The Status Of The Minorities In South East Asia: Why Can’t Turkey Be

BY Aland Mizell

Kurdish Aspect, CO
September 19, 2007

The Philippine nation is a pluralistic society and culture compared
to other South East Asian countries in the region. The direction
the Philippines has taken since her colonial days has been toward
the integration of small, more diverse tribal communities into
a more developing nation with the nation’s desired goal being
to bring about a cohesive society under the unifying umbrella of
institutional processes. There are many tribal languages spoken in
the Philippines , especially among the Muslim minority. For example,
a member of the Maranao tribe speaks Maranao, and one belonging to
the Tausog tribe speaks the Tausug tribal language. The Philippine
government never forced minorities to speak Tagalog, the Philippine
national language. Of the 175 languages, 171 are living and only
4 are extinct, making a very diversified and rich linguistic map
(Ethnologue 2007). The pluralistic nature of the Philippine society is
very interesting to study in the areas of ethnic, racial, and religious
relations compared to Turkey, because the Turkish nation is also a
pluralistic society and culture populated by many ethnic minorities,
like the Kurds, Armenians, Jews, Central Asians, and those from the
Balkans; however, the direction the Turkish government has taken is
not toward integration into a more diverse, tolerant society or a
more educated and developing nation, but rather the direction the
Turkish government has taken is to continue to deny differences,
a denial based on a more racist and nationalistic approach.

Like the Turkish government, the Philippine government constitutionally
remains a secular state, but unlike the Turkish government, it neither
supports nor discriminates against any religious group, institution, or
people according to the constitutional principles. In the Philippines
, most people classify themselves along sectarian lines. However,
religious fanatic groups in the Philippines are trying to divide the
social structure of the nation instead of trying to unify it into a
common homeland under the Philippine government. They use the drug of
religion to combat against governmental efforts. Instead of fighting
against poverty and illiteracy and of maintaining security and building
the economy, the fanatics create problems, so that investments do
not go to the rural areas. As a consequence of the violence, Muslims
pay the price. Even though in the past the government discriminated
against minorities, now it has recognized these past mistakes and has
compensated through a program of reconciliation and autonomy. However,
the Turkish government has had no reconciliation programs to reconsider
the taboos against the Kurds. Just recently, the head of the Turkish
Historical Society, TTK, Professor Halacoglu, argued that the Kurds
actually are Turkmen and that the Alevi Kurds are Armenian. Indeed,
this is the history that the Turkish government teaches to young
generations with misinformation about Kurdish history.

The history professor lays no claims to having foresight or
pre-science, and he has studied history just enough to know that he
does not know enough to risk predicting what the future holds for
the Kurds.

He has eyes, though, and so he is in a position to ask readers to
gaze in a certain direction and determine whether they also see what
he sees. This kind of professor needs to wear glasses because his
eyes suffer from myopia, and, therefore, it is entirely possible that
his claim rests on evidence that either results from not seeing all
there is to see or from being based on what he thinks he sees. Also,
a few years ago Bogazici University in Istanbul held an international
conference, but the TTK pulled its funding and support when it learned
that a paper on the Kurds and another on the Armenians were to be
presented. The Turkish government has held this kind of groundless
history for decades. However, Turkey is preparing to join the world
class, so I wonder if Turkey will relinquish her narrow ideas based on
a nationalistic view that denies minorities’ right to exist or if it
will follow the path of Europeans who strongly believe that respect
for human rights is one of the most fundamental and universal values
of our world. According to Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European
Human Rights Commissioner for External Relations in the European
Neighborhood Policy, "All of us, in our official capacity have an
obligation to promote and protect the rights of our fellow members
of the human family, be that at home or elsewhere in the world" (2005).

By contrast to Turkey with its land mass being contiguous, the
territorial setting of the Philippines is comprised of more than seven
thousands islands, a reality that creates problems because of isolation
and communication gaps. Yet, in spite of these natural difficulties
arising out of its being an archipelago, the Philippines government
is committed to overcoming these complexities and to narrowing the
gaps. However, it is true to say that the Philippine government in
the past has neglected the southern part of country, or consistently
has used assimilation and discrimination policies against the Muslim
minorities in that region. Proselytizing the indigenous tribes with
their religions based primarily on animism, Islam was introduced to
Mindanao and the Sulu Islands in the 15th century, and affected not
only the religious order but the political and social system as well,
establishing sultanates and bringing the barangays or kinship groups
under the control of powerful datus or chieftains.. After this period
of Islamic proselytism, Muslims in the southern Philippines consider
themselves native since they preceded the Spaniard colonization that
began with the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Today, however,
the Philippine government has admitted that the government’s past
policy was wrong and unjust. The government has given a large degree
of freedom in the area ranging from education to autonomous self-rule.

