Traveling from western Turkey to its eastern provinces is like going to an entirely different country—more primitive, poorer, with starker social contradictions. Many peasants there still live in semi-feudal bondage, tribal loyalties are strong, and traditional concepts of honor find expression in violent conflicts. Many people there speak Kurdish rather than Turkish. According to many Turkish politicians or academics, this linguistic peculiarity is yet another indication of the area’s backwardness. In the official Turkish view, the Kurds are of Turkish origin, but they have culturally and linguistically degenerated and now speak a gibberish comprised of Persian, Arabic and Turkish and incapable of expressing sophisticated thought. Teaching these “primitive” and “backward” people the Turkish language would be a first step in uplifting them to a more human level. Throughout its existence, the Republic of Turkey has considered this civilizing mission one of its primary duties, all the more pressing as many of the Kurds resisted being “civilized.” To the average Turkish patriot, all Kurdish attempts to hold on to their own language and traditions are inherently reactionary. The same is true, a fortiori, of Kurdish rebellions with a nationalist aspect. The fact that such rebellions were often led by “obscurantist” religious or tribal leaders conveniently corroborated this view.

Kurdish nationalists also see a causal connection between the underdevelopment of the eastern provinces and the fact that they are largely inhabited by Kurds. They regard this underdevelopment as the result, at least in part, of purposeful Turkish government policy which expressly impeded the development of the eastern provinces out of fear that economic and educational progress might rekindle the Kurds’ nationalist demands. There is some evidence that governments up to 1945 adhered to such a policy, but this was no longer the case after the Menderes period. Beginning in the 1950s, and especially during the 1970s, many roads were built, hydroelectric dams constructed and schools established. There have been noticeable improvements, although the area remains much more underdeveloped than the western part of the country. The eastern provinces also became more integrated in the Turkish economy, but in a way later qualified as “colonial” by most Kurdish intellectuals. Improved educational opportunities, the gradual integration of the region into the Turkish economy and the resulting labor migration from east to west led to the rapid emergence, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, of a broadly based Kurdish national movement. The military perceived this movement as a major threat to Turkey’s national security, and immediately after the 1980 coup initiated a concerted effort to wipe it out completely.

Turkey’s military and bureaucratic elites have always been extremely wary of all forms of expression of Kurdish national sentiment. They have invariably reacted with repressive measures more severe than those directed against any other perceived threat to state security, including communism. The Turkish elite has an obsession with territorial integrity and national unity that seems to be rooted in the trauma of the gradual dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Fears that the Armenians would prove to be a fifth column in an armed conflict with Russia led to their deportation and the massacre of hundreds of thousands of them in 1915. Similarly, the Kurds have been suspected of disloyalty and collusion with foreign powers: with the British and French in the 1920s and 1930s, when these were still considered enemies, and later with the Russians. The present military leadership proclaims to believe that the Kurdish movement in Turkey was masterminded by the Soviet Union, and they have spared no effort to destroy it. The strategic location of Kurdistan, close to the Soviet border and the oil wells of northern Iraq, and only a few hours’ flying time from the Gulf, added to the military’s concern with potential separatism.

The strong reaction which Turkey’s governing class shows towards even moderate forms of Kurdish ethnic awareness is not born of strategic considerations or fear of foreign subversion alone. The ideology of national unity has come to replace religion as the chief legitimation of state power in Turkey. This national unity was forged by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and Turkish official historians have provided it with a “scientific” base by “proving,” among other things, that the Kurds are really Turks. [1] Challenges of this idea—such as, for instance, the claim that the Kurds constitute a separate nation—provoke a reaction similar to the desecration of the flag or Atatürk’s statue.

The Kurds and the First Republic

During the first years of the Republic, there were several serious Kurdish rebellions led by religious and tribal authorities and a few nationalist intellectuals. By the late 1930s, the eastern provinces were pacified. Every Kurdish village of some size was closely controlled by a Turkish police post. The Kurdish language, Kurdish dress, Kurdish folklore, Kurdish names—all had been forbidden. Many Kurds were exiled to other parts of the country, while Turkish immigrants from the Balkans were settled in Kurdistan. The government policy of forced assimilation seemed to bear fruit. In the towns, everyone spoke Turkish, and Kurdish nationalist sentiment seemed to disappear altogether.

