Historic developments after the devision of Kurdistan
Kurdistan Turkey- North Kurdistan
After the First World War the capitulating Osman government of Kuridsh population in the Treaty of Sèvres (1920) had to grant a partial autonomy, that should have been converted into independence in case of a referendum.
However, this promise was withdrawn three years later in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) and the Kurdish people are not even mentioned anymore. The newly founded Turkish Republic, based on the French model of state where state and nation are identical, did not allow national minorities. Laid down in the articles 39 to 45 of the Treaty of Lausanne Turkey commited to give minorities certain cultural rights, e.g. the right to use their own language or the possibility of publishing their own newspapers and magazines. Nevertheless, only non-muslims like Greeks or Armenians were seen as minorities but not the Kurds.
Participating in forming the Treaty of Lausanne were Great Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Romania, Greece and Yugoslavia. Minorities themsleves were excluded. The borders defined in the Treaty of Lausanne that devided Kurdistan between the newly formed states Iraq, Syria and Turkey, as well as the already existing Persia, were internationally recognised.
However, the representative of the Turkish delegation, Ismet Inönü, did say at the conference of Lausanne , that Turkey is the home of two totally equal nations, namely of the Kurds and the Turks. This statement is not really surprising, as the Turkish state did try to win the oil province of Kirkuk and Mossul, with the help and support of the Kurds. However, in the question of Mossul the British did not surrender. To strengthen their own position they agreed with the French and Amerikans on the participation in the oil business.
After conclusion of the Treaty of Lausanne the Turkish rulers under the leadership of General Mustafa Kemal Atatürk did no longer show any consideration towards Kurdish interests. In the current language calling the Kurds „Mointain Turks“ was customary. During the new elections for National Assembly in 1924 the former Kurdish parliamentarians and candidates were arrested. Numerous Kurdish representatives and leading personalities were murdered, Kurdish schools closed and magazines prohibited.
There had been a big rebellion against this brutal oppression in 1925 in the area of Diyarbakir under the leadership of the spiritual sheik Said. Rebellion spread fast and consisted of the Kurdish provinces in the north, Bitlis, Harput, Van and Erzurum. Turkish geovernment ordered a general mobilisation and fought the Kurdish freedom movement with 80 000 well-equipped soldiers. Despite the superiority of Turkish armee this rebellion could only be suppressed with the help of the French. France had provided the railway lines to the Turkish troops, whereby it became possible to attack the Kurds from two fronts. After a year of struggle the resistance broke down.
Turkish authorities implemented mass executions and ordered deportations for early solving the Kurdish issue. Between 1925 to 1928 about one million people were abducted to Western Turkey. This state brutality aroused Kurdish restistance again. Under the leadership of General Nur Ihsan Pascha, the local centre of this resistance movement was located around the region of Ararat. The fighting started in 1928 and continued until 1930. On the 12th July 1930 a decisive battle took place where the Kurds emerged as clear winners.
However, after this defeat of the Turkish military once again general mobilisation was announced. Kurdish civilians were coming under fire by planes and cannons as retaliation for the lost battle. In an agreement concluded by Turkey and Iran the Turkish army was allowed to use Iran grounds to besiege Ararat the headquarters of the Kurds. They were able to break the Kurdish resistance because of this cooperation between Turkey and Iran.
All appeals of Kurdish personalities to the League of Nations and western states did not attract any attention. Furthermore, to destroy Kurdish freedom movement the Turkish government continued using modern weapons of destruction. Kurdish villages were destroyed and citizens slaughtered. Those violent attacks and repressive measures by the Turkish state continued continually. That is why, on the 14th June 1934 a law had been passed and was published in the official journal containing the following words:
„For spreading Turkish culture the government will implement the above-mentioned law regarding certain points. Therefore, the Ministry oft he Interior devided Turkey into three areas:
- The areas were Turkish culture is already strongly anchored within its population;
- The areas were the population who needs to be turkizised should be settled (those are areas in the west, particularly in the mediterranean regions, the Aegean, the Sea of Marmara and Thrace);
- The areas that need to be depopulated because of reasons of health, economic, cultural, military and safety related reasons. Areas where no one is allowed to settle anymore ( those are Agri, Sason, Dersim, Van, Kars, the southern part of Diyarbakir, Bingöl, Bitis and Mus).“
To put those laws into practice the Dersim was besieged by the Turkish army. Dersim is a mountain terrain difficult to access, that could not be controlled by any foreign domination up to this point. Desim had successfully stayed out of the battles of the First World War and during the Armenian massacre granted assylum to 360.000 people.
That is why Dersim had been a thorn in the side of the Turkish ruler. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk said in the National Assembly in 1936 the following:
“The most important problem for our domestic politics is the Problem of Dersim. It would be neccessary to give the government absolute power, so it can uproot this ulceration which is an obstacle in our way and make it easier to make fast decisions.“
It goes without saying, what an ulceration for Mustafa Kemal is and which measures were linked with absolute power. In November 1937 the Kurds sent a memorandum to the League of Nations indicating the following:
Kurdish schools are closed, the Kurdish language is prohibited. The words Kurd and Kurdistan are banned from scientific books, every bestial way are applied to bring the kurds women and girls to Anatolia to forced labour. Kurds are resettled into Turkish areas, so that they do not comprise more than 5 % anywhere.
In 1937 battles took place again. For their victory the Turkish army had to suffer large losses and in order to compensate this they were taking revenge on the population. Caves where women and children had been soughted shelter were fumigated with poisonous gas and walled up. During the conflicts more than 50.000 Kurds were killed and the rest of Kurdish population (approximately 100.000) deported violently to Western Turkey.
After the bloody suppression of this last big rebellion a deathly silence existed in Turkey until 1960. Only after 1961, especially from 1974 to 1978, the Kurdish movement was able to reassemble in Turkey. As of 1974 Kurdish publications appeared and fort he first time since 1937 the “Kurdish issue“ was discussed again.
Nevertheless, all participating persons were in danger of prosecution measures. The state of emergency in 1979 and military coup of participating persons were in danger of prosecution measures. The state of emergency in 1979 and military coup of 1980 ended this period of “easing“. Even using Kurdish language in private life became an offence. During this time, thousands of kurds were arrested and tortured.0 ended this period of “easing“. Even using Kurdish language in private life became an offence. During this time, thousands of kurds were arrested and tortured.
Founding of the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) in 1978 can be seen as a result of this events. From 1984 to the arrest of Abdullah Öcalan leader of PKK is 1998 in Rome a relentless war between PKK and the Turkish military took place. Tens of thousands of people on both sides lost their lives in this 14 years. Turkish leadership tried again and again to break ressistance with the help of increased repressions and the use of “village guards“, who were recruited or blackmailed to collaboration. Turkish military started major offensives with the aim to defeat the PKK.
At the same time it did not shy away from invading neighbouring countries like Iraq. In the passed years Turkish military invaded Iraq territory with 30.000 to 50.000 soldiers several times. More than 3.500 Kurdish villages were razed to the ground and millions of Kurds were not only forced to flee in metropols like Istanbul and Diyarbakir where they have to live in slums, but also, forced into exile in Europe.
All efforts to solve the “Problem of the Kurds“ peacefully and politically were destroyed by the Turkish government. For example, the pro-Kurdish democratic party DEP was prohibited and the elected members of parliament lost their immunity and got arrested. The state prosecutor at State Security Court demanded a death penalty for all oft hem, because they had shown Kurdish colours in public and supported a peacefull solution to the conflict.
One of this DEP parliamentarians is Leyla Zana, who is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence. In the meantime, she was given several peace prizes and the Sacharow prize. However, these prizes did not cause her release from prison. Still, every statement on the situation of Kurds in Turkey is seen as offence and is firmly prosecuted with the charge of separatism.
Since the abduction of PKK-leader Abdullah Öcalan a change has been notified in Turkey’s Kurdish policy. In which direction it is moving, no one can really predict. Certainly, there is a small progressive groupe who demands a peaceful solution in the context of a general democratisation of Turkey, but the recent electoral victory of the far-right nationalist party MHP points in opposing directions.
The Turkish Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire of the Safavids who dominated the Middle Eastern region since the 16th century, did always know how to use the argument of religious belonging when it comes to support from Kurds. For example, when the Ottoman Empire waged a battle agains the Empire oft he Safavids in the 16th century it was able to win the support of the large majority of Sunni-Kurdish lords against the Shiite Safavids.
Conversely the Alevi Majority of Kurdish population supported the Safavids. The battle between the Ottoman Empire and the Safavid Persia for the power over Kurdish grounds resulted in the division of Kurdish areas between both Empires.
Although the Kurdish principalities were able despite the foreign supremacy to preserve their inner autonomy for two centuries, they more and more fell victim to centralisation policy within both empires. In 1840 the last principality Botan was destroyed by the Ottoman. The fall of their principalities caused the Kurds to lose their autonomy, freedom and prosperity. Though resistance still continued none of the riots in the 19th century were successful.
In 1880 the first important political independence movement of the Kurds manifested itself in the riot of Ubeydulla, which is the last important Kurdish riot in the 19th century. However, this riot was suppressed.
After the rise of power of the Young Turks (1908) who were supported by Kurdish leaders for some time, committees of different ethnic groups were formed in many areas of the Ottoman Empire. In this relatively liberal climate also Kurdish personalities established the first associations for exampe the Association for Resurrection and Progress of Kurdistan (Taali ve Terakii Kurdistan). This Association published the first legal Kurdish newspaper. Although published in Turkish language, the newspaper was used as a discussion forum for language, culture and national Kurdish unity.
Another association who came up nearly at the same time was a Kurdish committee for national education including Kurdish interlectuals and patriots of various attitudes in emigrations. Some of the association’s most important actions were the foundation of the first Kurdish school and the publishing of a newspaper in Kurdish language , named “Hetawe Kurd“ (Kurdish sun).