It has created a special Muslim curriculum, Muslim institutions,
and scholarship programs exclusively for the Muslim minorities. For
example, Mindanao State University (MSU) is located in Marawi City ,
where the majority of the population is Muslim. The tuition is very
inexpensive compared to other universities in the region.

When I interviewed, Dr. Tamano, a prominent Muslim, who is highly
educated and enjoys a high profile, he was Secretary of the
Autonomous Region in the Muslim Mindanao, Muslim advisor to the
regional Department of Education, and acting Vice- President of
Mindanao State University (2007). He also ran for governor but lost
because of election fraud. He is now Chancellor of Mindanao State
University. I asked him, "What is the Moro question?" If Muslims have
their own autonomous region, their self rule, education, language,
and culture, what do Muslims want? Why are they still fighting for? He
told me that when the Spaniards came for three Gs–GOD, Glory and Gold.

"They tried to take our land from us and to force us to believe their
God. That’s why Muslims resisted them until today. That was a just war,
and that’s why we won." He explained the difference now, "But today
we are fighting the wrong war, because the government now recognizes
her past mistake and has given us all opportunities to catch up with
the rest of society, in terms of education and economics." Muslims
have a higher illiteracy rate than the Catholic Christians.

There is such a disparity between the Catholic majority and the Muslim
minority in terms of poverty.

He continued, "That is what Muslim leaders in the Philippines should
be fighting for. They are supposed to unify to eliminate poverty,
narrow the educational gaps, and create peace so that people can have
jobs, but sometimes Muslims fight among themselves, especially when
an election comes. Some of the leaders want the Muslim candidates to
use religion as a scapegoat to gain political power for themselves."

Also, a lack of Muslim leadership among the Muslim minority
perpetuates the problems. He told me to look at his university as a
good example. The government has given every opportunity for Muslims
to be educated and to have skills as well as good jobs. He referred
to education as "the right education," one that teaches Islam but an
Islam that is compatible with science. In his view, Muslims should
learn science and skills as well as their religion.

Also, I visited the Mayor of Davao City, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who
is well known for making the city safe and free from the corruption of
drug-dealing. He has a zero tolerance against drugs and other illegal
activity. Today there is only one city in the Mindanao region that is
safe, and it is Davao . When I asked him, "How did you do that?" Mayor
Duterte told me that the Philippine government policy had been wrong
in the past. He did not have any intention to follow the wrong policy
of the government. The mayor said that the state is not a moral agent;
people are, and as such, they can impose moral principles on powerful
institutions. He said that he talked to everybody especially the
rebels and implemented equal representation in his administration. He
explained that he gave an equal voice and an equal role to every tribe
to make sure each person was represented fairly and equally, and then
he said he told them that there would be no more assassinations,
kidnappings, or killings. That is why the city is safer today than
before his coming to office. Mayor Duterte does not believe that using
the military is a good solution to ethnic and religious conflict in
his country. He believes we are all human beings, and as such, we all
have rights inherent to that status. We all have dignity and worth
that exist prior to law. That is a system in which words can change
the whole structure of government, and words can prove stronger than
numerous military divisions. That is why today Davao City is the safest
city in the Philippines ; it is because of a good and strong mayor.

Good administration and politics emphasize rights, the superiority
of law, duty, and the placement of responsible people in difficult
jobs. According to the mayor, government means justice and public
order. One cannot speak where those two do not exist. For Duterte, laws
should be effective all the time, everywhere, and for everybody. This
unity of feeling, thought, and culture are essential to the development
of a strong nation because disintegration of moral unity causes that
same nation to weaken.

Like more recently in the Philippines , in the 1960s America called
for national integration to solve the problem of racism, and it
implemented new policies to overcome the attitudes and practices
that discriminated against the Blacks. Since it is hard to change
what happened in the past, a society has to start at the present,
so Turkey can change her attitude toward ethnic discrimination. To
begin, the current leaders must realize Turkey’s guilt, get rid of
their arrogance, seed humility, and exchange love, humility, kindness,
and forgiveness for hate to make the present more comfortable and
the future more hopeful. Peace will begin in the Kurdish region when
oppression, cruelty, injustice and hunger end.

However, today the Turkish government lags behind the Philippine
government in terms of its treatment of the minorities. An inquirer
must ask why the law enforcement that serve in the Kurdish region are
not Kurdish or at least speak Kurdish. Why are there no educational
institutions that study Kurdology or that establish Kurdish
institutes? Why can the Turkish government not create some kind of
program like affirmative action that will allow for a narrowing of the
educational gap between Kurdish minorities and the Turkish majority
because illiteracy rates among the Kurds is higher than among the
Turks. Why can the Turkish government not give some incentives to
encourage economic progress? Kurds should be more organized and should
educate themselves to realize that they would be better off if they
made education a priority because education is mightier than the sword.

The Kurdish culture and history should be allowed to exist in the
open and also preserved, such as Kurdish names, and the Kurdish
language. Why can the Turkish government not put forth some effort
to foster civic engagement about the Kurdish question? Why can the
Kurdish question not be discussed in the academic community? Why
can the Turkish government not have some kind of scholarship program
exclusively for the Kurdish minority to give them incentives to go
to school? Why can the Kurds not have the same kind of autonomy that
the Muslim minorities do in the Philippines ? The problem of the Kurds
being subjected to objective analysis is that it necessarily requires
assessment of the government’s adopted measures to effectively solve
such problems. If the government denies the existence of the ethnic
group, how can any kind of governmental analysis occur? Good government
produces opportunities for each generation to have a developed faith,
innovative technology and science, and a cultivated consciousness
about their identity and their cultural values. If, by contrast,
the people see the government as tyrannical or oppressive, then the
nation has lost its purpose to serve the common good.

Further, in Turkey the government program still uses a military
solution to achieve their policy of integration rather than an academic
one. For a long time the integration policy was always interpreted as
assimilation or acculturation, which means that the Turkish government
tries to reconcile diverse cultures with one culture and to deny the
minorities’ culture.

By contrast, in the Philippines the varied Muslim tribes have their
own language, dances, crafts, and customs. Yet, when Ferdinand Magellan
came to the Philippines in early 1521, he conquered the archipelago by
sword and cross, and for long time the Spaniards fought with Muslims in
a bloody struggle and war. However, later on, the governor as well as
Catholic and other denominations’ missionaries organized a politico
-a military for the minorities’ group, so that they would be able
to control the minorities’ affairs and supervise them. Dr. Tamano
points out that the Spanish were successful in Luzon and Visayas,
so the Spanish began to assimilate non-Christians into an already
growing Christian society. In Dr. Tamano’s view, the Spaniards
made the integration policy successful in the north because the
Spaniard considered that if the number of Filipinos converted to
Christianity could be measured, the numbers would show a fully
successful integration.

However, in the southern regions like Sulu and Maguindanao, the
Sultanates of the Muslims resisted the Spaniard forces and the problem
of assimilating these non-Catholic and Catholics failed to bring
them to work together to bring about peace. If a traveler crosses
the region, he or she will see how that policy has affected people’s
life conditions there. Now the Philippine government recognizes these
differences and has implemented policies to recognize the ethnic and
religious differences.

Like Magellan, the Turkish government first under the Ataturk
regime and then subsequent ones used force and denial as part of its
assimilation policy. "Kurds are mountain Turks." Turkey was effective
with this assimilation, but they were not successful in the south;
however, later on, the Turkish regime’s generals and Agah or Sheik
organized a politico -the military for the minorities’ group, so
that they could control the minorities’ affairs and supervised them
through corrupt religious groups. The Agha in the south and in the
eastern part of Turkey accomplished a successful integration policy
because if the number of the Kurds who denied their identity or who
believed that they were mountain Turks could be considered a criterion
of national integration, then we could say that the Turkish government
proved successful in her integration or assimilation policy. It is
fair to say that the Turkish regime’s integration policy in the east
was successful, but that it failed in the south.

Last week, the mayor of the Diyarbakir challenged the Islamic Justice
and Development Party (AP), saying that Diyarbakir is our [the Kurds’]
"stronghold," and we are ready to fight. However, Mayor Osman Baydemir
used this word as a illustration to mean that we will not give up
our culture, we will not bow down to injustice, we will not let the
military burn our villages, we live here, and we will fight you not in
the sense of taking up arms but a civilized way.. In the recent case,
however, a member of the Fetullahci group, Fetullah Gulen’s closest
assistant wrote in the Zaman newspaper criticizing Baydemir’s comments
by saying that Mayor Baydemir cannot challenge the Prime Minister and
that Baydemir is creating terror. But Huseyin Gulerce and his followers
put the blinders on when the Democratic Social Party (DPT) leader
Ahmet Turk criticized Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government by saying,
"There is no mention about the Kurdish problem during the parliamentary
talks over the new government plan." However, Erdogan replied to Ahmet,
"You first outlaw the Kurdish Worker Party [PKK} in the region."

Gulerce and his followers failed to see what kind of language the
Prime Minister was using. What kind of leadership is it that wants
to punish a majority of people because a minority of the people
supports the PKK? If the Prime Minister were a mature enough leader,
he would never point out differences of thought and opinion to produce
conflict. It is true that no one should refuse to tolerate views that
separate people into camps and destroy the community and society,
but neither should they go out of their way to use them to enflame
opposition. If the Prime Minister and others who think like him
believe in tolerance, then why do they oppose every idea that seem
contradictory to theirs and scare them off instead of seeking ways
to benefit from their opinions and ideas, of trying to understand
them and to build a bridge, and of beginning a dialogue with them? In
other words, why do they not try to learn how to listen to what the
Kurds say they really want and what they really mean? Otherwise,
those who are kept at a distance and are led into dissatisfaction
because they think that the government is biased will unit the masses
and will resist the Turkish government. It is important that the Prime
Minister and his government learn how to benefit from other people’s
knowledge and views because that knowledge will help them understand
how to approach the Kurdish problem.

Also, Erdogan still believes that there is no Kurdish problem and
that there has never been one. By answering Baydemir, Erdogan was
saying that people should produce projects not words. I wonder what
Erdogan has been doing in southeastern Turkey . How many families
have been compensated because the military forced them to leave their
villages? How many families whose village has been burned have homes
being rebuilt? How many new schools and new roads are being built
in southeastern Turkey ? How many job has he created? How much has
he reduced the size of the military instead of increasing it, as he
actually has?

A just government implies that there is a policy for everything:
a policy for renewing a nation’s joy until the whole nation feel
the joys and likewise feels the sorrow and pain of others in the
same nation. Instead, now there is a new campaign that goes against
Kurds, saying that Kurds are betrayers and have taken the side of
the Christians like those in America . But, the government has never
realized that Americans are the ones who freed the Kurds, not their
fellow Muslim brothers. Also, it has failed to understand that those
who have been oppressing the Kurds for centuries are neither Christians
nor Americans, but they are their fellow Muslim brothers. Iran ,
for example, for a long time has oppressed the Kurds and is killing
them even today; it is not a Christian nation but rather a Muslim
nation. Turkey has oppressed, killed, tortured, raped, and burned
houses and villages, not a Christian nation but a Muslim one. Syria
committed genocide against the Kurds; it is not a Christen nation
but a Muslim nation. Iraq ‘s Saddam gassed Kurds not as a Christian
nation but a Muslim one. Those who study politics and see politics
as a propaganda struggle for power are mistaken. Politics is like an
art of management based on diverse perspectives of the contemporary
world and on a future that will seek the people’s satisfaction and
justice. Erdogan and some others should never forget that power
and dominance are transitory, while justice, equality, and truth
are eternal. Even if they do not exist in Turkish politics today,
some day they will. Therefore, especially those who claim to be
Muslims should align themselves and their policies with equality and
justice; and treat everybody the same regardless of their religion,
skin color, race, ethnicity, or gender. The Prime Minister and Huseyin
Gulerce should never forget when they were discriminated against by
the military and the Secularists, or when they were not welcome in
the presidential palace or at a meeting. How did they feel in their
own country? That is exactly how the Kurds feel now. If religion is
truly interpreted, it can promote democracy, understanding of others,
human rights, equality, as well as justice, and those values can be
guaranteed via religion. Because religion should teach that all people
are created equal, it should not discriminate based on race, color,
age, or nationality. Religion should declare that power lies in truth;
religion should teach that justice and rule of law are essential;
religion should teach freedom of belief, open ideas, and the right
to life, personal name, and personal property. Everyone should be
able to speak her or his language and maintain culture that God-gave
to them; no one should take that away, and their rights should be
violated. Religion is a relationship between men and God. It results
in a commitment between God and the individual as he or she submits
to His divine system in which all creatures obey Him. To abuse it
is very sad in that today many people try to use religion to gain
power and as a method of controlling another person’s life. If a
government is virtuous and the state is chosen because of their humble
ideas and justice, then that government will be strong and peace as
well as reconciliation are possible, but if the government is run
by officials who still have prejudice in their hearts and minds,
not justice and equality, and thus they lack those high qualities,
sooner or later it will collapse. Erdogan and others should remember
that extreme harshness causes unexpected explosions that are waiting
for the spark to ignite them. As long as his government protects people
from cruelty and defends them from injustice and oppression, it will be
a successful government; however, if Erdogan’s government does not do
so, then he will cause more hatred, more prejudice, and more turmoil.

