition, however, is refuted by the fact that the states formed in the region collaborated with French and British imperialism in dividing and subjugating the Kurds. Why do Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria have their separate Kurdistans today?
There is only one way to avoid this distortion: to reject the ban imposed by state ideology and declare it incompatible with a scientific approach. To believe in and follow scientific methods, to insist on a correct view of history, to insist on facts, all of this could be interpreted as a belief system and an ideology itself. But these beliefs and attitudes provide the basis for human rights and democracy.
Introduction and translation by Lale Yalçin