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26 T his chapter explores early efforts to use electoral politics to promote reforms concerning Kurds and to establish a new kind of Kurdish representation in Turkey. In the 1940s and 1950s, Kurds participated in politics but did not openly use their office to challenge state policies concerning ethnicity and governance in the southeast. In the 1960s and 1970s, in contrast, elected politicians began publicly complaining about the status of Kurds in Turkey, calling for the freedom to use the Kurdish language, for Kurds to be granted recognition as a distinct people, and for development and investment in the country’s notoriously poor eastern provinces. By 1979 Kurdish parliamentarians in Ankara had begun to directly contest the status quo, as most famously illustrated by cabinet minister Şerafettin Elçi, who told a Turkish newsFriends , I declare myself a candidate of [Kurdish] patriotism. . . . I want to use this municipality for the benefit of patriots and to turn the municipality into a patriotic castle. —Mehdi Zana, Bekle Diyarbakır 1 Early Routes Conditions of Kurdish Electoral Mobilization early routes 27 paper in the spring of 1979: “There are Kurds in Turkey. I too am a Kurd” (Hürriyet, April 19, 1979). Why did politicians begin to use electoral politics to promote Kurdish rights in the 1960s and 1970s when they had not done so before? How did Kurdish partisans obtain elected office given ongoing Turkish state efforts to suppress Kurdish ethnopolitics? More generally, what conditions encourage challengers to use the formal political system to advance their causes in less than fully democratic systems? What explains the nature of such challenges and their strength or weakness? Usual depictions of Kurdish politics in these years tend to describe the new cycle of contention as a Kurdish nationalist revival or “reawakening” (e.g., McDowall 1997, 402; White 2000, 130–31). The problem with this revivalist schema is that it promotes the idea that a kind of preformed, preconstructed political figure—the Kurdish nationalist—burst into the Turkish political system when the conditions permitted it. Changing domestic and international factors are indeed important in explaining the timing of a new cycle of Kurdish national contention in Turkey, but they do little to help us understand the form or frames of Kurdish ethnopolitical activism in these years or how Kurdish nationalism in Turkey became defined. In contrast, I argue that the new presence of pro-Kurdish challengers in the Turkish political system resulted from dynamic exchanges between a young generation of Kurds and several key sets of players, namely, state institutions, political parties—especially those associated with the Turkish left—and social movement organizations. Challenge, cooperation, and engagement between these actors and an emerging cadre of Kurdish leaders provided new frames of reference, new allies and platforms for mobilization , new repertoires, and new resources to help activists obtain elected office. These exchanges deeply affected Kurdish activists’ conceptions of state-society relations in Turkey, changing the way they defined movement goals and their ideas about the ways these goals might be achieved. Such interactions were marked by several tensions that deeply affected the tenor and form of Kurdish ethnic activism. First, systemic social and political changes provided new opportunities for mobilization even as authorities clamped down on collective expressions of Kurdish identity. Second, left-wing political parties operating in Turkey after 1960 gave Kurdish political elites new opportunities to mobilize support for a Kurd- 28 early routes ist agenda. These parties, however, could not adequately represent the demands that arose from such mobilization. Third, in part because of this inadequacy in existing party representation, many new Kurdish social groups and social movement organizations entered the political field in the late 1960s and mid-1970s. This produced new resources for Kurdish electoral mobilization, but the pluralism and diversity of organizational life in this period obstructed a more coordinated pro-Kurdish electoral effort. The politics of Kurdish recognition, rights, and self-determination in Turkey should thus be seen as political ideas that have developed in interaction with other political players rather than as an independent or external phenomenon. Put another way, Kurdish activist-politicians became the kind of Kurdish advocates they did at least in part because of their cooperation and conflict with multi-ethnic actors and institutions. More generally, this case highlights how changes in external contexts affect ethnopolitical mobilization less by providing a clearly demarcated opening to be exploited by activists with clear or predefined goals and more by offering possibilities for new kinds of relationships. The complexities...


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