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The Kurds were seen as either "proper Turkish citizens" by the way they conducted themselves with dignity, or they were seen as "outlaws characterized by tribalism, religious reactionism, or banditry" (Yegen, p. 599). In other words, the Turkish government tried to take away the Kurds' ethnic identities; the Turks attempted to "assimilate" the Kurds into the nation of Turkey by referring to them as Turkish citizens -- and many Kurds have simply agreed to become Turks over the last 80 years or so. Meanwhile in the 1950s Kurds in Turkey "…were no longer in a position to produce major trouble for the state," and Kurds began moving into big cities in the western sections of Turkey (Yegen, p. 604). The "assimilation" strategies of the Turkish government towards the Kurds lightened up from the 1950s regarding forcible settlement practices, but then when the Kurds began to resist Turkish authority in the 1990s, the government crack down was severe, Yegen writes on pages 604-605.
At that time the Turkish state forced Kurds from their mountain villages, and burned an estimated 3,000 Kurdish villages based on "national security." Moreover, hard line policies have subsequently been enforced: a) those policies include the prohibition of any language other than Turkish to be taught; b) Turkey has established "boarding schools" that aim to remove Kurdish children from their parents in order to propagandize them in Turkish values and culture; and c) Turkey has launched national campaigns in order to encourage Kurdish children to attend -- the "Turkification" (Yegen's term) if you will, of the Kurds (Yegen, p. 606).
Today's negative realities regarding the Kurds in Turkey
A January 2009 article in the journal Insight Turkey states that the "Kurdish question" cannot be easily defined nor can the Kurds be described by an oversimplified category. But as background into understanding how the Kurdish question might be settled, Taha Ozhan and Hatem Ete offer six "types of experiences that the Kurds have gone through, all of which occurred simultaneously and are related to each other" (Ozhan, et al., 2009, p. 97). One, there has been great tensions between the Kurds living in the southeastern provinces of Turkey and the central government of Turkey. Between 1925 and 1938, for example, there were "17 uprisings" and in 1978 "martial law" was put into effect (Ozhan, p. 98). These rebellions were due to the fact that many Kurds "lost their confidence in the state and gave more support to Kurdish nationalism" (Ozhan, p. 98). Two, because about half of the Kurdish population lives in western Turkish cities (Istanbul, Ankara, Ismir, Adana and Mersin), pushed there by the forced evaluation of Kurdish villages and for economic reasons. Three, many Kurds migrated to Europe in 1980 following the military coup in Turkey, and Ozhan is calling it "The Diaspora Experience in Europe"; Kurds who became ex-patriots "have been using their political, economic and social capabilities against Turkey for more than 30 years" (Ozhan, p. 98).
Four, when the Iraqi Kurds achieved some political prominence, it gave hope to Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria, Ozhan explains. But on the other hand, if Turkey and Iraq do not handle the long-term interaction between the Kurds in those two countries, trouble could lay ahead. Five, the terrorist activities of the PKK obviously distracts from the otherwise reasonable demands of Turkish and Iraqi Kurds for independence. And six, the Kurds in the four aforementioned countries do not truly have a political organization that is united. This lack of organization and resolve -- due in part to ethnic differences within the Kurd community itself -- stands in the way of an acceptable settlement.
The war against the Kurds in Turkey
A journal article in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs claims that the war between the PKK and the Turkish state is "reaching a critical stage" (Gorvett, 2008, p. 38). Granted this scholarly article in a year and a half old, but it gives a picture of the war that gets very little attention in the United States and yet has been ongoing for decades in Turkey and in northern Iraq. The casualty figures that Gorvett offers are eye opening -- 30,000 to 40,000 people dead -- and most of the deaths are on the side of Turkey's ethnic minority, the Kurds.
Beyond the human toll in this ongoing war, there is an economic cost, as there almost always is in unending, bloody conflicts. The southeastern portion of Turkey has been "slumped in poverty for generations," Gorvett explains. Many of the poor among the Kurd populations have fled the war zone in the southeast and have relocated in the capital, Diyarbakir, where the "official unemployment rate stands at around 60%" (Gorvett, p. 38). The landscape has also taken a toll, the author continues, as numerous villages "stand empty, their fields fallow," as the Turkish army have forcibly evacuated people in order to deny the PKK a hiding place. This policy of pushing people out of villages -- alluded to earlier in this paper -- has left the countryside "denuded."
The war has exacted such a human and financial toll, that the prime minister, Recip Tayyip Erdogan has been under enormous pressure to launch a massive army attack across the southern border of Turkey into Iraq, to "crush the PKK bases there" (Gorvett, p. 39). The pressure on Erdogan has been so great that members of a right wing Turkish lawyers group, strongly nationalistic, has launched legal proceedings against the Erdogan government. The Constitutional Court agreed to hear the nationalistic lawyer's case, and along with that decision came violence in the streets. One incident involved some 40,000 people in the capital who supported the Erdogan government's refusal to send Turkish troops across the border with Iraq to attack PKK camps. Those demonstrators were met with "tear gas and water cannon" by the military police. Another reason for the violent response to the 40,000 in Diyarbakir was the fact that the demonstrators were calling for the government to release PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who has been imprisoned for some time. Another demonstration (in response to the lawyers' legal challenge to the Erdogan government) -- this one launched by the "ultra-nationalists" -- took a major toll on Kurdish shops in poor neighborhoods. Shops were burned; poor Kurds were harassed and pushed from their homes. It is a nasty war that shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.
Conclusion: Four reasons why the Kurds are not ready for their own state
One, until the terrorist PKK organization is brought to its knees, or trades its weapons for plowshares, the international community will not look favorably upon an independent state for the Kurds. Two, there is so much violence in Iraq -- due to the ongoing civil war between the Sunnis and Shiites -- any thought of a settlement that would give the Kurds a homeland within this blood-splattered state is mere fantasy. Three, the ongoing war between the Kurdish fighters (including the PKK) and the government of Turkey -- and those extremist nationalistic militias in Turkey that take the law into their own hands -- must be settled in some diplomatic way prior to any independent state for Kurds. And four, the Kurdish people themselves are not all of the same Muslim ethnicity; there are diverse factions within the Kurdish community that see the world very differently, and prior to the formation of any independent state, the Kurds must unite behind a strong, intelligent, visionary and respected leader. There does not appear to be anyone within the Kurdish leadership at this time that could fill that role.
Giraldi, Philip. "Turkey and the Threat of Kurdish Nationalism." Mediterranean Quarterly
19.1 (2008): 33-40.
Gorvett, Jon. "Turkish Prime Minister Says War Against Kurds Has Entered 'Very Critical
Stage'." Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. 27.1, (2008): 38-39.
Gunter, Michael M. "The Permanent and New Realities Facing the Kurdistan Regional…[continue]
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