It is pretty obvious that neither Turks nor Kurds are very enthusiastic about their current relationship with one another.

Why did Turkey not integrate Kurdish culture, like the Ottoman empire had?

If they do desire a homogeneous Turkish state, why not let the Kurds split off?

I am aware this might well sound like a ridiculous question to those more knowledgeable, but please do humor me, I haven't been able to find any direct, concise answers to this question elsewhere.

  • You might also benefit from asking this question or a subset of it on the History stack exchange for an historical perspective on this. Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 2:33
  • 2
    This is not a thing unique to Turkey. Many (if not most) states sovereign over a geographic minority frequently suppress that minority's culture as a threat to said soveregnity (from Turkey and Armenians, to Russian Empire and then especially USSR, to French Catholics and poor Hugenots, etc...).
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 15:59
  • 1
    @DVK It can't be much more than half; Habsburgs, Ottomans, freaking Mongols. And as for historical "homogenous" states, now Bismarck was no tree hugger but he managed to include both North German Platt-Speaking fisherman and Bavarian salt mongers in his German nationalism. He just told them they were homogenous and got away with it. Garibaldi did pretty much the same thing. I just don't get what Atatürk stood to gain by suppressing Armenians and Kurds instead of using a little semantic trickery to redefine "Turkish" or just dump "Anatolian" or something like that into the propaganda machine.
    – John Woo
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 16:51
  • @JohnWoo - Habsburgs??? We are talking about "BURN OUT ALL PROTESTANTS WITH FIRE" Spanish "We invented the Spanish Inquisition" Habsburgs here? Mongols - yes. They WERE indeed an exception to the rule and one reason I respect Ghenghis higher than most rulers ever.
    – user4012
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 18:36
  • 1
    @DVK Yes, Habsburgs. Sectarian violence wasn't that clear cut, and they certainly didn't impose a program of Viennization on the Hungarians and various Slavs under their dominion.
    – John Woo
    Commented Oct 27, 2014 at 9:13

2 Answers 2


Turkey is not the Ottoman Empire

The Ottoman Empire lost the First World War and was forced to sign the Treaty of Sèvres which sanctioned the partition of the empire. The treaty contained strong punitive measures, ironically, also because the Ottoman Empire perfomed better than expected. In fact it gained a strong victory at the Battle of Gallipoli. So it was in part a measure of revenge.

Treaty of Sevres
(source: wikimedia.org)

As you can see very little land was left to the Turks and, more importantly, everybody else, including the other people of the former empire were given something. Point one: everybody is against the Turks.

The treaty was never put in pratice because the Turkish nationalist movement, led by Ataturk, won the Turkish War of Independence against the western proxies (mainly Greece) and also what remained of the Ottoman Empire. Instead it was signed the Treaty of Lausanne which said that the western powers would have kept all the rest of the Ottoman Empire land but Turkey would have kept all Turkish lands. So, nothing would have gone to Greece, Armenia or the Kurds. The losers were obviously not happy, and especially the Kurds which did not have any land elsewhere. Point two: the Turks are surrounded by enemies. And also Point three: Turkey is not simply repressing the Kurds, Turkish and Kurdish people are continuing a conflict started by the fall of the Ottoman Empire.

Turkey is a modern state

Ataturk, the father of Turkey, started a series of reforms to make Turkey a modern country similar to the western ones1. In particular is was inspired by France and their secularization. A crucial component of this process is a national education that create a national identity to form a nation. Did I say nation? This imply, if not to overtly suppress minorities, at the very least to suppress and diminish their culture. As others have mentioned everybody did it, Turkey is simply doing it in the wrong century or is doing it for too short of a time, depending on how you look.

Multiethnic empires did not need to have a uniform culture, because only the king and/or nobility mattered, people had no power. But in modern countries they matter, political and personal identities are important, even in multinational states. Kurdish identity was competing with the Turkish identity and as such was an obstacle to become a modern country. This answers the first question: the Ottoman Empire did not care about their people, while Turkey is their people. Point four: a common identity is a need for a modern nation.

It should also be noted that while Turkey attempted to imitate France, the strong secularization was very controversial and it still is. This and other things led to many periods of martial law, Coup d'état and the like. Again poltiical turmoil is not surprising in modernizations, it happened everywhere. But the fact this has occured in recent times helps to understand why Turkey might still be in the very nationalistic phase of modernity.

The answer to the question why the Turks did not want the lose part of their territory by granting independence to the Kurds is in part self-evident. In the sense that nobody want to be weak, and in part connected to point 1 and 2. They would not only lose territory but they feel they would gain a new enemy.