The Menderes years (1950-1960) brought a certain measure of liberalization and relaxation of the policy of forced assimilation. Most of the village police posts were abolished. The government tried to keep the area under control by coopting Kurdish tribal and religious leaders and landlords. Through the party system, these local authorities allied themselves with political forces in the capital. They controlled large numbers of local votes, in exchange for which they received spoils to distribute among their followers. Thus the positions of these traditional leaders were reinforced, both vis-à-vis the central government and vis-a-vis the local population. After the military coup of 1960, the now-deposed Prime Minister Adnan Menderes claimed that a number of these Kurdish authorities, not content with their increased powers, had been plotting to achieve full independence for the Kurdish provinces. [2] This charge was probably much exaggerated, but it is certain that among the younger and better educated members of aristocratic Kurdish families there was much resentment of the Kemalist policies, especially assimilation, and an indistinct but powerful nationalist sentiment. This feeling had been strengthened and stimulated by the coup d’etat of ‘Abd al-Karim Qasim in Iraq in 1958, when Mullah Mustafa Barzani was invited back to Iraq and there was much talk of cultural rights and autonomy for the Kurds there. Although the military officers who deposed Menderes and took power themselves in 1960 made some efforts to revive the assimilation policies of the pre-1950 period, the constitution they promulgated in 1961 granted much wider civil liberties than had previously existed in Turkey. There was more press freedom, and it became possible to establish less docile trade unions and political associations. A few journals appeared devoted entirely to the history, folklore and economic problems of Kurdistan (still euphemistically called “the east”). [3] These publications were invariably banned upon appearance, but this did not prevent other journals and books from being published, including such great classics of Kurdish literature and history as Mem u Zin and the Sharafnama. [4]

The Turkish left, which emerged in those same years and organized itself in the Worker’s Party of Turkey (WPT), took some interest in the Kurdish problem. Discussions on the causes of the underdevelopment of eastern Turkey and its remedies filled political and academic journals. At first, these left forces followed the Kemalist tendency to see the problem purely in terms of regional inequalities. Gradually, the Kurdish members of the WPT succeeded in getting the view accepted that the problem also had an aspect of national, or at least ethnic, inequality and cultural oppression. In 1970, the party congress passed a resolution calling the Kurds a separate nation and denouncing the national oppression to which they were subjected. [5] These discussions remained restricted to a relatively limited circle of students and intellectuals. In the late 1960s, some of these Kurdish intellectuals made a first successful attempt to reach a wider public by organizing mass rallies in the major cities of eastern Turkey. The word “Kurd” was not even uttered at these meetings, but there were very vocal protests against the regional inequalities of which people had, because of better communications, become more aware. Participation in the meetings was very broad: Besides the local Kurdish intellectuals and professionals, there were also tribal leaders and landlords, many urban craftsmen, and workers and peasants. Sometimes entire local branches of the Kemalist Republican People’s Party actively joined these rallies, until party leader Ismet Inönü forbade them to. [6]

Growth of a Kurdish Movement

In 1969, Kurdish intellectuals in Ankara established the first legal Kurdish organization, the Revolutionary Cultural Society of the East (DDKO is its Turkish acronym). Similar societies were soon formed in several other cities. “The East” meant “Kurdistan,” as everyone knew, but in order to maintain legality no open reference to Kurdistan or Kurds could be made. In their monthly bulletin, the DDKO wrote mainly about the economic problems of eastern Turkey, the oppression of Kurdish villagers by (Kurdish) landlords and tribal leaders, and the brutal and violent behavior of Turkish army units in Kurdish villages. [7]

The DDKO and the Kurds active in the WPT (between whom there was some overlap) represented what might be called the left wing of the emerging Kurdish movement. A more exclusively nationalist wing, strongly under Barzani’s influence, established in 1964 as a sister to the clandestine Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK) in Iraq. Barzani had fallen out with Qasim in 1961, and in the 1960s his armed rebellion against successive governments steadily expanded his effective control of northern Iraq. Barzani’s successes did much to stimulate the aspirations of the Kurds in Turkey. The conservative DPK found its supporters mainly among the traditional Kurdish elite. It saw autonomy or even independence for the Kurds of Turkey as its aim, while the left wing of the Kurdish movement so far only spoke of cultural rights and social and economic equality. Towards the end of the 1960s, the DPK split: the young and ambitious Şivan established his own, more radical DPK, with a left populist program. He withdrew with some followers to Iraq and began to make plans for an armed insurrection in Turkish Kurdistan. This cannot have pleased Barzani, who did not wish to antagonize the Turkish and Persian governments. After the Turkish military intervention of 1971, the leaders of the rival DPK, Sait Elfi and his friends, also fled to Iraq. Under circumstances that remain obscure, both Elfi and Şivan were killed, which put an end to the activities of both DPKs for some time. (It seems that Elgi was killed by Şivan, and the latter then condemned to death and executed by Barzani. Among the Kurdish organizations, different canonized accounts exist of what really happened, most of them involving provocations by the Turkish intelligence service, MIT.)

The March 1971 military intervention meant a rupture in the Kurdish movement in several other respects. The Workers’ Party of Turkey and the DDKO were banned, and most active members imprisoned. The military raided the Kurdish villages to intimidate the population. Two and a half years later, when parliamentary democracy was restored and a Kurdish movement slowly began to reorganize itself, it was a different movement, more radical in its national demands and at the same time broader in its social base. Like the Turkish left, however, it soon split into many rival groups.

At the risk of being too schematic, we can identify some factors that contributed to the growth and radicalization of the Kurdish movement through the 1970s. The most crucial factor may have been the migration from the Kurdish provinces to the cities of western Turkey. This reached enormous proportions in the 1960s and continued unabated during the 1970s. Such large numbers of migrants could no longer be gradually urbanized and assimilated as earlier generations had been. Rather, they lived together in their own closed communities, to some extent maintaining their traditional lifestyle. They were more aware than they had been before of the great gap in development and ways of life between western and eastern Turkey. Occasional discrimination strengthened their awareness of being different. The new generation, as university or secondary school students, engaged in the political discussions on imperialism, underdevelopment, class struggle and the national problem, discussions that had rapidly spread outside narrow intellectual circles. This younger generation of migrants was the main motor of the Kurdish movement in the 1970s. Most of the Kurdish organizations were first established in Ankara and Istanbul, and from there spread to Kurdistan. Urban-educated teachers and students returning to their villages brought the new political ideas, in simplified form, to the countryside and attempted to mobilize the peasants.

This was only possible in the relatively liberal political climate of the years 1974-1978, a consequence not of the governments’ benevolence but of their weakness. In fact, both the constitution and the penal code had been amended in 1971 to make a sharper prosecution of Kurdish activities possible. The state apparatus, including the police and the judiciary, had become politicized and was ridden with partisan rivalries. Each of the coalition governments of the period had such a narrow margin of parliamentary support that it could not afford to antagonize even small sectors of the electorate. There was therefore no consistently strong repression of Kurdish activities until the 1979 proclamation of martial law in the Kurdish provinces.

Another important factor in this politicization was the Kurdish disappointment with Bülent Ecevit. Before the 1973 elections, Ecevit had toured the eastern provinces and promised that he would, as a prime minister, take special care of the problems of the east. Few of his promises, however, materialized, and a few years later Ecevit clashed openly with Kurdish supporters who had dared to raise moderately nationalist slogans. Kurdish suspicions that they could expect little from Turkish politicians if even Ecevit left them in the lurch drew many people to the Kurdish nationalist organizations proclaiming that Kurds should take what the Turks refused to give. In the 1977 elections, an unprecedented number of independents stood as candidates for the Kurdish provinces. Some had broken loose from Ecevit’s RPP, while others were known to be close to Kurdish nationalist organizations.

