Turkey’s Conflict Trinity

IN FOCUS, 22 Oct 2012

Ali E. Erol – TRANSCEND Media Service

Turkey today is struggling with several intercultural and international conflicts within and around its national borders. The state’s ongoing problems with Kurdish insurgents, with the division in Cyprus, and with Armenia are widely known among scholars who study international politics and conflicts. These conflicts, and Turkey itself, recently came under closer examination with Turkey’s involvement in the ongoing crisis in Syria.

A recent piece written by Johan Galtung for TRANSCEND Media Service-TMS (2012) titled Turkey-Cyprus -Kurds -Armenia -SYRIA is an important representation of the close inspection Turkey is going though in this process of international recognition. My aim in this piece is to focus on Galtung’s article and talk about Turkey’s conflict trinity using some of the claims and suggestions he puts forth.

After outlining the principles through which he makes suggestions, Galtung offers a conflict-by-conflict list of roadmap. While his analyses are important, and many of them are central to the untying the knot of intractability, there is one unanswered question which seems to be central to Galtung’s approach: agency. Galtung does not seem to be clear as far as the agent in his solution proposals are concerned. Let us go through his proposals, examine their merits and discuss the implications of the importance of agency, or lack thereof.


“The road to peace passes through recognition of the Turkish part–the events of summer/1974 originated on the Greek side–, Turkish EU membership, and a Cyprus unified as a confederation, a federation, or an unitary state–as an EU member instead of the present partial membership.”

Turkish-Kurdish issue:

“[The issue] extends to the other three countries dividing the Kurdish people: Syria, Iraq and Iran.  The prolonged, tragic and violent Turkey-PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê-Kurdistan Workers’ Party): conflict puts Turkey at odds with neighbors where Kurds seek refuge; on lands they consider their own.

A three-stage process toward peace: 1) human rights for Kurds in all four countries, to their identity, their own language, no discrimination; 2) some Kurdish autonomy in internal affairs, particularly pertaining to education and culture in general, and a confederation of the four autonomies called Kurdistan; and 3) no borders moved, double identities for the Kurds as before, reflected on the passports, with an assembly and an executive for Kurdish matters agreed with the Four states.”


“Turkey must apologize for the horrors, compensate, and offer a right of return to Armenians; so must Kurds as willing helpers. The relations have to be normalized, with a commission of historians accessing the archives, producing an acceptable narrative. Mount Ararat could become Mt Peace, jointly administered under the UN, and used for peace conferences as a symbol of life beyond disaster.”

For all the three cases, Galtung makes very accurate observations and puts forth important courses of action. If and when we approach these conflicts with empathy, it becomes exceedingly difficult find alternative solutions to the ones Galtung states. One question, however, keeps staring at us: who will actually “do” all of the above?

If we take Galtung’s grammar and his use of above-human-agents, such as “Turkey” or “Armenia”, we can conclude that Galtung is referring to a nation-state level of action. As he suggests in the essay: “Above primacy is given to nation, to identity, not to the liberal penchant for political choice, nor to the marxist-neoliberal primacy of the economy, nor to the realist cult of military power.” Social interpretations he is rejecting leave the individual at the mercy of non-communicative collective processes, such as militarism or economy. Against all the popularity of such analyses, Galtung’s disapproval of such approaches are extremely important. Theoretical move Galtung suggests, however, replaces one structural power as an agent with another. A nation-state level of reasoning does not seem to leave much room for human agency or action.

All the suggestions Galtung makes need to be accomplished at the level of human interaction. When he suggests, for instance, “human rights for Kurds in all four countries, to their identity, their own language, no discrimination,” the question that follows is not who will give that, but who will respect that. If the state, let us say for the sake of the argument, granted human, language, and identity rights, as well as autonomy for Kurds in Turkey, what will happen to outrage some nationalists might feel, or display? While I completely agree that the state should stop structural and cultural violence against Kurdish citizens, a sudden top-down decision as such, albeit benevolent, would also be a violent act. Requests of those who want to preserve the status quo, as well as those who benefit from violence—such as PKK—need to be tempered, reframed, and altered by extensive grassroots and pro-social campaign work.

While it might be rather outrageous to suggest taking into consideration identities and feelings of those who wish violence unto others, I believe it is especially important to push the envelope on what counts as empathy. Keeping in mind, almost 6 years ago when an Armenian journalist was assassinated in Turkey, some people celebrated his death—and some people argued that it was justified. It would not be much of a reconciliation if we did not try to understand why people celebrated the assassination, address their needs, and deconstruct their taken-for-granted ontological stances. As Audre Lorde (1984) suggests, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” As such, imposition of one kind should not justify imposition of another kind. Galtung’s suggestions are important and can be taken as normative motivations, as far as directions and goals are concerned. “How” to get there, however, is a whole other frame and level of analysis that requires further theorizing across many disciplines and understandings of conflict, communication, culture, society, agency, and human action.


Galtung, J. (2012). Turkey-Cyprus -Kurds -Armenia -SYRIA. Transcend Media Services.             Retrived from: www.transcend.org Retrieved on: 10/15/2012.

Lorde, A. (1984). Sister Outsider. CA: The Crossing Press.


Ali E. Erol, PhD Candidate, Howard University.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 22 Oct 2012.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Turkey’s Conflict Trinity, is included. Thank you.

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One Response to “Turkey’s Conflict Trinity”

  1. Seyfeddin Dag says:

    Dear Mr. Erol,

    how come you make this claim: “as well as those who benefit from violence—such as PKK…”?

    Could you specify this, please?

    There are numerous examples where PKK tried to minimize the intensity of the armed conflict (more than 20 small and big ceasefire). It was the turkish state which never ever honoured the ceasefire( see comments from the former chief of the general staff Işık Koşaner). I do not understand why your point of view is biased.

    Sorry for my bad english.

    S. Dag