Turkey... Kurdish issue
War for Peace and Democracy
The Kurds are engaged in a struggle for autonomy and independence. They are an ancient Middle Eastern tribal community that has struggled to maintain its identity. Mostly Sunni Muslim, they speak an Indo-European language and are ethnically distinct from Turks and Arabs. The Kurdish movements have included both peaceful political activities aimed at winning basic civil rights for Kurds in Turkey, as well as armed rebellion and guerrilla warfare, including military attacks on Turkish military bases, coupled with demands for a separate Kurdish state.
U.S. foreign policy has affected the status of the Kurds. This policy has lacked coherence and consistency. Thus, the U.S. position on the Kurds is different in Turkey, Iran and Iraq; in each case, the policy is designed to support U.S. national interests.
The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance believe that the public use by officials of the Kurdish language lays them open to prosecution. Moreover, individuals who defend Kurdish or minority interests in public are frequently prosecuted under the Turkish Criminal Code.
Kurds make up more than 15% of the population in Turkey. They speak an Indo-European language and live in all the provinces of Turkey, but are primarily concentrated in the east and southeast of the country, which is largely identified as Kurdistan.
In World War I, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, the Entente Powers suggested dividing up its Anatolian lands in the Treaty of Sèvres. Among other things, the full application of the treaty would have led to the expansion of the Democratic Republic of Armenia to include regions such as Bitlis, Van, Erzurum and Trabzon while granting local autonomy to the Kurdish inhabited areas east of the Euphrates river and to the south of Armenia. Sharif Pasha, the Kurdish representative at the Paris Peace Conference, reached an agreement with the Armenian representatives on December 20, 1919, and both parties made joint declarations to the conference.
However, Turkish revolutionaries led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk rejected the treaty as "unacceptable" and fought for total control of all of Anatolia in the Turkish War of Independence. Sèvres was then succeeded and replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne which established, roughly, the present-day borders of the Republic of Turkey. The Lausanne treaty not only dashed any hope of an independent Kurdish state, it also failed to confer upon the Kurdish people the minority status (and entailed rights) given to the Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians and Jews.
More Kurdish rebellions would occur in the region. The most violent were those led by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which was founded in 1978. The war between the PKK and the Turkish government, which spanned the 1980s through into the 1990s, caused numerous deaths and internally displaced persons on the Kurdish side.
Since Turkey is seen as a valuable and geographically strategic NATO ally and a bastion against Islamic fundamentalism, the U.S. has supported the Turkish government against the Kurds in Turkey, who have demanded their right to be recognized as Kurds.
But the Kurds are still a distinct racial and linguistic group. They have a history of being alienated by the societies surrounding them, and this has manifested itself in a resistance to assimilation. It is this that drives their struggle to gain autonomy in a hostile environment.