The Kurdish left experienced a similar disappointment with the Turkish left-wing parties and organizations. Most of these did recognize that the Kurds were subjected to cultural oppression, and that the eastern provinces were underprivileged and economically exploited. Their automatic solution, though, was the socialist revolution that would occur under the leadership of the (Turkish) proletariat. Many Turkish leftists considered Kurdish national demands, in the present situation, untimely or even reactionary. The entire left accepted the Leninist doctrine of a nation’s right to self-determination. They resolved this inconsistency by refusing to consider the Kurds as a nation, or by adding the rider that this right could only be exercised under the leadership of the proletariat. [8] As a result, many Kurds left the Turkish parties and organizations of which they were members and joined the separate Kurdish organizations that mushroomed after 1975.

The Kurdish movement did not turn away from the left: Almost all Kurdish organizations claimed to be Marxist-Leninist, however little the rank and file knew about socialist theory. All considered the Kurds a nation apart and demanded the right of self-determination, although this did not mean for all the establishment of a separate state. One by one, they all also adopted the thesis that Kurdistan is a colony of the Turkish ruling classes. They began to look for inspiration to the liberation movements elsewhere in the world, such as southern Africa and Vietnam. Most of the Kurdish organizations claimed to see the struggle against class oppression inside Kurdistan as equally important, although they frequently accused each other of failing to address this issue. Some made a connection between the national and the class struggle: The chief exploiters—landlords and tribal or religious leaders—were often allied, through the various political parties, with the central state. The left organizations therefore labeled them “collaborators,” and proclaimed that breaking their power was one primary aim in the “anti-feudal and anti-colonial struggle.” One organization, thinking that the time was ripe for the armed phase in this struggle, actually opened the offensive in 1979 against some particularly powerful and oppressive chieftains. This precipitated a minor civil war between supporters and opponents of these chieftains, with government forces taking the latter side.

The Major Kurdish Organizations

In 1974-1975, the old DDKO were revived under the name of Revolutionary-Democratic Cultural Associations (DDKD), first in Ankara and then in other cities and towns. An attempt to bring all Kurdish progressives together in these DDKD failed: political differences and personal rivalries caused the major branches to split. Some branches continued independently; others came under the control of one or another of the political movements that gradually took shape. Each of these established its own clubs and associations. The first political current to surface is usually known by its monthly journal Özgürlük Yolu (The Road to Freedom) which appeared from mid-1975 until its ban early in 1979. Its leading members had been active in the Workers Party of Turkey in the 1960s, and they continued to represent the same brand of socialism and moderate Kurdish national and cultural demands that had then been characteristic of the WPT. The Özgürlük Yolu group considered an alliance of the Kurdish oppressed classes with the revolutionary Turkish working class the proper strategy to end class and national oppression. It was a typically urban organization of workers and intellectuals, numerically small but with some influence in trade unions and the teachers’ union.

Another group grew up around the publishing house Komal and the journal Rizgari (Liberation). It had less confidence in the Turkish left. Unlike the Özgürlük Yolu group, this group spoke out against supporting the Republican People’s Party in the critical 1977 elections. The Kurds, it said, had nothing good to expect from Kemalists; as a colonized people, they should be more concerned with their own liberation than with the political problems of the colonizing nation. This liberation would be achieved through a socialist revolution under the leadership of the Kurdish proletariat. Problems in the identification of a proletariat in Kurdistan, disagreements on the attitude towards the Soviet Union, and other ideological and personal conflicts led to a split in 1979. Ala Rizgari (Flag of Liberation) took a more critical attitude toward the Soviet Union and otherwise had less rigid political ideas than the group that continued under the old name. The only really anti-Soviet Kurdish organization was the Maoist Kawa, which never gained much following outside some student circles. It was formally established in 1976 and split two years later over disagreements about China’s Three Worlds theory.

