The Kurdish Issues in Turkey

Current situation and significance of the conflict

The Kurds make up about 20% of the population (10-15 million). The figures are only estimated because ethnic origin and mother tongue are not recorded in the censuses. Their settlement areas are mainly in the southeast, in central Anatolia and, due to migration, in the metropolitan areas of the big cities. They belong to the Iranian ethnic group and mostly speak Kurmanci or Sorani. 75% of the Kurds belong to the Sunnis, 25% are Alevi or Yezidi. They experience their cohesion in clans, the Asiret, in the southeast, often with feudal structures.

In their long struggle for legal, political, cultural and social recognition, they have made some progress so far, for example the use of the language is possible in private educational institutions, the state television company broadcasts a program in Kurdish. A novelty in history so far was the use of Kurdish as the election campaign language in 2011. With the entry of the HDP into parliament, an officially elected Kurdish representation entered the political stage for the first time.

Economically, educationally and in terms of infrastructure, a lot of development aid still needs to be provided in order to bring the Southeast closer to the state of the West. To do this, however, the problem has to be tackled legally and politically. Viewed in a larger context, it is about the question of the further democratization of the country and how the state deals with its minorities (ethnic and religious). In this respect, the Kurdish question is one of the country’s most pressing problems. So far, the fight has left 42,000 dead on both sides.

Kurdish New Year

History of tension

In the Treaty of Sevres (1920) the Allies provided for an autonomous Kurdish area in Anatolia, but in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) the area in question was divided among the following countries: Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq. In the understanding of the Kemalist national concept, the Kurds were not granted any explicit minority status, on the contrary: cultural and ethnic differences were negated and a high pressure to assimilate built up. The resistance on the Kurdish side against secular currents manifested itself in many uprisings that were economically, religiously or politically motivated and which were violently suppressed.

In 1984, with the founding of the PKK (Communist Workers’ Party of Kurdistan), a new chapter in the conflict began. In 1999 Öcalan was arrested in front of the Greek embassy in Nairobi and sentenced to life imprisonment. Since then he has been on the Imrali prison island. In the course of the proceedings, a ceasefire was negotiated and kept for a long time. From 2005 onwards there were more attacks from Iraq – also out of disappointment at the unwillingness to approach the conflict democratically. The military responded with covert operations, tanks and violence.

According to ehealthfacts, Erdogan was the first politician to speak of solving the Kurdish problem politically. In 2009 he initiated the “Democratic Opening” with the aim of permanently overcoming the conflict through a general democratization of the population. Hope was also given by a new peace initiative, which reached its first milestone on the occasion of the Kurdish Newroz Festival in March 2013, when Öcalan publicly and officially called for a ceasefire. This included an appeal to the fighters to surrender their weapons. This was preceded by secret meetings between government representatives, BDP members and PKK members. In return, Erdogan promised to bring the topics of cultural and ethnic identity more general, ie away from the Turkish citizen towards the citizen of Turkey, into the discussion process on the new constitution. TheAKP hoped that this would help the Kurdish population to support elections. At the same time, however, the government was also seeking rapprochement with the economic power of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region in northern Iraq.

A new ice age began in July 2015 and the two-year armistice was lifted. The Turkish Air Force is again launching attacks against PKK positions in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey, and military operations are also taking place on the ground. The PKK units have also resumed their attacks. Bomb explosions in Ankara and Istanbul claim numerous lives. These are assigned to the TAK, a splinter organization of the PKK.

The broken relationship between Turks and Kurds / State and PKK is currently explosive due to the lifting of the immunity of HDP members in the Turkish parliament. The Kurds see themselves deprived of their legitimate representatives, the state stigmatizes the MPs as the henchmen of terror. This additionally fuels the spiral of violence.

In the meantime, the Kurdish problem in Turkey is also seen in connection with the war against IS on Syrian and Iraqi territory, in which Kurdish YPG fighters are successfully participating with the support of international associations. A “Kurdish” corridor has thus emerged on the northern border, which Turkey views with concern and from this point of view launched a military attack on YPG units in Afrin. Another invasion of northern Syria in November 2019 should enable the establishment of a Turkish security zone.