Social:Denial of Kurds by Turkey

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Short description: Policy of a state

The denial of Kurds was the official state policy of Turkey for several decades, which denied that Kurds constitute its own ethnic group and instead alleged that they are a subgroup of Turks, and the words 'Kurd' and 'Kurdistan' were omitted by state institutions. During the 20th century, Kurds were referred to as Mountain Turks (Turkish: Dağ Türkleri), with the state prohibiting the use of the terms "Kurd" or "Kurdish". As of the 2020s, Turkey does not recognize Kurds as an ethnic group nor Kurdish as a language.[1]


1992 estimate of areas in Turkey with Kurd-majorities by The World Factbook

Kurds are the single largest ethnic minority in modern Turkey, making up 18% of the country's population according to Harvard University.[2] In the 20th century, Kurds in Turkey faced persecution and were victim to violence, with the Dersim rebellion leading to the deaths of other 13,160 civilians at the hands of the Turkish Army.[3] Following the establishment of the modern Republic of Turkey, the country has been accused of denying the nationhood of Kurds in Turkey.[4]


The euphemism "Mountain Turks" (Turkish: Dağ Türkleri) for the Kurds was invented by General Abdullah Alpdoğan [tr] and initially used to describe a people living in the mountains who did not speak their own language but a Turkish dialect.[5] Tevfik Rüştü Aras, the Turkish foreign minister between 1925 and 1938, defended the idea that the Kurds should disappear like the Indians in the United States.[6] Kâzım Karabekir, a former commander of the Turkish Army during the War of Independence, said the Kurds in Dersim were in fact assimilated Turks and they should be reminded of their Turkishness.[7] The Turkish Minister of Justice Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, stated that there is no other nation which could claim rights in Turkey than the Turkish race, and that all non-Turks would only have the right to be a servant or slave.[5]

There is no such thing as the Kurdish people or nation. They are merely carriers of Turkish culture and habits. The imagined region proposed as the new Kurdistan is the region that was settled by the proto-Turks. The Sumerians and Scythians come immediately to mind.[8]

— Orhan Türkdoğan, Professor of Sociology at Gebze Technical University

Subsequently, the simple mention of the words "Kurds" and "Kurdistan" was prohibited, and replaced with terms like "Mountain Turks" and "The East", respectively.[1] The prohibition also included text in foreign languages.[9] It was denied that a Kurdish nation had ever existed; according to the Turkish History Thesis, the Kurds migrated from Turanic Central Asia in the past.[10][1] During the 1920s and 1930s, merchants were fined separately for every word of Kurdish they used.[1] In school, students were punished if they were caught speaking Kurdish and during the 1960s Turkish language boarding schools were established in order to separate the students from their Kurdish relatives[11] and Turkify the Kurdish population.[12]


The term "Mountain Turk" became more commonly used in 1961. The Turkish president Cemal Gürsel denied the existence of Kurds in Turkey in a press conference in London and also during a speech he held in Diyarbakir.[13] Gürsel wrote a foreword to the book History of Varto and the Eastern Provinces by Mehmet Şerif Fırat, in which he credited Fırat for providing scientific evidence for the Turkishness of the Kurds[14] and demanded scientific studies to leave no doubt that Kurds were in reality "Mountain Turks".[15] The book was made available to University Professors, students and journalists for free and also included into the libraries of educational institutions.[15]

Cemal Gürsel was also closely linked to the then newly established Turkish Cultural Research Institute (TKAE)[16] which published several books on the topic.[15] Besides, Gürsel encouraged the use of the phrase "Spit in the face of him who calls you a Kurd".[17] During the trials against the Revolutionary Cultural Eastern Hearths (DDKO) following the coup d'état in 1971,[18] the prosecution argued that Kurds do not actually exist, and their language was in reality a dialect of Turkish.[19] Kenan Evren, the chief of the military junta following the coup d'état in 1980, denied the existence of a Kurdish ethnicity and restricted the use of the Kurdish language.[20] The term "Mountain Turk" was officially replaced with the new euphemism "Eastern Turk" in 1980.[21] After the appearance of the Kurdistan Workers' Party in the 1980s, their members were accused of trying to convince the eastern Turks that they are Kurds.[15]

21st century

Censorship in academia

A 2020 report by the İsmail Beşikçi Foundation on the censorship that exists in Kurdish studies in Turkey found that both censorship and self-censorship are frequent when writing about Kurds and their history, geography, culture and language for fear of being penalized. Words like including "Kurdistan", "colony" and "anti-colonial" also remain a taboo in writing about Kurds.[22]

State censorship

In March 2021 the Turkish Ministry of National Education released a school book on the Kurdish majority Diyarbakir Province which makes no mention of Kurds or Kurdish language at all. It also claims that the language spoken in the city Diyarbakır is similar to the Turkish dialect spoken in Baku, Azerbaijan.[23] In August 2021, authorities changed the name of a 17th century mosque in Kilis from "Kurds' mosque" to "Turks' mosque" prompting criticism from the Kurdish community.[24]

