History of Turkish Occupation of Northern Kurdista


Eric jensen
Poli. Sci. (Third World Politics)
Since 1984, and especially the last few months, the domestic problems of a
major N.A.T.O, Middle Eastern, and American ally state have come to the
forefront of the international news scene. That state is the Republic of Turkey
and it’s primary troubles stem from the past seven decades of acrimonious
policies directed at the indigenous ethnic Kurds. The main problem, now, is the
Kurdish popular insurgency on it’s hands, in Turkish occupied Northern Kurdistan.

The Kurdish question has long been covered up and denied by the state of Turkey,
but recent events has forced Turkey to concede that it has a serious Kurdish
insurgency on its hands. Turkey’s inability to deal with this situation is the
result of the past seventy years of cultural, political, and human rights
abuses directed against the Kurdish population. In fact, this “separatism” is so
out of hand that the Turkish government has incessantly appealed to it’s allies
and advisories alike to help counter the escalating Kurdish asperation to
succeed from the Turkish republic. Turkey’s sputtering and deteriorating economy
is directly related to the long Kurdish struggle for independence. Turkey has
spent over eight billion dollars or twenty percent of her GDP to combat the ever
deteriorating predicament in northern Kurdistan, and should spend more in the
future(Laber). Because of the violence, the once prosperous tourist business of
Turkey, has now lost about $1.5 billion dollars annually since 1990. Many people
now talk openly of another possible military coup, there were three major
military coups during the last thirty years (Alister) These circumstances in the
state of Turkey have also hurt her chances of ever joining the ever wealthy
European Union and battering its ailing economic situation. The depth of
Turkey’s domestic and ethnic dilemma is one of the many that have arisen after
the end of the cold war, yet the cold war is a simple answer to a much more
complex one. The factors that have arisen to contribute to this civil war were
created far before Capitalism versus Communism, East versus West, or U.S versus
the Soviet Union. In order to really comprehend the holistic situation in
Turkey one must first be familiar with the complete history of the Turks and

The Kurds of Turkey constitutes, by far, the largest ethnic minority group in
Turkey. The estimate of their population, however, are very dubious because of
the past Turkish policy to deny the very existence of any minorities within the
borders of her state. In fact, past Turkish rhetoric has been that there is no
official Kurdish problem in Turkey, because officially no Kurds exist. We can
ascertain that the kurds make up between twenty-five and thirty-three percent
of the Turkey’s population. This would put the Kurdish population about twelve
to twenty million (Morris). Because of past and present forced Turkish
assimilation practices, the Kurds live in all parts of the country, but most of
the Kurdish population is concentrated in the southeastern part of Turkey. They
represent a high percentage of the population in fifteen provinces and take up a
total of thirty percent of all of Turkey (Kendal). Economically, the Kurds are
the poorest inhabitants of the country. The per capita of a Kurd is one-tenth of
a Turk living in Istanbul; well below the poverty line (McDowell). While the
rest of Turkey has modernized and adopted some capitalistic practices, the
Kurdish areas, by contrast, are underdeveloped and exploited by feudal landlords.

The wealth of the area is “drained and channeled to the Turkish metropolis
(Kendal).” Much of the region is relatively unchanged since the last seventy
years of Turkish rule or has suffered even worse economically. The thirty
million Kurds of the Middle East have lived in Kurdistan before record of modern
history was kept. The very first mention of the Kurds in history was about 3,000
BC, under the name Gutium., as they fought the Summerians(Spieser). Later around
800 BC, the Indo-European Median tribes settled in the Zagros mountain region
and coalesced with the Gutiums, and thus the modern Kurds speak from as Aryan
language (Morris). The Kurds are mentioned by Xenaphon, a Greek mercenary, as he
retreated from Persia with ten thousand men in 401 BC, he says of the Kurds,
“These people, lived in the mountains and were very war-like and not subject to
the Persian king. Indeed once a royal army of 120,000 thousand had once invaded
their country, and not a man of them came back..(Morris).” When the Arabs spread
Islam to the Middle East in the seventh century, most of the Kurds gradually
adopted the religion but fiercely resisted Arab rule, much like today in modern
day Iraq and Syria. This is evident in a legend about the prophet Mohammed;
when the prophet called all the princes of the world to embrace the new religion,
they all hurried to submit to the prophet of the new religion. When the Prophet
saw the Kurdish representative, named Zemin, with his giant size and piercing
eyes, the prophet prayed to God that such a terrifying people never unite as a
single nation (Morris). Around the tenth century the Kurds became a military
force to be reckoned with in the Middle East and defended Islam against the
invading Christian crusaders and defeated the Mongolian armies at both Cerq De
Chavalier and the fortress of Irbile. Saladine, and the majority of his troops
were Kurdish (Safrastian). The Kurds established independent principalities,
that never united, but often fought each other for the benefit of foreign powers.

During the harsh reign of Shah Ismail in Persia, most of the Kurds who were
Sunni Muslims, allied themselves with the Ottoman Sultan Selim “the Cruel” and
played the pivotal part in defeating the Persian armies at Chaldiran in 1514,
and thus most of the Kurds in Iran are still Sunni Muslims among a predominately
Shiite majority. The Kurdish principalities, at this time were free from the
central government and struck their own coinage and had Friday prayers in the
name of the local prince (Morris). At that point of Kurdish history Kurdish
culture and literature flourished. This lasted until the nineteenth century
when the Ottoman empire tried to expand its rule into the Kurdish territories.

Using the tool of divide and conquer, the Ottamans use Kurdish tribes to fight
fellow Kurds. Though, the Ottoman government gained nominal control of the
Kurdish areas, they were never able to establish direct rule(McDowell). During
World War One, many Kurds actually remained loyal to the Empire. They fought
bravely in many battles. The Kurds inflicted such heavy damages against the
Tsarist government that they almost conceded to evacuating the entire Caucus
region. Some historians also suggest, they were eighty percent of the Ottoman
casualties at the infamous battle of Galilopi (Gunter). During the war the Young
Turk government, in pursuit of a purely Turkic empire, massacred more then one
million Armenians and seven hundred thousand Kurds. After the Ottoman loss, the
Empire collapsed and was on the verge of fragmentation when a young army officer
by the name of Mustafa Kemal emerged on the scene.

Following the fatal defeat of the Ottoman empire after World War one, the
remnants of the former empire were divided up among the victorious allied powers,
even the Turkish speaking region were to come under the mandate of foreign
administration. In fact, much of Anatolia was already occupied by Greek or
Armenian forces. On August 10, 1920, Turkey and the allied powers signed the
treaty of Sevres. This treaty allowed for the creation of an independent
Kurdish and Armenian state on the remittance of the former Ottoman empire. This
treaty was to become null and void. Around the same time the Serves treaty was
being discussed, Mustafa Kemal gained power of what remained of the military and
political infrastructure in Anatolia. Kemal, starting in the Kurdish region and
proclaiming the unity of Turks and Kurds, organized resistance to the Armenian
and Georgian forces in eastern Anatolia. These forces were defeated by almost
entirely Kurdish armies, who thought they were fighting for a state where,
“Turks and Kurds would live as brothers and as equals (Kendal)” as stated by
Mustafa Kemal. However, after the defeat of the Greek armies in western Turkey,
Kemal declared to an assembly that “The state the we have just created is a
Turkish state (Kendal)” Immediately after, a strengthened Turkey renegotiated
the Treaty of Lausanne with the allies. With much more favorable terms for the
Turks, but no mention of the Kurds in the treaty. Thus the Kurds went from equal
partners to non-existent citizens in the new Turkish state. After the treaty of
Lousanne, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk proceeded to integrate the country and start a
process of Westernize the once orthodox Islamic empire. Kemal abolished the
Caliphate Arabic alphabet, and adopted the western Latin alphabet, thus
implementing some capitalistic measures in the name of a newly established
secular government. Mustafa Kemal enacted harsh laws on Islam in general. Kemal
made the Islamic call for prayer illegal and went as far as banning Islamists.

The most important of these decisions against Islam, was the outlawing all
Islamic holy houses of teaching. This was to have profound impacts on the
spreading of Islamic fundementalists within Turkey. This backfired against
Mustafa, by forcing Islam to go underground, the form of fundamentalism that
manifested in Turkey was much harsher then the ones that existed before being
banned by Kemal. Kemal trying to create a nation state , came upon a problem.

The new state of Turkey was a heterogeneous one, composed of multi-ethnical
groups, not a homogenous one of just pure ethnic Turks, as Mustafa Kemal
proclaimed. The capitalization on a new found Turkish nationalist movement
yielded a well tuned systematic campaign of obliterating the essence of the
Kurdish within the boundaries of newly formed Turkey. Kemal abolished all of the,
” Kurdish schools, associations, publications, religious fraternities, and
medressehs (McDowell).” The Kurdish nation represented such a threat to the
territorial integrity of Turkey that all people and names of places were
forcibly Turkicized by the government. This was to became referred to as ethnic
cleansing or genocide. Old archeological monuments and structure that proved the
ancient history of Kurdish people in Anatolia were systematically destroyed. The
words ‘Kurds’ and ‘Kurdistan’ were eradicated from all books and publications.

Anything that would lead to a separate identity of the Kurdish people were
eliminated in order yield the assimilation of the ethnically different Kurdish
nation. Even the Kurdish language was banned, a fact unparalleled in history! No
one in the state of Turkey was allowed to speak Kurdish, even though it was the
language of thirty percent of the people. All Kurdish students were feed
Turkish propaganda on the ethnic ancestry of the Kurdish people, they were
taught that Kurds, were a pure ‘Turkic race,’ whereas in actuality the Kurds are
ethnically Indo-Aryan, and the Turks are a mixture of Hun-Mongolian people. The
Turkish education minister proclaimed that, the Kurds had forgotten their
“Turkic” language in the fastness of the mountains of southeast Anatolia, thus
referring to them as, “Mountain Turks.(Gunter).” The racist spoon feed
propaganda of the Turkish educational institutions has reached to such a degree
of reducibility, that it is often taught in the schools of Turkey, all the great
Babylonian, Summerian, Egyptian, and Hittite civilizations had been created by
the Turks(Kendal). In order to hide the fact that the Kurds had lived in
Anatolia four thousand years before one Turk stepped in. The Turkish
intelligentsia determined the Kurds came from Central Asia five thousands years
ago. The situation deteriorated to the point where to state ” I am a Kurd ” was
a crime so serious as to warrant the death penalty under Turkey’s anti-terrorist
laws(Kendal). All past measures were not enough in the eyes of the Kemalist
government to destroy the remnants of five thousand years of Kurdish presence in
Anatolia. After these and more repressive measures were taken out, the
substantial Kurdish population began to revolt from the pressures unfairly
exerted on them by the oppressive and violence prone state of Turkey. The early
revolts were unorganized, lacked money, and poorly supplied. They lasted, on and
off, a little over thirteen years. The retribution of the Turkish army was so
extreme, they almost destroyed, looted, and burned the entire eastern portion of
the country. Whole villages were either deported to Western Turkey to be
assimilated or, if the government knew that the particular tribe or village were
not going to be assimilated that easily, they just simply massacred them. much
like the Nazi massacre of Jewish civilians(Morris). Throughout these uncivilized
methods of cruelty instituted by the Turkish governmental establishment, the
savage Turkish government managed to massacre or deport one million, five
hundred thousand Kurdish civilians (Kendal). The repression was so haneous that
the entire Eastern section of the state of Turkey was prohibited to all
foreigners and under martial law for almost thirty years, so as not to disciple
to the west. In contrast to Western Turkey, the whole of Eastern Turkey was made
into a military camp, and it has remained that way until today. The Turkish
minister of justice made the relationship of Turks and Kurds clear:
I believe that the Turk must be the only lord, the only master of this country.

Those who are not of pure Turkish stock (Kurds and Armenians) can have only one
right in this country, the right to be servants and slaves (McDowell).

After Kemal’s death, more successive and liberal minded regimes came to power.

The 1960 coup by the army attempted to Turkicize the whole of the Kurdish region.

Every single street, river, mountain, village, or city was given Turkish name to
the very last detail. What little hope the Kurdish population had in the hope
more or less disappears as the coup never really brought out fundamental change
for the Kurdish people. The rights of the Kurds were still non-existent, the
Kurdish language denied to them, and their culture still prohibited. The
successive coups of 1971 and 1980 always tended to bring Kurdish freedom and
self-expression to a halt. To justify a coup, the army would state that there
was a planned Kurdish uprising. Nevertheless, throughout the 1960s and 1970s,
Kurdish nationalism did emanate in the form of small underground publications
and newspapers, but they were always instantaneously banned and the editors
immediately apprehended and given lengthy jail terms. Throughout all the
repression, the Kurds were able to participate in political life, although under
forced Turkish identities(Gunter). Today the foreign minister of Turkey, Ardal
Inunu, is a Kurd; as well as his father the late president Ismat Inunu, former
presidents Fahrey Koruturk, and Cevdet Sunany, even the late president Turgut
Ozal claimed Kurdish heritage(Gunter). The mother of all ironies, is that two
people who made the bases of Turkish nationalism were Kurds, Ziya Gokalp and
Ismet Inunu, who were born in the Kurdish cities of Diarbekr(Kendal). The amount
of Kurdish people successfully assimilated into main stream Turkish society is
so infinitesimal that over ninety-one percent of the Kurdish population doesn’t
even speak one word of Turkish(Kendal). Reporter, who have only recently been
allowed to enter Eastern Turkey, are amazed at how, in this integral portion of
Turkey no one speaks a word of Turkish.

During the uneasy times of the 1970s many left-wing pro-Kurdish groups
manifested sporadically throughout the Turkish state. The 1980 coup put an end
to many of these organizations and political parties. After the brutal policies
of the military junta that took control of Turkey, may Kurds were put in prison
and executed for “separatism” which would mean anything from guerrilla warfare
to simply speaking Kurdish in public. During those times of extremism, even by
Turkish standards, a group of socialist-Kurdish youth began to organize and
formed a political party. Their simple selfless goal was to obtain the God given
right of self-determination for the worthy Kurdish nation, which included out-
right independence from the Turkish mainstream government. The main leader for
this independence movement was a young political science student from the
Kurdish city of Urfa, named Abdullah Ocalan or Apo (Kurdish for Uncle). This
group of organizers were Marxist-Lenninst in ideology and adamantly stated that
the Kurds and Turks were separate people and hence forth, the Turkish military
force present in Kurdistan was a belligerent action of occupation of Kurdistan.

The P.K.K (Party Kereykarey Kurdistan or Kurdistan Workers Party) also called
for the abolishment of tribalism, feudalism, and the “slave-like dependence of
women.” A great amount of the P.K.K military force were female. The P.K.K also
believed the only way to attain freedom and independence were through violence,
much like the American and French revolution of mid 1700s.

To conceive the P.K.K as completely leftist is untrue, they have adapted the
Communist theme of ideology to counter-weight the Turkish entity as a NATO state,
so it is safe to assume that the P.K.K has chosen the Marxist path by default.

Similar to the American fore-fathers choosing a republic form of government to
resist the British form of government, and France choosing a parliamentary form
of government to overshadow the history of monarchical reign of France. This
might seem to be absurd, but not when you see a “democratic” Turkey that
espouses a contradictory nationalism and places signs everywhere in Kurdistan
that says, ” Proud is He who calls oneself a TURK” or ” A TURK is worth the
whole universe(Kendal).” So accordingly, underneath all the ideology and
propaganda of the Cold War, what you essentially have is two combating

The 1980 coup mentioned earlier pretty much halted all of P.K.K’s political
activities and other similar left-wing organizations. But the P.K.K’s political
politburo immediately regrouped in Syria and Lebanon. With help from some
neighboring countries, the P.K.K was able to launch small raids into Turkey in
1984. After the attacks grew in strength and number, the Turkish government
became seriously alarmed. The P.K.K was as violent as it advertised, many times
killing Kurds collaborating with the Turkish government. This didn’t raise their
popularity with the local populous. But, one thing they did accomplish was that
no other party or group in Turkey ever did, was the recognition of a Kurdish
problem in Turkey and a recognition of a Kurdish people in Turkey (Gunter). Thus,
the Kurdish situation was brought out to the international arena for the whole
world to witness the ever dynamic predicament in Northern Kurdistan. The Kurds
went from “Mountain Turks” to a “Kurdish reality in Turkey.” The Turkish army
then extended martial law to thirteen provinces in Eastern Turkey. The Turkish
army chief of staff admitted that “condition of war…exists in southeast
The P.K.K then began to adopt a less hostile attitude towards the civilian
population, realizing they can not operate without the help of the people. While
the P.K.K ceased to attack civilians, the Turkish army’s attitude towards
Kurdish civilians took an even harsher tone. What happened in the days of
Attaturk, were being implemented once again. It was like the situation was
dorment for forty-five years, and once again it came back to live. Amnesty
intentional reported the wholesale arrest and torture of Kurds in all parts of
Turkey. The entire village of Sirnak, population 25,000, was demolished and it’s
inhabitants forced to flee(Pilger). In all the Turkish army has destroyed an
estimated 1,700 Kurdish villages and towns(Montalbano). The P.K.K has
successfully begun to infiltrate larger cities and organizing merchant strikes
and mass protest against the Turkish government. The Turkish army and secret
police reacted by covert assassinations and “death squads” that killed anyone
that was even remotely linked to the P.K.K. These death squads have even killed
journalists who have reported the Turkish atrocities in Northern Kurdistan.

