Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey which makes up around 18 percent of its whole population. Historically, the Kurds minority have played a significant role in the War of Independence spanning from 1919-23. But post-independence in Kemal Ataturk’s period the Kurds were denied the calls for autonomy, and the Kurdish uprisings were ruthlessly suppressed.

Moreover, a strategy to integrate them into the Turkish nation was also pursued during that period. For decades the minority Kurdish people in Turkey have faced subjugation in terms of their language and expression of their culture.

Since the 1980s the Kurdish issue has become more critical since the launch of an armed struggle against the military by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).

However, in 2009 Tayyip Erdogan’s government aimed to resolve the Kurdish Issue by launching the “Kurdish opening” initiative. This initiative failed because of the increasing resistance in response to the negotiations with the PKK. In 2012, the government once again launched a peace process for negotiations with the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan. This initiative sparked a controversial debate between the Kemalist media institutions and pro-government.

Kurdish Movement in Turkey:

In Turkey, the Kurdish movement primarily has three main objectives. The first objective of this movement is the peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue which would require both Kurds and Turks to stop using tactics of violence and subject to negotiations. The second objective of the Kurdish movement is to democratize Turkey which would require the formulation of a new constitution in Turkey representing a new social contract. The third one is establishing a decentralized political system in Turkey.

Such a political system would be formulated as the Democratic Confederalism by the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan. The third largest opposition party in Turkey the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is also a part of this Kurdish movement. This party is a coalition between Kurdish activists, prominent Turkish liberals, and some Turkish leftist groups.

Although the objective of resolving the Kurdish issue could be achieved through agreements between the PKK and the Turkish state, democratization can only be achieved if the Kurdish movement secures cooperation between a much broader section of the Turkish opposition, as well as rival elite groups within the state.

Domestic Dynamics:

One of the prime factors in terms of domestic dynamics leading to the Kurdish issue in Turkey is the identity factor. In 1960s the Turkish political leaders were openly against the Kurdish identity and they suppressed any attempts to showcase Kurdish culture. The Kurds in Turkey have always sought an independent identity and they have never accepted the imposition of the Turkic identity upon themselves.

This identity factor acts as a force for the Kurdish movements in Turkey. Since its emergence, the Kurdistan Workers Party has been successful in representing a new Kurdish identity. The PKK has always sought a “single, unified, and sovereign Kurdish state”. However, still the continuous downplay of the Kurdish language, culture, and identity has increased the Kurdish grievances over the years. This means that the Kurdish identity and its recognition acts as the driving force behind the Kurdish issue within Turkey.

The other factor in terms of domestic dynamics that divides the Turks and the Kurds in Turkey is the desire of Kurds to have an autonomous Kurdish state. This desire to create an autonomous state for the Kurds leads to tensions and concerns for the Turks. The historic Kemalist ideology in Turkey is the prime cause of conflict as the Turkish state rejects the idea of federalism or regional autonomy for the Kurds. The prevalence of the Kurdish issue is imminent because of this desire as any demand for an autonomous region for the Kurds is considered as a threat to the Turkish state itself.

The Turkish policy towards the minority Kurds is summarized by the word “denial”. The Turkish policy denies the existence of the Kurds in Turkey and their acceptance as a distinct group to Turks.

Over the years the Kurdish attempts to gain an autonomous region have not been successful. These attempts of the Kurds have led to tougher restrictions by the Turkish government on the southeastern parts of the country. As a result of these restrictions by the Turkish state, the Kurdish regions of the country are primarily underdeveloped. Due to this reason the Kurds are left far behind their fellow Turkish citizens and many other regions of the Middle East. Moreover, the political institutions in the Kurdish regions are also very ineffective and underdeveloped.

This is due to the retarding development of the political institutions within the Kurdish regions over the years. Moreover, the role of the Turkish military is also very significant in terms of security measures against Kurds as it stops any manifestation of Kurdish independence or autonomy. The main reason for the emergence of the Kurdish resistance movements is the way the Turkish governments have interacted with the traditional sources of social, cultural, and political power within the Kurdish regions.

Over the past 20 years, Erdogan’s government has approached the Kurdish issue with a keen focus on its own political needs. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development in its early years of rule started reform packages for the Kurdish people. In 2013, the AKP party started negotiations with the PKK to resolve the Kurdish issue. This was considered to be a turning point from the traditional understanding of national security in Turkey, which considered the Kurdish issue a security issue rather than a political matter.

However, these negotiations failed to produce a sustainable peace. This failure of negotiations was mostly subjected to the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party’s participation in the general elections of 2015. After these elections, Erdogan shifted his stance on Kurds and reverted to a nationalist and militarist approach.

Regional Challenges:

Within the region of the Middle, approximately 30 million Kurds live in Turkey, Iraq, Syria, and Iran. This spread of the cross-border Kurdish population across the region of the Middle East often becomes a challenge as actions and developments regarding Kurds in one of these countries often have ripple effects on others. For instance, the launch of the military operation by the Turkish Forces in 2019 against the US-backed militia in northeast Syria led to the destabilization of the Middle East region.

The Kurdish issue mainly due to the ethnic Kurds from Northern Syria also poses a challenge of refugee crisis within the region. 

The conflict and instability due to the Syrian civil war led to an increased flow of refugees in Turkey. Turkey wants to create a 32km long safe zone inside Syria along the border. This initiative aims to resettle 1 million Syrian refugees out of 3.6 million. So this crisis regarding the refugees can also pose a significant challenge for the peace and stability of the region.

The launch of cross-border military operations by the Turkish armed forces against the Kurdish groups in Northern Iraq and Syria is a part of its military strategy. In Syria, the armed forces conducted military operations to stop the formation of autonomous regions along its borders controlled by the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) militants. These operations conducted by the Turkish armed forces have implications for the broader Middle East region and they also impact Turkey’s relations with the neighboring nations.


The Kurdish issue in Tukey is a multi-faceted and complex one. The Kurdish issue in Turkey is deeply rooted in historical, cultural, social, and identity complexities. Moreover, with time the emergence of Kurdish groups like PKK has further complicated the situation over the years. The peaceful resolution of the Kurdish issue in Turkey requires a comprehensive and inclusive approach.

There is a need to consider the grievances of the Kurdish people and foster a collaborative environment within the Turkish state. Moreover, there exists a growing challenge of external dynamics in the region which further complicates the Kurdish issue. In short, to solve the Kurdish issue we must resort to a comprehensive approach that undertakes both the domestic and regional dynamics of the Kurdish issue.

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