The Kurds of Turkey

The place of Kurdistan is a geo-cultural outcome of the Kurdish separatist movement existing in the Middle East. Kurdish identity groups number 30-40 million in total and live in the states of Syria, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The Kurd’s make-up the world’s largest group without a state because of continuous marginalization and persecution throughout history. The historical positioning of the Kurdish identity has structured them to be agents (of a minority) in all of these states.

Contemporary groups of Kurds are the descendants of ancient Indo-European people known as Medes. The Medes identity group moved into the Middle East well over 4,000 years ago. The Kurds have their own language that has four main dialects called Kurmanji, Luri, Sorani and Zaza. Both language and history perform as salient attributes to the Kurdish identity. The Kurds have very independent tendencies and have created the area of Kurdistan to attempt to exert their sovereignty. Identity groups need spaces or territories to call their own because it is very symbolic and helps develop the meaning of an identity.

In Turkey, the Kurds have created a different separate form of self-rule because they exist as a salient cultural minority who strive for their independence. Kurdish nationalism is inherent in Kurdish identity, and over the last couple decades there has been increased conflict in Turkey because of the rise in Kurdish nationalism. Turkey has tried to suppress and control Kurdish nationalism because it remains a threat to Turkey’s secular identity. Kurdish identity groups in Turkey are challenging the dominance of Turkey’s cultural and legal supremacy, and are fighting for their own autonomy. In result of Kurdish nationalism, there has been the establishment of Kurdish political and military parties called the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and many more.

This paper particularly looks at Kurdish nationalism in Turkey and how it has been positioned by the Turkish ideology of Kemalism. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed in World War I, the allies played a vital role in shaping the modern Middle East. In 1923 the Treaty of Sèvres proposed a division of the Ottoman Empire that included an autonomous homeland for the Kurds. However, the Treaty of Sèvres was rejected by Treaty of Lausanne which did not acknowledge an autonomous Kurdistan. This paper examines the role of Kurdish parties involved in Turkish politics, discusses the different epistemologies at play between the Kurds and the Turkish government, and how this conflict is hindering Turkey’s national agenda. My goal is to understand why Kurds fail to assimilate into Turkey and to examine PKK terrorism.


5 thoughts on “The Kurds of Turkey

  1. Rachael Measer

    The topic of the Kurds is always an interesting and relevant discussion to dive into. I would be interested to read the rest of your paper in order to examine the difference in experience between the Kurds in Turkey and the Kurds in Iraq. I wonder if the Kurdish identity changes at all depending on what country the Kurds reside in. For example, do the Kurds in Turkey face more or less oppression than the Kurds in Iraq and in turn, are the Kurds in one of those countries more willingly assimilated to the major Turkish or Iraqi culture because they are less persecuted? I researched the history of the Kurdish people in Iraqi Kurdistan and found that they are a very determined people, and fighters in every sense of the word. They have fought since the end of World War I for their very own independent state and had repeatedly been looked over and oppression for this desire, however they have never given up and are still fighting in 2016. I would assume the Iraqi Kurdish are so nationalistic and intent on maintaining their own Kurdish identity instead of assimilating to Iraqi culture, because throughout their history the Kurds were forbidden to have their own Kurdish schools, speak their own Kurdish language, or have their own state. They were oppressed by an internal embargo by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s denying them food or water, as well as victims of chemical warfare by Hussein and the Iraqi government. When you say you want to understand why the Kurds fail assimilate into Turkey, I have to same thought about the Kurds in Iraq. Aside from the history of oppression and brutal killing sprees, the Iraqis and the Kurds actually have much more in common than any difference that divides them, which your paper seems to suggest about the Kurds in Turkey.

  2. Ashraf Alnakhli

    This is really an interesting topic. My topic is about the Yezidis group in Iraq, and I learned a little bit about the history of the Kurds. The Kurds have been struggled to construct an independent nation, and meanwhile, they still keep their own culture alive. What makes the kurds different from the rest of the world is their respect to others.

  3. Andrew Gitlitz

    While doing my part of my group project on the Yezidis in Iraq for Minority Report, I learned about the history of the Yezidi and also quite a bit about the Kurds and found out that they have a lot in common. The one major thing that is similar is that the Yezidis are also fighting for an independent nation just like the Kurds. They are also fighting for a nation of their own to keep their culture alive and for others to learn about it. The Yezidi people have suffered through a lot and are still today because of the constant attacks by ISIS. However, they are strong willed and are determined to keep fighting back just like the Kurds. Your topic does seem interesting and would love to read the rest of your paper.

  4. Devon O'Hare

    In my own research of the growth in support for Nationalist political parties in the EU, the idea of culture played a huge role as it seems it does with the Kurds as well. Like the Kurds, each country within the EU has is currently leaning towards independent tendencies. Like the Kurds attempting to hold Kurdistan as their own, EU countries also value their own culture and “homeland”, and the recent flows of migration have challenged the status quo. I will find it interesting to see if the migrants, some of which are Kurds, are oppressed and fought back against, similarly to what has been happening in Turkey.

  5. Robert Wakefield

    In my class Jordan’s Cultural Mosaic we talked a lot about Diasporas. For those that don’t know, a diaspora is a population that has been scattered over time and are no longer in their original homeland. These people still have a strong connection to their cultural identity and their geographic past, and it seems like through reading through this post that the Kurds are a perfect example of a diaspora. As you mentioned at the start, they are the largest group without a state due to marginalization and persecution through history. One of the diasporas we studied was the Palestinians, who have been forced out of Palestine many times through history for the same reasons, so the Kurds would definitely be in the same category. It also seems like the Kurds have a strong sense of nationalism, even without a nation, which makes them a perfect diaspora, and even more similar to the Palestinians and other diasporas we discussed in class.


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