Citizens of Kurdish descent constitute
a significant minority of Turkey's
population, perhaps as many as 10 million
(in a population of about 76 million).
Although Turks and Kurds resemble
one another physically and both peoples
are predominantly Muslim, the Kurds
speak an Indo-European language related
to Persian, and cling tightly to family
and clan traditions.
Iran, Iraq and Syria also have significant
Kurdish minorities, especially in areas
near Turkey's eastern and southeastern borders.
During Ottoman times
and under the early Turkish
Republic, Kurdish unrest was
not uncommon. As with other minorities
in Turkish lands, some Kurds dreamed
of living in an ethnic Kurdish nation-state.
Their claims to territory in eastern
and southeastern Turkey brought them
into conflict not just with the Turkish
government, but with Armenian revolutionaries,
who also made claims to large parts
of eastern Turkey.
In one of the darkest chapters of
19th-century Ottoman history, Sultan
Abdulhamid II organized irregular
Kurdish fighters into what were known
as Hamidiye Battalions to counter
Armenian revolutionary and terrorist
activities in the east. The Hamidiye
Battalions earned a reputation for
savagery and lack of discrimination
which reverberated far beyond Turkey's
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Kurdistan
Workers' Party (PKK) led a campaign
of terror against the Turkish
government with the avowed interest
of separating much of eastern and southeastern
Turkey into a new, independent
Kurdish state. The party's
platform was based on communism,
but its operations were more akin
to those of organized crime, and
it was officially listed as a terrorist
organization by the US Department
More than 30,000 people died in
the terror and the army's response,
a terrible national tragedy for both
the Turks and the Kurds.
The late Turgut Özal (1927-1993), prime minister (1983-1989) and president of the Turkish Republic (1989-1993), told me in an interview that he had Kurdish blood.
"What's the problem?" he asked. "I have Kurdish blood, and I'm the president of the republic!"
The capture of PKK leader
Abdullah Öcalan by Turkish
commandos in Nairobi in 1999 reduced the scope of
PKK activities, but the group is still active and is apparently responsible for violent incidents in some of Turkey's eastern provinces such as Tunceli and Bingöl.
conditions, refer to the US
Embassy in Ankara's website.
—by Tom Brosnahan