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Joyce Blau l'éternelle chez les Kurdes

 | 
Hamit Bozarslan
, 
Clémence Scalbert-Yücel

Kurdish elites and nationhood in Anatolia, 1890s-1938

Keith Hitchins

Texte intégral

I

1The initial phase of Kurdish nation formation in Anatolia may be dated from the last decade of the 19th century to the end of the interwar period, and as such it offers valuable insights into the origins of the modern nation in general and the role of intellectuals, specifically, in its creation. The Kurdish case may also be invoked for the contribution it makes to the long-standing debate between modernists and more traditional theorists, notably the primordialists and the perennialists, about the emergence and nature of the modern nation. In the light of this debate it is reasonable to begin an inquiry into the origins of the modern Kurdish nation formation with the activities of a social and intellectual elite at the end of the 19th century. Its members were conscious of having an identity as Kurds beyond local and tribal and even religious affiliations, and they took it upon themselves to formulate and propagate a new vision of Kurdish ethnic and cultural identity.

2This elite, moderate in politics and well-connected with Ottoman higher society in Istanbul, thought of their mission, first of all, as one of education and persuasion, and thus they zealously embarked on the tasks of enlightenment by establishing the first Kurdish newspapers and journals. They had decided that these would be the primary means by which they could disseminate their idea of a future Kurdish nation and awaken all Kurds to a consciousness of belonging to the same ethnic community and of being fated to share a common future. To coordinate these undertakings they founded a variety of associations. They also sketched the outlines of an idea of community that was essentially ethnic, rather than tribal or religious. They were thus absorbed by the tasks of intellectual and cultural mobilization and therefore turned their attention primarily to the educated and well-to-do. At the same time they put forward proposals for new political arrangements, necessary, they thought, to assure the longevity of the Kurdish nation they envisioned. In so doing, they recognized the impossibility over the long term of separating their intellectual and cultural endeavors from political construction.

3The elite began its activities at a time of growing ferment among the diverse peoples of the Ottoman Empire and may well have drawn inspiration from the challenges to established authority they witnessed. They could not but be aware of the efforts of the Albanians in the Balkans and of the Armenians in eastern Anatolia to assert their ethnic individuality and assure their survival as distinct communities. But, above all, it was the Young Turk movement both at home, in Istanbul and other Ottoman cities, and in Europe that stimulated the Kurdish elite to proclaim their own distinctiveness and aspire to modern nationhood.

  • 1 Malmîsanij (2000): Cızira Botanlı Bedirhaniler, 2nd ed. Istanbul, Avesta.
  • 2 Malmîsanij (1991): Said-i Nursi Uppsala, p. 21-28.
  • 3 Naci Kutlay (1991): İttihat-Terakki ve Kürtler, 2nd ed., Istanbul, Beybun, p. 10-16; Djene Rhys Baj (...)
  • 4 Martin van Bruinessen (1992): Agha, Shaikh and State, London, Zed Books, p. 203-264.

4The majority of this elite belonged to the higher ranks of Kurdish society. They came from the great aristocratic families such as the Badrkhans1 and Babans, and from the upper middle class; some were army officers and government officials; a few others were mullahs such as Said-i Nursi (1876-1960), a moderate who had committed himself to improving the social and political status of the Kurds and belonged to a number of Kurdish associations in Istanbul before the First World War.2 They were urban and had had a superior and, to some extent, cosmopolitan education. Many had spent time in Europe, where they had become acquainted with Western liberal, enlightened ideas and had joined progressive Turkish and Armenian intellectuals to oppose the existing political order in the Ottoman Empire.3 In pursuing their goals, they could not escape an essential fact of Kurdish social life: the great majority of Kurds belonged to tribes or were peasants. The traditional and tribal organization of Kurdish society and the pervasive influence of religion and the power of the sheikhs, whose prestige rested in great measure on their leadership of Sufi orders, proved to be formidable obstacles to innovation.4 The structure of Kurdish society itself, then, inevitably influenced the course of Kurdish nation formation.

  • 5 Martin van Bruinessen (2003): « The Ethnic Identity of the Kurds, » in Abbas Vali (ed.), Essays on (...)

5One of the immediate difficulties the elite faced as they proceeded with their project of enlightenment and mobilization and the formation of a Kurdish nation was to determine who exactly a Kurd was. Religion and language, often the markers of nationhood in other societies, were not particularly helpful. Although the majority of Kurds in Anatolia were Sunni Muslims and followers of the Shafi’i creed, there were also significant communities of Alevis, whom many Shafi’i Kurds refused to recognize as Kurds. Then, too, religious distinctions between Kurds and others were sometimes blurred. For example, Kurdish Alevis had much in common culturally with Turkish Alevis, and many Sunni Kurds and their sheikhs were intent upon preserving the Caliphate and thus cooperated with the Ottoman and Turkish Republican governments at least until the latter abolished the Caliphate and initiated a secularization campaign in the 1920s. As for language, the majority of Kurds in Anatolia spoke Kurmanji, but the Zazas spoke a language of their own, which, being unintelligible to Kurmanji-speakers, helped to keep the two communities apart. In the absence of all-encompassing religious and ethnic indicators, simple membership in a tribe or links to one of the traditional prominent families was often enough to establish one’s Kurdishness, regardless of ethnicity or similar criteria.5 The complexity of the task that lay before those, like the elite, who would create a modern nation out of such diversity is striking.

