In the midst of the Syrian Civil War, the Kurdish question is one of the issues that have appeared in the spotlight of the media, diplomats, politicians, and the public. However, this matter is hardly new as it has been topical in Turkey since the creation of the Republic in the 1920s. The reason is that Turkish Kurds have resisted the state policies aimed at assimilation, repression, and containment of this ethnic group and its subsequent integration into the predominantly Turkish population. Nonetheless, Kurds constitute one of the largest ethnic communities in Turkey. Their differences with Turks are quite significant resulting in large-scale resistance and formation of the Kurdish nationalism. The current paper is aimed at providing a brief overview of the Kurdish issue and answering an essential question of whether Kurds should have their own state in Turkey or not. Taking into account all major arguments proposed by proponents and opponents of the autonomy and independence of Turkish Kurds, it is suggested that Kurds should not have their own state in this country.
The contemporary world seems to have clear boundaries between nation-states. These limits have been clearly determined and are not subject to reconsideration. Nonetheless, there still arise some disputes over the territory, for instance, in the South China Sea, as well as in other parts of the world. However, territorial conflicts occur not only between nation-states, but also among the countries, provinces, and ethnic groups that strive for independence. One of the most prolonged and intense dispute of the latter kind has been related to Turkey and Kurds. It is known under various names with the most common one as the Kurdish question. This matter has remained unresolved for decades with Turkey changing its attitude towards Kurds and respective policies over the years from denial to military confrontation. Moreover, then, there was an attempt to ensure a peaceful resolution. Irrespectively of several rebellions and subsequent attempts to solve the problem by means of negotiations, the Kurdish issue remains unsolved. It is highly unlikely that it can be resolved to the mutual satisfaction of all parties involved. Hence, Turkey strives to assimilate Kurds and make them a part of the unified Turkish nation. Meanwhile moderate Kurds want some recognition and more democratic rights that would protect their ethnic identity and allow following their own cultural practices within the larger Turkish population. In turn, a part of the Turkish Kurds with radical views wants to become independent and establish their own state in Turkey. It is in fact a main cause of confrontation and military interventions. The Kurdish question is a highly topical problem that is quite complicated and has no easy solution. Yet, all the circumstances of the situation should be taken into account. It seems not only unlikely, but also unreasonable and implausible to allow Kurds to have their own state inside Turkey. In turn, they should be granted some concessions in the form of democratic reforms and policies protecting them as an ethnic group against their complete assimilation. Meanwhile their integration into the Turkish nation that would be aimed at protecting diversity and multiculturalism should be as well ensured. Thus, this paper demonstrates that Kurds should not be provided the right to establish and run their own country within the current borders of Turkey. However, still they should be allowed to retain their ethnicity and culture as a part of the larger diverse Turkish community.
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Brief Overview of the History of the Kurdish Question and Kurdish Population
The Kurdish question has been known under different names over the years with each title carrying its own implications and connotations. Some of the most commonly used ones was applied to refer to the confrontation between Kurds and Turkey as a nation-state including the Eastern Question, the Eastern Problem, the Southeast Problem, the Terror Problem, the Kurdish Problem, and the Kurdistan Question (Ensaroglu, 2013, p. 7). Hence, such naming as the Eastern Problem and the Southeast Problem refer to the geographical location with the highest concentration of the Kurdish population in Turkey. These names do not refer to the existence of the Kurdish identity as such. They implicitly display the fact that these regions of the country are among the poorest and least developed ones causing uprisings among the local community. Meanwhile these uprisings are really triggered by an attempt of Kurds to preserve their identity. By using these names, the government has implied that the elimination of economic issues in the region would automatically solve the Kurdish question (Ensaroglu, 2013). All these titles have been used interchangeably over the past decades when Kurds started demanding independence and recognition of their ethnicity through various means, including non-peaceful ones like revolts. Nonetheless, the roots of the matter go far beyond the contemporary time and even get back to the beginning of the 20th century. It was the period when Turkish and foreign officials started talking about the Kurdish issue at the national and international levels.
