Document of Mutual Understanding

A Proposal for the Democratisation of the Political System
and Solution of the Kurdish Problem in Turkey

Center for the Research of Societal Problems (TOSAV)
Çiftevler sokak 1/1 Aţađý Ayrancý, Ankara, Turkey
Tel.: (90-312) 427-24-22; Fax: (90-312) 427-86-08; E-mail:; Internet:

The following is the full text of the “Document of Mutual Understanding,” excerpts of which appear in Dogu Ergil, “The Kurdish Question in Turkey,” Journal of Democracy 11 (July 2000): 122–135. This document has been prepared by the Ankara-based Center for the Research of Societal Problems (TOSAV). For further information on TOSAV, click here.


“The Document of Mutual Understanding” is the product of a group of citizens of the Republic of Turkey who deeply feel the responsibility for ending the ongoing fratricide that negatively affects almost everything in their country. An equal number of Turks and Kurds who represent different social cohorts met throughout 1995 and 1996 in neutral locations at home and abroad (such as France, Switzerland and Belgium) detached from all forms of political or other influence and discussed their mutual problems. They have speculated about why they have different perceptions of their common problem and contemplated possible solutions. At the end of this discussion they have recorded all the points on which they agreed. They called it the “Document of Common Understanding.” They have agreed to create an institution with the aim of promoting the views and the suggestions contained in this document that would work to lay a new constitutional foundation for Turkish democracy based on multiculturalism, political pluralism and the rule of law. The Center for the Research of Societal Problems (TOSAV), which was formally founded on February 13, 1997, is the product of this collective decision. The backbone of TOSAV’s activities throughout 1997 and 1998 has been to organise a series of comprehensive regional meetings at home and (one) abroad whereby Turkish and Kurdish local opinion leaders were brought together. “The Document of Mutual Understanding” was thoroughly discussed and improved in these meetings. Seeing that the Document reflected a high degree of consensus among the citizens of Turkey regarding the further democratisation of the system and the solution of the Kurdish problem, the Founding Board of TOSAV has decided to submit the “Document of Mutual Understanding” to the public.

Board of Founders
March 1999


Turkey is experiencing serious difficulties in overcoming her systemic problems due to the bureaucratic nature of the political institutions that have been shaped since the creation of the Republic in 1923. As a result of these conditions, Turkey is increasingly unable to keep up with the pace of change, manage its complex social structure and satisfy multiplying popular needs and demands.

In addition, the state-centered structure of the polity has become too centralised, restrictive, and authoritarian. Hence, neither individual, nor group expectations and demands (including cultural freedoms) are fully understood or met by the central authority (the state). The detachment of the political “center” has led to the estrangement of society from the state. As a result, this has had an adverse effect on political unity and social solidarity.

Furthermore, there is an established belief that “Whatever the state does, gives, or decides is good; neither its motive nor the consequences of its deeds can be questioned.” The state is sacred (this statement was in the preamble of the Turkish constitution until a year ago). Its actions cannot be criticised. Its mistakes cannot be questioned and corrected. The perception of any popular demand or objection to policies of the government represents an unjustified rebellion, undeserved quest or outright subversion. The centralist system looks upon the emergence of new social power centers or alternative policy proposals as extraordinary, subversive, and even deviant. As a result, popular demands are addressed inadequately, tardily, or are simply suppressed.

The fact that social expectations are met callously or simply suppressed causes violence in the society. The social fabric is seriously damaged when both the official method of problem solving and the method of conveying popular demands to the central authority are both violent. Violence “from above” and “from below” reinforce and legitimise one other.

At the root of the Turkish society’s problems lies the process of nation-building which progressed not from the nation towards the creation of the state, but rather evolved as a process of building a nation with the initiative of the existing state apparatus and bureaucracy. In the Turkish example, the state preceded the nation. This is not criticism, but a historic fact.

The forbearer of the Republic of Turkey, the Ottoman State, was not a nation-state. It was a cosmopolitan political union of diverse nationalities, ethnic and religious groups. The Republic of Turkey was founded as a nation-state. However, the already existing state and powerful bureaucracy took on the mission of creating a new concept of nationhood that was forged and shaped by the state. This may have been a historical necessity then. But, the state’s role as the creator, rather than the coordinator still persists. This phenomenon renders the state omnipotent and omnipresent vis-à-vis the society.

While a culturally rich and diverse society grew both in size and complexity, the authoritarian state structure that was created to meet the needs of the early 1920s remained to a great extent loyal to its policy of uniformity over unity which resulted in an increasingly incompatible relationship between the state and society. Tension and conflict, which arises between the tutelary central authority and the populace, can be likened to the immature son (the populace) of the house (the state) in which the latter induced the former to be rebellious. Further problems arise from the perception that the “son”—who is neither satisfied nor free in his father’s home, wishes to leave. Moreover, the Republic of Turkey has several children! Some of who believe that they are treated like stepchildren.

One of Turkey’s major political problems emanates from what we attribute to the notion of nationhood, a fundamental concept in our political culture. At the time of the declaration of the Republic, the republican elite accepted the pluralistic nature of the population and the multi-cultural richness of the society inherited from the Ottoman Empire. Disregarding their ethnic, cultural, religious, and linguistic heritage, the “nation” was deemed to be the political union of all groups living in Turkey. This understanding could have created a pluralistic political structure out of a plural demography in which the nascent pluralist political organisation would inevitably be democratic. However, this could not be realised. The policy of “uniformity,” or eliminating differences was preferred to forge “unity” out of differences. Hence, creating a nation based on pluralist principles out of a poor, backward, uneducated and cosmopolitan populace was not realised by the political elite of the time.

The urgent need to create a common political culture as the basis of the envisaged nation prompted the ruling elite to adopt the policy of uniformity (liquidating cultural differences) rather than unity (respecting and reconciling differences). This preference led the republican elite to the acculturation of the “nation” with the qualities of the majority, namely Turkishness and Sunni, even Hanefi branch of Islam.

Based on the decision to standardise the population, the political elite or the central authority took on the task of defining “Turkishness” and “Islam” as well as the qualities of a “Turk” and “Muslim.” Once these qualities were determined, they became the arsenals of nationalist and secularist standardisation. This intense effort of the last seventy odd years has been partly successful. However, it is becoming clearer that this process is flawed because it emanates from a fictive reality rather than the existing realities of the country/society.

Failure to eliminate imbalances in life-styles due to differential development of regions (especially Eastern Anatolia, which still suffers from the yoke of tribalism and feudal land ownership); the widening of inequalities amongst social strata; perception and treatment of cultural differences as deviant (this policy exhibited itself as an exclusionist attitude against non-ethnic Turks, non-Muslims and non-Sunnies among the Muslims) were combined with underdevelopment, unemployment and the insensitivity and inefficiency of the state thereby giving rise to criticism of the system. Successive military interventions, the first of which was staged in 1960, and authoritarian laws could not halt increasing opposition, which from time to time took on a violent character. Violence, on the other hand, served as a dirty shawl concealing corruption and moral decadence.

Had the armed struggle been a conflict between security forces and a group of bandits on remote mountain tops, then the society would not have been much affected by it, and the matter would not be regarded as a national security issue. But we are confronted with a widespread economic disaster that impoverishes the nation, minimises investments, and aggravates inflation.

Furthermore, the bloody struggle going on for years has long ago become more than a mere conflict between two armed groups. It causes strife between the Turkish and Kurdish citizens of this country and damages social solidarity. On the other hand, this problem, which cannot be, or rather, is not solved domestically, has become a regional (Middle-Eastern), and even international phenomenon which creates opportunities for outside intervention. This very fact makes the need to find a solution even more urgent.

Because the problem is seen merely as a security issue and not as a “social conflict,” we suffer from an unnamed war fought on our own lands, amongst our own people in which citizens kill each other. Should this war not be controlled, the enmity that it leads to could last for generations.

Even developed societies may have their share of fanatics who choose violence as a means of political expression. As long as these people use violence to achieve their goals, there will be need for effective police measures to deter them. However, when violence becomes a widespread method of protest involving thousands of armed peoples supported implicitly or explicitly by hundreds of thousands, then such a phenomenon is of a social character. Therefore, the social dimension of the conflict needs to be taken into consideration and the roots of the conflict need to be examined.

Primarily and most importantly, the parties to the conflict should meet independent of the official institutions which are the creators of the conflict. These parties should work together to define the problem and formulate solutions. Their common assessment must be translated into policy proposals and presented to the public, the real bearer of the problem(s).

It is with this vision and aim that we, the citizens of Turkish and Kurdish origin of the Republic of Turkey, got together motivated by the belief that watching the enfeeblement of our society, like a patient with internal bleeding, is partaking in the historical irresponsibility. We discussed our mutual problem(s) at length in environments clear of external political influences. As a result of long and heated discussion free of prejudices and ready political menus, we agreed that:

Politics and Philosopy of Public Administration

1. Turks and Kurds of Turkey are not the citizens of two inimical states. They are members of the same state. The root cause of the existing conflict is not the two parties/communities, but the official institutions, practices, and ideology.

1a. The official (political) institutions have lost their effectiveness. They have become unresponsive to local characteristics and exigencies of the people because of their ultra centralised and hierarchic structures.

1b. Official practices so far have reflected an unresponsive attitude to the existence of Kurdish and other cultural realities.

1c. The official ideology adopted as the driving force of nation building, ie. (Turkish) nationalism has turned out to be perceived as exclusive rather than inclusive for non-ethnic Turkish citizens of the state contrary to the intention of the founders of the Republican regime. Indeed, citizenship has been based on ethnic Turkishness.

1d. In the geographic areas with a Kurdish majority, the official ideology, with the approval of some of Kurdish sovereigns, has frozen backward feudal economic and social relationships and prevented them from changing.

The Republican regime has restored sovereignty to the people. However, due to inadequate democratisation of the regime, the impact of people over the decisions concerning their own welfare has been minimal. The most important reason behind the bottleneck in the system is that the state has never really transferred power to the people. Despite official doubts, democratisation of the regime is possible through the creation of a pluralist political structure without hampering the unitary nature of the state. However, neither individual politicians nor political parties take responsibility for realising this outcome. Social conflict continues because of their opportunistic and irresponsible attitude and as a result politics acquire a confrontational character.

The people of Turkey would have been able to solve their internal problems much more easily, we believe, if the political parties had not supported political factionalism and resisted change. The people wish to live together and have the common sense to produce practical solutions to achieve this end through mutual consensus. Quarrels, lack of understanding, insensitivity, and resistance to popular demands stem more from existing political structures and authoritarian mentality. This leads our society to live with a constant fear of division despite the official emphasis on unity and integrity. The Kurds do not want to carve a second state out of Turkey. Division of the country is neither a political requirement nor a necessary result of current circumstances. The Kurds only want legal and concrete steps that would make them feel that this is their state too. Despite many events and policies that could create a rift between the Kurds and Turks, the fact that neither community feels any enmity towards the other is a great achievement. However, this society has not yet been rewarded for the common sense it has heretofore demonstrated. This reward can be delivered only by ending the practices and conditioning that lead to ethnic and cultural discrimination and animosity.

The presence of Kurds in Turkey, i.e. “The Kurdish reality,” was unfortunately discovered after considerable bloodshed. Nevertheless, recognition of the Kurdish reality represents an achievement in itself. What does the recognition of the Kurdish reality mean? It implies the acknowledgment of the existence of a cultural group (people), which includes millions of persons. The Kurds have been and are one of the main elements of the Republican and the Ottoman states. They lay claim to unique cultural characteristics and are sensitive about conserving them.

Such acknowledgment of cultural distinctiveness is based on not only a scientific observation, but also on political realities. The Kurds want official/legal acknowledgment of their existence as a unique cultural group (people). They would like this acknowledgment to extend beyond oral commitments to include legal warranties having an effect on daily life including to be counted in censuses and the free exercise of their cultural identity.

The Kurds do not want these rights in order to distance themselves from the state or to divide Turkey. Neither do they want to alter the basic qualities of the state. Rather, they want to be able to preserve their cultural heritage and still live in safety as equal and respected citizens of Turkey in spite of the fact that they are from an ethnic group other than the majority.

In summary, Kurds are one of the original peoples of this country and a large majority of them favour living in peace and prosperity with their Turkish brethren within the boundaries of the Republic of Turkey. Unlike democratic and countries, Kurds feel rejected and victimised as the state and political institutions resist the needs of the Kurds. Feelings of victimhood and ensuing wounded self-perception (identity) are the basis of many societal problems.

2. It is impossible to establish stability and solidarity in a society that includes a major group or people who feel politically excluded or victimised, even if such people are of the same race or religion with the majority. The two pillars of stability are justice and equality. Social peace and stability can be achieved only through a democratic state organisation and constitutionally based rule of law, which guarantees equality of all social groups. Poverty and underdevelopment, while aggravating the situation, are not the primary causes of the problem.

3. Citizenship and ethnic, religious, and cultural identity should not be confused. Citizenship is a legal phenomenon that includes existing diversities in the society. Cultural identity (belonging), on the other hand, is a personal and/or group phenomenon involving the private domain and the civil society. Official authorities should not intervene in these domains because any intervention would make the state a proponent of one side as it already has. This harms social solidarity.

The role of the State in this matter must be limited to preventing one cultural group from dominating another.

Culture and Education

4. Freeing the private or cultural domain from intervention by the political domain/institutions is presumed in democratic society, which preserves political equality. These conditions must be met if the feeling of “pluralist nationhood” is to be cultivated. Reductionist nationalism based on the ethnic identity and religious creed of the majority or a privileged minority can not ensure stability. It carries, in itself, the seeds of exclusion and segregation.

Then, what is to be done is obvious:

Institutionalising respect for all ethnic and religious values and strengthening democratic institutions, which safeguard cultural diversities and political freedoms, are necessary steps. We see these as effective measures to prevent further politicising ethnic and religious differences. We propose the expeditious implementation of the following legal and institutional infrastructure:

5. To extend constitutional guarantees of the country’s cultural richness including the rights of others cultural groups to safeguard their traditional values. To this end:

5a. The authorities should recognise and support the Kurds’ efforts to each their mother tongue besides Turkish, the official language of the country, and to convey their traditional cultural values to the community’s younger generations, and;

5b. Extend these rights to other cultural groups as a necessary prerequisite of democracy and civic equality, and;

5c. To restructure our educational system so that it will exalt universal human values and civic virtues rather than ethnic and religious affiliation. Stripped of religion and ideology, these principles of education can serve in the building of democracy.


6a. To put into practice the requirements of all international agreements on human rights and basic freedoms signed by (successive) government(s).

6b. To ensure that laws relied on in the struggle against political violence are in harmony with universal legal principles based on human rights; to ensure that the personnel employed in the fight against terrorism comply with universal legal principles.

6c. To abandon all arbitrary habits and policies that lead to dual legal and administrative structures and practices. To end in the shortest time possible institutions and practices such as State Security Courts, the state of siege, temporary village guards, the evacuation of villages, and illegal executions.

7. To rapidly adopt more liberal laws concerning the election system, political parties, and freedom of expression and assembly, in order to widen the base of democracy and to open the way for popular will to influence the decision-making mechanisms. To prepare a new constitution safeguarding such laws based on the principles of multiculturalism, political pluralism, and participatory democracy. To remove all laws those are autocratic or clash with this constitution and the principles of human rights and participatory democracy; to purify all other laws to achieve congruency.

8. To implement the principle of separation of powers in the central government; to render the judiciary autonomous of other powers; to upgrade the total quality of the judiciary’s procedures, personnel, and practices by making the judiciary independent of the other organs/powers of the national state.

To create systems for government accountability including the establishment of an Ombudsman to oversee whether administrations at all levels work in accordance with the law and are harmonised with their designated responsibilities.

9. To create An Assembly of Provinces under the umbrella of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (the Parliament) in addition to the Assembly of Representatives. To enable the election of two representatives with or without party membership from each province—regardless of the size of the province—as long as they are respected by the members of the province and have high popular support. To reduce the already high number of seats in the existing one-chamber Parliament.

10. To make the concept of local government a reality and to try to solve local and regional problems which the central government cannot solve with the will and initiative of the local people. To equip and empower local governments with the organs of democratic administration and financial resources. To create elected councils, which can make decisions at the local-regional level without contradicting national laws and principles.

11. To establish regional development administrations in which local representatives elected by regional councils and a body of experts carefully selected by the central government will work together. To ensure the fruitful coordination of these groups without excessive bureaucratic red tape.

12. To have all official and civilian actors refrain from considering, using or praising violence as a problem-solving method; to be cautious of provoking people against each other for the sake of fighting against terrorism; to adopt the habit of solving problems in ways other than violence as a necessary condition of democratic ethics.

13. To provide security through the legal personnel and institutions of government, according to the rule of law.

14. To bring together the parties of this ongoing “social conflict” in order to build a “common ground” of understanding; to organise and encourage the silent majority, which does not believe in violence and is ready for a conciliation. To build a constituency for peace.

15. Work should be done to provide legality to all political parties that in their views and program claim to practice non-violent politics and adhere to the democratic principles of non-violence and respect for different views.


16. With regard to the individuals who had to leave their villages voluntarily or involuntarily;

16a. To equip those who want to return with new productive skills and initial capital so that they can produce for the market and not be condemned to poverty and backwardness once again.

16b. Cognizant of the fact that urbanisation is a variable of social development, to provide adequate housing and vocational training for those who want to remain in urban settings where they have recently settled.

16c. To take the constitutional requirement of “welfare state” as a guiding principle to build the incomplete physical infrastructure of Eastern and Southeastern Turkey and to provide special funds to encourage economic entrepreneurship by declaring the region a ”disaster area.” To coordinate the efforts of the central and local administrations in this respect.

17. Starting from eastern Turkey, to prepare master plans and related projects that will be put into effect in the short, medium, and long terms in order to reduce the level of poverty and increase the level of employment which act as the incubators of many social ills.

18. With regard to industrialisation:

18a. To encourage industrial growth in less developed regions, especially eastern and southeastern Anatolia through special incentives;

18b. To set up industries which can use the local natural resources of the region;

18c. Forseeing future exports to the Middle East, to design a system of discounts, rebates or other incentives for the buyers of goods and services produced in the region.

19. To plan and organise the livestock sector and related industries which are so vital for the economy of the region with an eye to the national and Middle Eastern markets. To increase the grasslands and pastures available for grazing in line with the economic necessities of the region rather than security concerns, thus ending one of the region’s most important problems.

20. To institutionalise vocational training in order to educate a qualified workforce which will increasingly be needed as industry grows.


Every individual and every group who is a citizen of the Republic of Turkey should question how much they contribute to democracy while they demand democracy from the State. Every citizen and group in this country must be called upon to defend the rights of others while they demand rights for themselves. The rights of all citizens will be elavated to the level of democratic countries and will be protected internationally as Turkey develops and integrates with the global system. The basic aim of every individual and group that demand democracy should be to contribute to the efforts of putting Turkey in the league of “civilized nations.”

Solving social conflict in a democracy depends on the parties’ understanding the nature of the problem and their agreement on possible solutions. However, to reach a durable solution, the parties must first discuss the problem internally and, later amongst themselves freely and openly. This atmosphere of freedom can be created by both the State and the parties if they can approach differing views with tolerance. Doing this is every one’s responsibility.

Having agreed on these points, we, a diverse group of citizens of the Republic of Turkey, who want to see their country stronger, more peaceful and more stable than ever appeal to the society with this ”Document“ which represents a wide ranging consensus. No country that is not in peace with itself can maintain stability and prosperity. As we look toward the democratic Turkey of the future, we invite all our fellow citizens to support our initiative, which aims to base our national unity on the principles of pluralism, the rule of law and multiculturalism. We also pledge to support similar initiatives.

Board of Founders
Center for the Research of Societal Problems
March 1999