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The Kurdish Issue has been the one of the worst issues of Turkey since Turkey was formed in 1923. This issue might cause Turkey to become an authoritarian and closed state, or it might lead Turkey to open to the world and democratize. Turkey had very restrictive policy about Kurdish issue until at the beginning of 2000s and that is why there was censorship towards publications, which were out of the official ideology of Turkey. Turkish people learned how Kurdish people suffered and what Turkey did in Eastern Turkey after democratic reforms in recent years and that is why Turkey used to try to solve this problem without knowing what the problem is for many years- before reformulations in 2000s. This paper revealed the historical roots of Kurdish issue and misguided policies of Turkey, hence new solutions will be more functional and it will make the Kurdish issue easy to understand. This issue is divided into five eras, which are “tacit commitment” between 1918 and 1925, “denial and assimilation” between 1925-1950, “waiting” between 1950-1970, “awareness” between 1970-1980 and finally the “new era” after 1980. These eras revealed the causes of misguided policies and explained how this problem surfaced and raised. The title of Treaty of Lausanne showed how this problem began. Additionally, this paper is based on literature review.

Treaty of Lausanne

The treaty of Lausanne that is signed in Lausanne on 24 July 1923 was a peace agreement between Turkey and the Allies of World War I. (The Treaties of Peace, 1924) Because it is the founder agreement of Turkey in particular, it has many points that have huge effects on policies of Turkey and its environment-Balkans and the Middle East. This essay saw the Treaty of Lausanne as beginning or the major reason of the Kurdish issue given that at 2 points, the Treaty of Lausanne caused Kurdish issue. First, By the Treaty of Lausanne, Kurdish territory is divided into 3 parts- Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Secondly and more importantly, while Armenians, Greeks and Jews were accepted as minority and given the minority rights- even they can use their language as education language-, Kurdish people were not accepted as a minority within Turkey.

When considering Ottoman social structure, it can be seen easily that Ottoman Empire accepted two kinds of citizenship-Muslims and Non-Muslims. Officially and practically, this fact was accepted by the society at large. It didn’t matter whether you were Bosnian, Turkish or Arabic Muslim and vice versa. In other words, there were two ethnic groups in Ottoman Empire based on Religion. Furthermore, Turkish people barely realized their Turkishness at the beginning of 20th century because of the states, which gained their independence from Ottoman Empire, such as Greece, and nationalist ideas.

As it is seen above, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed under these conditions. For instance, Turkey and Greece had population exchange agreement in the treaty and according to this agreement; Turkish community is recognized as Muslims so that approximately, 400.000 Turkish Christians were sent to Greece and many Greek Muslim came to Turkey(Pavlowitch, 1999, p.36). Psychologically, Turkish side and Allies saw Muslims in Turkey as a union; therefore, Kurdish people were not accepted as a minority but Turkish side called them “founder element”, which did not give them any extra rights. Additionally, Turkish constitution admits that international agreements stay one step ahead of the constitution, which means when the constitution and an international agreement contradict; the state has to obey the rules of international agreement. Therefore, when Kurdish communities asked for becoming minority, Turkey used the Treaty of Lausanne as an excuse.

Tacit Agreement Between Turks and Kurds

While Anatolia were struggling for its life after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire between 1918 and 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who is the founder of Turkey gathered Turkish forces and got support from the Kurdish people. Thus Turkey succeed in its liberty war against occupant forces-Allies. There was only tacit agreement between Turkish and Kurdish people and this agreement helped people of Turkey to form Turkey, but things began to change after the liberty war. Kurdish people had some expectations from the Turkish government, such as autonomy – Kurdish people had already a kind of unofficial autonomy in Ottoman Era- or more attendance in governance. Leaders of Kurdish community thought at least they deserved something more than Ottoman era because they did very huge things together with Turkish army(Yayman, 2011). However, Turkish politicians decided to form a national and secular state and this new state was to exclude Kurdish people as well as other minorities in Anatolia. However, non-Muslim minorities were not affected from these new policies because their minority status was recognized by the Treat of Lausanne.

First, the caliphate-used to assemble Turkish and Kurdish people together and very huge effect to keep Muslims together- was repealed on 3 March 1924 so that it can be said at this point that spiritual union officially ruptured by the abolishment of the caliphate. Second, land reform was legislated so that Kurdish landed gentries reacted to the government. Therefore, rebellions started in the Eastern Turkey but the Turkish army repressed the uprising very strongly. Many people were executed by blaming from treason. The leaders of Turkey saw everything that criticized as the enemy of secularism and national state because it was very hard to change social structure and bring the secularism to the state which was the leader of Islam once upon a time. These movements made both Turkish governors and Kurdish community realize that there were really big problems between them. It made them very extremist and afraid of each other that many Kurdish innocent people died in military actions and Turkish governors saw Kurdish people were big problem for the future of newborn Turkey.

Sark Islahat Planı (The Plan of Restructuring East) and Assimilation

After military actions, Turkish government wanted to understand problems in the Eastern Turkey so that they charged reporters to see the East Turkey and write reports about this area. However, most of them were too nationalist and affected from Nazi ideology. Their reports caused wrong decisions that Turkish government made as you will see below. Şark Islahat Planı (The Plan of Restructuring East) was prepared in 1925 because of these reports and its effects haven’t removed from Kurdish peoples mind. Some articles of the plan are as follows.

• People who speak Kurdish in public or official places will be punished.

• Foreign people who would like to visit this area need permission from government.

• There will be only Turkish officers in this area.

• Magnificent government offices will be built in this area.

• Turkish people who came from Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Caucasus and Azerbaijan will be settled in this area and Kurdish people will be forced to move West Turkey. (Ümit, 2008)

The outcomes of this plan surfaced soon enough. Kurdish community, which was remained under pressure, rebelled many times and many people died in these armed conflicts just in Dersim operation, 13000 Kurdish, 200 Turkish soldiers died. Turkish army which used warcrafts and more heavy weapons brought them under control and increased its control in the area, whereas Kurdish people relapsed into silence. As it is seen above, Turkey saw Kurdish people as a danger to secularism and national state because after Turkey accepted secularism and Turkishness as the major identity of this new state, Kurdish people reacted to changes. Moreover, Kurdish people are majority in Eastern Turkey- %20 of the all population- that is why they had to be assimilated to secure the future of Turkey. It can be seen easily by looking at the articles of The Plan of Restructuring East that Turkey wanted to assimilate them.

Waiting and Awareness

This essay called era between 1950 and 1970 as “waiting” because in this era, Kurdish community fell into silence, and the PKK surfaced at the end of this era. There are some political developments, which affected the balance of this issue in this era, such as government reshuffle in 1950 and military coup in 1960. First, the Democrat Party, which had liberal ideas about Kurdish issue, got the majority of parliament after the elections in 1950 then this new government began to repeal restrictions on Kurdish community and tried to gain Kurdish people’s trust. Even, there were many Kurdish parliamentarians and some ministers in this new government. After these positive developments had occurred, Kurdish issue entered to cooling period, which revealed that more democracy and more freedom weren’t against being national and secular state. However, when this issue was almost disappeared in 10 years, Turkey saw military coup in May 1960. The Prime minister of Turkey and some ministers was executed by hanging because of some made-up guilts. New military government suggesting that there were no Kurdish issue even no Kurdish people in Turkey, was much more restrictive to Kurdish issue than the previous governments- Republican People’s Party. Their regulations influenced not only Kurdish community but also whole communities in Turkey. For instance, the Labor Party, which consisted of Turkish and Kurdish people, declared “there are Kurdish people in Turkey and they have to be rehabilitated” in 1968 – even it was hard to say “Kurdish” after military coup and its propaganda and regulations. After these courageous moves, Labor Party was closed and the most of members were imprisoned. This move of government was very important at this point because there were some educated Kurdish people who used to believe that they could express themselves by politic acts through Labor party in Parliament but this move of the government showed them it would be impossible to act in this way so they created PKK caused more than 50.000 deaths in Turkey(İmset, 1993, p.3).