On the discourse of Erdoğan in regards to Kurds, Mucahit Bilici writes that:[25]

There is a clear pattern in Erdoğan’s language and indeed in the approach of all Islamist interlocutors with the Kurds. The primary aim is to minimize and make invisible the Kurds’ Kurdishness by highlighting their Muslimness. The word “Kurd” itself is avoided and used only very strategically. It occurs most often as part of a laundry list of ethnicities—Laz, Çerkes, Georgian, Arab, Bosnian, Albanian—all specificity swamped by false diversity. The Kurds can gain legitimacy and prominence only as servants and defenders of Islam. Kurdish cities are re-presented as deeply religious domiciles. For example, the city of Urfa is always called “city of the prophets” and Diyarbakır “city of the companions (of Prophet Muhammad).” The purpose is to avoid treating anything Kurdish as purely Kurdish.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Hassanpour 1992, pp. 132-133.
  2. "Kurds in Turkey" (in en). Harvard University. 
  3. "Resmi raporlarda Dersim katliamı: 13 bin kişi öldürüldü". Radikal. 2009-11-19. 
  4. Uzun Avci, Emel (2019-07-08). "Denial of the Kurdish question in the personal narratives of lay people" (in en). Ethnicities 19 (1): 156–173. doi:10.1177/1468796818786307. ISSN 1468-7968. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Sagnic, Ceng (July 2010). "Mountain Turks: state ideology and the Kurds in Turkey". Information, Society and Justice 3 (2): 127–134. 
  6. Yilmaz, Özcan (2015-11-26) (in fr). La formation de la nation kurde en Turquie. Graduate Institute Publications. p. 66. ISBN 978-2-940549-28-3. 
  7. Bayir, Derya (2016-04-22) (in en). Minorities and Nationalism in Turkish Law. Routledge. p. 134. ISBN 978-1-317-09579-8. 
  8. Gunes, Cengiz; Zeydanlioglu, Welat (2013). The Kurdish Question in Turkey: New Perspectives on Violence, Representation and Reconciliation. Routledge. p. 11. ISBN 978-1135140632. 
  9. Hassanpour 1992, p. 135.
  10. Poulton, Hugh (1997) (in en). Top Hat, Grey Wolf, and Crescent: Turkish Nationalism and the Turkish Republic. C. Hurst & Co.. p. 121. ISBN 0-81476648-X. 
  11. Hassanpour 1992, p. 133.
  12. "SEÇBİR Konuşmaları-41: Bir Asimilasyon Projesi: Türkiye'de Yatılı İlköğretim Bölge Okulları" (in tr). İstanbul Bilgi Üniversitesi. 11 December 2014. 
  13. Deschner, Günter (1989). Die Kurden Das betrogene Volk. Straube. pp. 111. ISBN 3927491020. 
  14. De Bellaigue, Christopher (2010). Rebel land: Unraveling the riddle of history in a Turkish town. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 978-1-59420-252-0. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Scalbert-Yücel, Clémence; Ray, Marie Le (2006-12-31). "Knowledge, ideology and power. Deconstructing Kurdish Studies" (in en). European Journal of Turkish Studies. Social Sciences on Contemporary Turkey (5). doi:10.4000/ejts.777. ISSN 1773-0546. 
  16. Aytürk, İlker (2017-11-08). "The Flagship Institution of Cold War Turcology" (in en). European Journal of Turkish Studies. Social Sciences on Contemporary Turkey (24). doi:10.4000/ejts.5517. ISSN 1773-0546. 
  17. Gunter, Michael (2000). "The continuing Kurdish problem in Turkey after Öcalan's capture". Third World Quarterly 21 (5): 849–869. doi:10.1080/713701074. 
  18. Beşikçi, İsmail (2004) (in en). International Colony Kurdistan. Parvana. pp. 84–88. ISBN 978-1-903656-31-0. 
  19. Orhan, Mehmet (2015-10-16) (in en). Political Violence and Kurds in Turkey: Fragmentations, Mobilizations, Participations & Repertoires. Routledge. pp. 40. ISBN 978-1-317-42044-6. 
  20. Jones, Gareth (March 2, 2007). "Turkey's ex-president Evren probed for Kurd remarks". Reuters. 
  21. "Turkey - Linguistic and Ethnic Groups". 
  22. "Censorship and self-censorship in Kurdish Studies in Turkey's universities". Bianet. 31 December 2020. 
  23. "'Baku Turkish' spoken in Kurdish-majority Diyarbakır, according to Ministry". 2021-03-19. 
  24. "'Kurds Mosque' changed to 'Turks Mosque' due to restoration, says gov't". Ahval. 2021-08-15. 
  25. Bilici, Mucahit (2022). "Turkish Islam and Kurdish difference". HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 12 (1): 33–38. doi:10.1086/718932.