The majority of Muslims in the southern Philippines (the Moros),
like the Kurds, are not rebellious and do not want to fight or
be rebellious against their government. Even though a majority of
the Moros sympathize with the Moros’ struggle against, oppression,
injustice, and cruelty that the rebels represent, most Muslims like
the Kurds wish for nothing more than to live in peace, pursue their
livelihood, have a family, raise their kids, live in dignity, and
die in a bed. The Kurds seek above all their survival as a Kurdish
people. They are now convinced that their survival demands freedom from
the domination of Turks in those matters which most impinge on their
identity and selfhood as Kurds; those are such matters as education,
community organizations, non-government organizations (NGO’s), family ,
law and order, an end to military rule, and economic resources. This
is the kind of experience that has been telling us that there can
be no real freedom for Kurds until there is fundamental change in
the structures of their relationship to the Turkish government. This
change must give them power, that is affective reserved powers, to
order their affairs in their regions. However, those objectives should
be accomplished by Turkish political systems using all of the legal
constitutional means available, including publication of their ideas;
organizing pressure groups and lobbies, and participating in government
efforts to find the right, just solution to the Kurdish problem.

The number of Moros, like the Kurds, have acted on their belief
that the only way to respond to the government’s wrong policy is
to fight even though they are a comparably small entity. However,
some Kurdish leaders like Baydemir, a moderate, have often eloquently
articulated the legitimate and understandable grievances the Kurdish
people put forth and voice sound recommendations for the government,
but presently the government and the people are not ready yet to
discuss openly the Kurdish question.

Mayor Baydemir speaks on behalf of his people pleading for
understanding and justice. Former Senator Mamintal Tamano and
former dean, Cesar Majul of the Institute of Islamic Studies at the
University of Philippines systems, have sets of recommendations for
the Philippine government to implement. Some of the recommendations
are being implemented by the government: 1) a moratorium on new
settlers should be imposed, 2) law enforcement agents in the Moros
areas should be Muslims, 3) more educational institutions should be
established, 4) governments should encourage economic progress, 5)
Muslim Filipinos should be better Muslims, 6) important elements
of Islamic law should be allowed for Muslims, and 7) the national
government should enable greater Moros’ participation.

These are the major recommendations that two moderate Filipino Muslims
have put together for the government, and many of those recommendations
have already been granted and implemented.

Now more Moros have been appointed to national services. A code of
Philippine Muslims’ personal law has been promulgated. Muslim holidays
have legal status in the Moros region. The government has set up a Bank
of the Philippines, Amana Bank, to capitalize on the Moro requirements
for economic development. The Minister of Educational Culture has
been making a conscious effort to meet the educational needs and
religious feeling of the Muslims. Moreover, the Philippine government
granted autonomy to the Muslims making them internally independent
and externally dependent on the Manila government. According to Dr.

Tamano, The Autonomous Region of Muslims Mindano (ARMM) was created
in August 1989 and inaugurated in 1990 under the President, Corazon
Aquino at the Cotabato City . This led to the Moro National Front
laying down their arms and converting to the Philippine national
army. The question is why can’t Turkey be like the Philippines ?


Duterte, Rodrigo. Mayor, Davao City . Personal Interview. 10 July 2007.


Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and
European Neighbourhood Policy.

"Promotion of Human Rights and Democratisation in the European Union’s
External Relations." European Commission for External Relations. (10
December 2005).


Gulerce, Huseyin. " Diyarbakýr ‘ýn mesajý doðru okunmalý ." Zaman.


Tamano, Salipado S.

Acting Vice President, Office of the Vice President for Planning and
Development, the Philippines-Australia Basic Education Assistance
for Mindanao, RELC XII Compound ARMS Complex, ORC Cotabato City,
Muslim Education Advisor, The Autonomous Region in Muslim

Mindanao, Cotabato City , Regional Secretary Regional Department of
Education, Culture and Sports.

Personal Interview. 7 March 2007.

From: Baghdasarian