Ethnic Exclusion & Reasons For Kurdish Mobilization

The plausible reasons that justify the Kurdish plea to establish a separate nation are constantly being discredited at both the regional and international level. Delimiting the issue to ethno-nationalism, the well-grounded causes of Kurdish mobilization are a victim of deliberate misinterpretation and unfair redundancy. Failing to exercise a bottom-up approach, the Turkish government does not wish to address the grievances of the Kurdish people who have for long been excluded from the socio-political activities of the state. This article highlights the reasons why the Kurds till this day remain to be a disadvantaged minority in Turkey.

Exclusion of Kurds from state power

Since the very creation of the Turkish republic, the government failed to incorporate the second largest culturally and linguistically distinct ethnic group within its state system. The Kurds who for most of the ottoman rule had a de factor tribal form of governance were without a warning subjected to direct rule by the Turkish government. The exclusionary nature of this newly formed republic was an outcome of its insistence on western secularism and its newfound devotion to nationalism. While the government did give a legal status to a few of its ethnic minorities including the Jews, Greek orthodox and Armenians, the omission of Kurds from this list was deliberate. The Turks refused to recognize the Kurds as an ethnic minority because to them, the Kurdish population was a threat to their nationalist model. The right hand of Kemal, Ismet Inonu himself stated: “We will eradicate groups who oppose Turkishness”.[1]  After WWII, a multi-party system was established in Turkey; the newly formed political parties tried to look for allies within the Kurdish population. However, these alliances were conditioned. A Kurd was only allowed to join a political party if he was willing to leave his “Kurdishness” behind. This absence of political channeling of the Kurdish population was a major turning point in the Kurd-Turk relations and which later led to the formation of revolutionary left movements.

Studies show that from the very start, during the presidency of Mustafa Kemal the Kurds were highly unrepresented in the government. The largest Kurd province, Diyarbakir hardly had any Kurdish representation in the parliament; majority of the seats were occupied by the Turks themselves. In most cases, the government used rebellion as a reason for prohibiting Kurdish representation in the government. However, it is to be noted that from 1950-1980 there were no significant armed rebellions, but still the access of Kurds to state power was highly limited. Statistics show that during these years, the fifteen provinces which make up 20% of the Kurdish population only had 8% Kurd representation. In other words, only 186 out of 2106 governors were Kurds. All observations made to assess the Kurdish inclusion in state power are parallel with the discriminatory claims of Kurdish politicians and bureaucrats. The 8% representation mark remained consistent from 1980-2014. Similarly, only 4% of the total governor positions were held by the Kurds from 1995-2011 even in areas where the Kurdish parties received more than 20% of the votes.[2] These conditions are consistent till this very day without much hope for changes any changes in the inclusion of Kurdish political expression within Turkey.

Politics on Minorities

There is a general prohibition in Turkey against all those parties who claim that there are minorities within the state which can be differentiated based on their religion, nationality, race, and language. Although these restrictions do not directly specify Kurds, they are a de facto target, nonetheless. The article 81 of the Political Party Law known as “Preventing the Creation of Minorities”[3] has multiple clauses under which:

  • No party can claim the existence of a minority with characteristics different than that of Turks
  • Supporting the goal of destroying state nationality or engaged in such activities by disseminating culture or language other than Turkish is prohibited
  • No language other than Turkish can be used in printing or writing party agenda or statuses
  • No pictures, placards, videos or brochures given by political parties in language other than Turkish

Although these clauses do not mention Kurds in particular, it is only for the governments protection which would otherwise be held accountable for discrimination at the national and international front. In this way, not only does the administration succeed in furthering its agenda, but also finds a way to blame Kurds for instigating rebellion without cause.

Securitization of Kurdish issue

Securitization, also known as the extreme version of politicization, is a process through which an issue which existed within a non-politicized arena moves to a politicized one and lastly to a securitized one which then justifies the use of extraordinary measures to counter it. The Turkish government securitized the Kurdish issue labelling it as an existential threat which threatened their national integrity.[4] This allowed them to intervene militarily which resulted in thousands of civilian casualties. Reports published by the Association France-Kurdistan, 1.5 million people were deported and massacred in period of 1925-1939.After the WWII the persecutions became more selective and was largely restricted to Kurdish intellectuals. Later in 1980s, after a military takeover 12,2609 people were taken into custody.40,386 were formally charged out of which 900 were given a death penalty, 378 were tortured to death and 374 were killed in suspicious attacks at night. These activities did result in international intervention by international civil societies requesting a halt to use of force in the Kurdish region. However, the atrocities continued.

 Another extraordinary measure has been the consistent declaration of “state of emergency” in the region with occasional curfews. Human rights associations, academics and media has also been targeted. In 2015, a prominent Kurdish Lawyer was killed for stating that PKK was not a terrorist organization, but an armed political movement. In addition, the non-mainstream Turkish media that has been criticizing the government policies is constantly threatened and attacked. This includes journalists and academicians being investigated from time to time.

The securitization of Kurdish mobilization has one aim: to reduce this issue to one that is entirely militarized and based on attacking PKK. This helps Turkey reduce the legitimacy of Kurdish revolt against the government, making it seem like nothing more than an illicit armed rebellion. It also blocks the Kurds from channeling their demands and justified grievances. Last but not the least, it also substantiates Turkish efforts to keep the Kurds out of state politics.

Oppression of Kurds

Other than the forced expulsions and massacres carried out against the Kurds, the Turkish government has succeeded in oppressing the Kurds through various other discriminatory policies.

Kurdish Symbolism

Anything involving Kurdish emblems are banned. People selling Kurdish cassettes are arrested. Two French human rights workers were sentenced by a military tribunal to serve 51 and a half months in prison for carrying a Kurdish music cassette and a brochure in French about the Kurds. No shops are allowed to have a Kurdish name. The Turkish government went to the extent of prohibiting parents from giving their children Kurdish names or else face punishments. The German tourists have been arrested for spreading Kurdish propaganda. One of them was tortured for 10 days before release. Radio television shows have been outlawed. A Turkish Broadcaster who used a few Kurdish words while greeting was fined $1640 and was forced to give up his show slots after complains. In 2019, the Kurdish Theater festival was banned calling it a threat to “public safety”.[5] And recently, the famous theatre play “Beru” was banned although the play was being performed in Turkey for over three years now. Furthermore, through diplomatic pressure, the Turkish embassies in Europe have prevented the participation of Kurds in cultural programs. In short, these policies have led to the death of the Kurdish culture.

Prohibition on use of Kurdish Language

The linguistic genocide of Kurds in Turkey has been one of the most prominent area of contention between the two parties. In an effort to change the ethnic composition of Kurds, the Turks took drastic efforts to ensure that the Kurdish language was eliminated from all spheres of life. From the early years, a ban was placed on use of the language in public spaces, government offices, politics, and schools. The job was specifically assigned to some government officials which ensured that the ban was strictly being carried out. Even the peasants or farmers who came to trade were not allowed to utter a single Kurdish word or else fined. Violence and separation from families was another tactic used to prevent students from speaking Kurdish. In the year 1964, boarding schools were built to isolate students who were then forced to forget their mother language. Symbolic violence was also used through which the youngsters were shamed for speaking in their parent language. The Turks even tried to rewrite history by publishing articles and books which claimed that the Kurds were indeed of Turkish origin and they forgot the language due their isolation in the mountains.[6] This linguicide was not restricted to the borders of Turkey. A Kurdish language course was organized by the Nordic Cultural Foundation in Denmark for the Kurdish children living in Scandinavia. The Turkish embassy made efforts to put an end to it claiming that these people were still subject to Turkish Law no matter which country they resided in.


Indoctrination is a propaganda tool used in educational institutions throughout Turkey. Kurds are portrayed as primitive and diabolical. Their existence as a nation is denied through falsification of their language and history. In the third edition of the Oxford Turkish-English dictionary, the word “Kurd” is given the meaning “an uncivilized person”. This suppression at various fronts has made it hard for the Kurds to reveal their ethnic identity which in turn limits the effectiveness of their cause. Without a doubt, the Kurdish culture, language, and traditions are at the verge of extinction.

[1] Behlul Ozkan, “Kurdish Issue Still Volatile,” Breaking News, World News and Video from Al Jazeera, last modified June 9, 2011,

[2] Güneş M. Tezcür and Mehmet Gurses, “Ethnic Exclusion and Mobilization: The Kurdish Conflict in Turkey,” Comparative Politics 49, no. 2 (2017): xx, doi:10.5129/001041517820201378.

[3] “RESTRICTIONS ON THE USE OF THE KURDISH LANGUAGE,” Human Rights Watch | Defending Human Rights Worldwide | Human Rights Watch, accessed May 27, 2021,

[4] Maurizio Geri, “From a History of Exclusion to the Securitization of the Kurdish Issue: A Step of Democratic Regression in Turkey,” De Gruyter, last modified June 1, 2016,

[5] Deutsche Welle (, “Turkey Bans Kurdish-language Play in Istanbul,” DW.COM, accessed May 27, 2021,

[6] Amir Hassanpour, “Kurdish Language Policy in Turkey | Kurdish Academy Of Languages,” Kurdish Academy – Just Another WordPress Site, accessed May 27, 2021,

Shiza Ahmed
Shiza Ahmed
A student at the National Defense University, Islamabad pursuing a bachelor's degree in International Relations.