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Turkey and Kurdish question: history and present

UDK 316.342.5

At any aggravation of a situation in the Middle East "the Kurdish question" becomes more active and politized. It is possible to tell without exaggeration that it is the indicator of definition of a condition of a political situation in the region. To understand why so occurs, it is enough to glance at the ethnic map of Southwest Asia. The current state of the Kurdish question in Turkey and region of the Middle East is investigated. The state and dynamics of this problem are considered, the main characteristics of the Kurdish question are defined, the prospects of finding by Kurds of political independence and creation of own national state are analyzed.


© 2010 Mahmoud Hasib Majeed

Southern Federal University,

Nagibin Ave., 13, Rostov-on-Don, 344038,

socpol@sfedu. ru

Southern Federal University, Nagibin Ave, 13, Rostov-on-Don, 344038, socpol@sfedu. ru

In acute situations in the Middle East, is activated and politicized "Kurdish question". It is no exaggeration to say that it is an indicator to determine the state of the political situation in the region. To understand why this happens, just throw a cursory glance at the ethnic map of South-West Asia. We investigate the current state of a Kurdish question in Turkey and the Middle East region. The condition and dynamics of the given problem, are considered, main characteristics of the Kurdish problem are defined, prospects offinding are analyzed by Kurdish ofpolitical independence and creation of their own national state.

Kurds are primordial inhabitants of the Western Asia. However historical collisions did not allow these people to create own state, moreover, today Kurds are the biggest people on the planet which do not have own statehood.

Now the number of Kurds is estimated approximately at 30 million people. Their vast majority lives in historical Kurdistan - the highland located in adjacent territories of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria in the center of the West Asian (Middle Eastern) region. Its area - over 450 thousand, falls to the share of the Turkish Kurdistan about 230 thousand, Iranian-125, Iraqi - 80, Syrian - 15 thousand About 48% of all Kurds live in Turkey, 25 - in Iran, 17 - in Iraq and 4% in Syria, the others in the territory of the republics of the former USSR (over 300 thousand to Transcaucasia and Ciscaucasia, in the Central Asian states) and the countries of the West [1].

The Kurdish problem is difficult and multidimensional on the most essence. Here in one point contradictions of actually national and also local, regional and international levels met, as caused the extreme complexity of the Kurdish question and huge obstacles following ways of any attempts of its decision. One of the major aspects - separation of the Kurdish people. Kurdistan is integrated into socially economic systems of the states which divided it, forming their outskirts which are least developed in the social, economic and cultural relation.

Historical sources of the interethnic conflict in Turkey. At the beginning of the 16th century all Western Asia was divided between the new great power - the Ottoman Empire and sefevidsky Iran, Shia Islam strongholds in the Muslim world. (Northern, Western and Southern) Turks got the most part of Kurdistan, smaller (East) - to Persians, appear, there came the long-awaited calm favoring to national-state development of society despite the partition of the country, but it did not occur [2, page 34].

On the contrary, the Turkish-Iranian border, it is the line of the partition of Kurdistan, became border of war and the whole next four centuries of the Kurdish history did not give to Kurds either freedom, or independence. And this time historical circumstances turned back against them.

Having been a part of the Ottoman Empire and Iran, the Kurdish lands became the arena of confrontation of both powers for possession of Kurdistan, Armenia, the Southern Azerbaijan, Transcaucasia, Iraq. Wars with variable success went continuously within more than three hundred years. Finally they became bezre-

zultatna, border, generally, remained same by what it was established in the first half of the 16th century. However for the people inhabiting disputed territories including for Kurds, these infinite wars did not take place completely. Their vital forces were spent for the sake of the interests of the Turkish sultans and the Iranian shahs, alien for them, productive forces periodically collapsed.

The situation of the divided Kurdistan in the system of the internal political relations in the Ottoman Empire and in Iran during an era of the late Middle Ages and modern times was very difficult and contradictory. Here the system with the traditional secular and spiritual nobility which relations with the central power were under construction on the principles of the vassalitet was created. Their duties before it came down, in effect, only to participation in military campaigns of sultans and shahs against each other. For the rest they were full owners in the possession.

It led to growth and strengthening of the feudal particularism which became the strongest obstacle to development of unifying process in the Kurdish society. In return the sultan and shah authorities focused on every possible kindling of interstine contradictions in the Kurdish possession for the purpose of prevention of emergence and growth of liberation movement in Kurdistan and especially those public processes which could accept the integration direction. Till 19th century in Kurdistan there were no conditions for formation of national movements for national release, fight went mainly in the Kurdish society for the prevailing influence of any given feudal clans, and the Kurdish question was, so to speak "transcendental object" [3, page 132].

The progressing weakening of the Ottoman Empire and Iran in the 17th century and especially in the 18th century, steady growth of centrifugal trends created the soil for emergence and strengthening of the Kurdish feudal separatism. In the first half of the 19th century a number of large Kurdish emirates of the Ottoman Empire openly followed a way of a mutiny, trying to defend the independence of Turkish Ports. They of course failed, and Istanbul and Tehran managed to consolidate temporarily the forces and to localize the Kurdish separatism. The Kurdish emirates were liquidated, and their lands are subordinated to management of the center.

From the second half of the 19th century Kurdistan was in a condition of continuous fermentation. At this particular time arose and the Kurdish nationalism aimed at creation of independent and united Kurdistan began to grow quickly. Two factors sposobstvo-

bring down it to rough rise. First, the feudal particularism and separatism showed the full political and military insolvency. Visually set an example of successful fight of other people of the Middle East for the release to Kurds need of association around the national idea. Secondly, Kurdish, as well as other national movements (Balkan people, Armenians, Arabs), it began to be used "great by powers" that time, Russia, England, Germany, in fight for colonial repartition of all region of the Western Asia, for control over the Ottoman Empire and Iran [4, page 43]. Support by these powers, certainly, in the mercenary purposes of national movements in the Middle East stimulating influenced Kurds.

The current state of the Kurdish question in Turkey. Even during preparation for war against Iraq Ankara stipulated the support to the USA an indispensable condition not to allow creation of the Kurdish state in the north of Iraq. Washington most likely promised it to it, nevertheless the danger remained very real. Anyway, change of a situation in Northern Iraq inspired the Kurdish insurgents in Turkey. That is why at the beginning of the 90th of the 20th century after long to do negative attitude to the Kurdish movement Ankara began with firmness attempts to approach structurally consideration of the related problems.

In December, 1991 the Turkish magazine "Ikibin" wrote a mastiff: "The Kurdish reality becomes a factor of public policy" [5, page 35]. The then president of Turkey T. Ozal started talking about the new policy based on recognition of existence of the Kurdish people, having made a number of statements for need to allow in some cases the use of the Kurdish language. Some influential western newspapers claimed in this regard that the Turkish president is ready even to go to the solution of the Kurdish problem on the basis of the federal principle.

The result of elections to local authorities in the Turkish Kurdistan in fact demonstrates political disengagement of the Kurdish population. Any of legally operating Kurdish organizations has no sufficient authority among the Turkish Kurds and is fully not capable to advocate their interests in local and the supreme authorities. In crisis there is also RPK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) which after arrest of the leader A. Oçalan by the Turkish authorities was relocated on the mountain bases and since 1999 does not conduct armed struggle. Having delayed the requirements about independence of Kurds, it put forward the program of cultural autonomy [6, page 59].

The Turkish experts expressing sympathies of RPK believe that the termination of movement of Kurds and return of the Kurdish population to the villages will allow to lower separatist sentiments of the Turkish Kurds. They consider that the announcement of amnesty for all members of RPK will promote eradication of all forms of national discrimination. RPK connects the interests with arrangement Kurdish re-

a geon within the Republic of Turkey. However to functionaries of party, as well as other oppositional Kurdish political organizations, it is very difficult to overcome mistrust and hostility to the Turkish authorities, the economic, social and cultural problems of Kurds seeded by suspense.

