Kurds in Turkey
|Regions with significant populations|
|Concentrated in Eastern and Southeastern Anatolia,
Some exclaves in Central Anatolia,
Large migrant population in Istanbul, Adana and Mersin
Predominantly Shafi'i Sunnism,
minorities of Hanafi Sunnism and Alevism
|Part of a series on
Kurdish history and culture
Kurds in Turkey (Kurdish: Kurdên li Tirkiye; Turkish: Türkiye'deki Kürtler) are the largest ethnic minority in the country. According to some estimates, they compose 15.7%-25% and by others 10%-23% of the population in Turkey. Unlike the Turkish people, the Kurds speak an Indo-European language. There are Kurds living in all provinces of Turkey, but are primarily concentrated in the east and southeast of the country, which largely resembles the region of Kurdistan.
Since the 1980s, Kurdish movements included both peaceful political activities for basic civil rights for Kurds in Turkey as well as armed rebellion and guerrilla warfare, including military attacks aimed at Turkish military bases, demanding a separate Kurdish state. According to a Turkish opinion poll, 59% of self-identified Kurds in Turkey think that Kurds in Turkey do not seek a separate state (while 71.3% of self-identified Turks think they do).
Under the Republic of Turkey
After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, which ended the caliphates and sultanate in Turkey, there have been several Kurdish rebellions since the 1920s: Koçkiri Rebellion, Sheikh Said Rebellion, Dersim Rebellion, Ararat rebellion.
In 1937–1938, approximately 50,000–70,000 Alevis and Kurds were killed and thousands went into exile. A key component of the turkification process was the policy of massive population resettlement. Referring to the main policy document in this context, the 1934 law on resettlement, a policy targeting the region of Dersim as one of its first test cases, with disastrous consequences for the local population. The Dersim massacre is often confused with the Dersim Rebellion that took place during these events.
After the 1960 coup, the State Planning Organization (Turkish: Devlet Planlama Teşkilatı, DPT) was established under the Prime Ministry to solve the problem of Kurdish separatism and underdevelopment. In 1961, the DPT prepared a report titled "The principles of the state's development plan for the east and southeast" (Turkish: Devletin Doğu ve Güneydoğu‘da uygulayacağı kalkınma programının esasları), shortened to "Eastern Report". It proposed to defuse separatism by encouraging ethnic mixing through migration (to and from the Southeast). This was not unlike the policies pursued by the Committee of Union and Progress under the Ottoman Empire. The Minister of Labor of the time, Bülent Ecevit of Kurdish ancestry, was critical of the report.
During the 1970s, the separatist movement coalesced into the Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has since been listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and a number of allied states and organizations around the world, including the United States, NATO, and the European Union. From 1984 to 1999, the Turkish military was embroiled in a conflict with the PKK. The village guard system was set up and armed by the Turkish state around 1984 to combat the PKK. The militia comprises local Kurds and it has around 58,000 members. Some of the village guards are fiercely loyal to the Turkish state, leading to infighting among Kurdish militants.
Due to the guerrilla war much of the countryside in the southeast was depopulated, with Kurdish civilians moving to local defensible centers such as Diyarbakır, Van, and Şırnak, as well as to the cities of western Turkey and even to western Europe. The causes of the depopulation included PKK atrocities against Kurdish clans they could not control, the poverty of the southeast but predominantly caused by the Turks and Turkish military and the Turkish state's military operations. An estimated 3,000 Kurdish villages in Turkey were virtually wiped from the map, representing the displacement of more than 378,000 people or, as put by the Human Rights Watch:
"Evacuations were unlawful and violent. Security forces would surround a village using helicopters, armored vehicles, troops, and village guards, and burn stored produce, agricultural equipment, crops, orchards, forests, and livestock. They set fire to houses, often giving the inhabitants no opportunity to retrieve their possessions. During the course of such operations, security forces frequently abused and humiliated villagers, stole their property and cash, and ill-treated or tortured them before herding them onto the roads and away from their former homes. The operations were marked by scores of “disappearances” and extrajudicial executions. By the mid-1990s, more than 3,000 villages had been virtually wiped from the map, and, according to official figures, 378,335 Kurdish villagers had been displaced and left homeless."
The epitome of this conflict was during the 1990s, when the National Security Council sanctioned a covert war using the special forces, village guards, mafia, and contract killers, while the PKK increasingly attacked the Turkish civil population using, among other things, suicide bombing attacks. The conflict soon wheeled out of control, resulting in the Susurluk scandal. The conflict tapered off after the capturing of the PKK's leader, Abdullah Öcalan.
In 2010, after PKK rebels killed five Turkish soldiers in a series of incidents in eastern and southeastern Turkey, several locations in Iraqi Kurdistan were attacked by the Turkish Air Force early in June 2010. The air attack was reported 4 days later in a news article released immediately after the attack. The tense condition has continued on the border since 2007, with both sides responding to each other's every offensive move.
Following Turkey's electoral board decision to bar prominent Kurdish candidates who had outstanding warrants or where part of ongoing investigations for terrorist-related crimes from standing in upcoming elections, violent Kurdish protests erupted in April 19, 2011, resulting in at least one casualty.
Between 1982 and 1991 the performance or recording of songs in the Kurdish language was banned in Turkey, affecting singers such as Şivan Perwer, Mahsun Kırmızıgül and İbrahim Tatlıses. However a black market has long existed in Turkey, and pirate radio stations and underground recordings have always been available. Although there was no ban on performing Kurdish language music, it was effectively prevented from being broadcast on radio or television through censorship.
Some of the foremost figures in Kurdish classical music of the past century from Anatolia include Mihemed 'Arif Cizrawî (1912–1986), Hesen Cizrawî, Şeroyê Biro, 'Evdalê Zeynikê, Si'îd Axayê Cizîrî and the female singers Miryem Xanê and Eyşe Şan.
Şivan Perwer is a composer, vocalist and tembûr player. He concentrates mainly on political and nationalistic music - of which he is considered the founder in Kurdish music - as well as classical and folk music.
Another important Kurdish musician from Turkey is Nizamettin Arıç (Feqiyê Teyra). He began with singing in Turkish, and made his directorial debut and also stars in Klamek ji bo Beko (A Song for Beko), one of the first films in Kurdish. Arıç rejected musical stardom at the cost of debasing his language and culture. As a result of singing in Kurdish, he was imprisoned, and then obliged to flee to Syria and eventually to Germany.
Ahmad Khani (1650–1707) was a Kurdish writer, poet, cleric, and philosopher. He was born amongst the Khani's tribe in Hakkari province in present-day Turkey. He moved to Bayezid in Ritkan province and settled there. Later he started with teaching Kurdish (Kurmanji) at basic level. Khani was fluent in Kurdish, Arabic and Persian. He wrote his Kurdish dictionary "Nûbihara Biçûkan" (The Spring of Children) in 1683 to help children with their learning process.
Since the 1970s, there has been a massive effort on the part of Kurds in Turkey to write and to create literary works in Kurdish. The amount of printed material during the last three decades has increased enormously. Many of these activities were centered in Europe particularly Sweden and Germany which have large concentrations of Kurdish immigrants. There are several Kurdish publishers in Sweden, partly supported by the Swedish government. More than two hundred Kurdish titles have appeared in the 1990s.
Yılmaz Güney was a famous film director, scenarist, novelist and actor. He directed and starred in the film Umut (1970) (Turkish for "Hope"), and his most famous movie is 1982 film Yol (Turkish for "The Road" or "The Way"), which won Palme d'Or in Cannes Film Festival in 1982.
In 2009, Kurdish singer Mahsun Kırmızıgül made a film Güneşi Gördüm (I Saw the Sun), which tells of a Kurdish family who are forced from their village in Kurdish Southeastern Anatolia Region by the conflict there. The film, which was released on 13 March 2009, was one of the highest grossing Turkish films of 2009, prompting its re-release on 18 September 2009. The film was Turkey's official submission for the 82nd Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards, but it was not nominated.
In 2011, Kanal D, Turkey's largest television station, began filming "Ayrılık Olmasaydı: ben-u sen" in majority-Kurdish Diyarbakir. The show, written by a Kurdish screenwriter, professed to be the first in the popular genre to portray the Kurds in a positive light. The show was set to debut in early 2012, but suffered numerous delays, some say because of the controversial subject.
Most Kurds live in Turkey, where their numbers are estimated at 14,000,000 people by the CIA world factbook (18% of population). A report commissioned by the National Security Council (Turkey) in 2000 puts the number at 12,600,000 people, or 15.7% of the population.  One Western source estimates that up to 25% of the Turkish population is Kurdish (approximately 18-19 million people). Kurdish nationalists put the figure at 20,000,000 to 25,000,000. All of the above figures are for the number of people who identify as Kurds, not the number who speak a Kurdish language, but include both Kurds and Zazas. Estimates based on native languages place the Kurdish population at 6% to 23%; Ibrahim Sirkeci claims the closest figure should be above 17.8%, taking into account political context and the potential biases in responses recorded in surveys and censuses. The population growth rate of Kurds in the 1970s was given as 3.27%. According to two studies (2006 and 2008) study by KONDA, people who self-identify as Kurdish or Zaza and/or speaks Kurmanji or Zazaki as a mother tongue correspond to 13.4% of the population. Based on higher birth rates among Kurdish people, and using 2000 Census results, KONDA suggested that this figure rises to 15.7% when children are included, at the end of 2007.
Today, Kurdish populations remain highest in the traditionally Kurdish-majority regions of southeastern Turkey, corresponding with Turkish Kurdistan, as well as the more developed and industrialised northwestern provinces due to significant migration in the late 1980s. There are also Kurds in the Central Anatolia Region, concentrated to the west of Lake Tuz (Haymana, Cihanbeyli, Kulu, Yunak) and also scattered in districts like Alaca, Çiçekdağı, Yerköy, Emirdağ, and Zile, as well as in significant to high numbers of the northeast, most importantly the large presence in Kars and surrounding provinces of the South Caucasus wherein many Kurdish villages scatter across the borders into Armenia and Georgia.
Since the immigration to the big cities in the west of Turkey, interethnic marriage has become more common. A recent study estimates that there are 2,708,000 marriages between Turks and Kurds/Zaza.
The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reports that (as of April 2010): "The public use by officials of the Kurdish language lays them open to prosecution, and public defence by individuals of Kurdish or minority interests also frequently leads to prosecutions under the Criminal Code." From the 1994 briefing at the International Human Rights Law Group: "the problem in Turkey is the Constitution is against the Kurds and the apartheid constitution is very similar to it."
In 1998 Leyla Zana received a jail sentence for her ties to the PKK. This prompted one member of the U.S. House of Representative, Elizabeth Furse, to accuse Turkey of being a racist state and continuing to deny the Kurds a voice in the state". Abbas Manafy from New Mexico Highlands University claims "The Kurdish deprivation of their own culture, language, and tradition is incompatible with democratic norms. It reflects an apartheid system that victimizes minorities like Armenians, Kurds, and Shii Muslems [Shiite Muslims]."
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-  UNICEF Children in the Population
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- Martin van Bruinessen, "Zaza, Alevi and Dersimi as Deliberately Embraced Ethnic Identities" in '"Aslını İnkar Eden Haramzadedir!" The Debate on the Ethnic Identity of The Kurdish Alevis', p. 14.
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- Institut Kurde de Paris
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- Congressional Record, Volume 144 Issue 141, October 9, 1998, (From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]) "Ankara's Decision to Sentence Leyla Zana a Blatany Violation of Freedom of Expression," by Hon. Elizabeth Furse of Oregon, in the house of representatives, Thursday, October 8, 1998 (...The fact that Leyla Zana has been charged with inciting racial hatred reveals that Turkey is a racist state and continues to deny the Kurds a voice in the state....) http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CREC-1998-10-09/html/CREC-1998-10-09-pt1-PgE2007-2.htm
- A. Manafy, "The Kurdish political struggles in Iran, Iraq, and Turkey: a critical analysis," University Press of America, 2005, p. 99
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