  • 6 Martin van Bruinessen (2000): « The Kurds and Islam, » in Abbas Vali (ed.), Mullas, Sufis and Heret (...)

6In a curious way, religion helped to draw Kurds from many parts of Turkish Kurdistan together, despite their different religious and cultural traditions. Madrasas and the Sufi orders enabled Kurds from various Kurdish regions to become acquainted with one another and thus over time contributed to a common, even in limited ways « national » identity. It was not by chance, then, that many of the rebellions against Ottoman and, later, Turkish Republican rule were led by sheikhs of the Sufi brotherhoods.6

  • 7 Martin van Bruinessen (2003): « Ehmedî Xanî’s Mem u Zin and Its Role in the Emergence of Kurdish Na (...)
  • 8 Martin van Bruinessen « Ehmedî Xanî’s, », op. cit., p. 50.

7The urban Kurdish elite, unlike the mass of the population, was guided by a general sense of being Kurdish. Even so, this conviction, rather than being based on a well-reasoned theory of nation or precise ideas about the nature of the ethnic community, was more a spontaneous sentiment that had been nurtured by family tradition and historical and literary sources such as Ehmedê Xanî’s (ca. 1650/1651-1706/1707) great epic, Mem û Zîn, the poetry of Hacî Qadrî Koyî (1817-1897), and the pioneering history of the Kurdish principalities, Sharaf-Nāme, by Sharaf-Khan ibn Shamsaddîn Bidlisi (1543-1603/1604?). The elite interpreted Xanî’s references to Kurds and to their need for unity as recognition as early as the 17th century that a Kurdish nation existed, when what in fact he had in mind by « Kurd » was mainly the tribes and some intellectuals, but not the peasantry.7 Hacî Qadrî Koyî, who settled in Istanbul and became associated with the Badrkhan family later in his career, evoked a romantic nationalism in his poetry that had great appeal for the young generation of intellectuals.8

  • 9 Günter Behrendt (1993): Nationalismus in Kurdistan, Hamburg, Deutsches Orient-Institut, p. 272-274; (...)

8The elite did not yet conceive of nation in fully modern terms. The evidence lies in their attitude toward the mass of the Kurdish people, tribal and peasant alike. They displayed a kind of paternalism that viewed the mass of the population as children who needed to be led and protected. Not surprisingly, they assigned to themselves the task of leading and protecting as an inherent right because of their education, social standing, and experience in public affairs. Disdainful of the rural world because of what they saw as its ignorance and superstition and its unthinking attachment to tradition and superstitions, they themselves took pride in being urban and even European and thus progressive, and they relished Istanbul as their base.9

9The elite used modern means to advance their cause: they formed the first Kurdish political organizations and cultural societies, and they laid the foundations of the Kurdish newspaper press and urged full support for education. At first, then, they conceived of themselves as enlighteners, and in politics they practiced moderation.

  • 10 Malmîsanij (1992): Abdurrahman Bedirhan ve İlk Kürt Gazetesi Kurdistan Sayı: 17 ve 1, Språnga, Swed (...)
  • 11 Kurdistan, I, p. 7-18, 59-69; Dzhalile Dzhalil, op. cit., p. 29-36.

10The first, informal association they created was linked to the newspaper Kurdistan, which began publication in Kurdish (Kurmanji) and Turkish in Cairo in 1898. Its publisher and editor was Mikdat Midhat Badrkhan, one of the sons of Badrkhan, the emir of the former Kurdish principality of Botan. It did not represent a particular political organization or tendency, and therefore it offered intellectuals of various ideological hues a forum for the exchange of ideas. In time, Badrkhan hoped, it might provide a base from which he and his colleagues could undertake sustained public initiatives. But at first, he focused on cultural and educational goals. He was particularly eager to acquaint his readers with the accomplishments of contemporary European civilization and science and to raise their general cultural level.10 Eventually, Kurdistan, after temporary homes in London and Folkstone in England, moved to Geneva, Switzerland. The new editor, until the newspaper closed in 1902, was another son of Emir Badrkhan, Abdurrahman Bey. A realist, he became resigned to the fact that he and his colleagues could not hope to pursue successfully an exclusively Kurdish program. He decided, instead, to cooperate with the Young Turks in exile and to advocate the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into a federated state in which all its peoples should have autonomy.11

  • 12 Djene Rhys Bajalan, op. cit., p. 105-114.

11The elite in time felt the need for a permanent organization around which to mobilize their supporters and coordinate their activities, and in September 1908 in Istanbul they founded Kürt Teavün ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Association for Kurdish Mutual Assistance and Progress).12 Their immediate aim was to take advantage of the new freedom for social and political action made possible in the wake of the Young Turk revolution in July of that year. They were especially eager to bring various small, activist Kurdish groups into contact with the representatives of leading families. The initiative for the association’s founding came from Kurds recently returned from Europe, who were determined to promote a sense of Kurdish unity and a belief in progress.

  • 13 Dzhalile Dzhalil, op. cit., p. 57.

12Cultural goals continued to come first, as is evident from the articles of the newspaper they published for nine months beginning in November 1908, Kürt Teavün ve Terakki Gazetesi, whose publisher was Seyyid Abdul Qadir, the son of Sheikh Ubaydullah, the leader of a rebellion in 1880, and a member of later Kurdish national committees. The association promoted education as an essential means of bringing about a sense of national unity and insisted that Kurdish school children use their own language in all the subjects they studied. The elite thus recognized the value of language as a unifying force. They gave continuous attention to the cultivation of the Kurdish literary language, which they intended to enrich by drawing on Kurdish folk stories and legends and by writing a history of their language.13

  • 14 Ibid., p. 62-63.

13The association soon felt the force of rising Turkish nationalism and had to curtail its activities, as a serious rupture between the Young Turks and the Kurdish elite occurred in 1909. Where once the Young Turks had been allied with the Kurds against the Sultan, now they could no longer ignore the centrifugal tendencies they discerned in the association’s promotion of the Kurdish language and strengthening of Kurdish culture. As the defenders of a Turkish state they began to treat the Kurds as subversives, and, as a result, the Kürt Teavün ve Terakki Cemiyeti and its newspaper had to close in 1909. For a time its members carried on educational work in another association, Kürt Neşr-i Maarif Cemiyeti (Association for Kurdish Educational Publications), which established schools and published books in Kurdish.14 But increased Young Turk vigilance forced it to cease activities in 1910.

  • 15 Ömer Ağin (2006): Kürtler, Kemalizm ve TKP, Istanbul, Versus kitap, p. 72-76.
  • 16 Malmîsanij (2002): İlk Legal Kürt Öğrenci Derneği. Kürt Talebe-Hêvî Cemiyeti, 1912-1922, Istanbul, (...)
  • 17 Günter Behrendt, op. cit., p. 281-283.

14Subsequent associations were also short-lived. The most important of these was Heviya Kurd (Kurdish Hope), which was founded in Istanbul in 1912.15 It, too, pursued cultural goals whose main purpose was to further a sense of Kurdish identity and unity among the general population. It published the first Kurdish journal, Roja Kurd (Kurdish Day; three issues in 1913) and its successor, Hetawî Kurd (Kurdish Sun; ten issues in 1913), both of which fostered Kurdish education, literature, and language.16 The association lasted until the start of the First World War, when many of its members entered military service.17

  • 18 Malmîsanij (2010): Yirminci yüzyılın başında. Diyarbekir’de Kürt Ulusçuluğu (1900-1920), Istanbul, (...)

15Despite the best efforts of urban aristocratic and middle-class intellectuals to disseminate a new, national sense of community among Kurds and create a common Kurdish culture, they had little success in attracting large numbers to their cause. For example, they established branches of the Association for Kurdish Mutual Assistance and Progress in the eastern part of Anatolia, but these « clubs, » in Diyarbekir, Bitlis, and other towns, lacked regular strong links with the center in Istanbul or even among themselves.18 They became, in effect, local organizations, where, in the absence of intellectuals of the sort active in Istanbul, local elites, espousing more traditional ideas, used the clubs to further their own interests. Nor were the intellectuals in Istanbul successful in establishing contacts with the general Kurdish population in the capital or anywhere else. Their programs did not deal with the social and economic issues that were of most concern to the mass of Kurds, and they themselves showed little inclination to meet with the poor and uneducated. In Istanbul, Seyyid Abdul Qadir was almost alone as an intellectual who developed relations with ordinary Kurds, but it was mainly because they saw him as a holy man, not because he could connect them to a Kurdish national committee.

II

  • 19 Ismail Göldaş (1991): Kürdistan Teâli Cemiyeti, Istanbul, Doz, p. 11-77.
  • 20 Malmîsanij and Mahmûd Lewendî (1992): Li Kurdistana Bakur û Li Tirkiye. Rojnamegeriya Kurdî (1908-1 (...)
  • 21 Jîn, I, p. 68-70, 156-158.

16The outcome of the First World War gave a certain impetus to Kurdish nation formation. The elite established a coordinating committee, Kurdistan Teâli Cemiyeti (The Association for the Rise of Kurdistan) in Istanbul in December 1918 under the chairmanship of Abdul Qadir,19 and they pursued cultural goals, as their predecessors had. Influenced by Western models, they were intent on raising their people to a higher cultural level. To this end, they published a cultural and political journal, Jîn (Life; 1918-1919) to disseminate their ideas and reinforce a sense of Kurdishness among broader, literate elements of the population.20 Indicative also of their commitment to a Kurdish national consciousness was their sponsorship of the first printed edition of Xanî’s Mem û Zîn in 1919.21 Their concern with it may reflect the same anxiety that Xanî had expressed about the Kurds’ lack of unity and their need of a strong leader to free them from the domination of others. They thus seem to have accepted the idea that their own attempts at nation formation had roots in much earlier times, the 17th century.

  • 22 Hamit Bozarslan (2003): « Some Remarks on Kurdish Historiographical Discourse in Turkey, » in Abbas (...)
  • 23 Günter Behrendt, op. cit., p. 312-315; M. S. Lazarev (1989): Imperializm i kurdskii vopros (1917-19 (...)

17The elite’s attention to the Kurdish past suggests a strengthened national consciousness and the acceptance of history as an indispensable instrument for mobilizing public opinion, even though none among them took the time to write his own history of the Kurds.22 Even so, they could not separate the cultural from the political. Their political awareness found expression, in particular, in their apparent authorization of Şerif Pasha, an aristocratic opponent of the Ottoman government and a member of Kürt Teavün ve Terakki Cemiyet who had been living in exile in Paris since 1909, to present demands for Kurdish independence at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.23 He and other Kurds in Paris achieved momentary success, as the Allies inserted in the Treaty of Sèvres with the Ottoman Empire (August 10, 1920) articles that provided for the establishment of an autonomous Kurdistan in eastern Anatolia. This was, in a sense, the culmination of the movement undertaken by the Kurdish elite some two decades earlier. But the treaty was not of their making; it was the work of Britain and France, who were intent on protecting their own interests in the Middle East and treated the Kurds accordingly. The proof lies in the Treaty of Lausanne (July 24, 1923), which nullified Sèvres in favor of new arrangements with a resurgent Turkey under Mustafa Kemal and ignored the earlier promises made to the Kurds. Yet, the Kurds themselves were ill-prepared to stand against such powerful forces. During these critical years they were woefully lacking in organization and unity of purpose. The Kurdistan Teâli Cemiyeti, already divided between those who wanted an independent state and others who would be satisfied with some form of autonomy and were willing to continue cooperating with reformist Turks, finally broke apart in a dispute over recognition of an Armenian state.

III

18It may be useful at this point to ask how closely the activities of the Kurdish elite on behalf of nation formation fit the paradigm proposed by modernist theorists of nation, who since the middle of the 20th century have represented the most influential current of thought on the origin, age, and nature of the nation. As a group they reject the claims of the primordialists and perennialists that nations are intrinsic to human society and that they are somehow « natural phenomena. » The modernists deny the antiquity of nations, arguing, instead, that they are relatively recent phenomena, that they are in fact the products of the modern world and were formed to satisfy the specific needs of that world. They reason, then, that as times change, nations will disappear and will be replaced by other forms of community organization appropriate to new ages. Not surprisingly, modernists largely dismiss the historical and cultural, in favor of the economic and political, foundations of nation. They agree that in the creation of modern nations elites play the key role of constructors.

  • 24 Ernest Gellner (1983): Nations and Nationalism, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, p. 39-43; Anthony (...)
  • 25 Benedict Anderson (1991): Imagined Communities, revised edition, London and New York, Verso, p. 5-7
  • 26 Ibid., p. 42-46.

19These were the ideas about the origin and nature of nations set forth by two prominent modernists, Ernest Gellner and Benedict Anderson. Gellner in his influential Nations and Nationalism (1983) insisted that nations could be creations only of modern, capitalist, industrial society. In fact, he reasoned, they were indispensable to modern society (a complex, mobile, and mass entity), if it was to function properly.24 Thus, he denied that nations had existed for all time or that they could be the natural way of separating and organizing human beings. Anderson shared with Gellner the conviction that nations were constructs, creations of modern times. He rejected the intrinsic reality of nations, insisting that they could only be « imagined communities, » and he assigned to elites the crucial role in their formation.25 He accords culture a somewhat more significant place in nation formation than do most modernists. He points out that while elites may well conceive of the nation as embodying qualities such as language and memories of the past, they could, nonetheless, not hope to know every member of the community personally. But it was precisely in modern times that they could take advantage of the new technology, specifically the « technology of print capitalism. » In this way, he argued, they could acquaint the members of the community with one another through newspapers and even fiction and poetry and in the process make a nation, an « imagined political community, » which would become predominant in social thought and organization.26 But, like Gellner and other modernists, he insisted that this nation was by no means a natural phenomenon and eternal, but would inevitably yield to other forms of organization as society evolved.

  • 27 Anthony D. Smith (1986): Nationalism and Modernity, p. 191. Idem (1986): The Ethnic Origins of Nati (...)
  • 28 Anthony D. Smith, op. cit., p. 196.

20Another influential contemporary theory of nation is historical ethno-symbolism, whose chief advocate is Anthony D. Smith. He represents an attempt by a number of scholars to bridge the gap between those who regard nations as solely modern artifacts and those who defend the « naturalness » and antiquity of nations. Ethno-symbolists emphasize continuity between the past and the present. They investigate the ways in which modern nations and nationalisms revive and reinterpret the myths, traditions, and symbols of earlier eras, and they show how vital this cultural heritage is in arousing ethnic awareness and national consciousness. Smith himself accords history and culture greater importance in the formation of nations than do Gellner and Anderson. He shows how the ethnic community (ethnie) precedes the emergence of the nation and how its members share ancestry myths and a common history and culture and may even be associated with a particular territory and share a sense of solidarity.27 But he denies that the ethnie is as yet a nation because it lacks a clearly defined territory, economic unity, a broad public culture, and rights and responsibilities shared by all.28 There is, nonetheless, a clear continuity between ethnie and nation, and on the basis of culture, history, and language Smith sees the one merging with the other. Even so, he points out, the process is by no means automatic, and it is here that the role of intellectuals becomes crucial. He argues that it is an elite – intellectuals or nationalists – who guide the merging of ethnie and nation, and it is they who mobilize the masses and lead the common endeavor to achieve nationhood.

21The modernists would, in general, agree that the Kurdish elite we have been discussing was engaged in nation formation and was going about their task in the proper way by seeking to extend their vision of a Kurdish nation to larger elements of the population by means of publications and organizations. They were thus « constructing » the nation, but only Smith would attach much importance to the cultural and historical foundations of their work. Gellner and Anderson and others would, rather, look to changing economic and political structures of the time to explain the emergence of the Kurdish elite’s modest attempt at nation formation. They would undoubtedly find the economic and social conditions prevailing among the Kurds ill-suited to the emergence of a nation.

  • 29 Miroslav Hroch (1985): Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge Uni (...)

22An insightful contribution to the debate about nation came from the Czech historian Miroslav Hroch. He is concerned mainly with identifying those social groups who organized and led national movements of the « non-dominant » peoples of Europe in the 19th century. He suggests a useful paradigm for measuring the maturation of a national movement and even the appearance of a nation: phase A (« scholarly interest, ») that is, the investigation of the history and language of a people by its intellectual elite, phase B (« patriotic agitation, ») that is, the efforts by a new, more pragmatic elite to rally support for the national cause among broader elements of the population, and phase C (« the rise of a mass national movement, ») which happens when elites and the mass of the population come to share the same sense of identity and are united in pursuing the same goals.29

  • 30 Miroslav Hroch (1998): « Real and Constructed: The Nature of the Nation, » in John A. Hall, The Sta (...)
  • 31 Ibid., p. 94.
  • 32 Ibid., p. 99-100.

23As for a theory of nation and nation formation, Hroch stands somewhere between Gellner and Smith, perhaps closer to the latter.30 Like the modernists, he rejects the idea that nations are eternal, and he argues that if the process of nation formation is to be properly understood, then the changes in society, the economy, and politics that ushered in the modern age must be taken fully into account. It is not just coincidence, he argues, that the emergence of capitalist society and the emergence of nations occurred at the same time.31 Nonetheless, he insists that nations are not merely myths or constructs, but, rather, had roots that went back well before the modern era. He accepts the role of elites – intellectuals or nationalists – as the creators of nations, to a certain degree, but he relates their effectiveness as « agitators » for their cause to the degree of “harmony” they are able to create between their own sentiments and the sentiments of the mass of the population. It was the people’s deep ties to one another, fashioned over centuries that had prepared them to receive the message of ethnic solidarity delivered by intellectuals.32

IV

  • 33 Hamit Bozarslan (2003): « Kurdish Nationalism in Turkey: From Tacit Contract to Rebellion (1919-192 (...)

24Kurdish nation formation after the First World War and the peace treaties entered a new phase lasting until 1938. Of considerable effect on the process was the breakdown of the traditional relationship, or « tacit contract, »33 between the Ottoman government and the minorities of the empire which had enabled the Kurds until then to preserve a large measure of autonomy within their own long-established political, social, and religious structures. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire as a consequence of defeat in the First World War and its replacement by an increasingly nationalist and secularizing Turkish Republic added new strains to the relations between Kurds and Turks. The Republic limited Kurdish cultural expression, undermined existing autonomies, abolished the Caliphate, which had joined Kurds and Turks in a common Muslim community, and ignored the Kurdish urban elite’s pleas for some form of political and cultural autonomy.

  • 34 Tahsin Sever (2010): 1925 Haraketi Azadî Örgütü, Istanbul, Doz, p. 121-131.

25A pervasive sense of crisis in the 1920s encouraged new Kurdish leaders to come forward. To be sure, the urban elite – the well-to-do aristocrats, intellectuals, and high functionaries of Istanbul, and some religious figures – maintained their influence. But now they were joined by other elements who were ready to use tactics other than enlightenment and association to achieve nationhood. Army officers, in particular, took the initiative. They founded the Ciwata Azadi Kurd (Society for Kurdish Freedom), known simply as Azadi, in 192334 to coordinate more aggressive resistance to Kemalism, that is, the policies promoted by the Turkish Republic after 1923 to transform Turkey into a Turkish nation-state. To do so, the Kemalists, as Turkish nationalists were known, set about to secularize society and to pursue the assimilation of Muslim minorities, especially the Kurds, who were the most numerous non-Turkish Muslim community and formed large, compact masses in southeastern Turkey. Their campaign severely curtailed Kurdish cultural activities and had as its ultimate aim the dissolution of Kurdish tribes and even Muslim religious orders. In response, Azadi opposed violence with violence. It organized a local rebellion at Beyt Sebab in 1924, which may have been intended as a rehearsal for a more general uprising later on that its leaders hoped would bring Kurds together from all over Turkish Kurdistan for a common struggle. The rebellion was unsuccessful, as its organizers were unable to gain the support of local tribes. Other armed uprisings against Kemalism followed, but they also failed, as their leaders could not turn local ambitions into a truly national effort.

  • 35 Ibid., p. 165-168.
  • 36 Hamit Bozarslan, « Kurdish Nationalism, » op. cit., p. 177.
  • 37 Martin van Bruinessen, Agha, p. 291-299; M. S. Lazarev (2005): Kurdistan i kurdskii vopros (1923-19 (...)
  • 38 Martin van Bruinessen (2000): « Popular Islam, Kurdish Nationalism and Rural Revolt: The Rebellion (...)

26Azadi itself survived and helped to prepare the rebellion led by Sheikh Said in 1925, which, it continued to hope, would unite the Kurds of Turkey and even attract support from those of Iraq and Iran.35 Sheikh Said was inspired more by national than religious fervor and was anxious to stir fellow Kurds to action by invoking Ehmedê Xanî’s appeal for Kurdish brotherhood and political solidarity.36 But his rebellion, like the earlier ones, fell short of being a national uprising. Its main support came from Zaza-speaking tribes, and their chiefs and many sheikhs and the majority of villagers displayed no enthusiasm for or even understanding of the national cause of autonomy or independence. Rather, they fought to uphold the traditional order of society against the new regime being imposed upon them by the Turkish Republic.37 The underlying cause of the rebellion was, then, opposition to modernism and secularism, which, tribal chiefs and sheikhs feared, would destroy their way of life and their religion and, no less important, undermine their own economic and political power.38

  • 39 On the Kurdish rebellions, see Joyce Blau (1963): Le problème kurde. Essai sociologique et historiq (...)
  • 40 M. S. Lazarev, Kurdistan, op. cit., p. 123-155, 170-178.
  • 41 Nezan Kendal (1978): « Le Kurdistan de Turquie, » in Gérard Chaliand, Les Kurdes et le Kurdistan. L (...)
  • 42 Martin van Bruinessen (1991): « Kurdish Society and the Modern State ». in Turaj Atabaki, Margreet (...)

27Subsequent rebellions were, at least in part, a response to the harsh repression that the Republican government carried out in Kurdish areas after the Sheikh Said rebellion.39 The most important were those near Ağrı Dağ (Ararat) in 1929-1930 and in Dersim in 1937-1938.40 Yet, as with Sheikh Said’s rebellion, neither was national in the sense that it enlisted wide support across religious and tribal boundaries and pursued general Kurdish as opposed to local tribal and religious goals. Only in the Ağrı Dağ rebellion did urban Kurdish political groups have even a modest role, but once again there was no significant coordination of effort among urban elites, army officers, and tribal chiefs and sheikhs. Kurdish nationalists, living in exile, some belonging to the old Istanbul elite, had formed a new political party, Hoybun (Independence), in Lebanon in 1927. They had intended to unite all Kurdish political factions and take military action in order to establish an independent Kurdish government in the mountainous regions around Ararat.41 But those members of the urban elite and army officers who helped to organize the Ağrı Dağ rebellion were few in number and gained little support among peasants and nomads.42 Despite some initial successes they were overwhelmed by superior Turkish forces. The Dersim revolt in 1938 met the same fate, and after the Turkish army’s brutal suppression of it significant Kurdish rebellions came to an end. Kurdish nation formation entered upon nearly a quarter-century of relative quiescence.

V

  • 43 Hamit Bozarslan, « Kurdish Nationalism, » op. cit., p. 189.

