What is the Kurdish question?

What is the Kurdish question? When assessing this tragic history, it is essential to see what Kurds have endured for years, not just in Turkey.
Ruwayda Mustafah Rabar
23 September 2011

I was intrigued to find that many people did not know what the Kurdish question implied. The Kurdish question is a term widely used in reference to the fact that Kurdish people do not have a homeland. Kurdistan is divided into four regions; including parts of Iran, North-eastern Syria, South-eastern Turkey and Northern Iraq where Kurds live. The Kurdish population exceeds 40 million, and the spoken language is Kurdish, which consists of different dialects, similar to the different Persian dialects.

According to Sandra Mackey in The Kurds: Culture and language rights, 20% of Turkey is Kurdish, making up approximately 23% of Kurds worldwide. Turkey has been unable to solve the Kurdish question on its own: its efforts to squelch any movement for self-determination and liberation has been evident both historically, and in their present day policies.  

Kurdish region: Wikimedia commons 

When the Kurdish liberation movement gained momentum in the 80’s, it was a new power challenging western imperialism and capitalism within Turkey, and the Middle East at large. This movement was started because of systematic discrimination against Kurds in Turkey. The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) was founded in 1978 by Abdullah Ocalan, and was later listed as a terrorist organisation by the USA and Turkey amongst other countries.

The PKK is an armed movement, born out of desperation, seeking autonomy for the Kurdish people in Turkey. The Turkish state forced Kurds to assimilate, banning the speaking and teaching of Kurdish, and forced many to exile prior to the establishment of the PKK. Despite this, many Kurds have criticised the PKK for indiscriminate attacks on Turkish civilians in the past, which has resulted in injury, and also death.

During the Ottoman Empire, the Kurds were displaced and under the leadership of the Young Turks, the Kurdish people were displaced into small groups in an attempt to eradicate Kurdish identity. 700,000 Kurds were removed as part of the'Turkification' of the Kurds. Consequently 350,000 of them gradually perished according to Journal of Genocide Research. Soon afterwards, between 1937 and 1938, an estimate of 50,000-80,000 Kurds were killed, and many others were forced into exile. It was families, including women and children, who suffered under this tyrannical rule, known as the Dersim massacre or genocide.

The eradication of Kurdish identity went as far as banning Kurdish literature and music in the 80’s throughout Turkey. When assessing this tragic history, it is essential to see what Kurds have endured for years, not just in Turkey but also in other parts of Kurdistan. In Iraq, Kurds faced systematic discrimination at the hands of the Ba’ath regime, and genocide was carried out in Halabja through poisonous gas attack by the Iraqi Government. Up to 15,000 Kurds were killed or injured in 1988.

In Iran, Kurdish political activists are often imprisoned, or sentenced to death simply because of their political outlook. Similarly in Syria, Kurds were not allowed to have Syrian citizenship until the Syrian revolutionary movement was started 5 months ago. Despite making up 10% of the Syrian population, Kurds were not given nationality until President Bashar tried to make some flimsy reforms. Kurds in Syria have faced systematic discrimination for decades, including the Al-Qamishli massacre of 2004 that was never given sufficient media coverage.

Unfortunately, little is known about Kurdish history and the suffering they have faced for decades. It is largely due to lack of information about the Kurdish people that their struggle remains unresolved, and also because the demographics of Kurdistan ensure that any political movement for liberation and self-determination is bound to affect so many countries.

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