Turkey has the highest death rate for journalists in the world, even exceeding
Bosnia and Tadjikistan. Many pro-Kurdish politicians and human rights activists
have been killed, causing mass protest from the Kurdish population, even the
protest control police open fire on unarmed civilian protesters, killing
hundreds of men, women, seniors, and children indiscrimenantly(Kendal). The
state sanctioned DEP (People’s Democratic Party), a legal political entity was
forcibly closed down after their top political representatives were mysteriously
assassinated, their newspaper affiliates (Ozgur Daily) bombed, and it’s
parliamentarians arrested. All of these went against the established Turkish
constitutional laws. The lifting of Parliamentary immunity is a direct violation,
but when it comes to using illegal laws against Kurdish civilians there are no

Needless to say, the brutal and genocidal acts of the Turkish government have
only fanned the flare of the Kurdish drive for independence. In some parts of
Turkey, over ninety percent of the people support the P.K.K(Marks). When the
people see the government burning their houses, farms, and family members how
can one really support the establishment? How can the people believe the
government when they have publicly broken parliamentary laws by arresting
Kurdish parliamentary members for speaking Kurdish? The people has two choices,
the foreign occupiers or their sons, brothers, daughters, sisters, or fathers.

In response to the “ethnic cleansing” and martial law, the Turkish government
has also stationed over 450,000 troops in the area, backed by US made modern
tanks, Apache helicopters, Super Cobra helicopters, F-16 fighter jets, and
50,000 elite contra-rebels in the Kurdish region. Many generals in the armed
forces have openly talked about using chemical weapons on the Kurds (Turkey used
chemical weapons on the Kurds in the 1930s, British used it in the 1920s, and
Saddam Hussien used it in 1988)(Kendal).

Turkey has went as far as raiding Iraqi Kurdistan with the air planes given to
them by the US. As recently as March 20, 1995, Turkey invaded Iraqi Kurdistan.

They said the invation was to search for and destroy the P.K.K, but in actuality
the army couldn’t fight the P.K.K. The 35,000 invading force did little more
then destroying civilian villages, killing civilian Kurds, and ruining farm
crops. UNHCR (United Nations Higher Commission for Refugees) reported that
10,000 Turkish Kurds, who escaped Turkey’s systematic burning and destroying
Kurdish villages were forcibly detained and forced to return to Turkey. The
whereabouts of the refugees are unknown; knowning the Turkish track record,
their hopes are dismal.

Abdullah Ocalan
It now appears that the P.K.K has ascertained itself as the voice of the Kurdish
people, after seventy years of unrelenting oppression. The P.K.K’s unequivical
insistence of independence is rebuffed by Ankara, who state that everyone in
Turkey is equal and there are no room for minorities in Turkey. The army, an
organization who operates independently from the political wing of Turkey, will
not even placate a hint of even a form of diminutive local autonomy for the
Kurdish people. The P.K.K is exhibiting, and for their part proving to the
Kurdish masses that their violent way is the only avenue for any form of Kurdish
independence. Since the creation of the irredentent Turkish state the Kurds have
not received anything more then a tombstone with a forced Turkish surname. The
P.K.K has given 15,000 martyrs in the span of eleven years (Marcus), the army
has massacred more then 1,500,000 in the span of sixty years , more the 1,500
villages destroyed, every form of Kurdish identity denied, and their politicians
and journalists killed by secret police. After all it is the US constitution
that has written:
” When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to
dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to
assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which
the laws of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of
mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the
separation…..whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these
ends, it is the right of the people to alter it, or to abolish it, and to
institute a new government..”
It is the very example the United States has set, that the Kurdish people
wants to declare their independence. For, the only thing different between the
Kurdish revolution and the U.S one, is only two hundred and nine years. All
oppressions are bad, all occupations are wrong, every nation has the right to
decide their own fate.

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