S. Demirel, future successor of T. Ozal on the president's post, told about need proyavtyal tolerance to the Kurdish citizens during the trip around southeast regions of the country. It echoed T. Ozal, emphasizing that Turkey recognized reality of Kurds that it is impossible to object to it. After this trip it was announced permission to Kurds to issue the periodical press in the language, about measures for development of the Kurdish culture and even possible creation of Kurdologichesky institute.

It should be noted that to new Kurdish policy forced Ankara to pass severe reality, change of a situation in Northern Iraq where the movement of Kurds accepted the nature of a revolt. The Milliyet newspaper in October, 1991 wrote what from Northern Iraq passed about 500 thousand Kurds who supplied fighters of RPK with a large number of weapon into Turkey.

By 1993 some toughening, at the height of the discussion about solutions of the Kurdish question developed among the public was outlined in a position of the Turkish authorities (including on the basis of autonomy, federation, etc.) the prime minister S. Demirel made the statement that a talk about federation is wrong. He let know: Turkey is the unitary state, uniform and indivisible, official language - Turkish. At the same time the former official rate on assimilation of Kurds at any cost was recognized wrong. S. Demirel, at the same time said that though it is necessary to admit the fact of ethnic community of Kurds, under the constitution all citizens of Turkey are Turks. As for terrorists from RPK, the government will not go on any political contacts with them and demands their capitulation. Then in the spring of 1993 the representative of the constitutional commission of Majlis prof. Shener Akyol said that support of the idea of federation - the constitutional crime because under the constitution the unitary nature of the state is not subject to discussion [3, page 81].

at the end of 1995. T. Chiller which released S. De-mirelya from duties of the party leader of a right way (PVP) and the prime minister of the coalition government in connection with election of the last in the spring 1993 on the president's post, confirmed a hard line of the government concerning the Kurdish separatists again, having specified that no negotiations with them should be. Such turn can be explained with several factors. By 1993 the situation in Iraq stabilized a little, in the Turkish Kurdistan the government achieved some progress in war against fighters of RPK. Perhaps, the negative impact on the Turkish leaders was made by development of centrifugal trends in the Russian Federation. One of the famous Turkish political analysts wrote, meaning this aspect that new Russia an example to which nobody will wish to imitate.

Nevertheless statements of the Turkish leaders did not mean total rejection of new Kurdish policy at all, some of its essential elements, such as refusal of confrontation with all Kurdish movement, the differentiated campaign to it, search of a compromise with RPK remained. In 1991 at the initiative of the president T. Ozal Ankara took the first steps in search of contacts with the Kurdish organizations in Iraq. Then connection with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) by the headed J. Talabani was established, by 1993 they the truth were a little weakened, and in 1995 when J. Talabani said that he considers RPK as the political, but not terrorist organization, they were almost frozen.

A zone of the most purposeful and tough actions of Kurds is the territory of Turkey. Begun more than 20 years ago as a revolt of small group of people the current armed performances of the Kurds directed by RPK reached scales of real war, and for the last months they extended from former to ten to twenty southeast provinces (vilayets) of the country. And all this time the Turkish leaders are forced to keep an emergency rule in East Anatoly. At the same time it came into contacts and with other large Kurdish organization - the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK) at the head of M. Barazani [7, page 90].

Turkey for the reasons stated above showed big interest in definition of the future of the Iraqi Kurdistan, advancing the idea of the Kurdish autonomy within Iraq, and this position in many respects coincided with the point of view of group of M. Barazani who played for autonomy too and even conducted about it negotiations with Baghdad. As for J. Talabani's group, it was a supporter of the idea of "independent Kurdistan" in the beginning, and since 1992 began to play for federation as a part of Iraq. Therefore for Ankara the contacts with DPK were in the 90th g of the 20th century more encouraging, and in general as it was noted in the Turkish press, the country leaders for isolation of RPK gave substantial support and DPK, and PSK from time to time, some kind of cooperation of Turkey with both specified groups as a result was outlined.