Large segments of the nationalist wing of the Kurdish movement were also attracted to left ideologies during the 1970s. Şivan’s KDP dissipated after his death, but a group of his sympathizers gained control of some of the largest DDKD branches. They went on calling themselves Revolutionary Democrats, and used the name DDKD for the new local associations that they opened. The Revolutionary Democrat movement soon became the largest of the Kurdish organizations; by 1978 it claimed to have no fewer than 40 branches, with some 50,000 members. It called itself Marxist and sought cooperation with the (pro-Soviet) Communist Party of Turkey. In its publications, it directed itself mainly to intellectuals and youth, while its membership included people from all walks of life, even “feudal” elements. On many important issues it never had a clear standpoint.

The remnants of Elfi’s KDP continued for some time to exist as little more than an extension of the Iraqi KDP, and it almost dissolved after the collapse of Barzani’s movement in 1975. A year or two later, a group of younger and more militant members, calling themselves KUK (National Liberation of Kurdistan), gained a controlling majority in the central committee. They sent the party on a course of active support for the “Provisional Leadership” of the Iraqi KDP (led by Barzani’s sons), which from Iran and Turkey had resumed guerrilla warfare in northern Iraq. Both the “Provisional Leadership” and the KUK claimed to have become Marxist-Leninist, and the KUK later broke entirely with the remnants of the old, “feudal” KDP.

The most radical of the Kurdish movements is the PKK (Workers’ Party of Kurdistan), better known by the nickname Apocus (after Apo, the short form of their leader Abdullah Ocalan’s name). This small group emerged in Ankara in 1974 from a Dev Genç branch and left the capital for revolutionary agitation in Kurdistan. In 1979 it transformed itself into a party (the PKK) and proclaimed the armed struggle against feudalism and colonialism. The party’s program was a curious brand of Marxism-Leninism and ultranationalism, with the ultimate aim of establishing an independent, united Kurdistan (i.e., including the parts presently in Iran, Iraq and Syria). Armed struggle, they claimed, was the only way to achieve this. Kurdish “collaborators” were to be attacked as much as the “colonizers,” and in practice, rival Kurdish organizations came under attack. In the districts the party claimed as “liberated areas,” feudal and tribal lords had lost their power and some of the villagers looked upon the PKK as their liberators. But the party lost much sympathy as a result of its own brutal and violent behavior. Most of its members and sympathizers were very young, poorly educated and of humble backgrounds. In its composition the PKK was, no doubt, the most proletarian (lumpenproletarian according to its detractors) among the Kurdish organizations. [9]

Most of these organizations were pro-Soviet, or at least embraced brands of socialism they associated with the Soviet Union. Since Turkey was a NATO country and Kurdistan had special strategic value for the West, no Western power seemed likely to help the Kurds in their struggle for more rights, while possibly the Soviet Union might. Özgürlük Yolu, the DDKD and Rizgari competed with each other, and with the Communist Party of Turkey, for recognition by Moscow as the party representing Kurdish communists. None of the groups received such recognition, although there are indications that the PKK received indirectly—through Palestinian connections—material aid from the Soviet Union. The CPT called on all Kurdish communists to leave the Kurdish organizations which, it said, were all feudal-dominated. As a reaction, three of the pro-Soviet groups established a common action platform, known as the National Union of Forces, early in 1980, but this soon fell apart.

Cultural Rights and Repression

Although all of the Kurdish organizations saw national self-determination as an ultimate goal, their activities were primarily directed towards the achievement of cultural rights. Their journals devoted some attention to the Kurdish language, literature and culture, in addition to the purely political articles. They published Kurdish grammars and dictionaries (and circulated them clandestinely, since they were immediately outlawed). They gave Kurdish literacy courses, since very few Kurds could read and write their own language. The journals began to use more and more Kurdish alongside Turkish. In 1979, there even appeared a journal entirely devoted to Kurdish literature, Tirej. Each group organized its cultural evenings, with Kurdish music and songs (besides the required political speeches); troupes toured the villages with Kurdish-language political theater. While all this had to be done clandestinely, there were many attempts to get such activities legalized and to promulgate the use of Kurdish in primary education. Turkey’s progressive teachers’ union, Tob-Der, in which the Kurdish left was strongly represented, resolved at its 1978 congress that the first years of education should be in the child’s native language. [10] These attempts failed to produce any softening of the ban on Kurdish language and culture.

The seeming tolerance of the mid-1970s came to an end with the proclamation of martial law in 1979. Since the military takeover of 1970 the ban on Kurdish language has been implemented more strictly than ever. The present military leaders of Turkey have left no doubts as to their position: the entire Kurdish movement must be eliminated; everything conducive to Kurdish ethnic awareness must be destroyed. In all areas where Kurdish nationalists have been active, military operations were carried out and the villages were raided. The army and police acted with unprecedented brutality in order to intimidate the population. The government arrested tens of thousands of people, and interrogated them, often under severe torture. Persons suspected of contacts with Kurdish organizations were detained practically indefinitely. Most of the leading members of the Kurdish organizations apparently have been arrested, along with the vast majority of the rank and file. Their treatment in prison and in the courtroom is much harsher still than that of Turkish left activists. The members of the violent PKK have been treated with special cruelty. In mass trials directed at this party, the state has demanded over 600 death sentences. About ten of them have died (or been killed) in prison, while many others seem to be close to death. [11]

Together with the suppression of Kurdish activists, the policy of assimilation received new impetus. A general campaign to improve literacy in Turkish, and intensive Turkish-language courses were introduced in primary schools. Provincial commanders had their own programs to stamp out the use of Kurdish, at least in the towns. Traditional Kurdish clothes, which had reappeared in the 1970s, have been banned again.

The militarization of eastern and southeastern Turkey has accelerated since the coup. Additional troops sent to the east seem there to stay. The transfer of the Second Army’s headquarters from Konya to Malatya will be completed in 1983. Two of Turkey’s four armies will then be based in the east, so that the area will remain under close military supervision. [12] The major reason for this militarization is probably the increased strategic importance of eastern Turkey since the changes of regime in Afghanistan and Iran. There have long been several NATO and US military installations in the area, chiefly for electronic surveillance, and the US wants to establish new bases there. Press reports on the establishment of a headquarters for the Rapid Deployment Force at Van, or three new US airfields in eastern Turkey, have been routinely but not convincingly denied in Ankara. [13] This militarization will make it difficult for the Kurdish movement of the 1970s to reorganize on a significant scale. At the same time, Western strategic interest in the area will safeguard the generals from serious criticism of their treatment of the Kurds. The organized Kurdish movement appears to have been defeated for the time being, but it will take a long time for the increased ethnic and national awareness that it stimulated and represented to die out.


[1] The official Turkish views on history have been expounded in the works of the Turkish Historical Society, established by Atatürk in 1930 with the express aim of writing history according to Turkish nationalist needs. See Bernard Lewis, “History Writing and National Revival in Turkey,” Middle Eastern Affairs 4 (1953). The reemergence of Kurdish nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s was answered by a large number of “scholarly” publications claiming to prove that all Kurdish tribes have Turkish origins. The first academic who openly challenged this official view of history was the (Turkish) sociologist Ismail Besikçi, in his book The Turkish Thesis on History and the Kurdish Problem (in Turkish, Ankara 1977). For this publication, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. Since the 1980 coup, the semi-official Turkish Cultural Research Institute has reissued no fewer than six books purporting to demonstrate the Kurds’ Turkishness.
[2] Thus an article in the Kemalist daily Cumhuriyet of May 31, 1960 (four days after the coup). The following day 485 influential Kurds were arrested and kept detained in a camp for several months. Fifty-five of the most influential of them—all but one being members of Menderes’ Democratic Party—were exiled to western Turkey for two years. This experience seems rather to have kindled their nationalism than stifled it: several of them later played some part in the Democratic Party of Kurdistan. See also Ismail Beşikçi, Dogu Anadolu’nun düzeni, second ed. (Istanbul, 1970), pp. 328-339.
[3] The first of these journals, Ileri Yurt, had already appeared in 1958. It was followed by Dicle Firat (1962), Dicle Kaynagi (1962), Deng (1963), Roja Newe (1963), Denge Taze (1966) and Yeni Akiş (1966). They were all in Turkish, and expressed themselves in careful terms.
[4] A seventeenth-century epic poem, by Ahmedi Khani, and a sixteenth-century chronical of the Kurdish emirates, respectively. Both were translated into Turkish by Mehmed Emin Bozarslan.
[5] Text of the resolution in I. Ch. Vanly, Survey of the National Question of Turkish Kurdistan, published by the Kurdish workers’ organization Hevra in 1971, pp. 51-52. After the military intervention of 1971 the WPT was banned because of this resolution.
[6] Metin Toker, Solda ve sagda vurusanlar (Ankara, 1971), p. 71. Report on the meetings and the nature of the speeches in Ismail Beşikci, Dogu Anadolu’nun düzeni, pp. 438-450.
[7] The DDKO’s bulletins of 1970-1971 have been integrally reprinted in Devrimci Dogu Kültür Ocaklari dava dosyasi (files of the DDKO trial), Ankara 1975, pp. 479-581.
[8] This is my crude summary. The various left parties took different positions at different times and rarely stated them so bluntly or simplistically as I do here. The only one among the major left organizations and parties that did recognize the Kurds as a nation and was willing to grant them unconditionally the right to self-determination was Kurtuluş, the most intellectual of the various groups that emerged from the original youth and student movement Dev Genç. Since the 1980 coup, much has changed. In their foreign exile, all the Turkish left movements have made many concessions to the Kurds, and almost all now agree that Kurdistan is a Turkish colony and that the Kurdish movement is an important revolutionary force.
[9] This survey of the Kurdish organizations is based on interviews with members of most organizations and a reading of their journals. Two other such surveys, more detailed at some points, deserve mention: a series of articles in the Turkish daily Aydinlik, June 18-July 18, 1979, and Chris Kutschera, “La poudriere kurde,” Le Monde Diplomatique, September 1980.
[10] The military prosecutor gave this as the main reason (or one of the main reasons) why Tob-Der was banned immediately after the September 1980 coup. Earlier, a small left-wing party, the TEP, which had adopted the principle of education in the native language in its program, was banned for that reason. See M. Simon, “The Trial of the Türkiye Emekci Partisi (Turkish Workers’ Party) Before the Constitutional Court of Turkey,” The Review (International Commission of Jurists) 24 (June 1980).
[11] The most shocking reports about the treatment of Kurdish prisoners are by two Kurdish lawyers, S. Kaya and Hüseyin Yildirim, who themselves spent over half a year each in prison, apparently because they defended PKK members. The two later escaped to Europe. According to both, the authorities are slowly killing the prisoners (Kaya in Der Spiegel, July 12, 1982, and in his book Diyarbakir’da iskence (n.p., 1982); Yildirim in many press interviews early in 1983).
[12] Gen. Kenan Evren, in a speech in Malatya in October 1981, noticed that certain “traitors” claimed that the Second Army was moved to the east in order to oppress the population there. “Whose land is this,” he asked rhetorically, “that we should feel the need to oppress the people of the region? Is this soil here not part of Turkey? Aren’t we all real Turkish citizens?” Orgeneral Kenan Evren in soylev ve demecleri, Ankara 1982, p. 49. Many local people must have felt that this was hardly a denial of the “traitors’” claims.
[13] New Statesman, May 14, 1982 (on the Rapid Deployment Force base at Van); Cumhuriyet, October 7, 1982 (on the necessity of a base in eastern Turkey against possible Soviet invasion in Iran); Jack Anderson in the Washington Post, October 24, 1982 (on three new US air bases in eastern Turkey in exchange for more military aid). The airport of Van has recently been modernized, and at some places in Kurdistan roads have been widened to the extent that military airpraft can land on them.

How to cite this article:

Martin Van Bruinessen "The Kurds in Turkey," Middle East Report 121 (January/February 1984).

For 50 years, MERIP has published critical analysis of Middle Eastern politics, history, and social justice not available in other publications. Our articles have debunked pernicious myths, exposed the human costs of war and conflict, and highlighted the suppression of basic human rights. After many years behind a paywall, our content is now open-access and free to anyone, anywhere in the world. Your donation ensures that MERIP can continue to remain an invaluable resource for everyone.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This