Hierarchy in Death and the Ghosts of Turkey

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Tugçe Erçetin holds Masters degrees in Political Science and International Relations, from the Department of Government at the University of Essex, alongside Istanbul Bilgi University. Tugçe is currently reading for a PhD in Political Science at the Istanbul Bilgi University. Her research interests include Conflict and Peace Resolution, Human Rights, Nationalism, Identity, and Comparative Politics.

In history, people have derived much of their identity and self worth from the groups in which they belong. [1] We have a tendency to accept our existence and representation in a given society and therefore we may determine ourselves choosing an "other". The "other" serves to indicate our identity highlighting "us" and "them", with existence of the other intensifying our identity. In this sense, prejudices and stereotypes may arise where people perceive differences among certain groups in society. Therefore, members of different groups are united within the concept of "we" through the construction of ethnicity, religion, class, gender, sexuality, race, while others are described as "they". Most significantly, these stereotypes tend to signalize these differences amongst groups in a negative light.
We are all "others" to someone, we all feel as an other. Although we become others as well, we have a tendency to point out people’s perceived weaknesses in order to make ourselves better and superior. Consequently, this reveals a hierarchy and targets particular groups with perceptions about these groups. Michel Foucault argues that ‘othering’ is related with power and knowledge. "Enemy image" and "dehumanization" forms are strongly developed against groups/identities as a result of the otherization process which relies on hierarchy of power. Today, all constructed "others" are often grouped together under the labels "bad, traitor, criminal, and threat.” After selection of an other, discriminative practices often come to the “in-group’s” agenda. Thus, people tend to place negative adjectives for particular groups in order to introduce differences between them. Furthermore, majority or dominant groups do not think that they have equal rights and liberties. This understanding prevents a fair recognition towards an "out-group". Moreover, an "in-group" expects a cultural transformation from the "out-group"; but assimilative or exclusionary forms make integration difficult. Therefore othering consists in the "objectification of another person or group" or "creating the other", which puts aside and ignores the complexity and subjectivity of the individual. [2] This act that a person, group or a class has been subject to, due to their different characteristics from the mainstream society is defined as ‘othering’ and points to different, yet, negative attributes. The ‘othering’ leads to a situation that the positive qualities are attributed to the in-group, while the negative qualities are attributed to the external group. The ‘othering’ demonstrates that value judgements around the groups with different characteristics leads to a hierarchical social positioning of those groups. Prejudices, stereotypes, discrimination and dehumanization and other forms of exclusion, aggravated with the impacts of social psychological processes leads to the rejection of the diversities in the society and effects the cohabitation abilities of different social groups negatively.
According to Lacan, a child recognizes his/her own image in mirror when he or she is outdone by the chimpanzee; in this sense, mirror stage is described as identification. Because, a child assumes an image, the reflection in the mirror is accepted by a child who does not possess the ability to speak or walk yet. However, it does not mean that the child can be aware of his/her existence yet. In addition, the image in the mirror is not a real one between the real child and the reflection in the mirror. The child has the opportunity to see and recognize his/her attitude, although the child cannot speak. But it produces identity with all surrounded similarities and differences. If we think language and ideology act as essential instruments to originate the social world, the child cannot do it. Because, the child cannot share or interact; but the mirror-stage presents the first imagination and identification with his/her confusion. Therefore, the ego of an individual is emerged with this "I" process, while the child is leaving natural connection with mother. It can be evaluated with narcissism, because "I" begins to see him/herself as superior in relation to misrecognition. This "I" process continues with a number of interactions in a social world, but it involves constructed recognition of the "self" with the "other" in a hierarchy.
In this paper, I will examine the Kurdish people, in order to examine whether they are otherized and perceived as an out-group in Turkish society. Firstly, the theoretical framework will present explanations as to the Otherization process, then the paper will provide an overview of the Kurdish people, in order to understand who they are in Turkey. Then, the paper seeks to conclude that the perceptions and stereotypes on Kurdish people cause othering which derives from hierarchy among identities.
David Miller argues that community may embrace all of humankind: " neglects the fact that communities just are particularistic. In seeing myself as a member of a community, I see myself as participating in a particular way of life marked off from other communities by its distinctive characteristics ".[3] In a just society, one of obstacles of equality among its members/citizens emerges when the others’ needs and sometimes, basic rights are undermined. This occurs in accordance with the construction of the perception of the ‘other’ in parallel with the self-construction processes of the individuals and groups and with the lack of the development of the empathy towards the other. In this sense, individuals or groups eliminate "others" in terms of their recognition, rights, and liberties. Elimination does not demonstrate an equal understanding in a selective process for an "other". The perception of the "other" reaches the cruellest form through dehumanization. "Other" simply represents other individuals, who constitute self's identity by naming, recognizing, and validating, but not by embodying the alternative and different identity. [4]
In order to understand the world that they live in and situate themselves in other objects, individuals and events around them, the main mechanism that human beings call for is categorization. The state of self awareness as an identity building process that the individual reaches through categorization endorses the independent being of a person on one hand. On the other hand, the inclusion of the categorization of the others leads to an interactive process. Thus, while the identity is constructed, the question ‘Who am I?’ answered in company of the question ‘Who am I not?’ creates a conceptual space belonging to the individual. The explanation for the question of "who am I" triggers a formation in the form of the other of the individual. Chantal Mouffe has a related point here: "there is always a concern about the creation of an 'us' by the determination of a 'them'". [5] 'Othering’ that leads to rejection of the diversities in the society, demonstrates a world view that prefers a monolithic society; perceives the ‘othered’ individuals and groups as harmful to the peaceful order and harmony of the society and leads to the exclusion of those groups from the society and restrain of their rights. In other words, rejection of some groups in the society creates an explicit hierarchy among different forms of belonging.
Identities can be constructed against the difference of an other. [6] The degree of this kind of difference of the other is quite susceptible to change and dynamics. [7] According to Fanon, as the child emerges from the shadow of his parents, he or she finds him/herself among the same laws, the same principles, the same values. Fanon presents a "Negro child" example that s/he grows up within a normal family, but the child becomes abnormal on the slightest contact with the white world. [8] In other words, creating other and understanding it relies on differences among groups which they are constructed. Moreover, groups strengthen differences during their interaction, since they produce awareness inside.
When category distinctions are salient as a result of peoples' cognitive mechanisms, individuals enhance similarities within the group (i.e. we are all much the same) and improve differences among the groups (we are different from them). Group members are motivated to think and act to maintain distinctiveness with others favouring their group. [9] While people are motivating and praising their group after categorization, they tend to make a bias within the group. Bias can encompass behaviour (discrimination), attitude (prejudice), and cognition (stereotyping). Social categorizations contributed to inter-group bias and the "other" then becomes a victim who is excluded from the society (or group) [10] and deserve negative/evil experiences. Expectations of group members increase stereotypes and particular schemas are determined to be "suitable" for a majority. It means that, a group designates its social, physical, cultural, political, and religious appearance in the society expecting the same values from everyone. In this sense, we can say that social categorization develops stereotypes and prejudices that cause to otherization obviously. Social Psychologists such as Tajfel argue that differences and discrimination create "advantaged and disadvantaged" roles in a negative sense and the "other" is challenged with negative consequences.[11] For instance, expecting a cultural transformation into another group or ethnical integration to adopt for the "others".
Prejudices represent dogmatic judgments, negative attitudes towards group belongingness. Moreover, discrimination and othering derive from features of peoples' groups, not personal. Therefore, the "other" remains as a target. For instance, a Kurdish man or woman can be perceived as a terrorist without any kind of investigation or personal information in Turkey. Being a Kurd provides a perception or information at this point. Although all Kurds are not members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the majority group adjusts this as a "threat" for Turkey's national unity in terms of their existence on recognized rights. Göregenli states that stereotypes emerge as distance amongst groups and in-group/out-group affairs become difficult. Thus out-group (other) is isolated both socially and physically. [12] Other out-groups are revealed by criterias in terms of stereotypes, prejudices, and categorization, othering that brings a sharp differentiation with "positive" in-group. Another central reason is that identification and commitment to in-group partiality is high. This makes it more difficult for equal and fair conditions for the "other".
Tajfel and Turner's social identity theory emphasizes that individuals who are insecure and have an experience with reduced self-esteem as a result of a threat to their identity may indicate intergroup discrimination more compared to those who are secure or not threatened. [13] The desire to maintain positive, superior or righteous opinions/feelings about one's own identity may expand in-group favouritism and out-group derogation. [14] Consequently, the "other" remains permanently through discrimination, dehumanization, enemy-image practices and discourses in a society. In a conflict, the "other" side is usually perceived as being evil and wrong. Furthermore, construction of the "enemy image" or "other has its source in "emotional connection" with national identity as Elias defined that 'the love of nation is never something which one experiences toward a nation to which one refers as "them"' which is about "self-love" referring "we".[15] Because of this strong "self-love" structure, "others" are excluded from the majority with "evil/good" division. For political psychologists, opponents have tendency to "demonize" each other. In this sense, both sides claim that their side is the righteous one and that the other side is inherently aggressive. Therefore, the hatred, the fear, and atrocities are recreated by "the other" which causes difficulty in order to move into a new relationship with the other side. [16] This lack of communication or interaction raises suspicions towards attachments in different identities, reducing respect and overall dignity towards out-groups.
