Turkey


Turkey
   Slightly more than half of the Kurds in the entire world live in Turkey, where, depending on how one counts them, they make up some 12-15 million people, or as much as 18-23 percent of the total population.
   There were three great Kurdish revolts during the early history of the modern Republic of Turkey: Sheikh Said in 1925, Ararat from 1927 to 1930, and Dersim (now called Tunceli) from 1936 to 1938. All were brutally crushed, and attempts were made to erase the very name of the Kurds through assimilation and exile. Under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, all Kurdish schools, organizations, and publications, as well as religious institutions such as tekiyes (sufi fraternities) and madrasahs (religious schools) were closed. The term Mountain Turks when referring to the Turkish Kurds served as a code term for these actions.
   Turkey also took a leading role in suppressing any manifestation of Kurdish nationalism in any other bordering state. Until recently, for example, Turkey continued to take an almost schizophrenic attitude toward the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. The fear is that any Kurdish state in northern Iraq would encourage Kurdish nationalism in Turkey. Some in Turkey also harbor hopes for reclaiming Mosul or northern Iraq, which was lost to Great Britain and Iraq after World War I. However, economic relations between Turkey and the KRG thrived, and beginning in 2009 a political rapprochement between the two also began to develop.
   The modern Kurdish national movement in Turkey grew out of the intellectual ferment caused by the leftist, Marxist movement that formed during the 1960s. This in turn was largely a result of Turkey's halting attempts to democratize and join the West. In November 1978, Abdullah (Apo) Ocalan created the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which formally began its revolt in August 1984. Both sides employed ruthless tactics that began to polarize much of Turkey and by the beginning of 2010 had led to possibly 47,000 deaths, mostly those of ethnic Kurds but also several thousand members of the Turkish military.
   The Turkish military, however, gradually won the upper hand. In October 1998, for example, Turkey finally was able to force Syria to expel Ocalan where he had lived since 1979. Following Ocalan's capture in February 1999, the PKK revolt quickly came to a temporary end. Kurdish nationalism, however, had been bestirred in a way that could never again be denied. The question of Kurdish rights now had to be solved for Turkey to progress and even survive. Given the failure to solve the Kurdish problem, low-level fighting began again in 2004 and, despite several PKK cease-fires, has slowly escalated since then. Some 5,000 PKK fighters are currently entrenched in the virtually inaccessible Kandil Mountains of northern Iraq, but some are also in southeastern Turkey itself.
   In October 2005, Turkey began candidacy talks with the European Union. Eventual membership, however, is dependent in part on a satisfactory solution to the Kurdish problem. This has brought about a great constitutional debate in Turkey upon which the country's future depends. The Turkish parliament has passed significant reform measures that, if actually implemented, may help solve the Kurdish problem by granting Kurdish language, cultural, and educational rights. These reforms, of course, would also help alleviate broader problems concerning human rights in general. It remains to be seen if this indeed will occur. Meanwhile, the ethnic Kurdish population in Turkey is growing faster than is the ethnic Turkish population. In addition, the percentage of younger Kurds is considerably higher than is the percentage of younger Turks. Furthermore, more than half of the ethnic Kurdish population in Turkey now lives west of Ankara. Istanbul has arguably the largest Kurdish population of any city in the world.
   Since 2005, the Demokratik Toplum Partisi (DTP) was a legal pro-Kurdish party in Turkey. It entered the Turkish parliament as a result of the national elections in July 2007 and was playing an important role regarding the Kurdish problem. In August 2005, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that Turkey had a "Kurdish problem," had made "grave mistakes in the past," and now needed "more democracy to solve the problem." Never before had a Turkish leader so explicitly addressed the Kurdish problem and promised to try to solve it. However, the crisis between Erdogan's governing AK Partisi and the Kemalist establishment that began in 2007 over the election of a new Turkish president soon resulted in Erdogan seemingly losing much of his reformist zeal and becoming more of an advocate of the status quo.
   Nevertheless, his government instituted a new 24/7 Kurdish-language television station known as TRT 6 on 1 January 2009. In addition, the new Turkish president Abdullah Gul declared in May 2009 that the Kurdish problem was Turkey's "most pressing" and that there was now a "historic opportunity" to solve it. Even General Ilker Basbug, the chief of staff, declared that the Kurdish problem was a test of Turkey's modernization, while the Milli Guvenlik Kurulu (MGK), or National Security Council, gave its cautious approval for Kurdish reforms. Thus, by August 2009, the AK Party government had begun a democratic initiative or Kurdish opening with the announced intention of helping to solve the Kurdish problem. However, the Turkish Constitutional Court banned the DTP in December 2009, and by the beginning of 2010 these initiatives appeared to be stillborn. It remained to be seen how this Turkish stop-start record on the Kurdish issue would develop.
   Although Turkey has been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and therefore official ally of the United States since 1952, the Kurdish problem has increasingly strained their relations. In March 2003, for example, Turkey shocked the United States by declining to support its invasion of Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds quickly became the main U.S. ally on the northern front. In July 2003, the United States arrested 11 Turkish special forces troops operating in northern Iraq and accused them of trying to destabilize the region. The affair caused an unprecedented crisis in U.S.-Turkish relations, and the U.S. approval rate in Turkey fell to single digits. Fikret Bila, a veteran Turkish journalist, published a book entitled Komutanlar Cephesi (The Commanders' Front) in which interviews with retired Turkish generals showed a striking distrust of the United States because of its perceived support for the Kurds. The rabidly anti-American fiction film Valley of the Wolves showed U.S. soldiers shooting Iraqi civilians in order to harvest their organs for Jewish doctors. In the fall of 2007, however, relations began to improve when Washington began giving Turkey actionable intelligence that helped the Turkish military launch a cross-border attack into Iraq against the PKK in February 2008. The new U.S. president, Barack Obama, was widely hailed for his conciliatory address to the Turkish parliament in the spring of 2009.
   Given its own Kurdish problem as well as a keen interest in the future of the KRG in northern Iraq, Turkey is arguably the most important state for the future of the Kurds.
   See also Gulf War II; Ottoman Empire.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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