Prior to focusing on the Kurdish question, it seems reasonable to discuss briefly the origin and history of this ethnic group. There are no solid data to prove the derivation of this ethnicity. However, the recent researches show that Kurds are the descendants of Neolithic Northern Fertile Crescent aborigines. It makes them the closest community to Iranians in terms of origin and means that their ancestors settled on the territories of modern Iran and partially Eurasia about 4,000 years ago (Hennerbichler, 2012). Kurds claim that they descend from the Medes who contributed to the fall of the Assyrian Empire in the 7th century BC. The latter ones refer to various myths about their origin with the most popular one including King Solomon, some supernatural creatures called gins, and different magical processes (Gunter, 2014). Over the centuries, Kurds had migrated all over the continent. However, the largest settlement of this ethnicity was conquered by Arabs and subsequently Islamized in the 7th century AD (Gunter, 2014). Nowadays, there are about 30 million Kurds living in the mountainous region in the place where the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria converge (Gunter, 2014). There is no reliable official statistics as to the exact numbers of this ethnic group. It is estimated that there about 15 million Kurds in Turkey constituting 20% of the total population of the country. It makes Kurds as the largest ethnic group except Turks (Gunter, 2014). In turn, the Syrian Kurds amount is close to 2 million or 10% of the population; and Iranian Kurds amount to 6.5 million or 11% of the countrys population. Moreover, there are 5 million Kurds in Iraq making 20% of the Iraqi total community (Gunter, 2014). There are also thousands of Kurds living as immigrants in other countries of the world with most of them concentrated in Western Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
It should also be noted that ne should apply a modern definition of any state as an entity that has a permanent population, i.e. as a clearly defined territory with known borders, and a capacity to enter into diplomatic and other relations with other nation-states as determined by the Article I of Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1933). Therefore, Kurds have never had their own country, even at the times before their incorporation into the Ottoman Empire. Still, they have had their nobility trying to establish their independence of various provinces at different times. However, this liberty had never lasted for a long time. Nevertheless, Kurdish provinces enjoyed a rather significant autonomy under the Ottoman rule and did not undergo the complete Arabization as some other provinces had done. For instance, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Kurds are Muslims, they have preserved their ethnic identity and respective culture and traditions closely resembling those of Iranians and significantly differing from those of Turks.
Thus, under the Ottoman rule Kurds did not seriously attempt to reconquer their independence and establish their own state. It may be explained also by some differences between various groups of Kurds residing on different territories in language, customs, and even partially in beliefs. The problems started after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and inclusion of Kurds as a part of Turkey. It should be noted that at the time when the boundaries and borders of modern nation-states were determined, i.e. after the end of the World War I, President Wilson attempted to include the Article 62 into the Treaty of Sevres. It was of 1920 as the clause that would establish the local autonomy for the predominantly Kurdish area and the Article 64 that would allow Kurds to become independent from Turkey (Gunter, 2014, p. 150). This treaty was never signed and adopted. Ataturk manipulated Kurds with some ideas of Islamic unity to abandon the desire for autonomy, which resulted in the absence of these articles in the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 recognizing the Republic of Turkey. The latter one exists today without any special provisions for Kurds residing on its territory (Gunter, 2014). At the time, Kurds lacked any national unity and sense of nationalism. It was supposed that they would continue living under new governments as they had used to do under the Ottomans.
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However, the Turkish government is similar to the ones of Iran, Iraq, and Syria being the countries with the most numerous Kurdish population, has adopted and implemented the policies relating to Kurds based on three main pillars, including assimilation, repression, and containment (Yegen, 2015). These three elements have guided all Turkish policies concerning its Kurdish population since 1923 till the 1990s. The Turkish government also cooperated with the authorities of Iraq, Iran, and Syria so that the Kurds of Syria and Iraq were not given any cultural and political rights and did not have any contact with the Kurds of Turkey (Yegen, 2015, p. 3). These policies partially worked until the 1990s when Kurds started resisting the Turkish attempts of their assimilation and repression with the force after establishing their own militarized party called the PKK. Besides, Iraqi Kurds obtained their protection from the US and NATO in 1991 in the aftermath of the Gulf War. It reinvigorated Turkish Kurds in their fight against the state (Yegen, 2015). This way, Kurds have acquired the wish for independence and creation of their own state in Turkey because of the governments attempts to eradicate their ethnic uniqueness and assimilate them with the majority of the Turkish population. Therefore, the major reason for the politicization of Kurdish cultural identity is the shift from multi-ethnic, multi-cultural realities of the Ottoman Empire to the nation-state model and Turkish reforms aimed at creating unity of the nation resulted in the construction of Kurdish ethno-nationalism (Yavuz, 2001, pp. 1-2).
Current Situation Faced by Kurds Living in Turkey
As mentioned above, until the 1990s, all policies implemented by the Turkish government with respect to Kurds had been aimed at their assimilation, repression, and containment. The main goal was to integrate them into the Turkish population. Kurds rebellions were crushed and the military was allowed to intervene and eliminate the threat posed by Kurdish revolts (Hatem & Dohrmann, 2013). As a response to such harsh repression and forced assimilation, there was the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) established. It has been resiliently fighting against the Turkish governmental forces for several decades in the southeast of the country. Its leader Abdullah Ocalan, being imprisoned by the Turkish government since 1999, has played a significant role in the process of resolution of the Kurdish question. In fact, the PKK and the Turkish government have been fighting on and off for decades now with the most long-lasting ceasefire periods that occurred in the 2000s when the government acknowledged the existence of this issue and agreed to try to solve it. There were several reasons why this change in the official policy relating to Kurds has changed. One of them was the fact that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in the early 2000s. It had to solve the existing problem in order to gain voters and ensure political stability in the country. Another major reason of the shift towards the tries for a peaceful resolution consisted in the elevation of Turkeys status to that of being a candidate for its full membership in the EU in 1999 (Yegen, 2015). The country had to implement a range of reforms and amend its laws with one of the corrections concerning introducing the clause that guarantees the freedom of expression in the Constitution. Besides, the emergency rule was lifted in the southeast of the state. All barriers on teaching and broadcasting in Kurdish were eliminated (Yegen, 2015).
Kurds started to hope for a peaceful resolution of their question. The PKKs leader declared the ceasefire in 2009. This event led to the negotiations with the countrys government. In that year, the so-called Kurdish Opening and Solution Process were declared by Prime Minister Erdogan initiating some talks with imprisoned Ocalan (Cagaptay & Yolbulan, 2016). Both parties seemed to be sincerely interested in resolving the Kurdish question. Kurds were granted more freedoms than ever since the establishment of the Republic in 2009. It was considered a pivotal milestone in the history of the Kurdish issue. There was some hope that the government would finally resolve it through adopting progressive policies (Basar Bezci, 2009). Moreover, the PKK agreed to lay down arms after 25 years of militarized resistance and come to a negotiation table. Meanwhile the authority was also decreasing the extent of its demands from independence or at least autonomy of Kurds to the adoption of required democratic and progressive reforms (Basar Bezci, 2009). The negotiations had intensified during the period from 2012 to 2014. These years were the most peaceful ones in the history of the Kurdish matter. Gradually, Kurds realized that the government was not going to honor its promises. Furthermore, the Syrian Civil War significantly affected the situation in Turkey and caused the deterioration of relations between the government and the PKK. In July of 2015, the full-scale warfare between Turkey and the PKK has been as violent as the conflict has ever been (Cagaptay & Yolbulan, 2016, p. 55). Besides, it should be noted that renewed violence and military confrontation eliminated the progress achieved during the decade before. Therefore, any negotiations on a peaceful resolution should start from the very beginning.
Main Frameworks to Consider the Kurdish Question
There are three main frameworks through which the Kurdish question has been considered by the Turkish government. The first structure is the one that considers the Kurdish issue to be that of terrorism (Hatem & Dohrmann, 2013). Under this concept, it is supposed that Kurds provide domestic support for terrorism, which necessitates population control and monitoring (Hatem & Dohrmann, 2013, p. 53). In fact, the PKK is recognized as a terrorist organization not only by Turkey, but also by the EU and the USA. However, recently, it has been revealed that the USA has been cooperating with the PKK in Syria. The latter one has been fighting against ISIS along with its Syrian affiliate Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its armed wing Peoples Protection Units (YPG) (Singh, 2015). Erdogan has recently declared that Turkey now considers both the PYD and YPG to be terrorist organizations as well. Therefore, it intends to fight them in order to prevent them from launching their activities on the territory of Turkey (Sezer, 2016). Since the PKK has really organized various events and campaigns resulting in hundreds of deaths among the military and casualties among civilians, it complies as follows. There are some requirements needed for receiving the status of the terrorist organization as the line between terrorism and guerilla warfare is blurry. In any case, Kurds should not be given independence and granted the right to create their own country in Turkey within this framework. It would create a precedent in the international system of succumbing to demands of terrorists and supporting the establishment of the state ruled by terrorists.
Another concept through which the Kurdish question has been considered by the government is that of a function of international terrorism (Hatem & Dohrmann, 2013, p. 53). The above framework differs from this one in terms of the origin of terrorism. Within it, radical Turkish Kurds are considered to be terrorists supported from abroad, in particular, by the governments of Syria and Iran striving to destabilize the situation inside the country. The two viewpoints are widespread within Turkey and have the support of both nationalistic political parties and the military (Hatem & Dohrmann, 2013, p. 54). Moreover, under both frameworks Kurds should not have their own state in the Turkish Republic.
The third structure is a civilizational approach to the Kurdish question, under which the poor socioeconomic status of the region has resulted in violence (Hatem & Dohrmann, 2013, p. 54). Hence, the government has decided to implement the policies aimed at fostering social and economic development of the region where most Kurds live in Turkey. These regulations fall under the umbrella of the GAP internal developmental project that covers 9 provinces of Turkey where the population is mostly Kurdish (Hatem & Dohrmann, 2013). Initially, the activity was aimed at developing hydropower capacities in the region. However, recently it has been rebranded as the project aimed at fostering not only economic, but also social development of the region. Moreover, it has been promoting community participation, improved basic education, health, and social services, the advancement of women, the creation of more employment opportunities, efficient use of resources, and environmental preservation (Hatem & Dohrmann, 2013, p. 55). In the reality, the GAP also assists the government with preventing terrorism make it harder for fighters to enter the country from abroad and hide on the territory of Turkey. Besides, it fosters the assimilation of Kurds through almost forced urbanization of the population that has to leave its traditional villages because of the construction of new dams and hydro-stations. The project is nonetheless funded by the central government and foreign investors with virtually no local investments. It means that the local population is poor. The infrastructure of the region is underdeveloped. Meanwhile social institutions need huge investments as well. All it leads to the conclusion that the district is financially not self-sufficient. Currently, it has no means to fund local large-scale projects. Therefore, even if Kurds were given independence in Turkey, it would bankrupt very quickly; and almost all citizens would live below the poverty line. It is another reason why Kurds should not have their own state in Turkey.
Four Important Pillars as Applicable to Kurds and Their Demands for Independence in Turkey
It is generally considered that a de jure independent state has to have four pillars sufficiently developed, including military, economic, political, and social ones (Ali, 2012). Only in such case the territory can be recognized as a de jure and de facto state that enjoys its full independence. The military element means that the country should have sufficient resources, including both human ones and weaponry, to defend its borders from foreign intrusion (Ali, 2012). Turkish Kurds have this pillar embodied in the form of the PKK and other radicalized elements resorted to violence in order to demand independence from the Turkish government. However, they are beyond the scope of the law and cannot be legalized in any way. They are considered to be terrorists not only inside Turkey, but internationally as well despite any covert common operations of the PKK with international actors in Syria (Singh, 2015). Another pillar is the economic one. As mentioned above, the region where most Kurds reside is underdeveloped and mostly rural with no large industrial centers that could have financed the young state for Kurds to receive their independence. Similarly, the social pillar is not highly developed in the southeast of Turkey irrespectively of the recent improvements launched within the development of the GAP project.
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Finally, politically the region is quite developed due to the Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), which is currently being the third largest one in the Turkish parliament (Cagaptay & Yolbulan, 2016). The HDP is, in fact, a main rival for the AKP in the southeastern provinces of the country. This party appeals to both ethno-nationalistic Kurds and Turks residing in Western provinces, while the AKP appeals to conservative regions (Cagaptay & Yolbulan, 2016). The HDP entered the Turkish political landscape in 2015 when it took part in the elections. It was the party for the first time at that period and received more than 13% of the total votes, hence winning 80 seats out of 550 in the legislature (Cagaptay & Yolbulan, 2016). It was the historic victory for the Kurdish party. However, it is not clear whether it would be sufficient to accomplish the political pillar requirement if Kurds received independence. Besides, given the current situation in the world it is highly unlikely that a new state would receive international recognition as evident from the current situation with Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan enjoys its autonomy, but it fails to establish the mutually beneficial relations with many of international actors even. However, Turkey supports this autonomous region. Overall, not all four pillars are currently represented in the Kurdish provinces of the Turkish Republic. It means that they can hardly establish a normally functioning de jure and de facto state that would be viable and could sustain it and its development in all four required domains.
Doctrine of Remedial Secession and Its Applicability to the Kurdish Issue
Most nations aspiring to found their own state and obtain independence refer to the doctrine of remedial secession. It may be understood in different ways. Allen Buchanan stands among the recent scholars researching and studying the issue of secession. His works provide an in-depth comprehension of this doctrine. Hence, Buchanan (1997, p. 285) points out that there are remedial rights of self-government and of secession, and that nations sometimes have these rights. He continues that the idea of a remedial right of self-determination is the idea that a group can form its own political unit and secede from another state if necessary, in order to escape serious injustices that are being inflicted on it, at least if there is no other recourse. The scholar also provides the description of conditions that make secession of the group legitimate under the doctrine, while adding that the separation can be either unilateral or consensual. In case with Turkish Kurds, they can only aspire to the division that is unilateral by nature since Turkey will never agree to that. According to Buchanan (1991), there exist twelve possible justifications for a morally justified remedial secession, including protection of liberty, promotion of diversity, preservation of liberal purity, political association, facilitation of entry, stopping of discriminatory redistribution, enhancement of efficiency, pure self-determination and nationalism, preservation of culture, self-defense, addressing of past injustices, and consent. Although all these allegations can be appealed to only escaping discriminatory redistribution and rectifying past injustices that seem to be the most justifiable causes.
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Subsequently, Buchanan (2013) adds that the right to secede emerges only when the liberties of the group are violated, when it is a remedy of the last resort aimed at stopping large-scale and constant violations of human rights. It is the violation of some basic rights. Nonetheless, the remedial secession is not always possible since there are two main objections: infeasibility objection and equal one (Buchanan, 1998). Under the initial one, it is understood that there are many mixed states and too few territories that can become viable and sustainable regions. Under the equal respect objection, all nations should have an equal right to self-determination. However, only those ones with the intrinsic value of the nation should be granted independence under the doctrine. Hence, under this doctrine Kurds seem to have the right to self-determination based on the above justifications since they have suffered from the abuse of human rights and discrimination, as well as looked for a chance to preserve their culture and address past injustices. However, all Kurds rather than only Turkish Kurds have experienced such violation and, in fact, Iraqi Kurds, for instance, have suffered from more discriminations than their Turkish counterparts. Furthermore, both objections apply to the Kurdish question. Under the infeasibility objection, it is evident that Kurds should not have the state in Turkey since it is not feasible. Moreover, it should be taken into account that Iraqi Kurds have established an autonomous federal entity where virtually all citizens were Kurds and wanted autonomy. In turn, the southeastern regions of the Turkish Republic are inhabited not only by Kurds and not all Kurds want the secession from the country. This way, the equal respect objection is also applicable to Turkish Kurds. Besides, the remedial secession doctrine usually applies to the nations that once had their own state. It is not the case with Turkish Kurds. Overall, this doctrine cannot be used to justify the creation of the country for Kurds inside Turkey.
