NINE – The Kurdish Phenomenon and the Kurdish Question in the Chaos of the Middle East


A realistic approach to the Kurdish phenomenon is more important than ever before. A significant part of the chaos in Iraq was due to the Kurdish question. How this chaos, which is very high on the world’s agenda today, can be overcome is as yet unclear. Western civilization does not have the ability to achieve a solution. Once again, the powerful are trying to find a way out of the situation with major international projects specific to the post–world wars situation. There is great anxiety in the region. None of the established regimes is feeling confident. It is not clear what tomorrow will bring. On the other hand, there is an increase in what is called the phenomenon of “terror,” with no real effort to reveal the nature of the actual terror. Ominous developments are lurking in the fog of chaos. Despite everything, however, there is hope for the dawn of freedom.

We have reached a point where the Kurds cannot be ruled as before. An inert continuation of the old cursed life would be impossible to reconcile with our age, even if the Kurds themselves wanted to pursue that course. Internal and external influences will accelerate the dissolution of the present Kurdish reality. What a solution will look like and what direction it will take will depend on the nature of the forces that arise and the pace at which they actively intervene. It seems as if the Kurds will play a disruptive role for the whole Middle East not unlike that played by Israel for the Arab states. The establishment of a Kurdish federal state in Iraq will contribute to the erosion of the rigidly centralized nation-state model in the region. Although involuntarily, this might also accelerate a tendency toward a general federation, which would correspond much better with the history of the Middle East. At present, the burning question is whether this will lead to a conflict of two nationalisms or to a solution through a democratic compromise.

Since emerging as the only world power after 1990, the US has intervened in the Middle East at a level never previously seen. Its Greater Middle East Initiative is the subject of daily query, with one of the most important topics being the place of the Kurds within the project. It is possible that the relationship between the Kurds, the US, and Israel could become increasingly strategic. The consequences for the region must be carefully evaluated. It is worth considering whether the current period will be rife with betrayal or will be a period in which the Kurds become the rising stars of the region. It is the first time that the relations of the Kurds among themselves and with the neighboring peoples and states are such that that they will profoundly influence strategies for the region. Kurdish-Arabic, Kurdish-Iranian, and Kurdish-Turkish relations will, from this point on, be permanently on the agenda.

On the other hand, do the Kurdish parties and movements that are responsible for coming up with ideas, action, and the restructuring of the Kurdish reality have the necessary competence for the tasks they now face? Would primitive nationalist, real socialist, and liberal approaches be suitable for responding to the challenges of our time? Questions as to how the necessary ideological renewal and intellectual capacity are to be attained are also very important. Does the leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan act with sufficient responsibility when taking steps that concern not only all Kurds but also all other peoples and states in the region? Can they transcend their character, which has been defined, above all else, by their traditional narrow interests and exploitation for their own personal gain? What measures can be adopted so that they do not cause a new disaster, and who should take responsibility for this?These questions will certainly be of continuing importance. The existing problems are also back on the agenda in all parts of Kurdistan and require realistic solutions. Effective democratic grassroots work will be particularly important to prevent inordinate suffering. Possible solutions that are reassuring and a renewed political approach that does not threaten borders will be increasingly important. As such, the search for solutions in all parts of Kurdistan is on the agenda and can no longer be postponed.

As the leading force of the last thirty years, the PKK has gone through important changes that continue to have an impact today. The problems experienced by the left around the world in the aftermath of 1968 and 1990 would find their reflection within the PKK. The party line, which was somewhere between real socialism and national liberation, was insufficient for actualizing and organizing the party’s true potential, and this was aggravated both by external pressures and by internal weaknesses. This resulted in a praxis that was half-insurgent and half-guerrilla, leading to unnecessary casualties. The gang-like and vagrant insurgent group praxis increasingly exhausted values that had been built with much effort and imposed a de facto liquidationism. Despite all efforts, after 1995, the PKK broke with its true essence. The KADEK and Kongra Gel undertakings,1 along with theoretical, strategic, and tactical changes led to the restructuring of the movement. The old cadres were not able to keep up. They displayed their innate inertness through actual splits among themselves. To protect the positive legacy, PKK-Reconstruction was considered as a step against both right-wing and left-wing liquidationism. With Kurdistan now entering a period that is new in every respect, all of this requires a comprehensive analysis, accompanied by critique and self-critique and a reformulation of our responsibilities.

Some Distinctive Lines in the Kurdish Society

A Short Sketch of the History and Concepts of “Kurds” and “Kurdistan”

There are difficulties associated with defining Kurdistan as a country and the Kurds and other minorities as societies. In the Middle East, the concept of “country” has a number of diverse definitions. If we start with the Middle Ages, the dominant definition of country was based on religion, such as diyar-i islam, country of Islam, or diyar-i küffar, country of the infidels. Even though various kavim and ethnic groups can be distinguished, there are no clear territorial boundaries. If clarification of the territorial borders of any given kavim or ethnic group is requested, the answer given will be far from certain. In general, the settlement areas of the kavim and aşiret communities are specified. But these do not correspond to any particular political formation. Political structures are mostly city-based and their territory is also the city’s area of activity. The boundaries of aşiret’s spread may change from summer to winter. The estate boundaries of the powerful dynasties are also far from being politically significant. In general, the borders of Arab, Turkish, Kurdish, and Persian territories, as well as those of smaller kavim, are roughly determined by language and culture.

The term “Kurdistan” goes back to the Sumerian word kur, which means mountain.2 The suffix -ti refers to an affiliation. As such, Kurti means inhabitant(s) of the mountains, or mountain people. The term can be found in writings from the third millennium BCE. We also know of other designations. The Luwians, a people who resided in West Anatolia more than three thousand years ago (around 1000 BCE), called Kurdistan gondwana, i.e., country of villages. In today’s Kurdish language, gond still means village. During Assyrian rule, the word nairi, people of the river, was used. We even know of a Nairi Federation, which was founded in the area between the Tigris and Zap rivers. A larger region was called a madain or med, which probably means something like country of metal. These names were widely used during the Middle to Neo-Assyrian Empire era, from 1300 to 600 BCE.

The word urartu also stems from Sumerian. Ur means hill or peak; urartu could thus mean highlands.3 Because the Sumerians lived in Lower Mesopotamia, they always gave Kurdistan, which was located on the plateaus to the north and east of them, names that expressed this comparative height. The word hurri very probably also comes from that source and, thus, also means people of the highlands or mountain people.4 Commagene is a name that comes from Greek. The Kingdom of Commagene, with Samosata, near today’s Adıyaman, as its capital, existed from 250 to 100 BCE. In Kurdish, kom is still used, in the form of zom, for semi-nomadic communities and their settlement areas. Gene means lineage, tribe, or aşiret.

Thus, Commagene means the country of semi-nomadic aşiret. In the Middle Ages, during the rule of the Arab sultans, the term “balad ekrad,” to mean area of the Kurds, was used. The Persian-speaking Seljuk sultans, however, were the first statesmen to officially use the word Kurdistan in its present meaning, land/country of the Kurds. The Persian speaking Seljuk sultans were the first state officials to use Kurdistan, land/country of the Kurds, in the way it is used today. Later, the Ottoman sultans, especially Selim I, used Kurdistan to denote the governments and provinces ( eyalet) of Kurdistan. The land laws ( arazi kanunnamesi) of 1848 and 1867, formally established the provinces of Kurdistan. During periods of constitutional monarchy in the Ottoman Empire,5 deputies ( mebusluk) of Kurdistan were set up. In the 1920s, many of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s written orders and statements used the words Kurds and Kurdistan. The official denial of the Kurds and Kurdistan only began with the intense assimilation policies that followed the suppression of the uprisings. Thus, Kurdistan, meaning land/country of the Kurds, has the distinction of being one of the oldest historical names for a people and their country. More recently, it has been used more in a geographical and cultural than political sense. The foundation of a federal state in Iraqi Kurdistan means that in the future we will also frequently encounter a political version of the word Kurdistan. Most certainly, as a consequence of political developments related to the PKK, Kurdistan has become widely known both regionally and internationally, not just as a word but as a social and political concept.

Kurdistan is located between the regions settled by the Persians, the Azeris, the Arabs, and the Anatolian Turks and comprises an area of about 450,000 square kilometers [approximately 280,000 square miles]. It is the most fertile region in the Middle East, with the highest mountains, the vastest forests, fertile plains, and the richest water resources. The flora and its soil are suitable both for animal husbandry and growing all kinds of fruit, vegetables, and grains. Between 11000 and 4000 BCE, it was the center of the Neolithic agricultural revolution, the most important revolution in history. It was the source and transit area of numerous civilizations. While this strategic position allowed the Kurds as a qawm to protect themselves in the face of the continuous transitions and occupations, in terms of civilization they lagged behind.

Comparatively, Kurdish society is easier to define. The Kurdish people are almost synonymous with mountains, agriculture, and animal husbandry. Urbanism is alien to the Kurds; village life is central to their society. It is possible that the Kurds’ ancestors were the first in history to actualize this most fundamental social phenomenon.

The Kurds are primarily gundî (villagers) and nomadic and regard city life as alien. As the notion of “Commagene” suggests, the Kurds have cultivated a way of life that has been half-centered around the village and half-nomadic for thousands of years. As for the cities, they were mostly built or inhabited by the conquerors. That, of course, doesn’t mean that the ancestors of the Kurds never founded cities or civilizations. A number of urban civilizations, particularly the Urartian, Median, and Mitanni states, testify to the contrary. In the Middle Ages, they also established a number of city or provincial governments. However, because these city or provincial governments were mostly short-lived, the cities generally represented strongholds or bridgeheads for the occupying forces and surrounding society. In antiquity, the cities and the written culture had a Sumerian, Assyrian, Aramaic, Persian, or Hellenic character. In the Middle Ages, the Arab and Persian languages and cultures left their traces, and many intellectuals, statesmen, and commanders played a role with these neighboring languages and cultures. Even though the cultural roots of the Kurdish language reach very far back, the fact that it was not so much a written language and never became a state language meant that it was not documented, which prevented its further development. Despite all of this, Kurdish culture has been able to display its existence indirectly, both by the perseverance of the Kurds as an ethnic group and through historical vestiges.

According to many archeologists, it is very likely that the direct predecessors of the Kurdish language and culture—as the language and culture of the Neolithic Age that emerged on the slopes of the Zagros and the Taurus—constituted the basis for all later Indo-European languages and cultures. It is assumed that since the ninth century, the expansion into the Indo-European region was more cultural than physical. We can assume that this culture itself emerged sometime between 15000 and 10000 BCE. The culture and the language very probably emerged following the fourth Ice Age (20000 to 15000 BCE) as one of the most autochthonous—i.e., native—of cultures and languages in the area. The Kurds as an ethnic group differentiated themselves beginning in the seventh millennium BCE. On the historical stage, the Kurds first appeared as the Hurrians in the third millennium BCE. The Sumerian and Hurrian tribes attacked each other and defended themselves for millennia, because the Sumerians wanted wood and metals and the Hurrians were keen on the treasures of civilization. This historical dialectic continued with Babylon, Assur, the Hittites, the Scythians, the Persians, and the Hellenes. The Kurds might be the people who have practiced the mutual movements of sedentarism and nomadism for the longest time.

The role of the Hurrians and Medes as the predecessors of the Kurds was decisive for the transmission of Sumerian civilization to the Hittites, Luwians, Ionians, and Persians. The fact that these peoples belong to the Indo-European linguistic and cultural group is closely related to this reality.

The ancient Histories written by Herodotus make it pretty clear that from the tenth to the fifth centuries BCE, the Greeks were strongly influenced by the Median culture and language. It was during this period that they adopted elements of both material and immaterial culture from Urartian, Median, and Persian sources, enriching them with their own synthesis. It is assumed that the ancestors of the Kurds, the Hurrians (2500–1500 BCE), the Mittanni (1500–1250 BCE) who were descendants of the Hurrians, the Nairi (1200–900 BCE), the Urartians (900–600 BCE), and the Medes (700–550 BCE) all lived in aşiret confederations and kingdoms. During this period, Kurdish society underwent a transition to hierarchy and the state, after which we can observe a strongly developed patriarchy. In the Neolithic agrarian age, women were more functional and played a far more central role in the Kurdish society, so it is very likely that they had used their power over an extended period. The predominantly feminine elements in the language and the cult of the goddess Star support this conjecture.6

Zoroastrianism, the teachings of Zoroaster, developed between 700 and 550 BCE as a mentality revolution among the Kurds. The Zoroastrian mentality was based on agriculture, a love of animals, equality of women and men, and a doctrine of free morality. This culture, which emerged at the border separating the West from the East, strongly influenced Eastern culture through the Persians and Western culture through the Greeks. Its profound influence on both has meant that it was at least as important a source as Judaism and Christianity in shaping the civilization.7 Persian civilization was actually founded by the Medes, who later governed it together with the Persian tribes, so one should actually speak of a Persian-Median civilization,8 as Herodotus’s Histories makes clear.9 The Medes were one of two ethnic group to play a role in the Achaemenid Empire over the course of its existence. The same situation continued in the Sasanian dynasty. In this light, it makes sense to consider the Kurds as having played a secondary role in all Iranian civilizations.

While a developed patriarchy clearly existed among the predecessors of the Kurds, at this point, there was not yet any clear class differentiation. The influence of aşiret nomadism and primarily living in the mountains meant that classes were barely visible. Because of their mutual kinship relations, aşiret and tribal communities did not allow slavery, which was, in any case, largely a product of urban civilization, to develop in their midst.

Kurdish folklore mainly consists of epics. Since these epics give voice to heroic deeds, it is quite likely that they go back to the hierarchical period. The roots of epic melodies such as “Mem û Zîn,” “Memê Alan,” and “Derweşê Evdî” have their origins in the Sumerian music. They are probably Hurrian creations from the fourth millennium BCE that have been transmitted by the Sumerians to our time. Kurdish music and dance are among the most expressive in the Middle East and possess great artistic value. The historic existence of the Kurds is most strongly expressed in music, dance, and clothing.

Summarizing, we can say that the lineage and dignity of the Kurds reaches back into protohistory. The harsh nature of the mountains, a historical background that dates even further back, and resistance against continuous ruthless occupations played an important role in the development of their dignity.

The Hellenic period left its traces during the transition to the Middle Ages. From the fourth century BCE, there were the kingdoms of Abgar, with Urfa as its center, of Commagene, with Adıyaman/Samosata as its center, and of Syria, with Palmyra as its center; they all had similar characteristics and a strong Hellenic influence—or, more precisely, they represented splendid examples of this first historical Western-Eastern synthesis. Until the conquest by Rome—Palmyra fell in 269 CE—these civilizations represented important regional developmental stages. The historical artifacts in Urfa, at Mount Nemrut, and in Palmyra are from this period. These civilizations had an extensive exchange with the Kurds. At that time, Aramaic and Greek were the predominant and competing languages. While these civilizations dominated the trade routes, the Kurds, mostly as cultivators and nomads, represented the periphery. Even today, remnants of this framework remain. The alienage of urban centers and the Kurdishness of the village and nomads at the periphery constitute a dialectical relationship.

Zoroastrianism was the ideological foundation of the Sasanian Empire at the beginning of the third century CE and the influence of the Kurds stayed unchanged. The prophet Mani (210–276 CE) introduced an important innovation. He created a synthesis of all of the religions of his time and tried to turn this synthesis into the basic mentality of the Roman and the Sasanian Empires,10 with the goal of creating peace and a Renaissance. Instead, he attracted the ire of the conservative Zoroastrian priests and was killed. Even so, his powerful line of mentality left its mark, with traces that reach down to the present day.

The expansion of Christianity also occurred during this period. Urfa, in particular, which at the time was called Edessa, and Nusaybin, at the time Nisibis, functioned as strongholds of Christianity and, as such, also exercised an influence on the Kurds. Some Kurds even converted to Christianity. But Zoroastrianism, especially in the Sasanian Empire, posed a barrier to the quick expansion of Christianity further East.

In retrospect, Manichaeism appears, in a certain sense, to be an earlier version of Islam, and Mani an earlier incarnation of the Prophet Mohammad.

The destructive wars between the Roman and Sasanian Empires would continue to wreak great havoc for many years, particularly in the region between Diyarbakır and Nusaybin. Unlike during the Hellenic period, society was unable to develop in peace. There was a competition between Christianity and Zoroastrianism; then, under Sasanian influence, Nestorianism emerged as a competing Christian current. The Assyrians were one of the first people to adopt Christianity, and they went on to play an important role in the culture and science of the time. Their contribution to the dissemination of Christianity throughout East Asia was greater than that of the Greeks. Many important bishops came from their ranks, and they created a huge number of literary works. They founded well-equipped academies in Urfa, Nusaybin, and Siirt. They also played a decisive role in the establishment of the academy of Gundishapur, the scientific center of the Sasanians. Their Aramaic language continued to be the lingua franca in the East for trade, literature, and religion, while Greek expanded in the West, which is to say, in the Byzantine sphere of influence.

We can safely assume that the feudal social structure among the Kurds emerged during the Sasanian Empire (250–650 CE), with the Kurds gradually undergoing a social transformation to adjust to this structure. The development of feudalism demonstrates a differentiation in ethnic structures. The Islamic revolution broke out during the developmental phase of feudal civilization. Islam essentially transformed both the rigid slavery relations and ethnic bonds that were an obstacle to development based on urbanization, and, thus, was the mentality revolution that created the ideological framework feudal society required, which, compared to slavery, was a progressive system. It represents the revolutionary development that took a more evolutionary path in Europe, India, and China. Islam was the last great revolution in civilization in the Middle East.11 Until the twelfth century, Islam’s ideological and political framework was central to the development of feudal society.

Islam rapidly developed among the Kurds after the fall of the Sasanians in 650 CE, creating a feudal aristocracy in the process. The hierarchical and statist Kurdish forces that underwent a transformation under the influence of a strong Arabization were among the strongest social and political groups. The Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty (1175–1250 CE) became the most powerful dynasty in the Middle East,12 playing a very influential role among the Kurds. Of equal importance, the Seljuk sultanate, which inherited the Abbasids in 1055 CE, coexisted with the Kurds. This coexistence primarily took the form of partnership rather than conflict, as is also basically the case in Kirkuk today. Other important feudal states founded by dynasties with Kurdish roots, including the Shaddadids, the Buyids, and the Marwanids (990–1090 CE), also rose at this time, as did a number of Kurdish princedoms and governments. The Şerefhanoğulları principality,13 with Bitlis as its center, proved the most durable until the time of Suleiman the Magnificent, well into the sixteenth century. The feudal social characteristics led to an important transformation in the mentality of Kurdish society. The remnants of Zoroastrianism were erased, except among the Yazidis. This transformation probably played a counterrevolutionary role in the development of collaborationism among the Kurds.

While Arabic became predominant in the Islamized cities, there was no decline in the Kurdish language and cultural presence. It was also at this point that we see the first textualization of the Kurdish epics by Ahmad Khani, among others. As with all ethnic groups, a culture overlaid with Islamic motifs took roots among the Kurds. Nonetheless, there were always conflicts with the expansionist Arab tribes in South Kurdistan, and these continue to this very day, particularly with the Shammar tribe.14 The epic Derweşê Evdî testifies to these conflicts. It is assumed that the events described in this epic took place in the eighteenth century. This is an epic that insists on having Zoroastrian roots and carries strong traces of Kurdish culture. It seems that under the influence of the Islamic environment, Zoroastrianism was a sort of cultural resistance, the noble resistance of Kurdish culture to alienation. Kurdish Alevism, with its partisanship for Ali, which actually has a fairly thin Islamic cover and represents the Kurdish version of Shiism, is, next to Zoroastrianism, the strongest expression of Kurdish cultural resistance. In contrast, Sunni Islam, especially the version found among the South Kurds who are close to the plains developed an extremely reactionary and collaborationist character. In Urfa, Mardin, and Siirt in particular, these representatives of the feudal merchant mindset, who deny their cultural descent, are not only deep into betrayal but are also incredibly collaborationist and driven by self-interest. Among the Kurds under Iranian influence, the degeneration has been less pronounced, and they preserve their cultural essence with more authentic structures.

The relationships between ethnic Kurdish and ethnic Turkish tribes and their states was important at the time. There were very few conflicts; instead, relations were friendly and based on solidarity and on a common opposition to Byzantine influence. The fact that the Armenians and Assyrians were Christians also played an important role in this approach. The victory of Sultan Alp Arslan in the battle of Manzikert in 1071 CE was basically the result of a Kurdish-Turkish alliance. Without the support of the Kurds, the sultan could certainly not have been victorious. At that time, there was substantial assimilation of the Turkmen tribes by the strong local Kurdish culture and the Kurdish tribes, a process that continued until the end of the nineteenth century and only began to reverse direction with the advent of the Turkish republic.

The Kurds, who were under the overall cultural influence of the Middle Ages, experienced a decline in free life to the extent that they underwent feudal class division. Feudal serfdom constantly developed in opposition to tribal freedom and constituted an important phase in the shift in the mentality, with the accompanying alienation. Even though the Kurds gave rise to a number of Islamic scholars, their tendency to collaborate with the states in the region meant they never had a lasting influence. The most interesting example of collaboration with the state and flattery for a sultan is that of İdris of Bitlis.15 Sunni brotherhoods like the Naqshbandi also deserve a mention in this connection. During the 2004 local elections in Bingöl, it was interesting to watch a group with its roots in this brotherhood chant “İdris of Bitlis is here, where is Yavuz Selim?” This would suggest that they expected Erdoğan to fill Yavuz Selim’s shoes. Unless the Naqshbandi betrayal in Kurdistan is evaluated in its entirety, a revolutionary enlightenment will remain impossible.16 On the other hand, the enlightenment of the Alawite Kurds has been more positive. Examining the striking influence of historical dynamics on the present, particularly in connection with these brotherhoods and denominations, could provide important lessons. These brotherhoods think that by denouncing the republic’s enlightenment as “Kemalist” they can disguise their ugly faces from the Kurdish people. Without analyzing and exposing the latent reactionary nature and self-interest of many brotherhoods of Sunni origin, a consistent Kurdish patriotism and democracy cannot be developed.

When adjudication through the discussion of precedents ( igťihād) ceased in Islamic civilization after the thirteenth century, at a point when this civilization was being simultaneously attacked by the Mongols and the crusaders, a phase of stagnation (1200–1500 CE) and decay (1500–1918 CE) set in that it was never able to recover from. Until the thirteenth century, it contributed to the civilizational development that took its first steps in Europe on behalf of the Eastern civilization, but the Ottoman Empire found it difficult to continue this tradition during its period of stagnation and decay. Even though the Ottoman Empire led the last defensive battle of the East against rising Western civilization, the backwardness of the ideological, political, and economic system prevented its success and could not stave off its collapse.

After the time of Sultan Selim I, in the early sixteenth century, the Kurdish ruling classes generally enjoyed a high degree of autonomy and, as a result, were the most assiduous supporters of the Ottoman rulers. This state of affairs continued until the beginning of the nineteenth century, finally collapsing with the first forays of European colonialism. The decisive factor was the weakened central government exacting enormous taxes, while simultaneously drafting numerous men as soldiers. Uprisings replaced friendship and solidarity.

The nineteenth century marked a new stage in Kurdish history and Kurdish society. When worsening relations with the Ottomans led to uprisings, and English and French missionaries stoked separatism among the Armenian and Assyrian Churches, the situation got more complicated. Relations among the Armenians, Assyrians, and Kurds also deteriorated. The deterioration of relations among themselves and with the Ottoman rule led to one of the most painful periods of their common history. By the end of that period, after World War I, the Armenians and Assyrians, bearers of millennia-old cultures, had been largely annihilated, both physically and culturally. Even though relations between Kurds and Turks had also been seriously damaged, there was not a complete rupture, as was the case with the Armenians and Assyrians. Therefore, in the 1920s, the Kurds participated in the national liberation struggle alongside the Turks. After Alp Arslan and Selim I, this was a third instance of this strategic and structural partnership. Without the support of the Kurds in Alp Arslan’s 1071 victory and in the1514 victory of Selim I against the Iranian ruling house of the Safavids, as well as his 1516–1517 victory against the Mamluks in Egypt, neither the conquest of Anatolia by the Turkish tribes nor the expansion of the Ottoman Empire to the east and south would have been possible.

This historical trend continued in the 1920s. This third strategic partnership prevented the envisaged imperial expansion and aided in the success of the republican revolution. But the traditional collaborationist feudal upper class incorrectly assessed the situation in the republic, was easily deceived about imperialism’s intentions, and, as a result, rebelled, leading, among other things, to the founders of the republic changing their policies. The consequence was the abandonment of the joint Kurdish-Turkish liberation project that led to one of the most negative phases of Kurdish-Turkish common history. This strategic deterioration in Kurdish-Turkish relations led to the existence of the Kurds being denied, and they were kept in a state of enforced underdevelopment, were forcibly assimilated, and were increasingly entirely excluded from the system. The fact that Kurds could only hope to be accepted to the degree that they allowed themselves to be Turkified further deepened these policies. The great worldwide enlightenment of the 1970s led to resistance to the policies that obscured the Kurds and Kurdistan and gave rise to a new Kurdish intellectual movement, which was followed by a period of political and military resistance in the form of the PKK. Although with much conflict and sorrow, a more dignified period in Kurdish-Turkish relations had begun.

The Struggle Over Kurdistan, War, and Terror

Kurdistan’s geocultural and strategic reality has made it into a country that has experienced more struggle, war, and terror in its history than most, by which I mean the use of violence and fear to rule over the people. The present-day Kurdish region roughly covers the area where, about twenty thousand years ago, after the fourth Ice Age, Mesolithic culture arose, followed by the Neolithic Age, about twelve thousand years ago, during which the cultivation of the land and domestication of animals first developed. We have already discussed the reasons for this. As the most highly developed center of Mesolithic and Neolithic culture, this area attracted many migrants from all directions who were still living in Paleolithic conditions. We can safely assume that the increase in productivity during the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture led to the concentration of population at that time and in that area, as is proven by archeological and paleontological findings. The people became sedentary and founded villages, which in turn accelerated the development of a culture based on cultivation of fields, vineyards, and gardens. It is very likely that this is how social and economic conflicts around fertile soil, land, and grazing grounds first developed. There are village ruins dating back to this time that offer a certain support for this assumption. That, for obvious reasons, the first major social and economic struggles in history took place in Kurdistan is food for thought.

To the degree that it is possible to reconstruct migratory movements, there appears to have been immigration from various communities in today’s Arabia and North Africa, as well as from Iran and areas still further east, the Caucasus in the north, and Anatolia in the west. Just as people today emigrate to Europe or North America, the first major socially and economically motivated migrations were to today’s Kurdistan, which was a “land of the sun” for all of humanity for about fifteen thousand years. Of course, playing the role of the land of the sun for such a long time gave rise to major disputes and conflicts. After Neolithic culture was generally established, around nine thousand years ago, there was migration in the opposite direction. Based on what we know today, around seven thousand years ago Neolithic culture expanded both physically, as a result of migration, and culturally, through interaction with areas stretching from the Atlantic to the Chinese Pacific coast, from Siberia in the north to North Africa in the south and, thus, the population concentration decreased considerably in its original center.

Researchers believe that after that, between seven and five thousand years ago, the Aryan cultural and linguistic group took form in Kurdistan, and the transition was made from a clan and tribal society to an aşiret society. Aşiret society was characterized by a tighter organization of a larger human community and the related increased capacity to act. While clan and tribal societies consisted of twenty to fifty people, aşiret societies allowed for the organization of several hundred people. This meant that if there was an increase in social and economic problems, conflicts between the aşiret communities might grow more intense. Archeological findings of some completely destroyed villages from that time show that social conflicts did indeed get worse, mostly for internal reasons. The economic causes of the conflicts included the growing population on fertile land and along watercourses and the greed of neighbors. This probably led various aşiret to draw their own borders. It is, therefore, not unlikely that aşiret areas were geographically fixed for the first time around 4000 BCE, making it possible to distinguish the harvesting and grazing areas constituting the collective property of various aşiret. We can also assume that these aşiret created their own language and dialect groups, as well as undergoing other cultural differentiations. This allowed for the development of musical and folkloric motifs, as well as giving rise to cults of worship. The discovery of several female figure artifacts points to the significance of the domestic culture of the mother, but, overall, we can characterize this time as a period of struggle around social content and economic goals.

Between 3000 and 2330 BCE, Sumerian civilization was born and firmly established in Lower Mesopotamia, and the struggles just mentioned reached the level where they became wars. The tradition of seizing and pillaging economic values using organized military force and violence arose for the first time in history. This was the birth of a very long tradition. The force of warrior ruling power is essentially the force of plunder. Attributes like divinity, sacredness, and heroism only serve to obscure the extortion and plunder hidden within.

Kurdistan is one of the main birthplaces of this civilization. The Gilgamesh epic, the first written epic of Sumerian civilization and, indeed, all humanity, narrates the story of a foray into Kurdistan. Gilgamesh, the first half-heroic human, half-divine king of Uruk, seduced a barbarian named Enkidu with the aid of a woman forced into prostitution, the symbol of urban civilization. His incursion into Kurdistan with Enkidu is the main topic of the epic.17 In a way, Enkidu is the first example of a highlander, a “Kurti,” who comes down from the mountains into the city and collaborates with the dominant powers. He leads those occupying his own country. In return, he gains access to a different life and is given a place at the king’s table and rewarded with women. Perhaps Gilgamesh himself came from the mountains, because, in Kurdish, Gilgamesh means big buffalo or man like a bull. It is no accident that the history of Kurdistan is overrun with traitors of this sort. The Sumerians had already waged wars for resources and often had to undertake expeditions to the north, because they urgently needed wood, stone, and different ores. Wars like the recent Iraq war are nothing but a brief, summary repetition of this history.

Forces of civilization participating in the occupation, invasion, and plunder of Kurdistan for the first time was a qualitative development. The powers that had become states undertook expeditionary campaigns against ethnic communities, including aşiret, tribes, and clans, to plunder and enslave. While the struggles had previously been about self-protection, access to watercourses, and possession of fertile land, in the period of civilization everything was primarily about enslavement and plunder. The premeditated killing and capturing of humans was central to these operations.

The migration and cultural exchange in all directions probably also continued as before. Archeological findings from the time of the Hurrians highlight social struggles and wars. The defensive facilities and heroic sagas are testimony to the battles and wars. In the third millennium BCE, various expeditionary groups came through Iran, the Caucasus, Anatolia, and Arabia. The high ramparts around Sumerian cities and Hurrian fortresses were designed for defense. People took refuge in the mountains, which, functioning as natural fortresses, offered some defense. The mountains have always provided a base for safeguarding Kurdish people’s ethnic existence. The Kurds’ ancestors tried for millennia to protect themselves against the evils of invasion, occupation, and plunder that flooded in from all directions by retreating to the peaks of the mountains. This is one key historical reason for the lack of developed urban civilization on the plains.

Between 2000 and 1000 BCE, new elements participated in the invasions in Kurdistan. The Middle Anatolian Kingdom of the Hittites and the barbarian communities called the Scythians from the Caucasus joined the invasions of Hurrian-Mitanni civilization and the rich cities of Babylon and Assur further to the south. Once again, ancestral groups of today’s Kurds were among the most pressed. While Kurdistan had previously only been attacked by the southern Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian states, at this point, the Hittite state and the militarily skilled Scythian barbarians, in particular, joined in from the north, as did other groups, including the Persian tribes from Iran and Luwian ethnic groups from the west.

The dilemma of the Kurds and Kurdistan was that Kurdistan was a wealth-producing area located in the transition zone between the newly established civilizations. To survive, the Kurds resorted to both resistance and collaboration. The simultaneity of resistance and collaboration is a pattern that has been repeated quite frequently throughout history. While the hierarchical upper class has always relied on collaboration, the underclass had to continually resist.

In a written document from around 1600 BCE, a Kurdish principality—probably in the region of today’s Elbistan18—addressed Prince Anitta, the founder of the Hittite Empire: “You miscreant, we have raised you, we have made you a prince there. But we did not do so for you to come to our border with the whole mob of your warriors to harass us. Try to prove yourself worthy of the promises you made.” This document shows that the Hittite kingdom was at first strongly influenced by the Hurrians, but, as it steadily grew, it slowly began to threaten the Hurrian and Mitanni tribes. Around 1300 BCE, the famous Hittite king Šuppiluliumaš I wrote to the Mittani king Šattiwaza: “I am giving you my daughter for your wife. You are now considered a son. Don’t rebel again. Don’t stir up unrest. Try to live comfortably in your beautiful country. You have my support.” Here we see the two trying to establish kinship and peace, despite existing conflicts, through a political marriage.

When the terrible power of Assur appeared on the scene during this period, the Hittite-Mitanni alliance became necessary. Interestingly, the well-known Egyptian queen Nefertiti was a Mitanni who married into the Egyptian dynasty. The troubled time around 1500 BCE was witness to many diplomatic and political agreements, as well as many wars. The Great King Hammurabi of Babylon, who is famous for his legislation, lived around 1750 BCE. In 1596 BCE, Babylon was occupied by an alliance of Hittites and Hurrians. The flight of Abraham from Urfa to escape the ruling Nimrod is alleged to have happened around 1650 BCE, and the flight of Moses from the pharaoh is said to have taken place at the beginning of the fourteenth century BCE. The famous Battle of Kadesh, with the ensuing peace treaty,19 took place in 1285 BCE. In these centuries of war and peace, Kurdistan was a central area where the events took place. Kurdistan is a country where there was never a lack of wars.

The period from 1000 to 330 BCE marked the final major stage of the Mesopotamian-centered civilizations. The Assyrian Empire, with its capital in Nineveh, had come onto the scene as the decisive power of the time. Nineveh even surpassed its rival, Babylon. The Assyrians were notorious for using terror against their neighbors. The Assyrian emperors were known for piling up hills and building ramparts and towers out of human skulls. Many war scenes on reliefs and elsewhere convey a vivid impression of what happened. At the time, it was common to display the severed heads of victims. The most merciless bellicose expeditions were undertaken against Kurdistan, Syria, and Egypt. These succeeded in extending Assyrian influence to West Anatolia. Around 1200 BCE, the Hittite Empire was fragmented by the Phrygians, who came from today’s Thrace, south of the Taurus Mountains, and was replaced by small city kingdoms. In Kurdistan, the Nairi confederation was founded in the area of today’s Bohtan sometime between 1200 and 900 BCE. After its collapse, it was replaced by the state of Urartu, which existed from 875 to 606 BCE. The Assyrians engaged in merciless warfare against all of the states and principalities that had emerged after the collapse of the Hittite Empire. Once again, these expeditions were driven by the desire for resources, in this case wood and various ores and metals, and control over trade routes. The Urartians, who were famous for their defensive tactics, managed to bring an end to these attacks.

During this period, the Medes strengthened their presence further to the east, in today’s Iranian Kurdistan, benefiting from the Urartian model, grasping the need for a political structure, and gathering strength by stav-ing off the Assyrian’s eastern expeditions. The famous three hundred years of resisting and laying the groundwork represents the Urartu period and their increasing strength. Defeating Assyria was something like today’s Iraq managing to defeat the US would be. Therefore, it required intense preparation and tactical innovation. In the end, the famous Median commander Cyaxares and his Babylonian ally Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Nineveh in 612 BCE, definitively ending the Assyrian Empire. The Medes were successful in creating a political framework quite similar to an empire, which existed from 715 to 550 BCE and had Ekbatan, today’s Hamadan, as its capital. This formation had a strong Kurdish character. The attacks by the Scythes from the north and their relatives, the Persian tribes, from the south and east prevented the Medes from growing even stronger. Because of the treason of the famous commander Harpagus, who collaborated with the Persians, ruling power fell into the hands of Cyrus, the nephew of the Median king, and, thus, also into the hands of the Persian tribal hierarchy.20

The Persian Empire was the continuation of the Median Empire. In fact, it was a sort of joint state. And, once again, the main theater of war was Kurdistan, which was mostly the site of the Scythes incursions. It was during a battle against the Scythes that Cyrus was killed. As a result of barbarian attacks from the north, the empire relocated to the safe southeastern region of Media. The great expedition against the Scythes, led by Darius the Great (520–485 BCE), tried to strike at the roots of this evil. For two centuries, from 530–330 BCE, Anatolia was shaped by the Median-Persian Empire. One after another, it ended the political existence of Phrygia, Lydia, and Lycia and brought all cities on the Aegean Coast under its control. We can say that this was a time of quiescence for Kurdistan (Media) on the road to becoming civilized. The strengthening of the patriarchal family and the strong Median aşiret structures granted the Medians a special position in the Persian army. After the conquest of Egypt in 525, the Median-Persian regions became the main center of civilization. In contrast, Babylon had a semi-dependent status but still remained the cultural capital of civilization.

From Greek sources, we know that the Greek and Macedonian aristocracies made a zealous effort to conquer Anatolia, to remove the threat of the Medes and the Persians, and to appropriate their unparalleled treasures. Day and night, they discussed this and dreamed of it coming to pass. Actually, they believed that achieving this was their greatest divine task. The great thinker Aristotle (385–320 BCE) inculcated his pupil Alexander the Great, the son of the Macedonian king Philip, with this belief. It was probably also Aristotle who taught Alexander to regard the people of the East as animals to be squashed like vermin. Alexander grew up in this atmosphere and under Aristotle’s strict education. After his father was killed, while still young, Alexander united the Greek cities and then the tribes living around Macedonia, before beginning his expedition to the east, which changed the course of history. In a way, Alexander the Great was the answer to Darius the Great. With his blitzkrieg-like expeditions, he destroyed all his opponents and advanced to the banks of Ganges. He conquered everything in his path.

The famous decisive Battle of Gaugamela, with which Alexander set in motion the fall of the Persian Empire, took place in 331 BCE, near Arbela, today’s Erbil/Hewlêr, in Kurdistan. As a symbol of east-west synthesis, Alexander married ten thousand warriors from the Balkans to ten thousand daughters from the Medoc and the Persian nobility when he returned to the then cultural capital of Babylon. He himself married the daughter of King Darius III, the last king he defeated. During preparations for an expedition to the west against the up-and-coming Roman republic, Alexander died, at the early age of thirty-three, of an infection he had contracted in a swamp region.

There are still many traces of Alexander in Kurdistan. For example, the city of Bitlis is said to be named after one of his commanders. It is said that he crossed the Zagros Mountains like a guerrilla. In terms of his military skills, he could be called a demigod. For Kurdistan, his expeditions entailed a new dilemma. From then on, it was to become the center of the famous conflict between the East and the West. The conflicts between the Parthian Empire (250–216 BCE), which replaced the Persian Empire in Iran, and the Hellenic kingdoms of the Diadochi, the kingdoms that followed Alexander, were mainly fought in Kurdistan. At this time, the Armenian kingdoms also came into play. The right to conquest as the basis of all rights passed from one to another. Fortresses were erected on the shores of the Euphrates and the Tigris, and all cities adopted a defensive position, erecting ramparts and towers.

Under Hellenic rule, Commagene, with Samosata as its capital, and Abgar, with Urfa as its capital, became particularly important, as did Palmyra. They created the most outstanding work of the East-West synthesis. The mentality of their epoch was different from both the preceding and subsequent epochs. This could be considered as civilization’s most splendid period. Iranian (Parthian) and Hellenic influences were interwoven and cultural exchange was as lively as commercial exchange.

At that time, another power entered the scene in the form of Rome. Bit by bit, the Roman Empire conquered the Hellenic kingdoms, advancing all the way to the borders of the Parthian Empire. Then, in 53 BCE, the famous Roman commander Crassus was defeated and killed in battle at Ctesiphon on the Tigris.21 During their victory celebration, the Parthians and Armenians put his head on display for several days. This took place in a city in Kurdistan, Ctesiphon.

Jesus’s apostles, who fled from the Roman terror after his crucifixion, also first made a stopover in the border regions of Kurdistan, namely, in Antioch (today’s Antakya), Edessa (Urfa), and Nisibis (Nusaybin). A period in which political and religious terror slowly emerged. By 50 CE, the Roman Empire had conquered all of Anatolia, Syria, today’s Israel, and Lebanon and had crossed the Euphrates. The new Christian communities retreated to the mountains, caves, subterranean catacombs, or the desert. They began to live semi-secretly, going underground. Political terror on a mass scale was perhaps used for the first time during the persecution of the Christian believers. Thus, the mountains of Kurdistan became the first refuge of the Christians.

From the third century BCE on, there were further conflicts between the Roman and the Sasanian Empires. Once again, the major battles took place in Kurdistan. Sometimes, the boundary was at the Euphrates, sometimes, it was at the Tigris. Towns such as Diyarbakır and Nusaybin were destroyed several times and repeatedly changed hands. Kurdistan was frequently divided. Progress was barely possible in this area, which civilization inundated with violence and looting. While life continued in the nomadic tribes called kom in the mountains of Kurdistan, the cities became the headquarters of the invaders. This process led to the development of a clear separation between ethnic society and military society. The merchants formed the intermediary link between the invaders and the ethnic groups.

Because of the continuous wars between these two empires, the fourth and fifth centuries went down in history as a dark period. In an environment of fear and terror, the propaganda activities of the Christian and Manichean groups were the only serious social activity. The destruction of Palmyra, Abgar, and Commagene could be said to mark the beginning of this dark age. Be that as it may, classical slavery was in its final throes.

Christianity began to herald the new era, conveying the belief that after the darkness, there would be light, and the divine kingdom would come. It pronounced an ideology of liberation. A social liberation army was established. Both former great empires, the Roman and the Sasanian, were collapsing internally. Increasing harsh external attacks by ethnic groups led to the Roman Empire splitting, and then to the destruction of its western part. Thereafter, the Byzantine Empire, donning the mantle of a second Rome, claimed Mesopotamia for itself. Additionally, there were all the various conflicts between different Christian denominations, giving rise to dividing lines that were quite similar to those among the Sunnis and the Alevi today. Political conflicts were compounded by religious and denominational conflicts. While social struggles were being fought in religious guise, ethnic conflicts began to resemble qawm struggles. The Assyrian priests, particularly the Nestorians, were very well educated. They were, so to speak, “warriors of knowledge.” Confessional and religious conflicts were a reflection of and parallel to political and military conflicts. A time of anticipation of a Messiah, a Mahdi, or the prophet of the Last Judgment who would return to the world set in.

Mohammad had an excellent intuitive sense of his time. The belief that he might be the expected prophet increasingly grew. In the context of the darkness of the dschahiliyye, the time of ignorance and disunity of the Arab tribes, he rose like the sun. Mohammad heralded the age of blessedness ( asr-i saadet). Islam emerged and rapidly expanded during the seventh and eighth centuries. God arrived, and superstition departed. The sun rose, and the darkness was lifted. Then the conquests came, one after another, and Kurdistan was again threatened, this time from the south. War was no longer only on the agenda for establishing dynasties and empires but now also on behalf of a religion, Islam.

After the defeat of the Sasanian Empire by the Arabs at the Battle of al-Qadisiyyah in 638 CE, the Islamic campaigns of conquest intensified in Kurdistan. One village after another was Islamized. While the Iranians tried to preserve their distinction by adopting Shiism, the Kurds tried to retain their ethnic and qawmi existence by their continuing adherence to Zoroastrianism and the Alevi faith, which is only superficially Islamic. Sunni Kurdishness is actually a defeated Kurdishness, a Kurdishness characterized by betrayal.

As much as one may want to etymologically associate peace with the word Islam, it is nonetheless an effective ideology of Arab national war. Just like today’s globalization, it aimed at a worldwide expansion. Conducting the jihad, holy war, was regarded as the greatest service to God. Everything conquered during the jihad, or holy war, was yours to keep. You could turn the defeated into slaves. You could take all of the women as booty. Islam was not content with military conquests alone, like present day rulers aren’t. Control and domination was established over the social, economic, and faith-related values of those conquered. The domination of the mentality was experienced most intensely. Islam, as the ideology of feudalism, claimed that it would entirely reshape society in the Middle East. The concept of a single and convinced community of believers, the umma, prepared the social basis of the Islamic Empire that was soon to follow. The ideology of the one and only God that was created with great skill was actually the ideological foundation for the sultanate as the only authorized authority. Islam, which so masterfully built a social edifice, with the believers as its base and the sultan at the top, was perhaps the most brilliant theoretical formulation of centralist feudalism that has ever existed.

With Islam, the Arab ethnic group, which had not managed to move beyond the confines of the Arab Peninsula since the time of the Sumerians, experienced one of the biggest upsurges history has ever seen. It quenched its millennia-old thirst for power by crushing the Byzantines and the Sasanians and creating a splendid feudal civilization. The Arab Empire reached its climax under the Umayyad (650–750 CE) and Abbasid (750–x1258 CE) dynasties. Its expansion and influence penetrated deep into Kurdistan, all the way to the foothills of the Taurus and Zagros Mountains, a process accompanied by huge massacres. One of those infamous for cruelty that paralleled Alexander’s, was Al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf, the Umayyad governor of Baghdad.

The Arabs expanded their territory to the Caucasus, the Hindukush, the Pyrenees, and the borders of Constantinople. Islam reached its peak around 1000 CE, unifying the splintered tribes behind a single religion, much as the Hebrews had around 1000 BCE. It was only later that the Seljuks and Ottomans, who were of Turkish-Oghusian descent, made their appearance. The last major expeditions were led by sultans with Turkish roots in the name of Islam and Sunnism.

During the time of the Abbasids and the Seljuks, the line of conflict once again ran through Kurdistan. A major consequences of the wars between the Byzantine Empire and the sultan’s armed forces was the alternating conquest and reconquest of cities in the regions of Kurdistan. With the Seljuk sultan Alp Arslan’s Battle of Manzikert in 1071, the Byzantine troops were driven out of Kurdistan. Even though there were conflicts at the time of the Ayyubid sultans and the Turkish principalities, Islamic civilization continued to expand, gaining the upper hand in Urfa, Mardin, Diyarbakır, Siirt, Malatya, and Elazığ. Islamic culture pushed Christian Assyrian and Armenian existence into the background. By that point, the Islamization of Kurdistan was complete.

Then, in the twelfth and the thirteen centuries, crusaders and Mongols descended upon the region like a plague of locusts, devastating it once more, and, once again, whoever was able to do so took refuge in the mountains.

At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the region was once more shaken by fighting. While Byzantium and the Sasanians had once faced off against each other, the dividing line was now between the Iranian Safavids and the Ottomans, who had already undertaken conquests in the Balkans from their home base in Anatolia. With his victory over the Safavids at Chaldiran in 1514, achieved with the help of the Sunni Kurds, Sultan Selim I pushed the classical border further east than ever before, laying the foundation for the division of Kurdistan that persists to this day. Despite various frequent internal attacks at the border lines, in 1639, the still existing division of Kurdistan between an Anatolian and an Iranian power was officially drawn up and cemented in the Treaty of Qasr-e Shirin. Mesopotamia and most of the Kurds remained within the borders of the Ottoman Empire.

The balance established between the Ottomans and the Kurdish principalities and governments led to a period of relative calm that lasted until the beginning of the nineteenth century. While Islamic civilization developed along Sunni lines, the Zoroastrian and Alevi Kurds were in semi-rebellion and compelled to live on the mountain peaks and out of sight. That Sultan Selim I, fearing the Safavids, had his grand vizier Murat Pascha (called “Murat the Well-Digger”) throw forty thousand Alevi into wells alive and execute Pir Sultan Abdal was the most incisive and lasting testimony to the use of terror.22 The previous massacre of the movement of Sheikh Bedrettin, who strove for a communal system and the execution of the sheikh himself were also expressions of this terror.23 The Celali rebellions,24 which were directed against poverty, as well as the draft and the duty to pay taxes, and their suppression also clearly show to what extent the Islamic nobility drowned the country in terror. The Turkmen tribes in the mountains were also subjected to terror campaigns. The terror of the Ottomans in the interior of the empire was at least as merciless as the war against external enemies. Apart from all that, the murder of heirs to the throne by their siblings and the execution of grand viziers was a widespread practice. As such, it is obvious that the Ottoman era was marked by widespread terror guided by Sunnism, the official interpretation of Islam.

In Kurdistan, the whole nineteenth century and the period up to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, following World War II, were characterized by numerous uprisings and expeditions to suppress them. There were also the increasing suppression of the Armenians and the Assyrians, whose relations with the Empire had worsened under the influence of English and French missionaries. At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, these ancient people came close to being annihilated. The nationalism incited by capitalism bore increasingly deadly fruits. The Kurds, however, did not suffer the same fate as the Armenians and the Assyrians, because they had a different religion and mounted a broader resistance.

The religious and denominational conflicts of the Middle Ages wrought at least as much destruction as the conflicts and wars of antiquity. It was clear that civilization could not develop in Kurdistan due to these conflicts and wars. A dialectical relationship could not have been established between the ethnic groups, which continually tried to safeguard their existence by retreating into inaccessible mountain regions and the towns, which were the bridgeheads of invasion and occupation. Both locations remained reactionary in their own way and were literally suffocated by their isolation.

Once one scratches the surface of a “redeeming” Islam even a little bit, the repressive and exploitative power of millennia comes to the fore. The sultan and his underlings ran a regime of tyranny and exploitation that hid behind a number of divine attributes, Koranic verses, and prophetic quotes. While in previous periods, the outlaws who roamed the mountains had been coarse and direct, the rulers in the town were just as tyrannical and exploitative but attired themselves in robes and turbans—in this case, with the consent of God. The difference was not in essence but only in form.

As such, the war, terror, and struggles in and for Kurdistan began with the social struggles of the Neolithic Age and were intensified by the wars during the time of ancient slavery, becoming even more acute throughout the wars and terror of the feudal Middle Ages. That the Kurdish people were able to preserve their existence in this atmosphere of struggles, war, and terror at all is remarkable in and of itself. Despite all its flaws, ethnic resistance was essential to the Kurds’ continued existence throughout this relentless historical process, although things might have turned out differently under strong and advanced civilizations.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Kurdistan was even further divided and drawn deeper into a constellation of violence. On the new map of the Middle East drawn by the imperialist colonial powers of Great Britain and France, Kurdistan was placed under the rule of the Republic of Turkey, the shah’s Iranian monarchy, the Iraqi monarchy, and the Syrian-French government—or, rather, it was forced to become part of these states. Rebellious movements based on the limited zeal of the formerly autonomous Kurdish collaborationist upper strata whose interests were further narrowed under the new regimes arose but were mostly restricted to provocation and led to an intensification of the terror. These uprisings were far from making any national or democratic demands. They were the expression of the struggle of the feudal Kurdish collaborators who longed for their old privileges and demanded their share in the new regimes. However, these new regimes relied on capitalism and were influenced by its nationalist ideology. For the Kurds, the fanatical advocacy of a unitary state under the principle of “one nation, one state” of the new regimes meant the denial of their existence grew even worse, that the repression intensified, and that every attempt at rebellion ended in massacre and forced assimilation. They were thrown back into the darkness of the Middle Ages and found themselves in a vice-like chokehold. It can be said that after the Jews, the Kurds, as a people, an ethnic group, and existing beings experienced the most extreme terror on a regional scale at the hands of chauvinist nationalism. What the Kurds experienced as a result of being abandoned to feudal backwardness by their own collaborationist traitors, who failed to understand the contemporary democratic national movements, is among the ugliest tragedies of the twentieth century.

The policy implemented in the part of Kurdistan annexed by Turkey was officially called the “flood.” It was considered a “good thing” that it buried and leveled everything it flowed over. The pain of the loss of the Ottoman Empire also played a role in this. The goal was to weld together at least the remaining parts. The Turkish regime went as far as banning the use of Kurdish—a measure that was unprecedented anywhere in the world. After millennia of social struggles, merciless conquests, and wars of occupation and colonization, all social values, all manifestations that might serve to express the people’s Kurdishness, were forcibly hidden behind an impenetrable black veil. Only intense efforts in the field of social science and literature concerning the life of the Kurds under the Republic of Turkey might possibly bring the truth to daylight.

The practices of the new Pahlavi dynasty of the shahs in Iran were in no way different from those in republican Turkey. The Kurdish mobilization, beginning with the uprising under the leadership of Ismail Agha Simko and expressed in the short-lived Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, were easily similarly eliminated for reasons that were primarily ideological and class-related.25 What followed was a backward terror regime that brought the fascistic nationalist methods of the twentieth century to the fore. The practice of Britain and the France in Iraqi and Syrian Kurdistan was very similar; they put in place a comparable oppressive and colonial regime, which relied on the collaborationist Arab dynasties.

In the twentieth century, the Kurds were indeed confronted with a policy unparalleled in the rest of the world—being caged and domesticated like wild animals. There is no indication that the Kurds, as a social phenomenon, were even considered human. They weren’t even considered worthy of a colonial policy like that used in Africa. The usual forms of modern oppression in ethnic, national, or colonial form, with political, social, legal, and military means, were considered too great an honor to be applied to the Kurds. Recently, the new Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly declared: “If you don’t describe yourselves as Kurds, there is no Kurdish question.”26 With this, he only repeated the credo of the “deep state.” The denial of the existence of an entire ethnic group and the acceptance of its individual members as a quid pro quo for their self-denial and their affirmation that they belong to the ruling nation and denomination is quite simply one of the most dangerous forms of fascism. The form of fascist terror against the Jews was open and clear. Denial, by contrast, is hidden and takes place in the dark. Therefore, we could call the terror against the Kurds “covert terror.”

Since the end of the twentieth century, a dangerous and contradictory policy is being pursued in the region and in Kurdistan, which have been opened up to US activity. The current effects of this policy, namely, the emergence of a Kurdish federal state, on the one hand, and the attempted liquidation—the implemented war and its results—of the PKK and the Kurds in Turkey, the largest part of Kurdistan, on the other hand, would be unthinkable without the US and the EU. It is quite possible that the Israel-Palestine drama will repeat itself with Kurdistan and its neighbors, only in an even worse way. The epithet horror can be added to the ongoing policy of struggle, war, and terror. It is difficult to find historical examples of policies against any human community that are as horrific, with all of the far-reaching decisions based on these policies accompanied by such planned and insidious violence.

At this point, I must note that it is not at all sufficient to try to explain these bellicose policies as an expression of “colonialism, denial, and annihilation by the Turkish, Arab, and Persian nations,” as we previously did. This only leads to erroneous conclusions. Actually, the phenomenon has to do with complex historical and social systems. It would also be too abstract and reductionist to simply blame the Turkish, Arab, or Persian states for the praxis in Kurdistan. That wouldn’t explain the real origin of the phenomenon. In spite of what many people assume, there is no such thing as a Turkish, Arab, or Persian “nation-state” or “national interest.” The nation-state is an epithet, an ideological description, but not reality itself. Nations don’t have states. Even classes, in the narrow sense, can’t have states. The state has a tradition stretching back at least five millennia. It has snowballed and split into many varieties. Ethnic groups have exploited it to a greater or lesser degree, but no ethnic group as a whole has ever used the state, only certain hierarchical and class-based groups have.

Perhaps the Turkish, Arabic, and Persian nations and ethnic groups have experienced as much oppression and exploitation from the state phenomenon as the Kurds. It would be misleading to claim that what the Turkmens suffered, what the Bedouins went through, and the Mamluks’ truth are less than what the Kurds suffered and endured. Besides, the question “which Kurds?” is extremely important. The Kurdish feudal lords, who liked to play the roles of the bey, the emir, the haji, and the hodja were primarily responsible for this bellicose policy.27 Had it not been for those who always did great harm to the poor and laboring Kurdish people and their provocative uprisings, which had no serious purpose or method, and which were followed by despicable surrenders, no Turkish, Arab, or Persian nationalist or statist would have been able to devise the present practices. Thus, if the Kurds want to determine the strategic factor that played the most negative role, they will be right on target if they look for traitors in their own ranks—at all times and all places, using every possible method and approach. These traitors set the Kurdish people and the rulers against each other in the service of their selfish interests and, with their own machinations, going beyond even the Israel-Palestine tragedy, and after doing so they fled the scene. In return for their treason, they were permitted to keep their property, allowing them to build rural mansions and summer residences for themselves in the metropolises and holiday centers and to continue to seamlessly play the established, cursed, and very ancient game.

I have tried here to elucidate the history of this policy that is at least five thousand years old and is even addressed in the guise of the epic of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. I believe that 99 percent of the Turks, Arabs, and Persians have no real interest in the policies being implemented by the power blocs, either in the form of the state or the nation.

It is not just that they don’t gain any advantage from these policies; their backwardness, their hostilities, their misdirected hatred, the mutual violence, the squandering of resources, and the undeserved meaningless life that result from this are also terribly damaging. Social science offers us the best remedy to uncover this vicious circle, this magical game full of secrets. By this, however, I mean a true social science that disentangles power, the wars on which this power depends, and which it gives rise to, and the underlying social structures. I am not talking about the social science that refuses to see the whole, the soul, and life and knows of neither love nor respect. Such “cadaver science” leads to an even worse outcome than the Sumerian priest’s “science of fate” that focused on the movement of the stars.

I believe that the most important contribution I have made in this book is to unmask this science, thereby helping to move us closer to the truth. Is nationalism a science? Is religionism a science? Is the reification of socialism/liberalism/conservatism a science? Perhaps all of these edifices are just idolatry, that is, actually more backward than the idolatry of antiquity, i.e., paganism. The damage of this latter idolatry was quite limited, but who can calculate the harm that the idolatry of these infinite concepts has done over the course of history? Any believer in the holy scripture of any religion—and I have tried to interpret some of these scriptures sociologically—will remain firmly committed to the values therein. But just how faithfully do the idolaters of the cadavers and these concepts stand by their alleged insights? Do they really believe they are useful? In the following chapters I will deal with these topics in a self-critical manner, but for now let us come back to the issue at hand.

I insist that if we do not properly disentangle and analyze the reality of power in Kurdistan and the war upon which this power is based, it will do great harm to every person, every state, and every social and political group that intervenes in the Kurdish question. Questioning themselves and abandoning their major mistakes, missteps, and madness and focusing on the many possible humane solutions would probably be the most meaningful approach for all involved. The wars of the twentieth century have, at the price of infinite suffering and horrendous loss of human life, certainly shown that no fanatical nationalist, religious, or leftist approach—whether in the name of the oppressors or the oppressed, the exploiter or the exploited—can provide a solution.

As should be clear from our admittedly very rough sketch, the practice of struggle, fighting, war, and terror in Kurdistan has created a very particular sort of power bloc. These power blocs, based on war and military power, have not only continued to grow more effective in all of the major systems throughout history but knead and shape every inch of the social fabric like a dough. There is no structure that can be called Kurdish society or a Kurdish nation that has emanated from its own specific dynamics. What is truly decisive here are the traditions of force that have become ruling power and its institutional expression since the very beginning of time. There is no hidden corner of society that has not been penetrated and determined by these instruments of force, which have attempted to legitimize themselves, first through mythology, later through an allegedly supreme religion, and today in the name of “our nation” and “our class,” our “nationalism” and our “socialism.” The real Kurdish question arises from the way in which these phenomena came to be. Because of this historic enmeshment and formation, the Kurdish question is truly a maze of problems.

The most painful and dire thing is that the Kurds have largely lost their ability to solve these problems, which instead have them in a chokehold. The Kurdish social fabric looks like an organism riddled with cancer or a tree afflicted by woodworms. As a result, such Kurdish identity and individuals are abundant. Whether we talk about the Kurdish language or Kurdish parties, insofar as they exist, or about women or the oh so well-known leaders or villagers or townspeople or intellectuals or religious scholars, whether we talk about religion or nationalism, about patriots or traitors, about diplomats or politicians: How many of those addressed have even the slightest understanding of what they are doing? How many are helpless, fake, crafty, horrific, and traitorous? How many are good, beautiful, and honest? These are questions that are very difficult to answer. Who is responsible? The existing and historically shaped components of power about which there is no clarity as to who they serve, how they do so, and to what degree. Ultimately, though, they are held in this situation by the coercive apparatuses of yesterday and today and the wars and the terror brought about by these apparatuses. These are the determinants of the phenomenon of Kurdish society, keeping it culpable and helpless in its present modes of being.

Whenever there is an insurrection or guerrilla-like resistance against these apparatuses the result is a conflict similar to the Israel-Palestine conflict. This situation has not yet fully unfolded, but should that happen the result might well be worse than that of its progenitor. Is it possible for the parties to the conflict, whatever their self-interests might be, to positively address any social problem using this model? Fighting fire with fire seems unrealistic. Therefore, the methods of warrior ruling power cliques for solving social problems must be abandoned. This includes apparatuses of the insurgents. A new way of addressing the problem must be found and a new approach adopted.

We should not expect a method for resolving the enormous distortions in the Kurdish phenomenon from the apparatus of war—particularly not from ruling powers that can dominate with force. If the opponent does not intend to use force but seeks a peaceful democratic political solution and for clear and sincere reasons, the dominant power should immediately respond in kind, beginning with deactivating the military apparatus.28 Leaving the means of discussion and solution to a dialogue involving civil and democratic instruments would not only be more humane and make more economic sense but would also be in the interests of the overwhelming majority of society’s members.

In 1982, I compiled the book Kürdistan’da Zorun Rolü (The Role of Force in Kurdistan).29 At the time, I believed I had disentangled and analyzed force. Our later practice showed that, my self-confidence notwithstanding, my thinking was fraught with major flaws. I can say that I now return to the role of force in Kurdistan a little more realistically prepared. I am profoundly aware that the path to a solution will not be “sacred violence,” as many people thought, in a similar way, was necessary to achieve socialism. The contrary is true. All forms of force, with the exception of necessary and obligatory self-defense, must be condemned. Therefore, I am trying to proceed responsibly as I analyze the Kurdish phenomenon and the Kurdish question.

The Policy of Forced Assimilation Targeting the Culture of Kurdistan

One of the most popular social policies of warrior and power blocs is assimilation. The main purpose of assimilation policies, which, in general terms, amount to cultural dissolution, is to deprive those subjected to domination of their capacity to resist. Therefore, such policies repress the local language—the basic tool of mentality—and intensely enforce the use of the dominant language. Enforcing an official language diminishes and reduces the local language and culture to the point where they no longer play a role. The dominant language and culture become the route to a career or studying, the language of politics and the economy, and provide advantages and success to those who embrace them. Embracing the suppressed language and culture causes harm to the user. Caught in this dilemma, the local language is increasingly unable to hold its ground against the language of power. This is even truer in the case of a language without a pronounced written culture or a primary dialect. For such languages and dialects, the future looks grim. However, assimilation does not take place in the realm of language alone but in all social institutions shaped by power. An adaptation to the institutional reality of the dominant nation, religion, or group occurs on all levels. As soon as the political, social, and economic realms, and even the realm of mentality are officially defined and put under the protection of the law, the next step is forced or voluntary assimilation of the equivalent institutions of minorities and the vanquished, which are modeled after the dominant institutions so that they can take their place in the formalities of the dominant institutions. The more repression used and the more economic and political interests come into play, the more profound the assimilation.

Forced assimilation has been at least as destructive to the cultural existence of Kurdistan as war and terror. We can apply the same historical method and trace this back to antiquity. It is perhaps not an exaggeration to call Sumerian the first and most important assimilationist language and culture. Both etymological and syntactic investigations support this conclusion. The languages of the Hurrians, the Mitanni, the Urartu, the Medes, and the Persians were influenced first by Sumerian and then, in this order, by Akkadian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Aramaic. This can be seen in the written artifacts of these languages. These are, as such, the major languages that assimilated other languages in the ancient Middle East. The local languages were communication tools used by ordinary people who could neither read nor write. The aristocrats, as collaborators, probably spoke the official languages of the various states they lived in—at least the written artifacts of the Urartians seem to indicate this. This is quite similar to the situation in today’s dependent countries, whose leading personnel generally speak English or French.

As with English today, in late antiquity, Aramaic was the language of diplomacy and trade everywhere in the Middle East, the lingua franca, a general instrument of communication, a kind of “interethnic” language. The nobility and the state bureaucracy often used Aramaic as one of their written languages, alongside the local language, particularly in official communication. Historians assume that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and Aramaic is even found on Persian tombstones.

As the documents in these areas show, there was also an intense assimilation process in the realms of architecture, governance, literature, and the law. Neo-Assyrian, a “more national” form of Aramaic, was widely used as an assimilation tool. While Hebrew had only a relatively limited reach at the time of Hellenism, Greek became increasingly important in the Middle East. Greek and Neo-Assyrian competed, as English and French do today. Both struggled for influence in Kurdistan, particularly in the cities. A typical example was Urfa, where Aramaic, Armenian, Neo-Assyrian, Arabic, and Kurdish still had firm cultural roots. Later, Turkish was added to the mix. But extreme assimilation also leads to extreme cosmopolitanism, as a look at Urfa today makes clear.

The Neo-Assyrian language played a more progressive role in Kurdish culture than Arabic subsequently did. We call it a language of enlightenment, because the Assyrians mainly lived in cities. The Kurds were a Commagene people, and the nomads and peasantry generally spoke Kurdish dialects. There are barely any written sources, but this does not mean that such sources do not exist at all. Numerous written documents from the Mitanni capital of Washukanni, today’s Hoşpınar, near the cities Resulain and Ceylanpınar on the Syrian-Turkish border, in particular show that around 1500 BCE some sort of proto-Kurdish was in use as a written language.30

The presence of a population with Hellenic roots in Kurdistan at the time of the Hellenic kingdoms (300 BCE–250 CE), and their influence, particularly in the cities, meant that Greek was also used for quite a long time. It functioned as a kind of colonial language. Then, as today, the urban population in Kurdistan was dominated by a foreign language and culture, while the rural population lived with its own local language and culture.

With Islam, Arabic moved to center stage. The rise of urbanization and Islam resulted in Arabic, previously the language of the Bedouins, becoming the most prestigious language in the Middle East and the language of literature and science. As the official language of war and power, Arabic acquired a status far superior to other languages. It took the place of the weaker African-based languages and became the dominant language from North Africa to the south of the Taurus-Zagros system. Speaking Arabic came with privileges. Those who mastered it could hope for posts in the bureaucracy, become religious scholars, or practice science. Therefore, Arabic was the language of advancement, including advancing personal interests. It owes its current significance to such material realities. In terms of influence, Persian was second to Arabic at this time. It mainly spread because it was the official language in Iran during the rule of the Seljuks. When the Seljuks conquered Anatolia and founded a state, with Konya as its capital, they also made Persian the official language. The famous mystic Jalāl ad-Dīn Mohammad Rumi, also known as Mawlana, wrote his most famous work, Masnavi-ye-Ma’navi, in Persian. At that time, Turkish like Kurdish was the spoken language and the languages of oral tradition in rural areas.

Arabic became very dominant in Kurdistan, because prayer leaders and mullahs were required to use it as the language of worship. Furthermore, in the cities, it became fashionable to live an Arab lifestyle—including adopting the dress and even Arabizing the family lineage. It was also thought to be a good idea to insert an Arab into your family’s ancestral history. The dominance of all things Arab and Arabic in education, fashion, politics, diplomacy, the arts, and science did not even leave Persian, which had a very strong state tradition, untouched. It was, in fact, “conquered” by Arabic to a considerable degree. Everyone in the Middle East took on Arabic names and nicknames. This superiority continued intensely until the emergence of nation-states and national consciousness.

The expansion of the capitalist system and the formation of the “nation-state” further intensified the process of the linguistic and cultural assimilation of the Kurds. The pressure of Arabic and Persian was supplemented by the rising pressure of another language, Turkish. Kurdish language and culture, which could still be maintained within the ethnic group during antiquity and the Middle Ages, was now largely crushed and assimilated under the influence of three dominant languages and cultures that had at their disposal the improved tools provided by science and technology. The Kurdish language and culture, which, in the Middle Ages, had produced a number of literary works like Ehmedê Xanî’s Mem û Zîn (Mem and Zin) increasingly shriveled under the political pressure. Doubts were seeded as to whether a Kurdish culture and language had ever existed. Speaking the language or practicing the culture were criminalized. In fact, just being a Kurd was increasingly criminalized. Kurds faced the most extreme form of bourgeoisie’s crime and prison practices. The Kurdish phenomenon and the problematic it gave rise to were eventually categorized as the most dangerous of crimes. In the Turkish, Persian, and Arab nation-states, the campaign to assimilate Kurds, to alienate them from their own culture and language and bind them to the dominant language and culture, was carried out with full violence, not just against the Kurdish language and culture but against Kurdish existence as a whole. Access to schools, particularly to education in Kurdish, was forbidden. While those who had the material wherewithal were able to learn about “modernity” in the schools of the dominant nation.

The Kurds and all things Kurdish remained locked out of “modernity.” The mere act of diffusing Kurdish music, newspapers, or books was regarded as “Kurdish nationalism” and “separatism” and fell under the rubric of political crime. Meanwhile, the respective nation-states propagated their own languages with a kind of nationalism that resembled the fascism of Hitler. Rhetoric about being the “most elevated nation” was ubiquitous. The Arabs were regarded as a “noble nation.” To be a Turk was a “cause for happiness.” Being a Persian was proof of the “greatest historic nobility.” The nationalist sentiments awakened by capitalism had become an opiate used to mask any kind of backwardness.

However, the third major capitalist globalization offensive, and with it the growing esteem for all things local, combined with technology like radio and television, made the ban on a language meaningless. That and the increased capacity to act from beyond borders have contributed to a little space for Kurdish and the Kurds to recover. Of course, the contemporary resistance played a decisive role. The national democratic resistance enabled the Kurds to regain their identity, language, culture, and self-confidence. Defensive resistance against the force of warrior ruling power that created the enforced assimilation became the midwife to the rebirth of the Kurdish language and culture.

Ethnicity, Class, and Nation in Kurdistan

Identifying the ethnic, class, and national aspects within a society’s way of life is important if we want to understand it in its totality. As far as their essence is concerned, societies are all the same. Their differences show themselves in their form—e.g., ethnic, class, and national characteristics. Ethnicity, which is the overcoming of forms such as the clan and the tribe,31 becomes something real once differences in lineage become more pronounced and interest groups become conscious of themselves. For most of its existence, humanity lived in clans and tribes, the latter representing a somewhat more developed form. Within these scarcely differentiated migratory groups, consciousness about lineage barely existed, because the contradictions that would later lead to this consciousness were not yet present. It is assumed that during the long Paleolithic Age, the Old Stone Age preceding the Neolithic Age, the form of human cohabitation did not surpass the clan way of life. Tribes becoming ethnic groups required an area to which they were bonded by self-interest, within which they could organize their way of life and gain a certain feeling of belonging. Their joint productive activities and their shared language increasingly bound these groups together. Because of factors like attacks from the outside and food shortages the importance of these associations grew over time, raising the need for governance and defense structures. The emerging social hierarchy also brought about the domination of one sex, i.e., patriarchy.

All these developments led to the lineage form called ethnicity. The influence of time and place led to a differentiation into cultural groups that later had to defend themselves from each other or synthesize. The fact that certain lineages gained prominence over others led to the establishment of hierarchy among ethnic groups, followed by the emergence of federations of ethnic groups or aşiret. As the process accelerated, it led to confederations, but when these structures dissolved and there was no simultaneous relapse to older structures, the result was the emergence of states and classes. The fact that this process took place under the Neolithic mode of production has often been noted and is easily understood when considered rationally.

The age when aşiret emerged and developed, their golden age, was the Neolithic period. The first agrarian revolution, the domestication of animals, and the transition to the village order were all closely connected to the aşiret system. Patriarchy developed in the later stages of this period. There is strong evidence that the domestic mother order was initially predominant, but with the increasing development of hierarchy the heyday of patriarchy began.

Even though the emergence of classes was connected to the development of hierarchy, the real beginning of class division was with the privileged groups that the military coterie assembled. In these groups, personal skills rather than kinship bonds were decisive. The association of the ablest defenders and hunters under the leadership of the strongest male created unprecedented privilege in its early days. At this point, rule by force developed. Gathering under the rule of a strong chieftain led to relations that transcended aşiret relations. Class was the form of the new relationship. A class might consist of professional groups and smaller entities that either separated from the aşiret or had never been part of one in the first place. Aşiret, however, resisted the emergence of classes because of their kinship relations. It is difficult for class to develop within an aşiret. Due to its very nature, it doesn’t recognize class relations and strongly opposes and constantly resists them. This is why aşiret societies, called “barbarians” by the system of slavery, constituted a permanent threat to the system.

The expansion of class division was accompanied by economic productivity. Where slave labor offered productive advantage, a class division based on slaves intensified. With the emergence of states, this process accelerated even more. The state is essentially an organized administrative system of slavery. It would be futile to look for its essence in some divine thought, some national interest, or in questions of security. In this sense, the link between the state and classes is undeniable.

The division of the main aşiret led to formations called people or kavim, which represented linguistic and cultural groups. When we talk about a kavim or a people, we mean social groups within which there were only loose relations but which more or less shared the same language and culture. In that sense, it is accurate to draw a connection between ethnic groups, peoples, and kavim. Kavim represented one of the most important social categories of late antiquity and the Middle Ages. As a union of lineages, they played an important role in the birth of the Middle Ages. The fact that Teutonic tribes were able to conquer Rome, that Arab tribes could overrun Byzantium, and that the Turks and Mongols were able to sweep through the Islamic world was to a large extent due to their character as kavim.

In the kavim form, settlement on a given land and cultural differentiation was more evident. The key classes were the aristocracy and serfs. Urbanism fell within this general category, representing limited independence and cosmopolitism. We should regard the city as an autonomous unit pretty much beyond the bonds of ethnicity and kavim, in which class relations were more pronounced.32 With feudalism, although the ruling and the ruled classes came from the same ethnic group, their relationship was nevertheless characterized by profound alienation. Under slavery, the master and the slave only rarely belonged to the same aşiret.

Nationhood and the phenomenon of the nation appear to be the continuation and extension of kavim relations. One aspect of nationhood is the dissolution of economic structures that were separated by feudal boundaries and the creation of a more developed common market. As much as the common market is associated with capitalism, it is still by no means coterminous with it. There was a common market even in precapitalist social systems, and it could also exist in postcapitalist social systems. The market is a general category of social development, and it is natural and useful for it to also exist in socialist systems.

The common language and culture around developed markets led to the development of national bonds and relations. More precisely perhaps, language and culture developed to the point that they became the nation’s central bond and relationship. On that basis, the capitalist system could develop, but the same would also have been possible for noncapitalist, communal, democratic, and socialist systems. If capitalist class domination is prevalent within the nation, it might make sense to talk about a bourgeois or capitalist nation. But still, it would not be correct to identify capitalism with the nation. If ties of exploitation are weak, and democratic and communal relations prevail, a nation can be called democratic and socialist.

Within nations, the complexity of the ties among ethnicity, sex, and class increased. Even though the bourgeoisie and the working class constitute the fundamental classes, many other strata, including the peasantry, also emerged anew. It is possible to find a large number of kavim and classes, as well as the oppressed sex, within the nation, making the concepts of the ruling nation, the ruling class, and the ruling sex more transparent. The next stage is the formation of an official language, national privileges, and oppressed ethnic and cultural groups. Even though the notion of the “nation-state” refers to the state that emerges within the phenomenon of the nation, it is more of a nationalist concept. If the ideology of the state is nationalism, it is called a nation-state because of the dominant nationality. There are also multinational states, to which a concept different from “nation-state” should probably be applied.

One of the most dangerous aspects of nationalism is the practice of identifying each nation with a state and each state with a nation. Characterizing the state as a common specialized organization, without intermixing the categories of “state” and “nation,” would provide a much better way for nations to be free, equal, and democratic.

Best, however, would be to understand transnational to be the synthesis of groups of nations with close and common interests. A focus on the syntheses of nations that don’t deny but, rather, enrich each other might lead to extremely productive results that are effective in problem-solving. Neither national nihilism—denial of the nation—nor national fanaticism can be the solution. On the contrary, the best and the most correct way to dispose of the present-day nationalist hodgepodge might be to strive for the syntheses of various nation’s values.

These fundamental conceptual definitions will better facilitate our investigation of the reality of ethnicity, class, and nation in Kurdistan. It might be realistic to identify Kurdistan as the main site of the origin of ethnicity. Being one of the most developed and oldest centers of the Neolithic Revolution goes some distance to explaining the ethnic structures that are still in effect. Kurdish society is perhaps the oldest and most intensely experienced mosaic of ethnic communities, primarily because for millennia the Kurdish region served as a center for the flow of migration from all four cardinal points. The productivity of the agrarian revolution played a fundamental role in this. While conditions in Lower Mesopotamia and Egypt were more suitable to a more rapid development of class-based civilization, in Upper Mesopotamia and its periphery ethnic communities were more advantageous. The conditions in that area required a seminomadic lifestyle and defensive structure, as well as seasonal migratory movements between the mountains and the plains, creating ideal conditions for ethnicity. The Neolithic Revolution was the result of precisely these conditions. The rapid population growth led to a struggle over settlement sites and productive areas early on, leading to aşiret-like organizations that were the most fundamental organizational units for defense, settlement, and production.

Back then, the state as an organizational form could be torn down at any time through various forms of attack. The conditions in the Kurdish area were unsuitable to early statehood. The chances of survival in smaller units, such as villages or extended families, where the aşiret had not yet appeared were limited. The options for these units was either to join another more influential tribe, to emigrate, or to resist to the very last. This thesis is supported by the fact that it was mostly small, rebellious groups that took refuge in areas where conditions were difficult. The sedentary inhabitants of the plains, on the other hand, mostly fell more easily under the influence of a state. If we compare the mountain aşiret with those on the plains, we will see that the primordial and largely untouched ones were located in the mountainous regions, while the inhabitants of the plains underwent a fairly intense process of assimilation, which is why Kurdishness in the mountains and Kurdishness on the plains have serious differences.

Scholars assume that Proto-Indo-European, the first predecessor of the Kurdish linguistic group, developed about twelve thousand years ago. Because this was the language of agriculture and animal husbandry, it constituted the origin of the languages of those with a similar order of life. Thus, we should see the expansion from Kurdistan less as a physical but primarily as a cultural process. The strength of the Indo-European language family comes from the foundation they rely upon—their speakers launched an agricultural revolution that lasted for thousands of years, which explains why certain basic words are so widely encountered in such a large geographic region. Some very old Kurdish words found in a similar form in many languages of the Indo-European language group, such as murd, meaning death, jin, meaning woman and life, ro, meaning sun, and star, meaning star, illustrate this fact.

There is clear evidence of the existence of linguistically and culturally different groups is around 4000 BC. One of the first historically identifi-able proto-Kurdish groups was the Hurrians. Some of the words that the Kurdish aşiret hailing from the mountains used were also found among the Hurrians. There are also striking similarities in their mythological systems and the world of their gods.

Their geographical location as a passageway between the Sumerian and the Hittite civilizations created an even stronger incentive for these ancestors of the Kurds to strengthen their aşiret presence. Because their early statehood would have accelerated their elimination, they opted for a seminomadic lifestyle, a kind of semi-guerrilla life. With a growing number of states in their environment, strengthening the aşiret structures became increasingly necessary. Even today, aşiret among the Kurds live a semi-guerrilla way of life. If we take a closer look at the families within these aşiret organizations, we will see that matri-power and -freedom come to the forefront. Women were very influential and had a high degree of freedom. Again, all of this means that the tenacity and persistence of the aşiret developed in the form of a semi-guerrilla lifestyle. Once again, we see that the degree of the women’s freedom determines the general degree of freedom within society. The traditionally agile, strong, and brave Kurdish women stem from an ancient historical tradition. The negative side of an aşiret-like life, however, was that the possibility of transformation into a more developed society was limited.

The city was born from class society. With the emergence of the city there was an accelerated development of writing, the arts, and science. The founding of the state greatly extended the scope of thought and action. Because of enhanced economic productivity, a larger population was able to live together in a smaller space. Nonetheless, the insistence of the Kurds on a free life in their own country is not evidence of any particular shortcoming but, rather, of their actual quality, which may very well have prevented them from developing a slaveholding civilization along similar lines. It is also due to this resistance and their insistence on freedom that they have been able ensure their existence to this very day.

If we were to apply freedom as the criterion for “development,” the Kurds are perhaps the most advanced people, or ethnic group, in history. The proto-Kurdish aşiret was important for the Mesopotamia-centered civilizations to survive until around 330 BCE, as it had the most respected and sought-after characteristics in the region. The best source for this is Herodotus’s Histories. The author mentions the Medes quite often and points to the tendencies that, even at that time, considered the highly developed Greek society to be collaborating with the Medes. The Medes, as the Kurds of their time, owed their desirable qualities to their freedom-loving identity.

Zoroastrianism is a religion characterized by a powerful freedom-loving morality that comes close to equality and freedom in relations between women and men, advocating for a system of ideal partnerships between the sexes. To be a good partner was regarded as a virtue of good morality. Attention was given to the upbringing of children, and commitment to the truth was the first principle of education. It was very important not to lie. Zoroastrianism was also very attentive to animals and the environment. The impact of Zoroastrianism is obvious in terms of the strength of the Kurdish family, with a similar tradition still alive among the Yazidi and Alevi Kurds.

With the impact of civilizations, both the Kurd’s moral and aşiret structures gradually deteriorated. With the invasion of Hellenism, a new synthesis of East and West provided a new stage on the way to civilization, as is demonstrated by the inscriptions on the ruins on Mount Nemrut, the monuments of the Commagene kingdom. Until the emergence of Islam, the mountains remained significant in Kurdish social life. It’s safe to assume that at that point a Kurdish aristocracy class established itself, first in the Persian Empire, and then in the Parthian and Sasanian Empires. An aristocracy that has dissociated itself from ethnicity was far from constituting a class in its own right, although it may well have been able to do so before the founding of the Persian Empire. Available sources indicate that after becoming the collaborators of the empire, Kurdish aristocrats were generally expected to display servant- and serf-like loyalty. The more the Kurdish ethnic group was characterized by a spirit of freedom, the more its aristocracy was colorless and eager to collaborate. The emergence of classes on this basis among the Kurds was distorted and was accompanied by an aristocracy that denied its lineage. However, no aristocracy arose in Kurdish society that could equal the Greek, Roman, or Persian aristocracies. Instead, in each case, the Kurdish aristocracy constituted a subordinate element within the ruling aristocracy, which it always tried to emulate. One might say that the Kurdish collaborators always acted “more Catholic than the pope.” Had there been an aristocracy like the one that developed in Rome, or even a state-aligned class similar to those in Sumer and Egypt, social development in Kurdistan would have undoubtedly taken a different path. The Kurdish aristocrats, however, did not create any cities of their own, preferring to become the servants in cities founded by others. When we look at the cities founded by the Hellenes in Asia, the glaring difference is obvious.

Throughout these various periods, the distinction between the village and the city was accompanied by deep social division. While the cities had played the role of centers for alien rulers since Persian rule, the kom and the nomadic way of life had long functioned to preserve local culture, a reality that continued for a very long time. The first cities were shaped by the Sumerians, then—in order—by the Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Hellenes, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Ottomans and, finally, by the nation-states. On the other hand, the village and the kom sustained and represented Kurdishness. The Kurds remaining a village and kom society was not arbitrary but, in key ways, was the result of merciless conquests and occupations and the establishment of alien urbanization. The city meant alienation, enslavement, and collaboration.

Islam had a multifaceted influence on the Kurdish ethnic group and its aristocracy. The ethnic collaborators and the urban aristocracy were the first to render homage to it. Their capitulation was deep-rooted. Their role in the emergence of medieval classes constituted the basis of their treason, which persists to this very day. They perceived themselves as somehow better than the Kurds from rural areas and organized themselves within the ruling power groups.

We can analyze this better if we look at the topic objectively. The area was organized as the area of civilization thousands of years ago. To the ancestors of the Kurds, however, the cities were completely alien, never giving them the opportunity to build their own cities. They did not descend from the mountains as conquerors. Collaborators had long paved the way.

It fell to their successors to continue on this path. Whether Sumerian or Hellenic, Persian or Arab—there was no ruling aristocracy that the collaborators could not disappear into. It is little wonder that an ethnic group that lost its elite in this way, or, rather, whose elite had this particular character, was unable to further develop its own language and culture.

Even though there were some Kurdish dynasties in the Middle Ages, they could never liberate themselves from Arab and Persian influence and were unable to become national dynasties. The rule of the two most famous among them, the Marwanids (990–1090 CE) and the Ayyubids (1175–1250 CE), was scarcely different from the rule of the Arab dynasties. They did not seriously care about the Kurdish language but simply carried on with the classical line. The fact that the people were divided into different Islamic mezheb and tariqat helped preserve at least a modi-cum of Kurdish essence. Despite its negative impact, the feudalism of the Middle Ages did not succeed in annihilating all particularities of the Kurds as a kavim. On the contrary, they managed to manifest their existence through some real political, intellectual, and literary achievements, albeit only to a limited degree. The chronicle Sharafnama (1596 CE) and the epic Mem û Zîn (c. 1690 CE) show the degree of development of the Kurdish language and Kurdish kavim characteristics. From these works, we also learn that there was separation from the aşiret groups for the first time.

This separation is what we call the Kurmanj,33 which describes a group of people outside of the aşiret.34 This group either developed because of the dissolution of the aşiret order or because people broke away from the aşiret. The population of the first peripheral urban settlements were made up of the Kurmanj. This process accelerated after the nineteenth century, in a way comparable to the process of proletarianization under capitalism. There is a difference between the Kurd of the aşiret and the Kurd of the Kurmanj, and the Kurmanj represents genuine Kurdishness. The aşiret is unthinkable without hierarchy, but the Kurmanj have a family structure. They are a sort of Kurdish working class. The notion of “karker” (worker) correctly refers to this group.35

The Kurdish serf, or xulam, was the servant of the aga, the big landowner. The institution of the aga, which developed in the Middle Ages, has a particular position within the Kurdish aristocracy. The agas managed to create serfs from the aşiret. Agahood developed in villages offering the option of agriculture, particularly under the Ottoman Empire. When an ethnicity settled in an agrarian village, its hierarchy began to transform and center around the agas. Agas were known for their harshness, quite different from the reïs (aşiret leader). They were quick to use the rod. The reïs, on the other hand, led on the basis of kinship bonds. The institution of sheikhdom, however, has its origins in the Arab tradition and developed under the influence of religion.36 It also had an economic basis,37 but it primarily represented medieval intellectualism. The sheikh had a function similar to that of the head of a tariqa. We can thus describe the reïs, i.e., the head of the aşiret, the village aga, and the sheikhs of the religious tariqat as the Kurdish ruling class of the Middle Ages. From that perspective, there is a certain development in class division.

The collaboration of the Ottomans with the house of Şerefhan, whose intellectual leader was Emir İdris Bitlisi, served the interests of this ruling upper class. In the nineteenth century, this Kurdish upper class began to lose its privilege. The central state demanded more taxes and soldiers than it previously had, triggering a number of uprisings. But none of these rebellions ever reached the level of Kurdish nationalism, not even the level of the Western bourgeois revolt or of the Armenian and Assyrian nationalism that emerged simultaneously. The defeat of the Kurdish rebellions had negative consequences for the population, curtailing its freedom. The attempt to transform the Kurdish kavim into a national movement also failed, and the old Kurdish elites never succeeded in rising above their traditional role.

We can pinpoint the beginning of this development and the accompanying deterioration that so negatively impacted the Kurds with the nineteenth-century uprisings. For the first time in history, the status of the Kurds was rescinded, and from then on they ceased to play any particular political role. When the Ottoman sultanate collapsed after World War I, the Kurdish collaborators found themselves in a difficult situation. Once they understood that the purpose of the national liberation war was not the salvation of the caliph but, rather, the creation of a republic, they withdrew their original support and rebelled. After the uprisings were suppressed, they contributed to a situation characterized by new heights of denial and collaboration. As they largely lost their Kurdish traits, they didn’t hesitate to function as a clique of agents within the state. In order to be accepted as minority groups, they did not shy away from pandering to the ruling nation by acting like the most ardent of nationalists.38 Their variety of nationalism was just as dangerous to any people and any nation as their variety of religionism.

The development of Kurdish nationhood followed an unusual and contradictory course. The Kurds never had the opportunity to develop within their own language and cultural boundaries around a common market. The uprisings and the subsequent harsh crackdowns prevented that. The breaking of the resistances, and the inability to create a contemporary national movement seriously undermined Kurds’ level of nationhood. They were unable to build any contemporary national parties and movements, and there was no significant Kurdish enlightenment.

Even though the Kurds founded the republic with the Turks, their longing for the old order and failure to recognize the republic meant that they wasted the opportunity available and set the stage for the ensuing uprisings to end badly for the Kurds. The way Kurdish collaborators subsequently facilitated assimilation and made headway within the ruling nation’s politics in an unprincipled and treacherous way played a decisive role in making the twentieth century—the age of national liberation—the worst century ever for the Kurds. To the extent that the collaborators corrupted their own nation, they also corrupted the nation or nations in which they attempted to play some role.

It seems unlikely that Kurdish nationhood will develop around a common market or as a bourgeois national movement. It is also questionable to what extent the US’s offensive in the Middle East will serve the interests of Kurdish collaborators and their bourgeois nationalism, because rather than being allies based on principles they very much pursue their own interests.

Nonetheless, the activities of democratic communal society in a Kurmanj-like formation could possibly achieve results. The development of Kurdish nationhood around a democratic, communal, and civil society would perhaps be among the healthiest and most timely possible approaches. A departure from the classic state-oriented national movement that prioritizes effective civil society and democratization activities rather than relying on the protracted national liberation war and its means could clear the way for a democratic national formation. The importance of this formation in particular is women’s participation based on freedom, leading to a form of nationhood that is free from nationalism, does not accommodate religious radicalism and is based on the independent development of local culture, woman’s freedom, and an ecological and environmentally conscious course of action, which would be the healthiest road to a democratic nation that eschews separatism or the use of violent methods.

In this way Kurdish nationhood could perhaps provide a model for resolving the conflicts in the Middle East, the region where slaughtering one another for ethnic, religious, denominational, and nationalist reasons is most common. New methods are inevitable, especially given the seemingly insurmountable impasse of the nationalist approach in Israel–Palestine, for example. It is time to finally accept that it is unrealistic to attempt to solve problems with violence and separation, which simply cannot resolve the existing problems. Likewise, it is impossible to extinguish national realities with state terror. More importantly, we should finally understand that living and intermingling with different national, ethnic, and religious cultures can provide an enriching and vibrant way of life and need not be a source of anxiety or of a sense of loss. As soon as we realize that people from different nations and cultures do not need different states but, rather, full democracy, it will also be clear that there is no such thing as a national question that can’t be resolved.

At the moment, the Kurds are trying to become a nation using two different approaches together and intertwined. First, the path of the primitive nationalist feudal bourgeois Kurdish ruling strata supported by the Western capitalist system that at this juncture has embodied its program in the Kurdish federal state in Iraq. Second, the path of the toiling Kurdish people whose goal is to become a democratic and libertarian nation that relies on its own strength. While the first approach is guided by feudal, religious, and aşiret ties that at this point are reactionary and driven by self-interest, the second is based on democratic, libertarian, and egalitarian ties that transcend narrow aşiret relations and are not based on feudal and religious tendencies.

While the representatives of the first method have primarily focused on taking the lead under the US occupation in Iraqi Kurdistan, adherents of the second path have tried to be self-reliant and to contribute to the establishment of a new understanding of Kurdistan as the driving force for the democratization of Turkey rather than an obstacle.

Given the worsening problems of democracy and the various national questions throughout the Middle East, the significance and the role of these two distinct methods will be better understood. Whether Kurdistan will become a more comprehensive new Israel-Palestine or a country with peaceful democratic solutions will depend on which of the two approaches prevails. The more the narrower ethnic, kavim-based, religious, and nationalist methods are sidelined and the military methods laid aside, the more likely that the complicated social problems in Kurdistan will be resolved using democratic, freedom-loving, and egalitarian means based on a democratic nation.

Official Ideology and Power in Kurdistan

If tales of ideology and power were to be written it would probably be a very important step forward in the modern theory of social reality. Quite obviously, sociology hasn’t yet succeeded in disentangling the phenomena of ideology and power. As long as the role of ideology and the execution of power as the common way of thinking and dominating, as well as in molding the rest of the social fabric, have not been entirely clarified, economic, social, and political analyses will ultimately lead to extremely dangerous forms of social ignorance. The failure to understand the difference between the application of the scientific method to society and to everything that lies outside of society will only make the problem of knowing and doing even more complex. A certain self-knowledge on the part of society must be considered part of that reality. The capacity to self-define is perhaps the most basic property of any society. It is difficult to even talk about the existence of a society that cannot self-define. One might even see this as society becoming a corpse. Another name for self-definition is social ideology. Ideology, for its part, can also be defined as a set of common ideas expressing themselves through will. This, in turn, we can call social morality. The main task of social morality is to ensure social existence. Social existence is possible only if one stakes a claim, i.e., if one becomes an ideological force, thereby closing the final connecting link in the circle.

Even though power is very closely connected to ideology, it is a quite distinct and decisive phenomenon, particularly in societies that are under domination. Power itself is the institutionalization of violence in society, a means to disguise the violence. Therefore, it is perhaps impossible to define power in and of itself. Defining a mask is only possible if we know what it is supposed to be hiding. Masks cannot be defined on their own. Violence is only comprehensible when it explodes. Then the mask falls, and it becomes clear that power is not something that exists on its own, that it is a complement of violence, its beguiling face. There can be no normal condition of being for societies determined by violence, only a state of explosion. But, as in nature, a state of continuous explosion in society is very rare. Besides, far-reaching cooperation of emotional and analytical intelligence has the ability that could prevent social explosions, such as wars, revolutions, counterrevolutions, uprisings, and other struggles. Even in the most problematic situations, solutions without explosions are always possible. The claim that there is no solution without violence and military action is simply not reasonable.

This brief outline has been necessary to lay the groundwork for a proper evaluation of official ideology and power in Kurdistan. The official ideology is an instrument for legitimizing and defending the status quo that state power has established in society. It’s the mindset created by state power and implemented to unilaterally ensure approval and secure its power. A few examples would include mythology among the Sumerians, philosophy among the Greeks, religion in the Middle Ages, and science in modern Europe, all of which essentially functioned or function as ideological instruments. Practice, in terms of prayers and/or rituals is a secondary function. What is decisive is that these ideological instruments be paradigmatically established as society’s mentality.

The official ideology in Kurdistan consists of a whole chain of theses: there is no such phenomenon as the “Kurds”; were Kurds to exist, it would be of no importance; were the Kurds to actually turn out to be important, it would be very dangerous to acknowledge the fact. The justifications for these ideas are extremely far-fetched. Some of them freeze you while others burn you. These ideas are repeated ad nauseum until the rulers of the day and everything related to them is fully accepted and seen as valid. The main reason for this approach is that Kurdistan was conquered long ago, and as a result the Kurds have capitulated. Oddly enough, the Kurds do not recognize any of this. Any Turkish, Arab, or Persian ruler will wallow in the tales of the spectacular wars in which they conquered and subjugated the Kurds and will revel in heroic tales of the conquest. The Kurds, for their part—presuming they can muster the courage to insist on their own existence—are foolish enough to listen to these shameful stories. They are barely capable of posing simple questions about who and what was conquered in the process. They find themselves at the point where social mentality and, therefore, social morality ends.

The official ideologies have continued to have an effect in different forms across the centuries until today. They are like unbroken rings in a chain. For example, the Arabs pointed to the Islamic conquests as fundamental proof of divine legitimation and said, “We conquered, and, therefore, it is ours.” Can there be a greater right than to conquer in the name of God? This is the underlying idea, and claims based on this argument are still insistently advanced. The Persians go a step further and claim to believe that the Kurds are relatives of a lower order, that the Persians already own everything that was theirs and know with a certainty that the Kurds agreed to all of this a long time ago. They find it unnecessary to present any further justification. They seem to ask: “Can Kurdishness even be an idea in the face of our great state ideology and state power?” The Turks invoke the same scenario of conquest. They argue that they conquered Kurdistan as part of Anatolia a thousand years ago and see no need for any further discussion, speaking confidently about the unquestionable fact that conquest grants the conqueror absolute rights.

The facts squarely contradict all of this. While it is true that the conquest of the Balkans and of Constantinople by the Ottomans may have had a certain significance, even mention of the simple fact that Diyarbakır was never conquered or that ever since the Seljuks the Kurds have acted on the basis of common policies, and that this is the key course of history, is regarded as an attack on the right of conquest and its ideology. We have, however, clearly shown that the Kurds created a culture, have called this land home for more than fifteen thousand years, and, thus, have rights that are a thousandfold more valid than any right based on the conquest of the Kurds. Given that, as a basic source of their rights, the Kurds seeded the land summer and winter, transforming it into the fields that provided the basis for the villages and cities where they sweated, resisted, and died, a land, every acre of which they have treasured, in short, a land they have tended to in every possible way, so at a minimum the question arises: How could a land that they lived on in this way, a land onto which they embroidered their very existence like a pattern on a tambour, become the property of the Arabs, Turks, or Persians at a single stroke? The Kurds might rightly suggest that while the land has been illegitimately occupied at some point, we have conquered it every day with the sweat and toil of hundreds of generations.

The official ideology also asserts that Kurds and Kurdistan, while unimportant, are dangerous concepts that give rise to separatism accompanied by terror. But we have proven that the words Kurds and Kurdistan existed thousands of years ago, at a time when no one had yet heard of Arabs, Persians, or Turks. We have also shown that the Kurds are by no means unimportant but actually represent the oldest of the primary sources of civilization. The claim that simply saying this could be the source of separatism and violence is contradictory in and of itself. Anyone who makes this argument is acting like a thief who expels the owner from the house—and is, therefore, the actual separatist. Why should the Kurds separate, that is, divide, the land they have worked to create over thousands of years? The Kurds are the ones who are constantly shot and killed, and it is their land that is under permanent occupation. The actual sources of violence come from the outside. Why would the Kurds use violence? Why would the necessary resort to legitimate self-defense be regarded as separatist violence?

The official ideology doesn’t really say all of this openly, but what I sketched above is its actual content. The corresponding ideas are expressed in mocking verses about the Kurds like “wheel and deal and send the Kurdish Mehmet to keep guard” or “Kurds don’t know how to feast but only how to drink ayran aplenty.”39 Official ideologies and those who implement them consider it an essential duty to present these basic ideas in public schools as the scientific framework behind all aspects of history, economics, politics, literature, law, the arts, the military, and even religion and morality. They firmly believe that this will gain them social legitimacy. In this sense, ideology plays an even more dangerous role than massacres. Denying the very existence of a society’s people because they have been weakened or defeated is not just a violation of that people’s rights but an effective denial of all religious, philosophical, and scientific facts. No social problem could be more dangerous than this. From such denial, it is a short step to annihilation.

It is not my intention to discuss how these ideas are articulated in the Arab, Persian, and Turkish states here, but only to define their ideological function.

I will address, however, the issue of ideological instruments. To establish their legitimacy, such ideological concepts were repeated as if they were a fundamental truth thousands of times a day by wandering hodja, dervish, and sayyid in the past, then, subsequently, they were propounded through books, and, today, they are spread by newspapers, radio, television, the official educational system, and the mosques. Anyone who dares to put forward a contradictory thesis will be severely punished; they will face the immediate intervention of the security forces and the judicial apparatus, will be prosecuted, tried, and convicted, and their sentence be executed with extreme prejudice. If one of the most fundamental privileges of a society and its people is to freely express themselves, but obstacles of this sort prevent them from doing so, can there be any good outcome for members of that society whether they are the rulers or the oppressed?

It is clear that the official ideology creates a serious problem. Its primary function is to legitimize and justify the violent essence of power as an accepted commonplace and create a status for itself. Whether addressing the rulers or the oppressed, ideology attempts to create a fundamental paradigm that make a one-sided perspective dominant within society, thereby obscuring reality and preventing the development of a sound approach. This drains away the real essence of any possible social peace and solidarity. In the final analysis, it ultimately has the contrary effect, laying the base for the potential emergence of opposing ideas at any moment, thus encouraging an atmosphere of struggle and violence. It is always the illegitimate claims of an ideology that prevent social peace and provide the pretext for war by inevitably provoking countervailing ideologies and structures and leading to a situation where the society is in a persistently tense and conflict-ridden state.

Freedom of speech opens the way to genuine peace in the ideological realm. Following centuries of intense ideological conflict, Europeans recognized the importance of the freedom of speech, making it a basic right. Freedom of speech brings the flaws or weaknesses implicit in an ideological approach into the open, causing it to more closely reflect reality, which encourages intellectual production. Ending the ideological siege on the Kurds in Kurdistan and allowing free speech in books, newspapers, the cinema, and on the radio and television is not, however, only necessary for democracy and human rights; it will, in fact, make a key contribution to clearing the way for society to recognize reality and in bringing society into contact with scientific knowledge, thereby facilitating the development of an information society. Getting correct information is a better and sounder way to achieve the most rational and peaceful possible solution to the problems we face. That Europe recognizes this as the basis for the dignified approach it feels its societies deserve is the source of its international esteem.

As long as the present official ideology concerning Kurds and Kurdistan continues to exist, it will pose a real danger, because it sustains an atmosphere of tension that can be easily exploited from the outside. The events in Iraq are a clear example. Those who carry the official ideology like a hump in their back will fall far behind on the road they take in becoming contemporary. Therefore, regardless of the claims of its supporters, the operational official ideology creates a situation where separatism and violence are always possible, thereby posing a real threat to the integrity of the country and the state. This is why history has so often seen societies, states, and countries start mindless wars that lead to division and major losses.

If we look more concretely at the official ideology that is influential in Kurdistan, we see that it is dominated by nationalism and religionism. In all four parts of Kurdistan, Islam functions as a state ideology. Even though there is a lot of talk about secularism, Islam continues to play a political role in all of these discussions and to determine the relationship between the individual and Allah—essentially, the relationship between the individual, on the one hand, and power and the state, on the other—and, in any case, these discussions are nothing but a deception. Some countries, Iran among them, do this quite explicitly, while others do it implicitly. The Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı (Office for Religious Affairs) in Turkey has more than one hundred thousand cadres.40 It is possible that not even Iran has an army that size in the service of religion. The imam hatip schools in Turkey have a status similar to that of the state secondary schools.41 If one adds Koran courses, religious institutes, and theological faculties, the aggregate number of cadres is close to half a million. Secularization, or worldliness, cannot be achieved by applying a thin laic polish to the educational system. Only a sociological analysis of religious thought and overcoming it through literature can bring about genuine worldliness. In the countries we are concerned with here, there is a toxic mix of religiosity and science, a mix that leads to a deadlock in the mentality and is the foremost obstacle to the creative thinking and philosophical development that could provide the basis for a high-quality literary paradigm. These countries actually have not considered what the impact of Islamic ideology might be. In the daily calculations around their rule, they see it as a means to control women and society overall. They don’t even realize what being prevented from developing a scientific paradigm has cost them.

In addition, when this mentality is organized around tariqat and parties directly playing a role in politics, a situation that can’t easily be resolved is created. Whether an individual is religious or not is of no particular importance in and of itself. A religious person can play an important role in society, just as an absolutely nonreligious person can. But for this to be true, a sociological analysis of religion is essential. Religious tradition should not be belittled and disrespected. Its significance must definitely be grasped. If such an approach is adopted, religion is valuable in terms of defining society’s identity. If, however, it is reduced to the rote learning of meaningless rituals, forms of worship, and prayers, religion will only numb and neutralize the mind and emotions, shutting down access to knowledge. This is why the power structure clings to religion, particularly as arbitrary rule, or despotism, grows harsher. This is an attempt to weaken the consciousness and will of society.

Just as in Iran, religion is a central tool of choice in Iraq and Syria, as well as in Turkey. There was sociological content in Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s religious policy.42 His preference for a scientific mindset was clear. He undeniably waged a struggle to change the mentality. But, in the long run, the lack of an in-depth interpretation of the religious tradition, the failure to surpass religion with philosophy, and controlling the religious tradition with the Office for Religious Affairs had a counterproductive impact. As such, laicism in the European sense was never achieved.

After Atatürk’s death, the religious paradigm degenerated further and was politically instrumentalized, with the result that the republic’s previous achievements were largely lost. Under the rule of Demokrat Parti (DP: Democrat Party) and the Adalet Partisi (AP: Justice Party),43 the politicization of religion was more explicit. With the military coups of March 12, 1971, and September 12, 1980, this practice became official ideology as the so-called “Turkish-Islamic synthesis.” After 1980, Turkey resorted to becoming another Iran of a sort. With the ascension of the AKP to the government in 2002,44 Islamic ideology officially took power. The rule of political Islam, contrary to popular belief, was not a choice but was, in fact, the result of a long-standing state religious policy. This transformation was achieved by, of all possible forces, the Sunni Naqshbandi current, adherents of an extremely conservative Islamic denomination. The contradiction with the Islam represented by Iran is not one of substance but of form. The conflict is between the Shiite denomination, which has a more predominant focus on the social, and the Sunni Naqshibandi, whose interpretation is largely conservative and statist in nature.

Today, the US wants the Islamic movement, which they once founded as a bulwark against communism as part of its so-called “green belt,”45 to act as a force of “moderate Islam” against “radical Islam.” The US is currently testing this approach in Turkey, in order to eventually carry out a far-reaching Islamic reform project under the leadership of Fethullah Gülen in particular,46 both in the region and around the world. In both the political and social roles, Islamic ideology is ultimately negative, because it prevents societies from being transparent. It is far from being an accurate interpretation of social tradition.

The predominant form of political Islam in Kurdistan and among the Kurds is the Sunni Naqshbandi tariqat. Kurdish sheiks and tariqa leaders played a major role in the development of the Naqshibandi Brotherhood in the Middle East, which has a long history. In a way, this was an attempt to use the Naqshbandi current to fill an ideological void that had opened up. After the uprisings of the princes, ideological leadership fell into the hands of Naqshbandi sheikhs. The Nehri uprising of 1878, the Bitlis Mutki uprising of 1914, the uprisings led by Sheikh Said in 1925 and by Sheikh Ahmet Barzani in 1931, and the movements led by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani beginning in the 1960s all shared prominent Naqshbandi ideological motifs. The Naqshbandi tariqa has also been prominent in Turkish-Islamic synthesis since 1980. With Turgut Özal, it made a significant move within the Anavatan Partisi (ANAP: Motherland Party).47 The tariqat had already been influential within the DP and the AP, but after the coup of 1980, under the protection of the state, they created parties, foundations, schools, associations, media conglomerates, and other holdings, thereby institutionalizing themselves in all of these areas.

There is no question that there has been an ideological counterrevolution against the Kemalist republican ideology. However, it was not an open counterrevolution but, rather, was executed quietly and covertly. The details of this counterrevolution remain hazy. Although the US played a role, the internal official dimensions remain unclear.

One of the key figures is Fethullah (Gülen) Hodja. Some say that, Fethullah Hodja has modernized the teachings of Said Nursî, the most important Naqshbandi leader in the transitional phase from the foundation of the republic until 1960. Gülen, whom one might call the leader of an Islamic version of evangelism, is an ally of the US. The former prime ministers (Necmettin) Erbakan Hodja and Bülent Ecevit failed to sufficiently adapt to the US and the state bureaucracy, and, as a consequence, we saw that a new wave rose under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, with his AKP. This can be described as a political victory for the Naqshbandi.

The role of the Kurdish Naqshbandi leaders is also important. After the parliamentary elections of 2002 and the municipal elections of 2004, a number of leading Naqshbandis became deeply involved in the state and in official politics, including Abdülmelik Fırat, today the chairman of the Hak ve Özgürlükler Partisi (HAK-PAR: Party for Rights and Freedoms), Cüneyd Zapsu, Erdoğan’s top counselor, Minister of Education Hüseyin Çelik, and Zeki Ergezen, AKP MP and former minister—all heirs to Sheikh Said and Said Nursî.48 Jalal Talabani, chairman of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and Masoud Barzani, leader of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, are both also Naqshbandi sheikhs who support the Naqshbandi tradition in Turkey.49 Since the rule of Özal, they have carried out numerous joint operations in collaboration with the Turkish state against the Kurdish workers’ and the democratic movement.

Because the Kurdish Naqshbandi operate semi-secretly, it is impossible to say much about their ongoing organizing in Europe and the United States or in the Middle East. It is clear, however, that they are at least as influential as the Shiites. Their relationship with the US is strategic and without a doubt plays an important ideological and political role in the Greater Middle East Initiative. Moderate Islam is basically Naqshbandi Islam. At this point, it is becoming clearer that their alliance with the US also extends to a program for Central Asia. Thus, a renewed moderate Islam and the old Ba’athist Arab nationalism, as well as the Kemalist nationalism of the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP: Republican People’s Party),50 Saudi-Arabia’s Wahhabi sectarianism,51 and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood are emerging as an alternative to Iran’s Hezbollah.

The second major version of the official ideology is bourgeois nationalism. These tendencies—the favorite ideologies of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries—were meticulously instilled by the bourgeoisie as state ideology to weaken the working class inside and the real socialist currents abroad. This is a natural consequence of the nation-state understanding; nationalism is, in a way, a contemporary religion. It is the most recent version of ethnicity (aşiret nationalism). It was the most influential official ideology in Europe in the nineteenth century and outside of Europe in the twentieth century. It played an important role in subduing social contradictions, in carrying the nascent bourgeoisie to the pinnacle of the state, in procuring a common market for them, and in attacking other nations and ethnic groups.

Turkish nationalism, which took its earliest form in the middle of the twentieth century with the dramatist and poet Namık Kemal and the Tanzimat reforms,52 originally focused on preventing the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Its primary focus was the demand for a constitutional monarchy. After 1876, it became even more radical in its opposition to the reign of Abdul Hamid II. The nationalism of the Young Turks in the form of the İttihat ve Terraki Cemiyeti (İTC: Committee of Unity and Progress) continued to attempt both to declare a constitutional monarchy and to take total control of political power to prevent further disintegration. The German policy of opening up to the Middle East and Central Asia added an ingredient of racism to Turkish nationalism.53 The result was the liquidation of the Armenians, the Greeks, the Assyrians, and, to a lesser degree, the Kurds.

The nationalism of the republican period, with its rigid concept of the “nation-state,” encased the society like an armor. With the deepening of the doctrine “one language, one nation, one state,” lineage was literally elevated to the rank of a religion. Even though classical sharia had been pushed back, a new cult was created in its place that almost functioned like a religious denomination. The centuries-old dynastic regime and the occupation and isolation following World War I were the main factors in these developments. To safeguard unity, the republic took its cues from the French Revolution, ramping up the latter’s nationalist influences in the process. Though a nation without classes and privilege was a worthy goal, the means to realize it were lacking. Because this remained abstract, it risked falling into ideological bigotry. Nationalism had undertaken the mission of covering up all of the government’s weaknesses. Society was expected to swallow anything under the exaggerated slogan of “supreme Turkishness.”

Mustafa Kemal’s nationalism was more patriotic in nature. It was not entirely unscientific and was not guided by adventurism. Nevertheless, its essence was rapidly lost, and it was transformed into political power’s instrument for numbing the masses. After 1980, an attempt was made to mix this nationalism with elements of the Sunni Naqshbandi current and to present this as a new “Turkish-Islamic synthesis.” This project pursued two primary goals: internally, extreme Turkish nationalism, the so-called “idealism” of the Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP: Nationalist Movement Party),54 was to be contained and, even more importantly, the continued growth of the Kurdish movement that was rising at the time was to be prevented. The section of the Kurdish upper class that came from the Naqshbandi tradition was to be integrated into the system to prevent it from joining the Kurdish resistance movement. The corollary abroad was support for the Naqshbandis Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani to broaden the front against the PKK. The price for this was a clear departure from the revolutionary ideology of the republic. All of this resulted in the AKP government in Turkey and the Kurdish federal state in Iraq.

Although they cannot exactly be called official ideology, other related ideological tendencies also appeared. Neither liberalism, as a bourgeois tendency, nor the efforts of social democracy were able to significantly influence the state. Even though the various left ideologies claim to be radically opposed to the power structure, they lacked the depth necessary to overcome statism. The actual role these ideologies played in power relations demonstrated their true character.

While ideologies, which act as the common mentality framework of societies, obfuscate the power structures, it is necessary to analyze how power itself obfuscates a social reality based on violence. As long as the triad of ideology-power-violence is not disentangled, no social phenomenon or question can be truly illuminated. Social coercion and exploitation are not easily carried out if not embedded in mechanisms of ideology and power. Literally, since the time of the Sumerian priest state, the main task of politics has been to carefully develop the ideological structure and the institutions of power—state forms and regimes—necessary for coercion and exploitation. The question of whether ideology produces politics or vice versa is linked to deeper social conditions. Enforcing coercion and exploitation within a society is more difficult than people tend to believe. This is where ideology and politics come into play. The true function of ideology and politics is to establish the basis for involuntary and undemocratic material and immaterial relations that would otherwise trigger a fierce reaction. The formal ideology and politics prevalent in Kurdistan that play this role must be constantly taken into account or analyzing the Kurdish phenomenon and the search for a solution to the Kurdish question will not only be very difficult but will arrive at a depressing and tangled outcome.

In this historical sketch, we have tried to trace the development of force and power. When we analyze today’s rulers in light of this information, we find that all current regimes rely on fetishizing a crude right to conquest to justify and defend their existence. The reality, however, is that at some point in the past some of their ancestors seized the Kurds and Kurdistan by force through war. Since that time, this right to conquest has allegedly passed to each new generation down to today. Some people may embrace the belief that war and force are the original source of all rights, and that the right to conquest is sacred and legitimizes all other alleged rights, but, from a sociological point of view, this only proves that the proponents of these views interpret the source of rights to be naked force, war, and power.

This may be a realistic perspective, but it falls short of explaining why this is the only source of rights. The Europeans fought devastating wars and finally came to the conclusion that basic human rights and democracy are actually the best sources of legitimacy. The right to conquest has increasingly been left behind, while the scope of human rights and democracy has continuously grown. The view that this is the best way to guarantee both individual and collective rights is being turned into the foundation of all laws and constitutions.

Let us now put the Middle East at large to one side for a moment and focus on the rulers of the states that have a status in Kurdistan. Since Sargon of Akkad, the first expansionist, they all assert that they are the absolute conquerors of this land, with the idea that people cannot even think of picking up a pebble without their approval.55 The practice of power in Kurdistan shows in a striking way that no more explicit definition of power, with violence as its base, would be possible. Kurds can’t receive an education in their own language and are not allowed to use modern communication technologies. They are not permitted to make their own political decisions. They are denied the right to any economic planning. They cannot develop their own domestic or foreign political relations. They are not allowed to form national and democratic institutions.

These facts prove that it is violence that determines the right to conquest and power, and that this power, in turn—regardless of how it originally came to be—determines all public, social, economic, and intellectual institutions. Even though this may violate a sense of justice, the structure of the mentality and institutions of power make it perfectly clear that power relations are decisive.

To put it even more concretely, the state powers in Kurdistan do not entertain the slightest doubt that they have the right to shape this land and its people as they wish, including the right to kill them—on the contrary, they embrace it as a divine national duty. They alone decide what to exploit and how, who to teach what and how, how much in taxes and how many soldiers to collect, who will have a job, who to ban from what, and who to charge with something. Similarly, officials alone determine the political social and economic institutions, as well as science and the arts.

The Turkish, Arab, and Persian ruling classes and forces are not even theoretically open to and respectful of the notions of “Kurds” and “Kurdistan.” On the contrary, they consistently consider the criminalization of these very notions to be one of the most important and serious focuses of the state. That all of this is classified as “top secret” is presented as evidence of the importance they assign to national security. It would not occur to them that another understanding of security would recognize the Kurds as a society and consider them as subjects with some rights. The fundamental task of the armed forces is to design detailed plans and projects aimed at denying the phenomena and problematics of the Kurds and Kurdistan in minute detail, to destroy any Kurdish essence that shows a potential for Kurdish resurrection, and to crush all possible uprisings. The military regards doing this and supervising the other institutions to ensure that they do the same as its essential task.

The military leaves issues it considers secondary for the government, parliament, and the bureaucracy to take care of by complementing the military’s activities with laws, regulations, and decrees, which only serve to exacerbate the problem. They adhere to the maxim that politics is an area that produces “solutions” that exclude the Kurdish question. They have no doubt that the only method for resolving the Kurdish question is violence—to crush the snake’s head while it is still small. Otherwise, they are sure that their rule will suffer a serious blow. Traditional politics has actually become a reflex. The approach taken resembles that of whips who agitate against the opposing team at a soccer game.

Political parties and related semi-political associations are the propaganda arm of this mechanism and are tasked with influencing the people. Any inclusion of the people’s demands and any structuring of policy accordingly is seen as a bothersome and superfluous task that occasionally comes to mind. The best party is the party that best represents the state. The idea that parties shouldn’t be institutions that represent the will of the state but should represent the will of society never even arises. Being the party of the state is considered honorable, while any party of society is seen as a hindrance. The fact that state parties deteriorate into state propaganda bureaus goes unnoticed even by themselves. This is seen as national commitment to the fatherland and the state. In this context, “politics” means simply playing dumb and ignoring the snowballing social and economic problems, as if these problems were entirely natural and had absolutely nothing to do with this structure.

Even the civil society institutions whose definitional task should be to limit state power always depend on the state. They often see to it that the demands of individuals and society are relegated to second place. Here we can see how powerful the understanding of the traditional sacred state, the god-state, still is.

The economy is also affected by this way of exercising power. It is also regarded as a realm that must be completely adjusted to the interests of those in power. They determine the economy with no concern for economic laws. What are economic laws compared to their impact? Hunger and unemployment are structural products of this system, and they regard taking advantage of these phenomena in the name of the rulers as a fundamental policy. The hungry and the unemployed are consistently hammered with the message that their value rests on their degree of loyalty to state power and its parties. The economy is unscrupulously used against the Kurds to deliver the message: the satisfaction of your essential needs will depend on your support for state power.

During the last municipal elections in Turkey, all state parties and the entire bureaucracy stood together wherever there was the slightest possibility that patriotic Kurdish democrats might win.56 And that is not all: millions were pumped into every city to once again buy the votes of the pauperized masses, those Kurds who are historically for sale, thus supposedly fully safeguarding the system. Once more, the Kurdish provinces were conquered, although this time it happened by stealth and with the AKP as the main player. Historical records show that when Yavuz Selim took control of Bitlis, he also sent saddlebags of gold. I guess when, in Bingöl, they chanted, “İdris-i Bitlis—the Ottoman spy Kurd—is here, where is Yavuz?” they were hoping to repeat history. As such, nothing has changed on the eastern front! The practices of the other countries are even cruder. In Turkey, market mechanisms function, at least to a limited degree.

The three S’s, the numbing effect of “sports, sex, and the arts” [Turkish: sanat], is an integral part of this general mechanism of power. Whatever may be left of the individual is hollowed out by the three S’s, and the person is tossed aside like completely useless residue. This approach was the most popular policy of the twentieth century and was generally applied to all social and national problems, giving rise to a world overrun with fascism, war, and terror. The supposed “security policy” created the most insecure possible world. Finally, US president Bush affirmed the effectiveness of this policy in the twentieth century, more or less saying: “In the name of stability, our policies produced despotism and created an atmosphere of terror. Democracy is how we liberate ourselves from this, which is why we bank on it.” Acting on these insights would represent an important political reversal.

The US was behind Turkey’s post-1950 policies. Its strategic goal was to support Turkish nationalism against the Soviet Union. To this end, the nationalists were given the green light to organize themselves as a counterguerrilla, thereby creating the fascist terror of the 1970s. Instead of the İttihad nationalism fueled by the Germans, which led to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, this brought the fascist nationalist republic supported by the US to the brink of an explosion. The situation compelled the Kurds to revolt. When the social opposition was crushed with the most brutal policies during the coups of March 12, 1971, and September 12, 1980, this only proved that in the final analysis, yet again, violence is the main determinant. After 1980, all of Kurdistan was subjected to a reign of violence. The military and semi-military organizations of all classes and the classic use of Kurdish treachery tried to crush the patriotic democratic movement. Similar regimes were maintained in Iran in the name of the Islamic Revolution and among the Arabs through Ba’athist nationalism. There were massacres like the one in Halabja.57 In Kurdistan, thousands of villages were evacuated and tens of thousands of murders were committed.58 None of the regimes in power changed in the slightest.

The judiciary has been one of the institutions most used against the essence of the law. Hundreds of thousands of people were criminalized, questioned, charged, and tried. Extremely one-sided verdicts and prefab-ricated schemas made for a highly questionable form of justice that calls to mind “executions without a verdict.”59 The judiciary proved to be the most unjust institution of power, actually playing an enforcement role that was purely fascist. To be accused, it was sufficient to be a Kurd, and if you carried your Kurdish identity with dignity, that would certainly be more than enough. Being either Kurdish or from Kurdistan were declared completely illegal.

The system benefited from the use of civil society, the arts, sports, and lust and sexuality, especially when their general policies deemed it useful to do so. In suppressing the resistance of the Kurds and Kurdistan, the family—the private house—and the brothel—the public house—unavoidably became fundamental elements in the counterinsurgency policy in Kurdistan.

What led to such extremely negative applications of power in Kurdistan was the rulers’ fear that the concealed policy of violence that lies at their core might lose even a fraction of its effectiveness. The system was built on unlimited force applied without any consideration of contemporary standards. The goal was to make sure that the phenomena of Kurds and Kurdistan remained outside of history and society, and the perpetrators behind these official ideologies did not shrink from proclaiming their nationalism and religionism in the most extreme of forms.

The main policy approach of the official rulers currently is to defame the Kurdish resistance as a whole as “terrorist” and to attempt to convince the rest of the world to adopt the same line. To this end, they have marketed all of the strategic and military assets and especially Turkey’s economy to the relevant states, primarily the US. No concession to the EU states was too big, as long as they declared the PKK terrorist. A similar policy was promoted anywhere that the PKK had so much as a single office. According to the official rulers this was what a total war looked like. When necessary, Europe was also subjected to threats, as were many other countries. A carrot-and-stick approach was used. When Syria was threatened with war, I was forced to leave the country. With İmralı, a new stage in the big hunt began.

The US international and Middle East policies sketched in the previous sections destabilized these power policies in Kurdistan and in all its base and superstructural institutions. The emergence of a federal state of Kurdistan necessitated a complete revision. The trilateral meetings between Iran, Turkey, and Syria resumed. For the first time, these states began to seriously fear that they would not be able to maintain their power in the usual way. The effect of this configuration and the implementation of power on Kurdish individuals and Kurdish society will be addressed later. Fully besieged by power, individual citizens of the dominant nation-state lacked the strength and skills necessary to seriously propose a humane and democratic solution. They have allowed themselves to be fooled and have swallowed everything that the state dangled in front of them hook, line, and sinker. Civil society and self-defined left groups have also shown no hesitation about listening to the “word of the elder,” as though in the grip of a patriarchal mindset, and have spontaneously displayed the required reflex. In return, they got an intense economic crisis, a mounting domestic and foreign debt, an exponential growth in unemployment, the attrition of politics, and four countries—Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria—that were no longer able to stand on their own feet without foreign support, with their level of self-confidence falling lower than ever before. As always, it is inevitable that miscalculations of this sort will be understood sooner or later, and that is the case in this instance too.

In closing, I want to emphasize the importance of being clear about one point. We must not confuse the state and power with one another. Our analysis has conclusively shown that the state represents an ongoing consolidation of society that has existed since the emergence of hierarchical society. It is the most comprehensive official institution based on tradition in which all social relations are concentrated and the pinnacle of social existence, with the most advanced analytical logic. Most definitions of the state regard it merely as a certain class’s tool for domination and exploitation. These definitions have significant inadequacies and flaws. Furthermore, definitions of the state as an ethnic or national entity only capture certain aspects but fail to define its essence. Power, on the other hand, denotes the transient forces of implementation and is embedded in this state tradition, with its dominant aspect almost always being domination and exploitation. There can certainly be no state without power. But the idea that the state consists of nothing but power falls short of reality and leads to many inconsistencies and much confusion about reality and relations.

The distinction between the state tradition in Kurdistan and the power that is executing that tradition at any particular time is very important, and just as important is the distinction between being against the state and being against power at a particular point. This is one of the core points I am making in this book, which is why I have returned to it several times. In the age of democratic civilization, the state needs to be reformed into a body responsible for general security—agreed upon by the society—and the public good—issues of common good, again, agreed upon by the society— and to continue to exist as a smaller but more effective and functional body.

On the other hand, we must unequivocally reject the formation of various state powers, which was evaluated briefly above, including their practice in Kurdistan, which is corrupted to the core by embezzlement and considers state-supported murders by unidentified assailants to be politics, with the rule of law and social democratic aspects existing only in name. If we are unable to understand the difference between the two definitions, a coherent legal, social, and democratic struggle will hardly be possible. Within the Kurdish movement, there are currents that strive for a separate state, and there are currents that want to create a state that is democratic and social and adopts the rule of law in line with these precepts, and which, to this end, struggles to establish a democratic society anchored in democratic politics. It is essential to clearly understand the difference between the two currents and to adapt one’s theory and practice accordingly.

Self-Awareness and Resistance in Kurdistan

Political revolutions in Europe began when the people first conceived of themselves as independent of the royal regime. Initially, this awareness concerned their own history, which was different from the history of the kingdoms. Previously, all historiography had been uniform. History was the stories of the emergence and the maintenance of kingdoms and empires. This approach to history is particularly marked in the Middle East. The king or the emperor represented either a god or an omnipotent force as the “shadow of God” responsible for all decisions about society. Any existence apart from him, any separate body, was unthinkable. Subordinate individuals only had meaning as part of the body of the kingdom. A separate identity, human rights, and democracy in particular were all cursed topics that people were not even allowed to think about, because they expressed the “cursed truth” as opposed to the sacredness of the rulers.

This approach to history was questioned by some intellectuals and historians before the 1640 English Revolution in England and at the beginning of the eighteenth century in France. Eventually, insight that a people and a nation possess an identity and a history separate from the king and the kingdom’s history took hold. Later on, the demands of the different classes began to emerge under the rubric of national rights. Each class began to identify itself with the nation. First came an immense wave of nationalism in Europe, followed one after another by the class movements.

In the Middle East and Turkey, the initial consciousness of a people and a nation separate from the sultan began after the Tanzimat reforms of 1840, with the Young Ottomans and Young Turks movements.60 The intellectuals of the First and the Second Constitutional Eras slowly began to talk about the difference between the sultanate and the nation.61 The advent of the republic was accompanied by an extremely radical discourse in the Turkish nation. Patriarchal attributes notwithstanding, Atatürk took a huge step in developing a new concept and practice of the nation distinct from that of the Ottoman Empire. He was massively influenced by the French conception of “the nation.” That a form of ultranationalism emerged under the occupation conditions after World War I is hardly a surprise. After the war of liberation and to some degree influenced by the existing political situation, this ultranationalism ended up suppressing social reality. As such, its revolutionary value was limited. The nationalism after the 1950s was even more fascism-laden. The concept of the “Turkish-Islamic synthesis” in the aftermath the 1980s mixed the concepts of “nation” and “umma,” effectively, further degenerating the class contradiction. Neo-Islamism can be seen as the inverse of this general trend. Similar developments also took place in Iran and the Arab countries.

Becoming aware of yourself anew and resistance are phenomena that go hand in hand. Today, social awareness continues to grow and has become more profound in the areas of ecology, feminism, and subcultures. Understanding difference is closely related to freedom. If difference is not understood, the enslaving and stupefying effect of totalities cannot be overcome. Identities based on difference, however, lead to freer and more creative societies.

It wasn’t until much later that the Kurds in Kurdistan became aware of themselves as a nation and a people. The uprisings of the nineteenth century awakened a certain sense of Kurdishness, but this sentiment did not go beyond concepts of “the sultanate” and “the kingdom.” Any distinct Kurdishness was thought of in royalist terms. At that time, a rupture with the medieval understanding of the sultanate was still unthinkable. As a result, the consciousness of a Kurdish nation and people had not yet awakened and was almost indiscernible in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the reality of the Kurdish people began to be exposed through the debates among intellectuals, a development that to all intents and purposes occurred within the left tradition in Turkey. The Kurdishness in South Kurdistan, which was heavily influenced by the tribes and sheikhs, was not strong enough to break with the classic concept but was satisfied with the demand for a Kurdish king to replace the Turkish, Arab, or Persian king. The communist parties, which took their orientation from real socialism, and the bourgeois and feudal parties also failed to develop a concept of a distinct “Kurdish nation” or “Kurdish people.” They were content with the occasional tactical mention of these notions but never did any serious work around history or policy. But the left tradition in Turkey made a significant contribution to the modernization of Kurdish consciousness, particularly with its offensive in the 1970s. The fact that even from the gallows Deniz Gezmiş and his comrades shouted slogans defending the freedom and fraternity of Turks and Kurds was of historic significance.62 The efforts of many other revolutionaries, particularly Mahir Çayan and Ibrahim Kaypakkaya,63 to promote the fraternity of peoples were just as important. But slogans alone do not constitute action and resistance. Resistance requires a new phase of its own.

Kurdish people becoming distinct began with two intertwined developments: a clean break with the Turkish chauvinist understanding of the nation and the dissociation from any primitive Kurdish nationalism. It was far from easy for the movement to break away from this harsh oppressive environment in two directions. There was the stifling ideological hegemony, which also had a revolutionary left mask, and state power and the dominant local forces that collaborated with it. To stand up to this ideological and practical dominance necessitated both intellectual ability and organizational skill. This, of course, soon led to resistance. The combined political and legal atmosphere made any work on a sound mentality impossible. This latter task required a movement that was to some degree a combination of Mohammad in Mecca, Christ in Jerusalem, and Galileo Galilei and Giordano Bruno in Renaissance Europe.

Perhaps the reality at the time will be better understood if I try to narrate what happened as someone who experienced it first-hand. In primary school I began to feel that my difference as a Kurd was going to cause me a lot of problems. During primary school and high school, I was not capable of untangling the mentality at play, but it was a fact that followed me wherever I went like a shackle around my ankle. However much as I tried to evade it and to flee, it clung to me like my shadow. The official ideology that the teachers hammered into us at school did not help me address this in any way. Even if we had totally accepted the imposed Turkishness, the old Kurdish traditions in families and in the clearly Kurdish local communities screamed: “I exist.” As a result, individuals lived with enormous hypocrisy.

Breaking with tradition produced a kind of phoniness, a deceitful avoidance of a greater part of the truth. This is a process that erodes the personality. Breaking with one’s own identity in this situation meant falling into a deep void like a leaf falling from a tree. For an individual’s personality, it also meant a loss of society’s moral structure. Denying your society, your past, and your tradition leaves you with a pathologically disordered personality—that much became increasingly clear to me every day. Turkishness—and the same is true in the Iranian and Arab areas—was instilled in ways that went far beyond natural assimilation, ways that were similar to the rote learning of religious rites in a language that you don’t understand.

Whether you adopt Islam, using Arabic, which you don’t understand, or learn to be a Turk through an official ceremony, the effects on your personality will be the same; you will say “yes” and “amen” to prayers you do not comprehend! The Kurdish personality had already been forced to wallow in shallowness and ignorance in the name of Islam for centuries, and then an extreme Turkification through what is effectively a religion with a contemporary appearance further eroded the personality. The reality is that the decision of an older person to turn to Islam and Turkishness makes a certain amount of sense. Social needs can make this sort of integration reasonable. Nonetheless, Pan-Islamism and -Turkism as a form of daily worship have no place in a mainstream contemporary educational system.

I wanted to make sense of both. In primary school I aspired to be faithful and Turkish. But how far would that go? My determination to embrace my Kurdishness began to develop in the left intellectual environment of the 1970s, which was characterized by an intense discussion that included the “Kurdish question.” The many years of religious and Turkist practice could not compete with the attractiveness of the left. That my peers courageously advocated for independence and freedom and for equality for both peoples, without in any way distinguishing between Kurds and Turks, evinced the true colors of the choice I made for my life. My bereavement for these leaders, each of whom was a hero to me, made it a question of honor to continue on their path and to carry on the fight for the cause. To fully embrace “being a Kurd” despite the impositions from both sides constituted a historical step forward.

Researching the Kurds, a typical undertaking of this period, was carried out with limited resources. The primitive nationalist interpretations that were overwhelmingly emotional and the dogmatic real socialist interpretations of the “right to self-determination” were out of touch with reality. The discussions was constrained by questions like “Do the Kurds, in fact, exist?” and “Is Kurdistan a colony?” There was a lack of sufficient data, documentation, and the necessary in-depth and objective sociological interpretations for historical and socialist approaches to the problematic. Judgments were made but we were in the dark about most things.

Furthermore, the political atmosphere grew constantly tenser, and the state’s traditional fear of the Kurds led to overhasty reactions. Both sides tried to achieve results as quickly as possible. Despite limited information and a weak understanding of the time we were living in, it was nonetheless clear that the existing status quo would not accept anything and was itself totally unacceptable. This status quo not only refused to think about reform, mere statements of fact were sufficient for people to be immediately criminalized and convicted. The prospect of achieving anything by legal means was essentially zero. On the other hand, what we had learned from our left-wing activities and from Kurdish reality made resistance a conditio sine qua non, as if not resisting would be tantamount to abandoning our humanity. A genuine sense of honor required us to defend our cause under any circumstances and above all else.

In this situation, we, a small group of adolescents, could do no more than form limited regional groups of sympathizers. Though we had thoroughly acquainted ourselves with the national liberation struggles and were convinced that we would be able to make history using guerrilla methods, this was mere utopia and did not stand a chance of being more than that. If it worked, wonderful, if not, God is merciful, and tomorrow will take care of itself!

Once more, we have a parallel to the hijra, the exodus of Mohammad from Mecca, the wandering of the apostles, and the ordeal of the pioneers of science. The first protests could have taken place, the first shots could have been fired then. At any time, any member of the group of “believers” could have become a martyr or been sent to prison. As for so many social movements, these horrors were on the agenda for the Kurds, and everything was pushing events toward a tragedy. The cause demanded people with an absolute willingness to sacrifice, or, from the perspective of our opponents, their gods wanted sacrifices.

No account of the environment in which Kurds began to differentiate and develop has yet been written, but that absolutely needs to be done. To describe this period would require employing the power of literature and every possible means, including utopias, tragedies, drama, narratives, and films. The issue is: a seed was planted. Once this was done, questions remained: Is it rotten? Will it blossom? We had nothing but hope, as in the saying: “Hope is the bread of the poor.” Thus, we bowed our heads to this time we found ourselves living in, just as one bows to one’s head before fate.

More than thirty years have passed since we set out on the path of Kurdish differentiation and resistance in the early 1970s. The most important result has been not only a growing awareness of the Kurdish phenomenon and an understanding of the options for a solution, but, in fact, this amounts to the destruction of an anomaly that has made the neighboring people and states captive along with the Kurds: a type of national oppression that is hollow and meaningless. It has also proven that a regime that cages all of the social groups involved, a system where the ruled hold the ruler captive and the ruler holds the ruled captive, cannot survive. Another lesson to be drawn from all this is that a people cannot develop if it does not fight for social dignity. Social dignity means staking your claim and self-reliance; it is the strength to know thyself and to develop. Societies that lack the strength for this have nothing to offer, even to the powerful—this is another lesson. Those who cannot do good for themselves cannot do good for others. If the Kurds were that destitute, what of worth could they offer their neighbors? Even if one is a colony, to constitute some kind of a value the path must be left open to possess a value. As we embarked on this path, the Kurds were stuck in a deep, dark dead end, a terrible directionlessness with no exit.

One could object and ask: Are these few lessons worth all the suffering and all of the losses? This is a question best countered with a different question that applies to societies as well as individuals: Can a society or an individual live without dignity? Can life have a meaning and worth if you cannot hold on to your identity and express it freely, something that everyone throughout history and in modernity has regarded and regards as indispensable? Can those who lose their meaning and worth offer anything to others?

The leading elites, including the Turkish, Arab, and Persian elites, are mistaken if they regard a situation in which the Kurds are mute, depleted, and helpless as ideal. If Kurds made a contribution during the most critical phases of the history of Turkey, this is only because the Kurds themselves had value. If they did not have any value, would the Kurds have been able to participate in the War of Independence? At that time, there was no great abyss between the Kurds and the Turks; they both shared the hope of developing a common future.

If there were a war today, could the Kurds and the Turks possibly stand side by side as before? The best answer to this is given by the Iraqi Kurds. Had Saddam’s regime managed to maintain a fraternal alliance with the Iraqi Kurds, would Iraq have descended into the current tragic situation?

We have to understand that Kurdish-Turkish relations and, for the same reason, Kurdish-Arabic and Kurdish-Persian relations, especially during the twentieth century, became extremely aberrant.

Historiography tells us that none of the Ottoman sultans were as violent as Selim I, also called “Selim the Grim.” But it is reported that when he was formulating his policy for Kurdistan he sent an empty sheet of paper comparable to a blank check and said, “Write what you like on it; it will have the force of law.”64 The blank sheet came with his signature already on it. Today’s ruling elite, who remain completely obstinate and insensitive, particularly need to understand the lesson that this story teaches.

The ruling elite always purports to remember Atatürk with the utmost respect. Atatürk also had a certain way of approaching problems. For him, the social significance of a problem was the decisive factor. If something absolutely needed to be crushed, he crushed it. If some other approach was necessary, he spent sleepless nights wrestling with himself and then made the necessary decisions. As such, he would probably not have permitted a state of affairs in which a single problem led to so many difficulties, debts, and dangers for the country and the state. Moreover, a personality of his stature, having said “freedom is my character trait” would hardly have shared the state with the tariqat under the pretext of saving it. He was, in the grandest sense, a Turkish nationalist, but he would have tried to understand the Kurds. He would have found a solution in keeping with his freedom-loving character. Is it really possible to doubt this, particularly given that he specifically talked about it several times before the uprisings? Even when he crushed the Kurdish uprisings, he did not try to impede Kurdishness or curtail the liberty of the Kurds. Did he not, on the contrary, know very well that imperialist intrigues would spell the end of both Kurdishness and freedom? For how long will people conceal these facts and continuously provoke renewed Kurdish resistance?

The resistance of the 1970s was very dogmatic. This was, of course, also true of all its actions. The formation of parties, fronts, and armies unfolded under the heavy influence of this dogmatic mindset. Despite all its honest efforts, it was unrealistic to expect a very young and inexperienced movement rid itself of the dogmatism that had characterized society for so long. The movement tried to practice what it believed socialism, national liberation, and guerrilla struggle to be. Confronted with reality, the limits of this approach became clear. Life didn’t work the way the theory said it would, so the theory had to be adjusted to life. The same was also true of the national system of repression. The system was also firmly rooted in dogma, which always leads to the incorrect belief that it is prepared for any eventuality.

In a later chapter, I will evaluate the lessons of thirty years of political practice. This does not only include the lessons of the resistance but also of the transformation the world has gone through since then. There have been significant developments in Kurdistan and among the Kurds, but, essentially, the chaotic situation continues. Both the political and military approaches to finding a solution could lead to a development not only in the Middle East in general but also in Kurdistan—it is up to the parties involved which approach will be used. The biggest lesson from history is that finding democratic solutions to all the problems should be at the top of the agenda. For this, peace and the bilateral abandonment of violence are decisive. If this necessity continues to be stubbornly ignored and a military path is pursued, the active military resistance necessary to bring the historical and social reality out of the chaos will then be on the agenda.

In the 1970s, there was not really a choice between the military and the political. The path of resistance was akin to destiny. But here, in these writings, I have tried to prove that this is no longer true in the third millennium. It would be most useful to evaluate the stormy developments of the last thirty years in all their dimensions to determine more precisely just where the possibilities and problems of both paths to a solution, the military and the political, lie.


1 The PKK dissolved itself at its eighth congress, and, on April 4, 2002, the Kongreya Azadi u Demokrasiya Kurdistan (KADEK: Congress for Freedom and Democracy Kurdistan) was founded. It was in turn dissolved in October 2003.

The Kongra Gel (KGK: People’s Congress of Kurdistan), founded in October 2003, was conceived of as a broad direct democratic structure. “Civilians,” i.e., people who had not been active in the guerrilla, were elected to leading positions.

2 The detailed discussion of the name Kurdistan is necessary in response to a decades-old assimilation policy in Turkey. It is still widely believed that “there is no Kurdistan” and that “there has never been a Kurdistan.”

3 Urartu is the name of an empire that existed from around 900 BCE to approximately 600 BCE, with Tušpa, today’s Van, as its capital. The ethnic and linguistic structure of Urartu is unclear; the Urartian language is related both to Hurrian and the Eastern Caucasian languages. Incorrectly pronounced, Urartu became Ararat.

4 The word appears in Sumerian written sources and refers to tribes living in the Zagros Mountains.

5 1876–1878 and 1908–1918.

6 In Kurdish, the grammatical gender of most nouns is feminine. Among the Sumerians, we encounter Star as Inanna and among the Akkadians, as Ishtar (later, Astarte). Even today, in Kurdish, she is called “Ya Star!”

7 Many Zoroastrian concepts were adopted by Jewish thought and Greek philosophy.

8 The Medes, who have often been regarded as the predecessors of the Kurds, destroyed the Great Assyrian Empire of the seventh century BCE. In 585 BCE, they expanded their empire to the Halys (today, Kızılırmak) in Western Anatolia. Later on, under Cyrus II, the Achaemenid dynasty rose to power.

9 Herodotus, The Histories, trans. George Rawlinson (Moscow, ID: Roman Roads Media, 2013), accessed July 24, 2021,

10 Manichaeism contains elements from Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Buddhism.

11 See Abdullah Öcalan, Sümer Rahip Devletinden Demokratik Uygarlığa: AİHM Savunmaları I. Cilt I. (Neuss: Mezopotamien Verlag, 2002) Öcalan.

12 The most important representative of the Ayyubid dynasty was Sultan Saladin.

13 The Şerefhanoğulları are descendants of Şerefhan (1543–1599 CE), the author of the Şerefnama.

14 The Shammar are one of the largest tribes in the Arab world. A major part of the Arab population of Iraq traces its roots back to the Shammar. Some of their extended families have long been among the elite of the country, both under the Ottomans and under British rule, and later under Saddam’s regime. In 2004, Ghazi al-Yawear, a Shammarn emir became the president of Iraq.

15 İdris of Bitlis (1452 to 1520 CE) was a high ranking official and a military leader under the Ottoman sultan Selim I. After the battle of Chaldiran, he convinced the Kurdish princes to cooperate with the sultan. Şerefhan, the prince of Bitlis, was one of his descendants.

16 The Naqshbandi Brotherhood has existed since the fourteenth century and is one of today’s most influential brotherhoods in the Middle East. Its leaders always try to move in circles close to political power. The former Turkish prime minister, now president, Erdogan, is close to the Naqshbandi, and the Barzani family is a clan of Naqshbandi sheiks.

17 In the Sumerian cities, including Uruk, wood was rare. Therefore, in the Sumerian original version of the epic, Gilgamesh’s aim is the forests of the Zagros Mountains. Lebanon only becomes the goal of the expedition in the later Babylonian versions.

18 Elbistan is a district in the province of Maraş.

19 The peace treaty following the Battle of Kadesh, concluded between the Egyptian and the Hittite Empires in 1270 BCE, is the oldest known peace treaty.

20 See Herodotus, The Histories.

21 Ctesiphon, which was forty kilometers [approximately twenty-five miles] south of Baghdad, was the capital of the Parthian Empire. The battle itself took place at Carrhae, today’s Harran.

22 Pir Sultan Abdal was a popular Alevi cleric. He authored many poems and songs that are recited and sung to this day and is regarded as a symbol of resistance.

23 In 1416, the Sunni Sheikh Bedreddin led a major popular uprising against the Ottoman sultan. He was hanged in 1420. The Turkish writer Nazim Hikmet devoted one of his best-known works to him.

24 The Celali rebellions were uprisings in Anatolia over a two-hundred-year period. The first of these took place in Bozok, in 1510, and was led by Sheikh Celal. The following sequence of uprisings were all named after him.

25 Ismail Agha Simko, the Kurdish tribal leader of the Shikak (1887–1930), organized uprisings against the Persian Shah Reza Pahlavi. Between 1918 and 1922, he controlled a large territory in East Kurdistan. He was murdered in 1930 at a sham “meeting” with an Iranian general. In January 1946, a Kurdish republic was proclaimed and was crushed by the Iranian military the same year.

26 Erdoğan´dan bir işçiye: Kürt sorunu yok, December 24, 2002, accessed July 26, 2021,

27 Big land owners, princes, Muslim pilgrims, and Muslim scholars.

28 When this book was first published (2004), the ceasefire proclaimed by the Hêzên Parastina Gel (HPG); the People’s Defense Forces) had been in force for five and a half years.

29 Abdullah Öcalan, Kürdistan’da Zorun Rolü (Cologne: Weşanên Serxwebûn, 1982). This book played a key role in the development of the Kurdish guerrilla.

30 This likely refers to the Hittite cuneiform texts that present the oldest written examples of an Indo-European language. The oldest findings date back to around 1600 BCE.

31 The Turkish terminology used by the author does not exactly correspond to the English one. In English, the ethnological concepts are rendered as follows: clan ( klan), lineage ( soy), tribe ( kabile), federation of tribal communities ( aşiret), tribe ( boy), a community that shares a common territory irrespective of ethnic make-up ( kavim), people ( halk).

32 See Murray Bookchin, Urbanization without Cities: The Rise and Decline of Citizenship (Montréal: Black Rose Books, 1992).

33 As is visible from the definition the author gives here, he is not talking about the Kurmanji-speaking Kurds.

34 Abdullah Öcalan himself belongs to the Kurmanj group, in whose development aşiret relationships play no role. The PKK, which he cofounded, from the beginning radically opposed the Kurdish aşiret aristocracy and aşiret structures in general. The subtler perspective on the aşiret sketched out in this text represents a significant shift in Öcalan’s thinking.

35 Kurdish for worker, as in Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan (PKK: Kurdistan Workers’ Party).

36 See Öcalan, Sümer Rahip Devletinden Demokratik Uygarlığa.

37 In Kurdistan, it is customary that the followers of a sheikh work on his manors for free.

38 Thus, the Kurd Ziya Gökalp (1876–1924) is regarded as one of the intellectual fathers of Turkish nationalism.

39 In Turkish these are: “alavere dalavere, Kürt Mehmet nöbete” and “Kürt ne bilir bayramı, hor hor içer ayranı”; ayran is a drink made of water and yogurt.

40 Even though Turkey calls itself a “laic” state, there is no genuine separation of state and religion, and the state tries to exert total control over religion. Only the Sunni Islam is promoted, while all other religions and denominations face massive obstruction.

41 They were founded as schools to train government-employed imams.

42 Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was the founder of the Republic of Turkey and its president from 1923 until his death in 1938.

43 Until 1946, Turkey was ruled by a one-party system. When the Demokrat Parti (DP: Democrat Party) arose as the first opposition party, it immediately won the parliamentary elections of 1950 and became the only party in government. After the military coup of 1960, it was banned, and three of its leading members, among them the former prime minister Adnan Menderes, were executed on the prison island of İmralı. The Adalet Partisi (AP: Justice Party) was the successor party to the DP and was also removed from power in a coup, in 1980.

44 The Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP: Justice and Development Party) emerged as the successor party of the banned Refah and Fazilet Partisi (FP: Virtue Party) when Recep Tayyip Erdoğan parted ways with his political mentor Necmettin Erbakan. In the first elections in which it ran, in 2002, the AKP won an absolute majority of the seats and has governed without a coalition partner since then.

45 This strategy aimed at hemming in the Soviet Union on its southern flank in the Caucasus and in Central Asia with a “green belt” of Islamic movements. With that goal in mind, the US also supported movements like the mujaheddin in Afghanistan.

46 Fethullah Gülen has been living in the USA since 1999, before there were any criminal proceedings opened against him. Since 2000, he is faced with a trial in Turkey. Gülen exercises control over an enormous international media and educational empire that once included Turkey’s most widely circulated newspaper, Zaman. Gülen has acted as the representative of “moderate Islam.” His adherents had considerable political influence in Turkey before the AKP and Fethullah Gülen fell out. Fethullah Gülen was particularly ferocious in Kurdish areas, where he was trying to attain significant political influence.

47 The conservative Anavatan Partisi (ANAP: Motherland Party) was founded in 1983 by Turgut Özal, the first prime minister following the military coup and later the president. After Turgut Özal, Mesut Yılmaz became chairman of the party. The ANAP, was the governing party from 1999 to 2002 but splintered thereafter and dissolved in 2009.

48 Abdülmelik Fırat is one of the grandsons of Sheikh Said. He was an MP of the DP and later the chairman of the Kurdish HAK-PAR. He died on September 29, 2009. Cüneyd Zapsu was one of the most influential members of the AKP. He is regarded as the architect of relations between the AKP and the US. After claims that his company was involved in financing al-Qaeda, he left politics. Hüseyin Çelik was minister of education in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s first cabinet. Even though he is a Kurd, as minister of education, he did all he could to prevent Kurdish from being taught at state schools or universities. Zeki Ergezen is also a Kurd, but he has never done anything to defend the interests of the Kurds. He has been in parliament representing various political parties since 1991 and was the minister for public works and housing from 2002 to 2005.

49 Thus, both Barzani and Talabani openly called on the Kurds in Turkey to vote for the AKP in the parliamentary and municipal elections.

50 The Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP: Republican People’s Party) was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and was the ruling party during the one-party system that existed until 1946. In the 1960s and 1970s, the CHP pursued a nationalist social democratic policy. But, in recent years, under the chairmanship of Deniz Baykall, it has entirely banked on Turkish nationalism.

51 Saudi Wahhabism is the extremely conservative variety of Sunnism that, among other things, provided the roots for al-Qaeda.

52 “Tanzimat reforms” (salutary reforms) is the name for a period of radical reforms in the Ottoman Empire from 1838 to 1876. It is closely connected with the viziers Mustafa Reşid Pasha, Ali Pasha, and Fuad Pasha.

53 During the last years of the Ottoman Empire, the Ottoman army was reorganized by German officers. The genocide of the Armenians and Assyrians in 1915 took place under the eyes of the German army.

54 The Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi (MHP: Nationalist Movement Party) of Alpaslan Türkeş, one of the 1960 coup plotters, is a militantly fascist party whose members are also called the Bozkurtlar (Grey Wolves). It entered the government in 1999, after having promised during its electoral campaign to have Abdullah Öcalan executed.

55 A nationalist rhetoric taken up by all officials in Turkey, including Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, who is also quoted as saying, “We give our lives, but not a pebble,” meaning any territory, not even as small as a pebble. She made this statement in 1996 when Turkey took war on Kurds to another level.

56 In many electoral districts, parties did not run their own candidates, instead supporting the candidate of a pro-state party in order to prevent a victory of the pro-Kurdish Demokratik Toplum Partisi (DTP: Democratic Society Party).

57 During the Iraqi military’s chemical weapons attack of the Kurdish town of Halabja, on March 16, 1988, at least five thousand people died.

58 Since 1991 in particular, thousands of Kurdish civilians, including journalists and intellectuals, have been murdered in broad daylight. These state-sponsored crimes have been classified as “murders by unknown perpetrators.” They were executed by paramilitary units, including the constabulary secret service, the JITEM, as well as by PKK deserters, village guards, and the Turkish Hezbollah. It is generally assumed that this represented a targeted and deliberate state policy. In an article in the liberal daily Radikal, on December 6, 1996, the journalist İsmet Berkan provided concrete proofs: “I am writing these lines based on a document that I was allowed to read only briefly, without being permitted to copy it or to make notes. . . . Actually, everything began in 1992. At that time, the Turkish general staff radically changed its strategy for fighting the PKK. The technique now used had actually been invented by the Brits. This new technique had two important features. One was to capture terrorists before they could carry out any actions and to kill them, if necessary. The second important pillar was to equate all those who support terrorists materially or ideologically with the terrorists themselves. This change of strategy became part of the agenda of the Milli Güvenlik Kurulu (MGK: National Security Council) at the end of 1992.

In an MGK document that the author of these lines personally inspected, both the outlook of the organization to be founded and the persons meant to take over tasks in it were listed. One of the names was Abdullah Çatlı [a killer wanted on an international warrant and one of the key figures in the Susurluk scandal].

Police officers from special units, a few soldiers, and some of Çatlı’s friends are also believed to be part of the organization”; Radikal, accessed November 30, 2021, Even though Turkey now claims to have caught the perpetrators of some of the murders, there has actually never been a real reappraisal of or accounting for this state policy. The victims still wait for a resolution of these cases and an apology.

59 The term “execution without a verdict” refers to murdering people during their arrests. What its meant here is that there is no real justice if a case goes to trial.

60 This was a period of reform in the Ottoman Empire that ended with the First Constitutional Era in 1876.

61 The Ottoman Empire’s First Constitutional Era, the 1876 promulgation of the Ottoman constitution by members of the Young Ottomans, began on December 23, 1876, and lasted until January 14, 1878. The Young Ottomans were dissatisfied with the Tanzimat and opted instead for a constitutional government similar to those in Europe. The Second Constitutional Era forced Sultan Abdul Hamid II to restore the constitutional monarchy by reviving the Ottoman parliament and the General Assembly of the Ottoman Empire and reinstating the 1876 constitution.

62 Deniz Gezmiş was one of the revolutionary student leaders and the founder of the Türkiye Halk Kurtuluş Ordusu (THKO: People’s Liberation Army of Turkey).He was hanged in Ankara on May 6, 1972. Abdullah Öcalan was also detained and in prison at the time.

63 Mahir Çayan was a revolutionary Turkish student leader and the founder of the Türkiye Halk Kurtuluş Partisi-Cephesi (THKP-C: People’s Liberation Party-Front of Turkey). He was killed in a massacre in the village Kızıldere on March 30, 1972. İbrahim Kaypakkaya was a revolutionary Maoist. In the 1970s, he founded the Türkiye Komünist Partisi-Marksist-Leninist (TKP/ML: Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist-Leninist) and the Türkiye İşci ve Köylü Kurtuluş Ordusu (TİKKO: Liberation Army of the Workers and Peasants of Turkey). In 1973, he was brutally tortured to death.

64 In this way, Selim secured the loyalty of the Kurds, which he needed for his campaign against the Iranian Safavids, followed by Egypt, and later, via the Balkans, against the West.

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