Kurdish Human Rights in Turkey

Kurds in Turkey refers to people born in or residing in Turkey who are of Kurdish origin. The Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Turkey. According to various estimates, they compose between 15% and 20% of the population of Turkey. Kurds live throughout Turkey but are primarily concentrated in Turkish Kurdistan, in the southeast of Turkey.

Massacres, such as the Kocgiri, Sheik Said, Zilan massacre, and Dersim ethnocide have periodically been committed against the Kurds since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. The Turkish government categorized Kurds as “Mountain Turks” until 1991 and denied the existence of Kurds. The words “Kurds” or “Kurdistan” were banned in any language by the Turkish government, though “Kurdish” was allowed in census reports. Following the military coup of 1980, the Kurdish languages were officially prohibited in public and private life. Many people who spoke, published, or sang in Kurdish were arrested and imprisoned. In Turkey, it is illegal to use Kurdish as a language of instruction in both public and private schools. The Kurdish language is only allowed as a subject in some schools.

Since the 1980s, Kurdish movements have included both peaceful political activities for basic civil rights for Kurds in Turkey as well as armed rebellion and guerrilla warfare, including military attacks aimed mainly at Turkish military bases, demanding first a separate Kurdish state and later self-determination for the Kurds. According to a state-sponsored Turkish opinion poll, 59% of self-identified Kurds in Turkey think that Kurds in Turkey do not seek a separate state (while 71.3% of self-identified Turks think they do).

During the Kurdish–Turkish conflict, food embargoes were placed on Kurdish villages and towns. Many Kurds were forcibly expelled from their villages by Turkish security forces. Many villages were set on fire or destroyed. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, political parties that represented Kurdish interests were banned. In 2013, a ceasefire effectively ended the violence until June 2015, when hostilities renewed between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Turkish government over Turkish involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Violence was widely reported against ordinary Kurdish citizens and the headquarters and branches of the pro-Kurdish rights Peoples’ Democratic Party were attacked by Turkish nationalist mobs.

After the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, there have been several Kurdish rebellions. The Kurdish people and their language were soon oppressed by the Turkish Government, as the Turkish Constitution of 1924 prohibited the use of Kurdish in public places, and a law was issued which enabled the expropriation of the Kurdish landowners and the delivery of the land to Turkish speaking people.

Over the years there have many clashes between the Turkish Army and civilians, in this decade the Kurds have been politically active

There are also political parties that support minority politics, like the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which holds 58 out of 600 seats in the Parliament, multi-ethnic society, and friendly Turkish-Kurdish relations. Critics have accused the party of mainly representing the interests of the Kurdish minority in south-eastern Turkey, where the party polls the highest. The Turkish Government under Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames the HDP of holding relations with the armed militia PKK and has dismissed and arrested dozens of elected Mayors since 2016 and since the municipal elections in March 2019 dismissed another 45 Mayors from the 65 Mayorships the party won. Since 2016 also Selahattin Demirtaş and Figen Yüksekdağ (at the time HDP party leaders) and 9 (about a dozen with former MPs) other members of Parliament of the HDP are imprisoned as part of the 2016 purges in Turkey.]

According to human rights organizations, since the beginning of the ongoing Kurdish–Turkish conflict in 1978, there have been over 4,000 Kurdish villages depopulated by Turkey and some 40,000 people have been killed. The conflict resumed in 2015. In December 2015, Turkish military operations against Kurdish rebels in Turkish Kurdistan have killed hundreds of civilians, displaced hundreds of thousands, and caused massive destruction in residential areas.

Since the 1970s, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has condemned Turkey for thousands of human rights abuses. The judgments are related to executions of Kurdish civilians, torturing, forced displacements, destroyed villages, arbitrary arrests, murdered and disappeared Kurdish journalists. To cite a recent case, in 2018 the ECHR demanded the release of Selahattin Demirtaş and ordered Turkey to pay him 25’000 Euros who refused to release him. Turkey refused to release him.

The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) reports that (as of April 2010): “The public use by officials of the Kurdish language lays them open to prosecution, and public defense by individuals of Kurdish or minority interests also frequently leads to prosecutions under the Criminal Code.” From the 1994 briefing at the International Human Rights Law Group: “the problem in Turkey is the Constitution is against the Kurds and the apartheid constitution is very similar to it.”

Kurdish Human Rights in Turkey