Opposing View as to the Kurdish Question
The above presented views support an idea that Kurds should not have their own state in Turkey. Most of them appeal to reasonable and objective justifications. However, there is also an opposing opinion as to the Kurdish question under which Kurds should be granted autonomy and independence, thus being given an opportunity to establish their own country in the Turkish Republic. Hence, in 2009, there was the idea voiced that the negotiation process between the PKK and the APK should be followed by the granting of political, social, and cultural rights to the Kurds and concluded with the establishment of an autonomous Kurdish state (Basar Bezci, 2009, p. 1). Another view was that Turkish Kurds should study and follow an example set by Iraqi Kurds who managed to establish the first proto-Kurdish state in modern times and a powerful model for other Kurds in Turkey, Syria, and even Iran (Gunter, 2014, p. 162). The proponents of this idea also claimed that Turkish Kurds might have more chances than any other Kurds due to the good relations between Iraqi Kurdistan and the Turkish government. It is evident from their agreement to build an oil pipe without participation of Baghdad. Furthermore, some scholars have observed that the Kurdish drive for greater self-government has become virtually impossible to ignore (Seufert, 2015, p. 6).
In the recent past, especially with the escalation of the Syrian civil war, Kurds have started playing a more significant role in the Middle Eastern policy than ever before. It has contributed to the expansion of their influence in the region. Other researchers point out that Kurds have suffered from the discrimination and violation of human rights in all countries where they live, which partially justifies their violent response to repression and containment policies (Yegen, 2015). Nonetheless, Turkish Kurds have changed their demands in the recent years from demanding autonomy to asking for an adoption of policies that would preserve diversity and promote democracy in the country. Having gained the political influence, they seem to shift their priorities from becoming independent to promoting development of their ethnic group inside the Turkish society.
It should be noted that Iraqi Kurds have managed to obtain autonomy, yet they have faced a drastically different situation. Under Hussein, they suffered from a continuous violation of human rights and abusive discrimination. Meanwhile subsequently they appeared to live in the state that was practically ruined by the war. It means that they had to rebuild all spheres irrespectively of whether they stayed subordinate to the central government of Iraq or became autonomous. In turn, Turkish Kurds currently live in the region that is being heavily invested into both by the government and foreign investors. It promotes the development of their provinces irrespectively of the failure to have all their demands fulfilled. Hence, Turkish Kurds have some stability and lack support in their endeavors to gain autonomy. Meanwhile Iraqi Kurds had nothing to lose and enjoyed international support making the latter one an exception rather than a rule. Therefore, it cannot be applied in the Kurdish question in Turkey.
In conclusion, the above discussion proves that the Kurdish question in Turkey is highly complicated and has no easy solution. The history shows that the attitudes of the governments of Kurds and Turkey to the issue have changed over the years. Therefore, both parties have fluctuated between armed fights and peaceful negotiations. Negotiations that started in the 2000s were promising and could really lead both parties to a mutually satisfactorily resolution. Yet the Syrian war started and escalated the conflict, thereby annulling all achievements and further aggravating the two sides. In any case, the above presented arguments prove that Kurds should not have their own state in Turkey as their current level of development does not comply with the requirements to the four pillars of a state. They fail to qualify for the justified application of the remedial secession doctrine. Furthermore, the most efficacious policy in dealing with the Kurdish question is not granting autonomy and independence, but adopting the policies aimed at supporting ethnic and cultural diversity in Turkey. As demonstrated above, Turkish Kurds now seem to agree to such solution. It is up to the government to make an ultimate decision. Besides, the promotion of diversity would strengthen Turkeys position in the world and prove its commitment to the course aimed at obtaining membership of the country in the EU. It would also pacify the armed arm of Kurds, i.e. the PPK, and allow the growing numbers of immigrants because of the Syrian war to integrate into the Turkish society without any confrontation and conflict.