New Era

Turkey saw military coup again in September 1980. Their arguments were same as the previous military government. They put new regulations against the Kurdish society again and these actions made PKK start their first act in 1984. Many Turkish soldier, Turkish and Kurdish civilians began to die-even they killed many babies- in their attacks because Turkish army was not ready for this guerilla war. Armed struggle has remained until 1993 in which, civil government tried first time to deal with PKK. Although some betterments helped to stop the attacks of PKK for a while, agreement couldn’t be achieved because of discourses like “you are dealing with baby killers!” of National part of Turkish society – also caused government behave slowly in process of negotiations- and the extremist part of PKK, which broke cease fire by attacking discharged soldiers. These developments raised the doubts and fears from each other, so it caused conflicts remain until nowadays. Furthermore, Turkish army fought fire with fire, which means Turkish army acted like Terrorist groups. Illegally many suspicious Kurdish who might have helped PKK were killed, many Kurdish villages were set fire. Therefore, Kurdish issue was deepened and psychologically, radicalizations between communities were increased(İmset, 1993). Currently, the government of Turkey- Justice and Development Party- is in negotiations with PKK again and there haven’t been any firefight and death for almost a year because both of sides are very tired of the deaths of youngsters as well as democratization in last 10 years. Now, Kurds have many rights and they are equal with Turkish people comparing to past. Even, Kurdish language is being negotiated to be the language of education for Kurdish people.


Turkey had very hard course of being National state. First, secularism broke the sense of belonging of Kurdish society toward Turkey. Second, wrong attempts to be nation state caused assimilation. Therefore, PKK surfaced, and many people died in this process. It is certain that if Kurdish people were given their rights as other non-Muslim minorities, there would be no Kurdish problem. However, finally, people understood a fact that while misleading, wrong and restricting decisions caused worse problems, democratic and libertarian moves prevented conflicts. Furthermore, ethnic differences in a state are not against being a nation state. As we saw above, the assimilation of people to be a national state cause more conflicts and these conflicts threaten the friendship of societies so that actually, this kind of moves threaten the structure of nation state, which is tried to establish.



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-İmset, İ. (1993). PKK: Ayrılıkçı Şiddetin 20 Yılı. Ankara: TDN Yayınları
-Fırat, Ümit. (2008, May 26th). 27 Mayıs, Kürtler ve Şark Islahat Planı Kararnamesi. Access date: 8.01.15,
-McDowall, D. (2004). A modern history of the Kurds. London: I.B.Tauris.
-Pavlowitch, S. (1999). History of the Balkans, 1804-1945. London and New York: Longman.
– The Treaties of Peace 1919-1923. (1924). New York: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
-Yayman, H. (2011). Türkiyenin Kürt Sorunu Hafızası. Ankara: SETA Yayınları

Şahin Keskin Hakkında

Şahin KESKİN: (Niğde) Niğde doğumludur. Atatürk Üniversitesi Uluslararası İlişkiler Bölümü (2013) mezunudur. Yüksek lisans eğitimini, Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi Avrupa Birliği Anabilim Dalı’nda Avrupa Birliği programında "Ukrayna'daki Kriz ve AB-Rusya İlişkileri" başlıklı tez ile tamamladı (2015). Aktif katılım göstermiş olduğu birçok kongre, konferans ve sempozyumda tebliğler sunmuş; çeşitli akademik ve yerel gazetelerde yazıları yayınlanmıştır. İlgi alanları arasında; başta Avrupa Birliği olmak üzere, Ukrayna ve Rus Dış Politikası bulunmaktadır.


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