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Ethnic Kurds compose a significant portion of the population in Turkeymarker (Kurdish: Kurdên li Tirkiye, Turkish: Türkiye'deki Kürtler). Unlike the Turks, the Kurds speak an Indo-European language. The Kurds live across all of Turkey but the majority live to the east and southeast of the country, from where they originate. The republic of Turkey's treatment of its citizens of Kurdish ethnicity has been a frequent subject of international criticism.

In the 1930s, Turkish government policy has aimed at forcible dissimilation and Turkification policies of the local Kurds. Today's presence of Kurds is a testimony that many have resisted these measures. Since 1984, these resistance movements included both peaceful political activities for basic civil rights for Kurds within Turkey, but also a violent armed rebellion for a separate Kurdish state.



The Kurdish language belongs to the western sub-group of the Iranian languages which belong to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family.


Between 1925 and 1991 the performance or recording of songs in the Kurdish language was banned in Turkey, affecting singers such as Şivan Perwer and İbrahim Tatlıses. However a black market has long existed in Turkey, and pirate radio stations and underground recordings have always been available. Although there is no ban on performing Kurdish language music, it is effectively prevented from being broadcast on radio or television through censorship.

Some of the foremost figures in Kurdish classical music of the past century from Anatolia include Mihemed 'Arif Cizrawî (1912 - 1986), Hesen Cizrawî, Şeroyê Biro, 'Evdalê Zeynikê, Si'îd Axayê Cizîrî and the female singers Miryem Xanê and Eyşe Şan.

Şivan Perwer is a composer, vocalist and tembûr player. He concentrates mainly on political and nationalistic music - of which he is considered the founder in Kurdish music - as well as classical and folk music.

Another important Kurdish musician from Turkey is Nizamettin Arıç (Feqiyê Teyra). He began with singing in Turkish, and made his directorial debut and also stars in Klamek ji bo Beko (A Song for Beko), one of the first films in Kurdish. Arıç rejected musical stardom at the cost of debasing his language and culture. As a result of singing in Kurdish, he was imprisoned, and then obliged to flee to Syria and eventually to Germany.


There is no existing evidence of Kurdish literature of pre-Islamic period. Some sources consider Ali Hariri (1425-1495) as the first well-known poet who wrote in Kurdish. He was from the Hakkarimarker region.

Since the 1970s, there has been a massive effort on the part of Kurds in Turkeymarker to write and to create literary works in Kurdish. The amount of printed material during the last three decades has increased enormously. Many of these activities were centered in Europe particularly Swedenmarker and Germanymarker which have large concentrations of Kurdish immigrants. There are several Kurdish publishers in Sweden, partly supported by the Swedish Government. More than two hundred Kurdish titles have appeared in the 1990s.

Well-known contemporary Kurdish writers from Turkeymarker include Mehmed Uzun, Mehmed Emin Bozarslan, Mahmud Baksi, Hesenê Metê and Rojen Barnas.


Yılmaz Güney was a famous film director, scenarist, novelist and actor. He directed and starred in the film Umut (1970) (Turkish for "Hope"), and his most famous movie is 1982 film Yol (Turkish for "The Road" or "The Way"), which won Palme d'Or in Cannes Film Festivalmarker in 1982.

Some other films by Kurdish people in Turkey are Hejar (aka Big Man, Little Love) by Handan İpekçi and Klamek ji bo Beko by Nizamettin Arıç.

Yılmaz Erdoğan is another famous film director, screenwriter, poet and actor from Turkeymarker of Kurdish ethnicity.


Most Kurds live in Turkeymarker, where their numbers are estimated somewhere between 11,400,000

The Konda Poll gives a figure of about 11.4 million (in Turkish)

Describes methodology and results of Konda poll and 14,000,000 people.
Both figures include Zaza people as Kurds. These figures are for the number of persons who identify as Kurds, not the number who speak a Kurdish language. Estimations based on mother tongue data leads various estimations of Kurdish population in Turkey ranging from 6% to 23%, Ibrahim Sirkeci claims the closest figure should be above 17.8% taking into account political context and as a result the potential bias in responses recorded in surveys and censuses. Also the population growth rate of Kurds in 1970s was given as 3.27%.

Today, most Kurds in Turkey live in Istanbul, located in north western Turkey, due to significant immigration in the late 80's. There are also Kurdish people in the Central Anatolia Region, concentrated to the west of Lake Tuzmarker (Haymanamarker, Cihanbeylimarker, Kulumarker, Yunakmarker) and also scattered in districts like Alaca, Çiçekdağımarker, Yerköymarker, Emirdağmarker, and Zilemarker. Traditional Kurdish-inhabited regions inside present Turkish borders are sometimes referred to as Turkish Kurdistan. According to a March 2007 survey, Kurds and Zaza together comprise an estimated 13.4% of the adult population, and 15.68% of the whole population.

Human rights

Turkey's treatment of its citizens of Kurdish origin has been a frequent subject of international criticism.

Kurds have largely resisted assimilation policies of the government. The main strategy for assimilation has been suppression of the Kurdish language. Nevertheless, Kurdish is widely spoken.

The period immediately following the 1980 Turkish coup d'état was particularly oppressive (not just in respect to ethnic Kurds), when use of Kurdish language in public was banned. The ban was lifted in 1991 during the presidency of Turgut Özal, who was of partial Kurdish descent.

Turkish remains the only official language, and the use of any other language is not allowed in political life or public services. In 2003, the Turkish Parliament eased restrictions on Kurdish language rights in Turkey, however Kurds are largely banned from giving their children Kurdish names.


After the establishment of the Turkish republic, which ended the caliphates and sultanate in Turkey, there have been several Kurdish rebellions since the 1920s: Koçkiri Rebellion, Sheikh Said Rebellion, Dersim Rebellion, Ağrı rebellion.

After the 1960 coup, the State Planning Organization ( , DPT) was established under the Prime Ministry to solve the problem of Kurdish separatism and underdevelopment. In 1961, the DPT prepared a report titled "The principles of the state's development plan for the east and southeast" ( ), shortened to "Eastern Report". It proposed to defuse separatism by encouraging ethnic mixing through migration (to and from the Southeast). This was not unlike the policies pursued by the Committee of Union and Progress under the Ottoman Empire. The Minister of Labor ( ), a 35-year-old Bülent Ecevit, was critical of the report.

During the 1970s, the separatist movement coalesced into the Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). From 1984 to 1999, the Turkish military was embroiled in a conflict with the PKK. The village guard system was set up and armed by the Turkish state around 1984 to combat the PKK. The militia comprises local Kurds and it has around 58,000 members. Some of the village guards are fiercely loyal to the Turkish state, leading to infighting among Kurdish militants.

Much of the countryside in the southeast was depopulated, with Kurdish civilians moving to local defensible centers such as Diyarbakırmarker, Vanmarker, and Şırnakmarker, as well as to the cities of western Turkey and even to western Europe. The causes of the depopulation included PKK atrocities against Kurdish clans they could not control, the poverty of the southeast, and the Turkish state's military operations. Human Rights Watch has documented many instances where the Turkish military forcibly evacuated villages, destroying houses and equipment to prevent the return of the inhabitants. An estimated 3,000 Kurdish villages in Turkey were virtually wiped from the map, representing the displacement of more than 378,000 people.

The apotheosis of this conflict was during the 1990s, when the National Security Council sanctioned a covert war using the special forces, village guards, mafia, and contract killers. With such an unsavory cast of characters, the conflict soon wheeled out of control, resulting in the Susurluk scandal. The conflict tapered off after the capturing of the PKK's leader, Abdullah Öcalan.

See also

List of Kurdish people


  1. Yurdatapan, Şanar. 2004. "Turkey: Censorship past and present." In Shoot the singer! Music censorship today, edited by Marie Korpe. London: Zed Books. ISBN 1842775057.
  2. 1997 human rights watch international film festival
  3. Institut Kurde de Paris
  4. The CIA Factbook gives a figure of about 14 million
  5. A report commissioned by the National Security Council in 2000 puts the number at 12,600,000 people: * * *
  6. Ethnologue census of languages in Asian portion of Turkey
  7. G. Chaliand, A.R. Ghassemlou, M. Pallis, A People Without A Country, 256 pp., Zed Books, 1992, ISBN 1856491943, p.39
  8. Minority Rights Group International, pg. 15

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