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MUSTAFA AKYOL > Syrian Kurdistan and Turkish Kurdophobia

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In the last decade, there was a popular joke among the Iraqi Kurds: A young girl, who was named “Kurdistan” by her parents out of nationalistic enthusiasm, needs to go to Turkey. At the border, she gives her passport to a Turkish policeman, who asks, “What is your name?” Feeling uneasy about uttering the “K” word in front of the Turkish authorities, the girl chooses a compromise. “My name,” says young Kurdistan, “is Northern Iraq!”

This joke is not only funny but also explanatory, because for many years, the overwhelming majority of Turks had a big problem with uttering the very name of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq. The official language and the officially-tuned media have been careful to use euphemisms such as “Northern Iraq” or even “the north of Iraq.”

The reason was obvious: Since the beginning of the Turkish Republic, the very existence of region of Kurdistan, which was once the name of an Ottoman administrative unit, has been denied. Ankara’s Newspeak aimed to create a new country by carefully cleansing the republic of any language other than Turkish.

In fact, not only “Kurdistan” as the name of a region, but the very word “Kurd,” was illegal in Turkey until the early 1990s. Luckily, that insane taboo died out gradually, but the taboo on “Kurdistan” has remained.

Why is that? Because most Turks fear that “Kurdistan” is the name of the unified and independent country that Kurdish nationalists want to create, and which would include large parts of Turkey. And in fact there are many Kurdish nationalists who do want to realize that goal, as evidenced by their maps of “Greater Kurdistan.” The Turkish concerns are not totally irrational.

What is totally irrational is the use of denial as a method to deal with those concerns. As many Turkish liberals, including my humble self, have argued, Ankara should try to “win over” the Kurds, rather than suppressing them, and make them its allies rather than enemies. And the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, like it or not, has been able to bring this conceptual change to life, at least partly, at least with regards to Iraqi Kurdistan.

Now what makes all this relevant these days is the rise of the Syrian Kurds, as a consequence of the gradual collapse of the bloodthirsty Baath regime in Damascus. Ankara, to its credit, has been a strong supporter of the Syrian opposition, which includes Kurdish groups. But the almost-sudden appearance of the prospect of a “Syrian Kurdistan,” which seems as though it would be dominated by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which seems to be allied with Turkey’s bête noir, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has caused some alarm in Turkey. While some of this alarmism comes directly from the established Turkish Kurdophobia, which is undoubtedly wrong, the rest stems from a reasonable concern about the PKK, which is a terrorist group by international definition.

So the Syrian Kurds would be doing themselves a great favor by distancing themselves from the PKK and refraining from proving to be anti-Turkish. If that is the case, Ankara could well develop good relations with the Syrian Kurds, as it has done with the Iraqi ones. Yalçın Akdoğan, the closest advisor to the Turkish prime minister, seems to set the tone in a recent piece in which he said: “The AKP government will act towards the Kurds, which it knows as its brothers, with affection rather than fear. But it will not shy away from taking the necessary steps against the terrorist organization [the PKK] which has launched a war against it.”

August/01/2012

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Ozan Leman

11/8/2012 5:53:11 PM

If Iraqi Kurdistan is to declare independence and unite with Syria then I expect all the Kurds in Turkey to leave.

ismail demir

8/6/2012 6:13:52 PM

I mean, what is the relation between your saying with your claims of situation of palestinians is better than Kurds.

american american

8/6/2012 2:52:19 PM

read a real history book from an unbiased author and you can learn, too. google rule of palestine and find out who conquered it (ottoman turks). find out gaza was egypt and west bank and jerusalem was jordan and those countries were fine having that territory until they lost the 6 day war.

ismail demir

8/5/2012 3:06:55 PM

Read wikipedia, you can learn.

american american

8/5/2012 1:54:36 PM

when did they forcefully invade palestine? not in 1516.

ismail demir

8/4/2012 2:10:00 AM

I did not say kurds will be happy to become palestinians, I will be happy if Turkey do what israel did to palestinians, because Turks benefit this.For your question, israelies forcefully invaded palestine, and palestinians did not accept this.On the contrary Kurds willingly accepted Turkish hegemony at 16. century because Iranians persecuted them to turn shia.And Turks accepted big Kurdish population from iran.Kurds firstly agree and benefit from Turks, they later betrayed to steal from Turks.

american american

8/3/2012 11:00:19 PM

you changed the topic. you said israel only 'allowed' 1.5 million palestinians to stay in the country as israeli citizens, while deporting the other 9.5 million. i asked if those 9.5 million were deported unwillingly after agreeing to accept israeli citizenship and live under an israeli government. now you are saying that kurds will be happy to become palestinians? does this mean that they will be happy to live in gaza/w.b. or that they're just roaming trouble-makers looking to join conflicts?

ismail demir

8/3/2012 4:30:35 PM

american american, it seems you pretend to have understanding problem when you lost argument.If you did not understand my sentence of this "they will be happy to regain citizenship as palestinians."

ismail demir

8/3/2012 4:17:03 PM

V tiger, 3 million Armenia deported innocent 1 million muslims 20 years ago, Turkey had more right to deport kurds, since 1 of 3 of them sympathy with teror.Turks are not refugees, they didnot beg to get asylium from nobody unlike kurds .No country give land to refugees in the history.If muslims in Europe started teror as big as pkk and muslim society show solidarity with teror, certainly Europeans deported muslims or respond more blodily than Turkey.

V Tiger

8/3/2012 11:54:20 AM

Demir,with your logic then the Turks should go back to the Mongolian plateau?Are you suggesting ethnic cleansing of Kurds?
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