28The Kurdish urban elite between the 1890s and 1938, as we have seen, encountered formidable obstacles. They had little success in establishing meaningful contact with the broader Kurdish population. Nor could they overcome tribal structures or supplant the pervasive influence of the sheikhs. In effect, they failed to soften the deep social, religious, and cultural divisions within the Kurdish community that hindered all their efforts to achieve a broad unity of purpose. The liberal, cosmopolitan ideas that the urban elite espoused would undoubtedly have appealed to a well-established middle class, but Kurdish society lacked this so-called “middle stratum.” The tradition-bound tribes and peasants could hardly be receptive to European social and political theories and practices. Outside the Kurdish community the Turkish Republican government represented the chief impediment to Kurdish nation formation. Besides the direct suppression of Kurdish political and cultural activities, which, in a sense, forced a retreat of the Kurdish elite from Europeanization, Turkish nationalists in effect, encouraged a « ruralization » of Kurdish nation formation. Consequently, it was not the urban elite of the 1920s and 1930s and earlier, but rather the Kurdish tribes and religious orders that mounted the most stubborn resistance to Turkicization and secularization and thus offered the most effective defense of Kurdish identity.43

29The cause that the Kurdish urban classes represented adds a valuable dimension to the debate about nation and nation formation. Their activities suggest that the modern nation was indeed a creation of elites, as the modernists argued. In the Kurdish case it was such an elite that assumed the task of cultivating the sources of modern nationhood – history, language, culture – that would, they expected, awaken and strengthen the sense of common identity among all strata of society. It was they also who thought about nation in broad terms as embracing all members of the presumed ethnic community; it was they who undertook to extend the sentiment of ethnic identity to larger segments of the population, especially through the press; it was they who sought to mobilize their nation through associations and protect it through political action and even violence; and it was they who formulated the goals of autonomy and, later, independence. The elite by no means constructed their nation merely out of theory. Rather, they appropriated memories and traditions, that is, the existing sentiments of historical or religious community, and molded and expanded them into an idea of nation that was ethnically based and secular to which all members of the community could give their allegiance.

30Nonetheless, in certain respects Kurdish nation formation did not meet the criteria set forth by the modernists. Gellner and his colleagues, as we have seen, linked the emergence of nation and a national movement to the appearance and growth of a modern capitalist economic and social order, but the Kurdish community had hardly taken such a step; it remained beholden to agriculture and tribal structures. The elite thus found itself far ahead of the base of the nation it represented. Specifically, if we take Hroch’s paradigm as a measure, the elite fulfilled only phase A (scholarly interest). They indeed undertook « patriotic agitation » (phase B), but they had little success, as they were unable to turn their cultivation of ethnic sentiments and agitation into an organized, widely supported national movement (phase C).

31The theory about the origins and formation of nations that best fits the Kurdish case is perhaps that put forward by Anthony Smith and the historical ethno-symbolists. They treat nation formation as a process subject to a diversity of influences, political, economic, social, and cultural. The strength of Smith’s analysis, as borne out by the experience of the Kurdish elite, lies in his linking of the past with the present and of memory and tradition with modern economic and social progress. Thus, he and his colleagues judge the matter from the perspective of a long-term evolution, not without its impediments and caprices, but essentially as an exercise in continuity. If, then, they were to analyze the Kurdish case, they would undoubtedly come to the conclusion that it was a work in progress.

Notes

1 Malmîsanij (2000): Cızira Botanlı Bedirhaniler, 2nd ed. Istanbul, Avesta.

2 Malmîsanij (1991): Said-i Nursi Uppsala, p. 21-28.

3 Naci Kutlay (1991): İttihat-Terakki ve Kürtler, 2nd ed., Istanbul, Beybun, p. 10-16; Djene Rhys Bajalan (2010): Jön Kürtler. Birinci Dünya Savaşı’ndan önce Kürt Hareketi (1898-1914), Istanbul, Avesta, p. 85-89.

4 Martin van Bruinessen (1992): Agha, Shaikh and State, London, Zed Books, p. 203-264.

5 Martin van Bruinessen (2003): « The Ethnic Identity of the Kurds, » in Abbas Vali (ed.), Essays on the Origin of Kurdish Nationalism, Costa Mesa, Mazda, p. 13-15.

6 Martin van Bruinessen (2000): « The Kurds and Islam, » in Abbas Vali (ed.), Mullas, Sufis and Heretics: The Role of Religion in Kurdish Society. Collected Articles, Istanbul, Isis, p. 370.

7 Martin van Bruinessen (2003): « Ehmedî Xanî’s Mem u Zin and Its Role in the Emergence of Kurdish National Awareness, » in Abbas Vali (ed.), op. cit., p. 41-45 URL: https://www.academia.edu/12121513/Ehmed%C3%AA_Xan%C3%AEs_Mem_%C3%BB_Z%C3%AEn_and_its_role_in_the_emergence_of_Kurdish_nationalism; Medeni Ayhan (1996): Kurdistanlı filozof Ehmedî Xanî, Ankara, Doruk, p. 121-130.

8 Martin van Bruinessen « Ehmedî Xanî’s, », op. cit., p. 50.

9 Günter Behrendt (1993): Nationalismus in Kurdistan, Hamburg, Deutsches Orient-Institut, p. 272-274; Dzhalile Dzhalil (1997): Iz istorii obshchestvenno-politicheskoi zhizni kurdov v kontse XIX-nachala XX vv., St. Petersburg, Nauka, p. 15-16, 190.

10 Malmîsanij (1992): Abdurrahman Bedirhan ve İlk Kürt Gazetesi Kurdistan Sayı: 17 ve 1, Språnga, Sweden, p. 29-39.

11 Kurdistan, I, p. 7-18, 59-69; Dzhalile Dzhalil, op. cit., p. 29-36.

12 Djene Rhys Bajalan, op. cit., p. 105-114.

13 Dzhalile Dzhalil, op. cit., p. 57.

14 Ibid., p. 62-63.

15 Ömer Ağin (2006): Kürtler, Kemalizm ve TKP, Istanbul, Versus kitap, p. 72-76.

16 Malmîsanij (2002): İlk Legal Kürt Öğrenci Derneği. Kürt Talebe-Hêvî Cemiyeti, 1912-1922, Istanbul, Nobel kitap, p. 99-106, 138-146, 150-160.

17 Günter Behrendt, op. cit., p. 281-283.

18 Malmîsanij (2010): Yirminci yüzyılın başında. Diyarbekir’de Kürt Ulusçuluğu (1900-1920), Istanbul, Vate, p. 58-78.

19 Ismail Göldaş (1991): Kürdistan Teâli Cemiyeti, Istanbul, Doz, p. 11-77.

20 Malmîsanij and Mahmûd Lewendî (1992): Li Kurdistana Bakur û Li Tirkiye. Rojnamegeriya Kurdî (1908-1922), 2nd ed., I, Ankara, Özge, p. 65-75.

21 Jîn, I, p. 68-70, 156-158.

22 Hamit Bozarslan (2003): « Some Remarks on Kurdish Historiographical Discourse in Turkey, » in Abbas Vali (ed.), op. cit., p. 24-25.

23 Günter Behrendt, op. cit., p. 312-315; M. S. Lazarev (1989): Imperializm i kurdskii vopros (1917-1923), Moscow, Nauka, p. 96-111.

24 Ernest Gellner (1983): Nations and Nationalism, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, p. 39-43; Anthony D. Smith (1998): Nationalism and Modernism, London and New York, Routledge, p. 27-46.

25 Benedict Anderson (1991): Imagined Communities, revised edition, London and New York, Verso, p. 5-7.

26 Ibid., p. 42-46.

27 Anthony D. Smith (1986): Nationalism and Modernity, p. 191. Idem (1986): The Ethnic Origins of Nations, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell, p. 6-18, 153-173.

28 Anthony D. Smith, op. cit., p. 196.

29 Miroslav Hroch (1985): Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 22-24.

30 Miroslav Hroch (1998): « Real and Constructed: The Nature of the Nation, » in John A. Hall, The State of the Nation. Ernest Gellner and the Theory of Nationalism Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 91-106.

31 Ibid., p. 94.

32 Ibid., p. 99-100.

33 Hamit Bozarslan (2003): « Kurdish Nationalism in Turkey: From Tacit Contract to Rebellion (1919-1925) », in Abbas Vali (ed.) op. cit., p. 185-189.

34 Tahsin Sever (2010): 1925 Haraketi Azadî Örgütü, Istanbul, Doz, p. 121-131.

35 Ibid., p. 165-168.

36 Hamit Bozarslan, « Kurdish Nationalism, » op. cit., p. 177.

37 Martin van Bruinessen, Agha, p. 291-299; M. S. Lazarev (2005): Kurdistan i kurdskii vopros (1923-1945), Moscow, Vostochnaia literatura, p. 46-71; Ömer Ağin, op. cit., p. 32-57.

38 Martin van Bruinessen (2000): « Popular Islam, Kurdish Nationalism and Rural Revolt: The Rebellion of Shaikh Said in Turkey (1925), » in Abbas Vali (ed.), Mullas, p. 154. URL: http://www.hum.uu.nl/medewerkers/m.vanbruinessen/publications/Bruinessen_Shaikh_Said_rebellion.pdf.

39 On the Kurdish rebellions, see Joyce Blau (1963): Le problème kurde. Essai sociologique et historique, Bruxelles, Centre pour l'étude des problèmes du monde musulman contemporain, p. 35-38.

40 M. S. Lazarev, Kurdistan, op. cit., p. 123-155, 170-178.

41 Nezan Kendal (1978): « Le Kurdistan de Turquie, » in Gérard Chaliand, Les Kurdes et le Kurdistan. La question nationale kurde au Proche-Orient, Paris, Maspero, p. 97-98.

42 Martin van Bruinessen (1991): « Kurdish Society and the Modern State ». in Turaj Atabaki, Margreet Dorleijn (eds.), Kurdistan in search of ethnic identity, Utrecht, Department of Oriental Studies, p. 53. URL: https://www.academia.edu/2521937/Kurdish_society_and_the_modern_state_ethnic_nationalism_versus_nation-building.

43 Hamit Bozarslan, « Kurdish Nationalism, » op. cit., p. 189.

Auteur

Université de lʻIllinois

© Institut français d’études anatoliennes, 2018

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