Is There a “Kurdish Question” in Turkey?

As the first melting pot and encounter point of many different civilizations and cultures, present-day Turkey contains a multitude of ethnic, religious and cultural elements. Turkey is proud of its great heritage. This centuries-long shared way of life is perfectly second-nature for the people of Turkey.

Yet, different ethnic identities, including the Kurdish, are acknowledged and accepted in Turkey. The state does not categorize its citizens along ethnic lines nor does it impose an ethnic identity on them. Population censuses in Turkey never count people on the basis of their ethnic origins. But, this does not prevent an individual citizen to identify himself or herself in terms of a specific ethnic category. That is a private affair and ultimately a matter of personal preference. Public expressions and manifestations of ethnic identity are prohibited neither by law nor by social custom. Folklore is rich and colorful and local variations, customs and traditions are protected and supported.

Turkey is a constitutional state governed by the rule of law. Democracy rests on a parliamentary system of government, respect for human rights and on the supremacy of law. Multi-party politics, free elections, a growing tradition of local government mark the democratic way of life in Turkey.

Constitutional citizenship is one of the principles upon which the Turkish state was founded. The Turkish Constitution stipulates that the State and the Nation are indivisible, and that all citizens irrespective of their ethnic, racial or religious origin, are equal before the law.

For historical and cultural reasons, and under stipulations of binding international treaties, the concept of “minority” applies specifically to certain groups of non-Moslem citizens. In fact, the social fabric of Turkey is a unique real life case of the OSCE principle that “not all ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious differences necessarily lead to the creation of national minorities”. Our citizens of Kurdish ethnic origin are not discriminated against and they feel themselves to be equal members of the society. Many have risen to the highest positions in the Republic. They share the same opportunities and the same destiny as the rest of the population.

Ethnicity is not a factor in the political geography of Turkey. That is, the predominant majority of the Turkish citizens of Kurdish descent live in western Turkey, with the greatest concentration being in Istanbul. Even in eastern and southeastern Turkey, the Turkish citizens of Kurdish ethnic origin do not constitute a majority. The unitary structure of the State reflects the equality and togetherness of different geographic regions of Turkey.

Therefore, it is simply neither understandable nor acceptable for Turkey to discuss “the respect for social, economic and legitimate political aspirations of Kurds” as if the Turkish citizens of Kurdish ethnic descent constitute a different and separate community. They are citizens of a nation that has been sharing for centuries the same values with respect to language, religion, culture and patriotic identity, common history and the will for a mutual future.

It is of cardinal importance to differentiate between a militant organization, which resorts systematically to terrorism as well as all kinds of organized crime, and the phenomenon of Kurdish ethnicity. It is evident that our citizens of Kurdish ethnic origin are law-abiding people. Most of them live in western Turkey, drawn by economic attraction. They are of their own choice integrated into the society and its economic, social and cultural aspects. In Turkey, citizens of all ethnic origins can rise to the highest political positions and ranks such as cabinet ministers and members of parliament. Throughout the centuries, much mixing has taken place through intermarriages. Progress in industrial, cultural and social fields, as well as urbanization, has also contributed to the voluntary and natural process of integration.

The population in southeast Anatolia, like our citizens in other regions of the country, participate fully in the political life of Turkey; they freely make their voices heard in local administrations, in the municipalities, the Parliament, and the central government through elected representatives. It is nothing out of the ordinary for the individuals of different ethnic origins to participate in the political life of the country. Even the most militant circles concede the fact that there are no obstacles to social mobility of individuals from different ethnic origins to any profession or career, whether public or private.

The fundamental rights and freedoms of all Turkish citizens are secured by the relevant provisions of the Constitution. However, those rights have been threatened by the PKK, creating terror among the populace.

None of our citizens of Kurdish ethnic origin, notwithstanding allegations to the contrary, who publicly or politically asserts his/her Kurdish ethnic identity risks harassment or persecution. However, acts or statements made against the “territorial integrity” of Turkey are subject to legal prosecution under the law. If these allegations were true, none of the publications in Kurdish whose contents are full of assertions of Kurdish ethnic identity would have been tolerated by the authorities.

In the same vein, Turkey is often accused of refusing to negotiate with the terrorist organization PKK. These accusations contradict the fundamental rules of international law. Negotiating with a terrorist organization, responsible for thousands of murders, would be tantamount to justifying and encouraging terrorism.