Furthermore, "otherized" people have become hidden while they were mourning for members of their group. Stories, witnesses, and memories revived their mourning as is evident regarding to the Kurdish people in Turkey. Otherized groups have self-enclosed collective memories in their history. Their victimization, death or violence against these groups are not included as a part of memory of the majority. In other words, the "in-group" has a common mourning or historical commemoration, whereas the "out-group" is excluded through sharing in the society. Therefore, othering and exclusion enhances traumatic relations in society, with widespread implications in terms of influencing the next generations as well.
In psychology, mourning is described as a consequence of inherent loss of a person or "thing" psychologically. Death of family, relatives, friends and colleagues results in important changes in our lives. Therefore, mourning can be referred as a form of change and loss. [17] Insulation, discrimination, victimization, oppression on particular groups triggers hate among groups, and therefore, victims or "othered" groups need to be recognized including their mourning. The measure of dignity can be seen in this way, since evaluations are implemented with identities. Therefore, I will argue that the Kurds are perceived as the "others" in Turkish society, illustrating stereotypes towards them, hence, violations on Kurds and their mourning do not imply a significant subject in the country. Butler advocates that mourning has been assigned a hierarchy that results in questions about who becomes human and whose life is significant. Others' mourning may be ignored and made invisible in public. Butler states that this results in a construction of "ghosts" in order to make visible those deaths and mourning instead of banning. In this sense, images, narratives, and even names of "other" people remain as ghosts. [18]
In the next section, a historical overview of the Kurdish people will be presented briefly, then a narrative of the othering on Kurds will be highlighted in parallel with the theoretical framework outlined in this paper. The majority of Turkish population have negative stereotypes, prejudices, and rhetoric in relation to them. They were described as "mountain Turks, people who have tails" for many years, and the subject of this is still important, because even a "Peace Process" and new liberal approaches has not resulted in the change the approaches of otherization against Kurdish people in Turkey. Furthermore, the death of Kurds did not create a reaction in the country during the clashes between the PKK and the Turkish military or demonstrations. In this essay, the reason is associated with being an "other" group which has a common understanding and claims on their "dangerous and harmful" perceptions for Turkish society.
Historical Background: The Kurds in Turkey
There is a tendency to define Kurds as an "other" group. However, there are major tribal, linguistic, religious, cultural, and regional fissures prevalent in Kurdish identity. The Kurds are a nation in formation at the crossroads of the Persian, Arab, and Turkish worlds. Most of the Kurds live in extremely mountainous terrain and this has led to a separation of communities from each other and also from Persians, Arabs, and Turks. [19] The Turkish Republic has pursued aggressive assimilationist policies against the Kurdish minority since its founding in 1923. The newly established republic was based only on Turkish culture and identity, and hence, it did not allow the expression of Kurdish identity and language within its borders. Moreover, only forms of Turkish identity was "appropriote" in the country in order to build a "nation". Kurdish rebellions were also harshly suppressed during 1920s and 1930s. After the establishment of the republic, the Kurdish question has been shaped considering the "national unity of Turkey" which illustrates the Kurds as a threat. The Treaty of Sevres prescribes a possible Kurdish state comprising the region southeast of Turkey and some areas of Iran and Iraq. [20] This resulted in concerns against Kurdish identity due to a possible separation. Since 1970s, Kurdish nationalism has evolved and the most important movement was the PKK which has for the first time politicized and united Kurds, and the guerrilla war with the Turkish military has been ongoing since 1984. [21] During the clashes, Kurdish provinces were transformed into a militarized zone. A collaboration between paramilitary and extremist groups, Special Forces and intelligence groups was existent which murdered thousands of Kurdish intellectuals, human rights activists, politicians, and terrorized population. [22] Publication and broadcasting in Kurdish, giving Kurdish names to children, and speaking in Kurdish was forbidden for many years that impaired cultural values. The Kurdish question includes a number of extensive debates and dimensions that require further examination. However, I will focus on the most pressing issues that currently face the Kurdish question.
The size of the Kurdish population and its distribution in Turkey have been controversial and a long-standing issue. [23] When the Kurdish language is taken as a measure, the estimates of the Kurdish population in the early 1990s varies from 3 million to 20 million. Moreover, we need to add that the use of Kurdish language is not officially recognized. It is an Indo-European language that is part of the Iranian language group. Kurds speak a number of dialects and sub-dialects. Three dialects are particularly important: Kirmanji, Kurdi, and Zaza. [24] In March 2007, the national newspaper Milliyet conducted a survey which found that the Kurds comprise 15.6 percent of the population, or 11.5 million people. According to Mutlu's study, more than half of Turkey's Kurds live in the western parts of Turkey. The traditional Kurdish areas still remain as home to Kurds. In addition, İçduygu, Romano, and Sirkeci estimated that over 65 percent of Kurdish population reside in eastern and south-eastern regions. These two regions are known as the least industrialized and socioeconomically developed. Furthermore, their fertility rates are double the rate of Turkey. Similar patterns are evident in education also as sa large majority of Kurds have no formal educational qualification. [25]
"A Criminal in the Street, Terrorist in the Country"
Stuart Hall argues that identities emerge within the play of specific modalities of power, and hence are more the product of enduring difference and exclusion.[26] In this essay, I also want to emphasize that the Kurds are perceived as being "weak" and as an "other" group in Turkey through stereotypes and exclusion. Consequently, they perceive a distance in terms of otherization that has resulted in minimizing their existence and recognition of their rights, alongside liberties. Otherization on Kurds caused a rejection to accept occurred violations, violence, and lack of mourning for them. As I mentioned above, Kurds have been assimilated, experienced discriminatory policies and negative reactions in society. On the other hand, "the evil side" is associated with Kurds in the conflict with the PKK. Attacks have enhanced the negative image and general perception of Kurds in Turkish society. However, an "enemy image" galvanized prejudgment which portrayed them as "bad" in general. Furthermore, Kurdish people have been targeted as a possible threat ethnically, with the majority of the Kurdish population living in the eastern part of Turkey for a while. After clashes with the PKK, the perception of threat on Kurdish people has arguably developed throughout society in recent times.
A process of dehumanization can be observed for the Kurds in Turkey, largely in part because violence and brutality have been legitimized against Kurds, in effect decreasing their degree of being perceived as humans and arguably being seen more as a sub-group by some in Turkish society. Dehumanization renders immoral behaviours or discourse excluding from particular societal rules and responsibilities and all kind of aggressive actions are justified. [27] Kelman outlines that dehumanization plays a key role in sanctioned violence, such as genocide and massacres, weakening moral restraints on violent behaviour. Similarly, Opotow argues that dehumanizing others is related with another form of moral exclusion, a process that places others "outside the boundary in which moral values, rules, and considerations of fairness apply". [28] These shared approaches portray "others" in a highly negative and emotionally overheated manner, and serve to reinforce the majority's (in-group) superiority which causes to justify these types of aggressions. Some people have also implicitly or explicitly likened them to an animal. For instance, Kurds have often been described as " people who have tails". Additionally, racist and otherized expressions about Kurds are fairly frequent. This further exemplifies the scapegoating of this out-group in society.
Case Studies
Furthermore, when these people are perceived as the "other" group in the country, the majority (in-group) has no visible attention in order to look for justice or perspective of human rights. In the latter part of this essay, I express two cases which are associated with the Kurdish people and two approaches against them. These cases are chosen because they recently occurred and show how violence or violation against this group lead to dehumanize as a result of this otherization process in Turkey. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) launched attacks against Kobani, then the conflict between the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) and Islamists began. The fight for Kobani, which is on the border between Syria and Turkey began after the Islamic State attacks in 2014, mid-September. Support was existent among Kurds who fought alongside the Iraq Kurdish Peshmerga with volunteers from the armed wing of the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). However, the presence of the PKK in Syria meant that "members of terrorist organization" directly benefited from international military aid.[29] During the conflict, protest against the Turkish government occurred, while the government was leaving Kurds alone and attacking the Kurdish people in Suruç using violence. In addition, extensive hate speech occurred against the Kurds with the slogan; " leave Kurds there, then they will be cleaned at the border" in Turkish society. Social media was also influential in order to address these violent and exclusionary statements. Some volunteers also lost their lives who went from Turkey as peace activists or fighters in Kobani. The number of demonstrations increased when Kurds lost their lives, but the "majority" were much more silent and their numbers for the demonstrations was considerably fewer. Moreover, former AKP Foreign Minister Davutoğlu evaluated ISIS as "a community of people who are angry, not a terrorist group". This kind of statement can be seen as legalized about violence by ISIS militants and officially ignores repressive acts toward Kurds. The central point here is that there is a conflict which is very close to Turkish border, but the Turkish government preferred to remain silent before the international meetings. In addition, the "in-group" found the attacks of the ISIS as "deserved" against the "out-group".
In the second case, I focus on the Roboski/Uludere victims, because the Turkish government, parliament, and Diyarbakır prosecutor failed the families of the victims in their search for justice. Additionally, Turkish people and some journalists expressed their satisfaction for the victims. In 2011, the F-16 Turkish jets dropped the bombs that killed 34 Kurdish villagers, 17 of them children. The prosecutor determined that the bombing of villagers crossing the border back to their villages smuggling diesel fuel, tea, and sugar "an unavoidable error" for which no one is responsible. [30] The Commander of the Turkish Armed Forces' Şırnak Division Col. Abdullah Baysal prepared a complaint file against Veli Encü, who lost 11 members of his family, for defamation on his Twitter account. As outlined previously above, many people did not show respect for the families' mourning, reflecting their satisfaction on Kurdish peoples' death. Furthermore, families of the victims had no time for mourning while they were looking for justice based on human rights and they were taken under the custody for many times. The most notable article was written by Yılmaz Özdil, titled "Dear Smuggler (Sayın Kaçakçı)" in Hürriyet newspaper. [31] Özdil described the villagers as terrorists blaming them in hate speech. Many people shared their hate on the social media like the arbiter Ümit Çınırlı: "You should be sorry for hinnies in Uludere". [32]
In these two cases, I argue that the Kurds lost their lives and they were seen as worthless due to their identity. Both cases are highly influential for Turkish politics. The question of "who is dead" purports reactions in Turkey. The media is predominantly silent in order to indicate what really happens in the Kurdish region, or rather they do not prefer to consider how Kurdish people die and suffer. If they publish news about Kurds, they only associate with terror. Otherwise, the mainstream media does not provide information in terms of Kurdish deaths that relate to hierarchy. Since the 1980s, 501 Kurdish children have been murdered by the Turkish Security Forces. [33] Mourning is required and political dynamics should include this as a more significant factor that influences the division in the society. If an integration is required in the society, the identical hierarchy should be abolished in the beginning. It presents a fair and equal recognition for the groups to feel an attachment for the country as its members/citizens. After a clash between the Turkish military and the PKK, funerals of Turkish soldiers were displayed in a respect publishing their names. On the other hand, we never know the names of the Kurds. As Butler says, they become the "ghosts" of Turkey. The death and mourning seems highly hierarchical in terms of identity. They have arguably been dehumanized, otherized, insulted, underestimated through racist and exclusionary discourse. There are more common descriptions below on Kurds in terms of particular stereotypes that are largely based on generalizations in Turkish society:
"There is no Kurdish identity; there is 'kart kurt' sound that made crunching through the 'mountain Turkish' snow"
"Kurds have a tail"
"Kurds are primitive people"
"All Kurds are terrorists and members of the PKK"
"Kurds steal electricity and water from municipality"
Fanon argues that books, newspapers, schools, and their texts, advertisements, films, radio work influence and shape one's view of the world of the group to which one belongs. When we observe the Turkish majority and consider the majority of the country; schoolbooks, titles and contents of the newspapers, he mainstream media applies a similar construction. For instance, a popular Turkish newspaper (Hürriyet) included a part about Peshmerga during the clashes in Kobani and it stated that they did not pay the bill in a restaurant on the road. Normally, they do not include this kind of news, but the Kurdish question or the image of the Kurdish people triggered a discussion about this targeting in the eyes of the public. The central point is that people can be convinced, because a generalization already lies in the mind of "in-group".
In this process of otherization, different identity groups are always categorized, relying on various stereotypes, prejudgments until those groups are dehumanized and suffer within the dominant in-group that is prevalent in society. It follows that exclusionary discourse and discriminatory policies/practices consume peoples' equal and fair conditions in the long-term. When these people are pressured through verbal and physical attacks, the "in-group" argues that the "out-group" deserves the negative experiences of "othered" groups. This process recreates "others" as an existential issue denying the Kurdish ethnic identity and their political and cultural rights are undermined, since they are seen as troublemakers or an obstacle to Turkey's national unity. Therefore, this paper examined how Kurdish people are often perceived as the "other" and how losses of them are reminiscent of Butler's "ghosts" in Turkey. Furthermore, the recognition of Kurdish people has been controversial, in claiming that the Kurds are in fact of Turkish origin. Therefore, the Turkish governmental and societal concerns on violations and violent attacks towards Kurdish people have tended to be weak and much more needs to be done to rectify this situation.

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[31] For details:
[33] accessed in 29 May 2015.
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