The situation changed in 1994 when the rivalry between DPK and PSK which turned into armed conflicts which at the end of 1996 accepted the nature of large-scale fights with application of artillery and tanks broke out though some political observers also believe that M. Barazani's group is the strongest. As a result of fights many settlements in Northern Iraq several times passed from hand to hand, during military operations there was a situation which is characterized by strengthening of contacts between M. Barazani's group and the mode in Baghdad. According to some information, the last helped this group weapon including heavy. And in turn J. Talabani's group allegedly is drawn towards Iran and gets from it support, and such situa-

the tion is fraught with the increasing retraction of the authorities of Iraq and Iran in the conflict between DPK and PSK that can lead to military operations between two groups.

In September, 1996 in Ankara negotiations of the head of that time of the Turkish government N. Ayr-bakana with the Iraqi delegation headed by S. Hussein, Yu. Hammadi's representative took place. The parties discussed possible options of ways of peace-making in the Southern Kurdistan as the area which is undoubtedly under jurisdiction of Baghdad and also possible measures of the Turkish side for fight against RPK. Upon completion of negotiations N. Erbakan said that they resulted in success and achievement of main goals of its government - to restoration of peace and tranquility in Northern Iraq and to opening of the oil pipeline Kirkuk - Yumurtalik. At the same time the press reported that there are opportunities for signing by the Turkish authorities of the agreement with M. Barazani, "ally" of the Iraqi leaders, the purpose of the agreement is to counteract operations RPK in Turkey [2, page 152].

Here it is necessary to remind of existence of one more character - the USA which as a result of the war in the Persian Gulf got into affairs of the region even more deeply, and heads of this country as the Turkish press noted, speaking about the aspiration to provide tranquility in the region, work so that undermine it, and then come for establishing order. And still Turkey cannot but consider a position of the USA on regional issues, externally here the USA and Turkey in many respects work synchronously. The USA declares the interest in conciliation of the conflicting Kurdish groups - DKP and PSK and will even organize negotiations between them by means of Turkey, undertaking a role of the intermediary.

The suspense of the Kurdish question in Turkey, as we know, is one of brakes of its accession to the European Union (EU). She is afraid of the fact that granting autonomy to Kurds in Iraq will aggravate the Kurdish nationalism in Turkey where the number of Kurds is about 15 million people and also will foment the bloody conflict in East Anatoly, like events of 80th and 90th of the 20th century. Meanwhile to the Turkish Kurds some eases in the sphere of cultural development were made. So, for example, training at the Kurdish language at elementary school, its application in media and also productions of theatrical performances and use at holding of conferences is authorized to them. However these measures are scanty in comparison with what the Iraqi Kurds achieved. At the same time Turks do not welcome a narecheniye Kurds of the newborn children the Kurdish names and oblige local authorities, for example in Diarbekir, to report about such cases. The Turkish Kurdistan, besides, remains among economically backward regions of the country. Unemployment among the Kurdish population in 10 provinces reaches 80%. Therefore concern of the Turkish ruling circles concerning the probability of sharpening of the Kurdish separatism in the Turkish Kurdistan cannot be considered groundless. Granting constitutional

the status to the Kurdish region in the north of Iraq is alarming the Turkish ruling circles in spite of the fact that the American official representatives tried to calm Ankara concerning scope of autonomy provided to Kurds within the temporary constitution [8].

The main sources of aggravation of ethnic extremism in any given country are the long periods of social and economic instability, the Kurdish problem is represented too noticeable and important geopolitical factor that many countries did not seek to exploit it, both regional, and not belonging geographically to the Middle East region. Taking into account negative sides of an internal situation in the country and also under the influence of the international legal, parliamentary and public organizations in the top echelons of the Turkish authorities and in the Turkish society in general understanding of need of recognition of Kurds as people gradually grows ripe, and

Came to edition

offers of the Kurdish autonomy find the increasing support.


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On December _14, 2009

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