Today and the future

You might think that this answers the question of why they acted this way in the past, but not today, because this is a different time. Many modern countries have stopped repressing minorities. To understand this, you have to remember that history matters to politics and identity. Everybody else in the region is still quite aggressive, for instance see the bizarre Macedonian naming dispute started by Greece.

Furthermore the Kurds are also influenced by the situation on the ground. Many people, including obviously the Kurds, talk about Kurdistan as if it were one thing. In reality there are strong political and organizational differences between the Kurds living in different countries, they all have their own parties and militias.

The change of attitude toward minorities works both ways, the Kurds do not need Kurdistan to survive and mantaining their own identity. This lead to a complex game: let's say you would give Kurds independence, if the alternative is a civil war, but if you just wait a few years there might not be a civil war. So what do you do? A little repression, to lessen the Kurdish identity, but not too much, to avoid a civil war? It's hard for both government and people to decide what to do.

However the situation actually improved and it seemed we were close to peace: Solution process. But history bit again and the Syrian Civil War led to a new period of conflict. So, depending on how this evolve, the peace process could continue and Kurds in Turkey could have better times, but we have to wait and see.

1 The first version of the paragraph was mixed-up. Thanks to bregalad for pointing it out.

  • 11
    That's great and all, but it's a bit of a paradox claiming Turkey is a modern western state, and they repress their minorities. Modern states would give them autonomy and allow the language to be official, so they'd be on their side and not "enemies". (i.e. There is no problem to have multiple languages in Switzerland, Belgium, Alsace or South Tyrol). Anyway I understand this could only further enforce separatism (as in Catalogna) and that Turkey really don't want that. So basically Turkey is a modern state that is 100 years late.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 11:15
  • 2
    @Bregalad I did mix up a bit the terminology, thanks for pointing it out. Turkey is not western, but is modern and, until recently, they were quite interested in becoming more western because they felt the two were the same thing. I agree that if we take the evolution of western modern states as a reference Turkey is a bit late, but do they still believe that ? And of course western states have repressed minorities for a longer time than Turkey has.
    – gabriele
    Commented Jul 30, 2015 at 12:17
  • 1
    I'd add to this good answer that Turkey southeast is a bit of an internal colony, with little investment in infrastructure etc. for a long time. This is (part) ofthe social grievances the varios kurdish groups raise, and plays into their suppression also. Note that Bregalads examples of integrated cltural minorities also feature a meaningful economic integration, which Turkey can't or won't do.
    – mart
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 6:50
  • 1
    @mart Then why won't they give up the terriroty? Modern states went out of the logic "more territory is the better", because this is not true anymore, if they are poor they don't generate any revenue and only cause trouble, so it'd be easier and cheaper for the Turkish government to get rid of them entierely by giving them independance and then pretend not to care about them anymore.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 10:19
  • 2
    @Bregalad When, and where, has nationalism ever been logical? Also I'm not sure the turkish south and southeast is not productive in some way, I'd have to look that up. The big kurdish landowners seem to be happy, and often vote AKP apprantly. For al ong time, and maybe still, turkish nationalism is expanionist, with trying to woo the turkmen as a sort of lost tribe tec, or saber rattling about some (now) greek islands.
    – mart
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 19:59

According to Article 66 of the Turkish Constitution, "everyone bound to the Turkish state through the bond of citizenship is a Turk". So it would be against the constitution to be a Kurd as a Turkish citizen. Expression of a Kurdish identity is seen as a threat to Turkish unity.

  • 9
    So far so good, but if they think a Kurd is a Mountain Turk, why not just accept Kurdish as Mountain Turkish and be done with it? For all we know Texas might actually want to secede from the Union, but there seems to be an understanding in Washington that banning Rodeo would make them want to secede more, not less. I'm going more for: Why do Turks think banning Kurdish is feasible? Are there any precedents for forced renationalizing being succesful?
    – John Woo
    Commented Oct 24, 2014 at 12:17
  • 1
    Since AKP government lots of change happened about these restrictions. Kurdish is not forbidden. Also people don't bother when someone speaks Kurdish anymore. Ten years ago if you speak Kurdish in public, you can even killed because of that. Despite all that, It is not about Kurdish or Turkish culture. It is rooted by Turkish Elitisim (called White Turks "Beyaz Türkler") which against all kinds of Eastern Culture. In the first years of Turkish Republic even Turkish Folk Music had forbidden and radio stations had to play Classical Western style music.
    – user16265
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 6:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .