The current Turkish government has increasingly attempted to bridge the growing gap between its significant Kurdish population and the governing institutions. It has lifted many restrictions on Kurdish culture, language and political activities legally, but has also imprisoned dozens of Kurdish political activists in the process.
In many ways, it seems that the Turkish government has finally realised that democracy without its Kurdish population is not possible, and in order to win the support of Kurdish people, their rights must be enshrined. Earlier this week, the former Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the Turkish state will not accept the establishment of a Kurdish state on its Southern border, where currently Kurdish forces are resisting ISIS advances.
In response to Turkey’s preparation of a possible military intervention into Syria, one of the commanders of PKK (Kurdish rebel group, currently in supposed peace-talks with the Turkish government), Murat Karayilan issued a statement, whereby he threatened that if Turkey intervenes in Rojava, the entire country will be turned into a war-zone.
It’s important to remember that the Kurdish forces in Syria have not attacked Turkish troops and do not pose a military threat to the Turkish people. Moreover, ISIS has not waged any attacks on Turkish soil either, which makes an intervention into Syria increasingly hard to justify legally.
This prompts the question — why is Turkey resisting the establishment of a Kurdish state on its border? When the Ottoman empire declined, the greater Kurdistan was divided, and allied powers sought control of areas under Ottoman rule for their own economic interests. The ethnic make-up of the region was not taken into consideration, and the lack of Kurdish representatives with a clear vision at the time of a ‘united’ Kurdistan led to the consequential division that we are currently witnessing.
With that said, Turkey has a significant Kurdish population, part of which makes up what is referred to as Bakurê Kurdistanê or Northern Kurdistan. It is estimated that around 18% of Turkey’s population is Kurdish according to the World Fact-book, which is approximately 14 million people. This figure is disputed by Kurdish academics and some historians.
The map below highlights Turkish paranoia with a Kurdish state being carved out of Western Kurdistan or as we refer to it, Rojava. When Western Kurdistan becomes an independent state, its neighbouring counter-part, Northern Kurdistan could have similar ambitions in the future, and therefore form two states of Kurdistan. Eventually, and this might seem like an utopian dream, but it is entirely plausible that these two states, both with their own governing bodies can become ‘United States of Kurdistan’.
The Turkish paranoia is the fear of losing control of its territory. This is evident because since the onset of ISIS, Turkey has not intervened or militarily aided efforts to defeat the extremist group, which has seized large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria.