Yes, I am a Kurd


Yes, I am a Kurd

Edip Yuksel, J.D.*

7.3 Journal of International Law & Practice 359 (Fall 1998)


“The Kurds are homeless even at home and stateless abroad. Their ancient woes are locked inside an obscure language. They have powerful, impatient enemies and a few rather easily bored friends. Their traditional society is considered a nuisance at worst and a curiosity at best. For them the act of survival, even identity itself, is a kind of victory.” Christopher Hitchens (1)

“I believe that the Turk must be the only lord, the only master of this country. Those who are not of pure Turkish stock can have only one right in this country, the right to be servants and slaves.” Turkey’s former Minister of Justice Mahmut Esat Bozkurt (2)

As an individual I have many components. I can define myself in many ways depending on the context. I am a homosapien, a monotheist, Yahya’s and Matine’s father, a husband, a Turkish author, a philosopher, a lawyer, a skeptic, a believer, a democrat, a conservative, an American, a political activist, a reformist, a chess-player, a copywriter, a poet, a handyman, a Macintosh user, a teacher, . . . and I am also a Kurd. I am not sure how being a Kurd ranks among the manifold ingredients that makes up my personality, but recently it became one of the important characteristics. Why? Because I have realized that I am denied of this identity. I have also witnessed that many others who share the same culture and heritage are oppressed and killed just because of being born in a Kurdish family.

I am a Kurd who is less articulate in his mother tongue compared to the other four languages that I have learned, namely, Turkish, Arabic, Persian and English. I am a Kurd who lost his 21 years-old brother 19 years ago in Istanbul to the racist bullets of Gray Wolves or Turkish Nationalist militants. (3) I am a Kurd who was put in the same prison, for writing on religious-political issues, with the murderers of his brother and almost lost his life to the knives and teeth of Nationalist Grey Wolves! I am a Kurd who was systematically tortured in Turkish prisons (4) because of refusing to recite the Turkish Anthem that contains lines, such as, “I have lived free since eternity; which psychopath dare to chain me.”(5) I am a Kurd who was compelled to chant “Happy is he who can call himself a Turk”(6) and declare that “A Turk is worth the entire universe”(7) throughout elementary, middle and high-school years.(8) I am a Kurd whose Kurdish father prohibited the Kurdish language at home in order to survive in a city where being Kurd was regarded as being ignorant and lower class.(9) I am a Kurd who now enjoys eating rice with fork, unlike Kurds who prefer a spoon. I am a Kurd who wrote scores of books in Turkish and English, but none in Kurdish.

Alas, I was almost blind to the plight of my people until I immigrated to United States and studied law in my late thirties. At age 40, after a wife, two children and citizenship in the United States, I started reading about the history of my people, their tribal system, their innocence, ignorance, wisdom, heroism, betrayals, blunders, dialects, culture, poverty, mythologies, religions, mountains, rebellions, genocide, atrocities, and their current ordeal in a rugged land dominated by four ruthless and racist countries: Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria.

The pictures of Kurdish children, men and women whose faces rarely show a smile now talk to me; I cannot escape their questioning eyes: Brayi Edip [brother Edip](10), you managed to become a best-seller author in Turkey, you managed to escape to America, the land of freedom, you managed to get a doctorate degree in law, you write and talk about God, about freedom and human rights, but how can you ignore us?

If you look at their eyes carefully they will talk to you too: you the civilized people, you the citizens of the Western civilization, how can you ignore us? How can you donate arms to the racist Turkish government who is committed to exterminate us? (11) How can you standby when thousands of us were suffocated to death, our babies in our hands, by the chemicals provided by your corporations? (12) How can you talk about morality, human rights, civilization while we are subjected to systematic genocide by your current or former allies?

My people are denied their identity, their culture, language, naming their own children, using their own land and living in freedom and security.

You might have paid money to watch the movie Titanic and cried for the fate of the passengers who tragically drowned in cold waters 84 years ago. There are people on this planet who are being deliberately subjected to tragedies in their everyday life. Kurds are slaughtered and massacred by the bombs, jets and helicopters made in the U.S. and given by the U.S. (13) As a proud citizen of the civilized world, how can you cry for the people who were drowned 84 years ago, but do nothing while your tax money is spent to support the racist Turkish genocide against the Kurdish population in the South East Turkey?

Forgive me for these bitter words. I am the worst bystander, since I could use my pen when it was much sharper and younger to speak for those who can only speak with lines of sadness on their faces, lost limbs and graves of massacred and assassinated relatives. Here, I will deliver you some snapshots of the tragedy that has befallen my people, a tragedy that we all share some responsibility for as inhabitants of a shrinking planet in the era of satellite communication, smart bombs, and global economy.


According to the official history and school textbooks that I studied in high school, Turks as the descendants of the ‘Gray Wolves’ from Central Asia belonged to Aryan race and founded Sumerian, Egyptian, Babylonian, Lydian, Ionian and Hittite civilizations and raised heroes such as Attila, Genghis Khan, Hulagu, etc. This official account that stopped short of claiming American civilization nonetheless claimed Turkish origins for American Indians. Thus, it is no wonder thatTurkish nationalists cannot acknowledge my people as a distinct nation that can shine beside the glory of the great Turkish nation!

My people have been the inhabitants of the region for thousands years before Turks stormed Anatolia leaving behind the desserts of Mongolia in 11th century.(14) Turkish textbooks refer to my people as “Mountain Turks”(15) and the word “Kurd” is claimed to be created by their feet walking on the icy snow making the noise KURD, KURD, KURD. Yet the racist Turkish Historians forgot that the same silly theory could also work for TURK, TURK, TURK, since none can prove that the snow on top of the mountains speaks in only Kurdish!(16)

M.M. van Bruinessen observed the following fact: “[A]fter the great Kurdish nationalist revolts . . . a systematic policy aiming at detribalization and assimilation of the Kurds was adopted. . . . Everything that recalled a separate Kurdish identity was to be abolished: language, clothing, names.”(17) As the Turkish intellectual Dr. Ismail Besikci(18) wrote in one of his letters, “the political status of the Kurdish people is even lower than that of a colony. Because, for example, in Turkey even their existence is not accepted. The Kurds in Turkey can have rights only to the extent of becoming Turks. The alternative is repression, cruelty, prison…”(19) Serafettin Elci, who once soared in politics and served as Minister of Public Works in the late 1970’s, was sentenced to two years and three months in prison in 1981, just because he publicly said, “I am a Kurd; There are Kurds in Turkey.”(20)

A book published by a state-run misinformation agency, the so-called Turk Demokrasi Vakfi (Turkish Democracy Foundation) which brags that it is an objective and democratic group, tries to deny the very existence of my people in thirty-seven questions.(21) Under the question whether Kurds are a nation, it first defines the concept of a nation in two ways, one being “subjective” and the other “objective.” It concludes that Kurds cannot be considered a nation according to either definition. We lose the “subjective” test since our historical tribalism has deprived us from feeling ourselves a nation. We lose the “objective” test since we speak in many dialects and also because we follow several religious sects.(22) As if the Turkish hegemony will grant us the status of nationhood if most of the Kurds feel that they are a nation. How can those who promote the suppression of such feelings judge the degree of those very feelings? Using the same lame logic, we can deny the existence of Turks as a nation by pointing at the number of Laz, Cerkez, Turkmen, Azeri, Albanian, Bosnian, Caucasian, Abhazian and many other ethnic groups among Turks. If the number of sects and orders are used for deciding whether Turks are a nation, the outcome would not be jolly for Turkish fascists. Whether Kurds are a nation or not, they should be treated with dignity and fairness.

The hypocrisy of Turkish nationalists who claim a Turkish origin for Kurds is indisputably and repeatedly exposed: they are passionate advocates for the rights of Turkish minorities or groups in other countries, such as Bulgaria, Chechenia, and Azerbaijan, yet they are silent or even happy when they see Kurds massacred in Iran or Iraq!(23) When the rights for culture and language is the issue, Kurds become Turks, but whenever they are oppressed and repressed in other countries they are insignificant non-Turks!

We are not even granted the minority status.(24) An article in Turkish Political Parties Law with a bizarre title, “Preventing the Creation of Minorities” states that “Political parties: cannot put forward that minorities exist in the Turkish Republic based  based on national, religious, confessional, racial, or language differences…. cannot use a language other than Turkish. . . However, it is possible to translate party statutes and programs into foreign languages other than those forbidden by law.”(25)  But what about all the wars in the eastern part of the Turkey, the forced immigration, prisoners, and “the prohibited language”? We officially just do not exist.

Well, we do, according to Prof. Fahrettin Kirgizoglu, a Turkish nationalist. He claimed that he finally discovered the roots of Kurds among ancient Turkish tribes. In the preface of his book he declares this “discovery” with great excitement: “I have discovered that a powerful and crowded Turkish tribe called ‘Kurt’ lived on five different geographic regions.”(25) These claims can be entertaining if the consequence was not the suffering and sacrifice of thousands Kurdish men, women and children. “No where else in the world is a group of people as large as the Kurds deprived not only of national rights, but of their identity as people, different racially and linguistically.”(26)


The very existence of my mother tongue, Kurdish,(27) has been denied by the official ideology of the racist Turkish government which for several decades advocated the so-called “Sun Language Theory”, relating the origin of all the languages in the world to Turkish,(28) to the extent that even the words such as Amazon and Niagara were claimed to be originally Turkish.(29)

Though the “Sun Language Theory” is dead today, its ghost is alive in the Turkish Constitution that was drafted by generals after the 1980 military coup. The Turkish Constitution is designed to ban my mother tongue by a repressive article which interestingly shows up under the title “Freedom of Expression and Dissemination of Thought.” In the third paragraph it states:

“No language prohibited by law shall be used in the expression and dissemination of thought. Any written or painted documents, phonograph records, magnetic or video tapes, and other means of expression used in contravention of this provision shall be seized. . .” (30)

Another Article with a similarly deceptive title “The Freedom of the Press,” details numerous restrictions, including Kurdish, without even acknowledging its existence: “Publications shall not be made in any language prohibited by law.”(31) The Article that defines rights to training and education aims to ban Kurdish: “No language other than Turkish shall be taught as a mother tongue to Turkish citizens in teaching and learning institutions.”(32) The phobia against my mother tongue is so endemic, discriminating legislators try hard not to mention its name. Kurdish is referred by the Constitution as the “language prohibited by law” and “laws” prohibit it ventriloguially! For instance, the Turkish criminal law of 1983 criminalized the Kurdish language as the mother tongue of any Turkish citizens, again without specifically referring to it.(33) The Turkish oligarchy and military leaders have tried ingenious expressions to prohibit my language without mentioning its name.(34)

The government stopped enforcing the restrictions after the mass hunger strike in 1988 organized by political inmates in the Diyarbekir military prison demanding freedom to communicate in Kurdish to their visiting families.(35) It was considered a courage of heroic magnitude when finally President Turgut Ozal conceded that “it was no offense to speak the Kurdish language in private.”(36) Indeed, only in private! Consequently, Law 2932 was abolished in 1991, and the ban on Kurdish language was relaxed by another law. The new law allowed the use of Kurdish language “in music and in utilizing records, sound, video and other means of expression,” nevertheless, it kept the ban on the Kurdish language in state offices, education (English, French, Arabic, etc., were okay), in printed works, movies, on radio, TV, in writing or orally at public demonstrations.(37) Only God knows what the law will be and what its practice will be tomorrow.

I cannot present you the complete list of Kurdish periodicals that were confiscated and banned soon after they saw the daylight. Kurdish literature has been always subject to official extermination and penalties. Those Kurds who dare to write in their mother tongue or publish them usually end up in jails, prisons and taste all kinds of Turkish brand torture.(38) Erol Anar, the author of a four-page chapter titled “The Kurdish Question” (“Kurt Sorunu”) published in Insan HaklariTarihi (The History of Human Rights) was charged together with the publisher for violating the Article 8 of Turkey’s Anti-Terror law.(39)

Mehdi Zana, the former independent mayor of Diyarbekir, a major city in southeast Turkey, paid the price for defying the ban dearly. Three years after his election he was arrested and charged with being a separatist by the military coup of 1980. In an interview, he told of his struggle to protect his identity:

“While I was in prison, some other Kurdish people started to testify in Kurdish at the trials. A group of PKK people from Batman spoke in Kurdish, and they were beaten. And I told them, “Don’t’ be afraid; I will avenge you. Tomorrow I have my trial.” And the next day I went and spoke in Kurdish, but I was beaten and thrown out of court. Out of principle almost everybody started to speak in Kurdish, but the authorities didn’t bring translators. They beat me from 1987 until 1991. I never spoke another word in Turkish.”(40)

The resistance of my language against the racist Turkish hegemony is, however, legendary. Soon after they are crushed under soldiers’ boots or uprooted by bayonets or sprayed by toxic chemicals, Kurdish words spring out here and there, like flowers, like daisies. After each suppression, they blossom with a different name, hoping to survive few more days: Roja Welat (The Sun of Country), Deng (Voice), Riya Newe (New Path) are just few literary bouquets of the “language prohibited by law.” Kendal Nezan, the Director of the Kurdish Institute in Paris, as one of the planters of those flowers, describes the Kurdish-phobia well:

“In Turkey there are colleges and universities where the teaching is in French or in German or in English, but there is not one school where teaching is carried out in Kurdish, the language spoken by about one-quarter of the population. . . .newspapers, books and records are available in half a dozen non-Turkish languages, but the Kurdish people still cannot publish in their own tongue.”(41)

Hasan Cemal, a columnist in a popular Turkish newspaper, wrote: “Everyone should be able to open a language course. They should be able to listen their songs and news from Radio and TV. We do not expect the state to support it; but at least the state should not be an obstacle.”(42)

The story of MED-TV is evidence that the state has not cut out hope for cultural assimilation. MED-TV, the world’s first and only Kurdish satellite television station based in London, broadcasts news, documentaries and entertainment from a satellite parked over Africa and reaches 30 million Kurds in the region called Kurdistan. Though MED-TV is trying to be objective and represent all sides in the Kurdistan dispute, “the station has endured studio raids, staff arrests, and asset seizures by anti-terrorist police in Belgium, the U.K., and Germany. Correspondents have disappeared in Iraq. Turkish authorities have jammed signals.”(43) The Turkish government has also banned and destroyed the satellite dishes in Kurdistan and the Turkish army cuts off electricity at 5 p.m. in villages to stop Kurds from watching. MED-TV’s principal director Hikmet Tabak challenges the Turkish “satellite terrorism” in terms of telecommunication technology: “We will continue to broadcast, even if we have to move to India, China, or the Moon!”(44)

In addition to language the Kurdish attire also is banned.(45) Kurdish holidays are not spared either. My people celebrate the new year on the Spring Equinox, that is, March 21, and it is called Newroz (NewYear). Turkish people never celebrated Newroz and the Government tried hard to stop the tradition by arresting those who celebrate it. However, when the Turkish government realized that it could not stop such a deep-rooted celebration by force, it retreated from opposing it.(46) With a swift somersault, racist columnists and politicians started writing and talking about Newroz and praising it as an ancient Turkish tradition.(47) All of sudden, historians started discovering the roots of Newroz in ancient Turkish literature. This recognition, or in legal terms the “conversion” of the formerly foreign and repugnant holiday finally resulted in the official celebration of Newroz, which even linguistically has nothing to do with Turkish.(48)

Cengiz Candar, a prominent critic of the state’s racism, teased this official hypocrisy in his daily column:

“Until three or four years ago, celebrations of Newroz had nothing to do with ‘peace,’ on the contrary; Newroz celebrations rang the bells of ‘bloody skirmishes,’ especially in the Southeast. In last one or two years ‘Nevruz’ or ‘Newroz’ has been transformed to an official holiday. …

“It has been one or two years since Turkey began celebrating Nevruz under state supervision and participation. For instance, the Minister of the State, Tansu Ciller, besides inspecting hospitals, actively participated in the celebrations, striking eggs and ‘jumping over the fire.’

“. . . This way, the officially baptized Nevruz is transformed to an ‘idiosyncratic’ holiday by changing its ‘rituals’ rooted in Kurdish culture.

“But any Kurd cannot jump over the fire. Those Kurds who attempted to do so were soaked in blood. If Kurds ‘jump over the fire’ it is no doubt ‘divisive.’ If Ciller jumps, it becomes ‘celebration’ and ‘friendship.’

“For instance, while Ciller’s ‘jump over the fire’ in Igdir was organized by the state, people who gathered around the fire in Baglar, Diyarbekir, were dispersed by police and the fire was extinguished.

“The Ministry of Culture went further and printed ‘yellow-red-green’ Nevruz posters. The Minister from the Welfare Party declared that ‘These colors were used by the Ottomans since Gokturks and Uygur Turks.’ Thus, the color combination that we used to know as belonging to Kurds was suddenly Turkified and became official colors…”(49)

The Turkish state fought fiercely to suppress the Kurdish culture in the past. When the impossibility of eradicating our culture by force became obvious, the racist Turkish government started claiming Kurdish culture officially. The official “Sun Language” theory is now resurrected as the undeclared “Sun Culture” theory. With the Turkish generals behind it, it is a powerful theory indeed.


The Kurdish population cannot name their children with Kurdish names; they are compelled to use Turkish names in their birth certificates.(50) Ironically, it is the same government that protested the Bulgarian government for doing exactly the same thing to Bulgarian Turks.(51)

The government has long since changed the name of most towns, mountains, and rivers that were in Kurdish or Armenian language. For instance, my birthplace on my birth certificate is “Norsin” (pronounced Norshin), a town located in the county of Bitlis. Though local people still use this name in their daily conversation, the official name of my birthplace has been changed to Guroymak. So, I no longer have a birthplace on the Turkish map!

We were given Turkish last names by government officials soon after the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1920’s. My mother’s side was given the Turkish last name “Mutlu” (Happy) and my Father’s side “Yuksel” (Excel). Though I am happy that we were not given the antonyms of these names, yet the racist policy of my country has tried hard to take away our happiness and to hinder our progress.


The wealth of their lands is transformed into bombs, biological weapons, poisonous gases and is showered on top of their villages under the eyes of the by-standing United Nations.(52) To whichever hand they have extended for friendship or help, those hands have betrayed them. It is a miracle if they still have trust or hope in humanity, the so-called “civilized” or “developed” world. They are people whose fate has been doomed by the plots of imperial powers and their allies.

The eastern and south-eastern regions of Turkey that are heavily populated with Kurds have been ignored economically for decades. The disparity is visible to the eyes of every visitor who crosses the country from west to east. Turkish authorities never deny this fact, though they try to undermine it or blame the geographic nature of the region, such as being far from the seas. The racist policy towards the east and southeast has deprived many Kurds from higher education and access to wealth.

A poll conducted by Milliyet newspaper, a mouthpiece of the Turkish elite, demonstrated the obvious results of discrimination.(53) The polls, though conducted in only Istanbul, a better place for Kurds, found that those who claimed to be Kurds were low on the social and economic scale. “Those who declared themselves as Turks had the highest average wages (TL4,120,000, slightly above the average of TL4,010,000), followed by those who declared as ‘Muslim Turks’, or ‘Muslims’ (TL3,820,000), then those who saw themselves as Turks but from Kurdish parents (TL3,497,000) and finally those declared as Kurds (TL2,940,000).”(54) The newspaper that conducted this poll did not have a benevolent purpose, though. It tried to demonstrate that the Kurdish problem was merely economic, not political or cultural. The commentators never wondered why Kurds were the ones who scored lower economically and socially. Turkish oligarchy is addicted to self-deception by distorting the facts. This may temporarily provide them with some hope that their exploitation, racism and corruption will last forever, but the problem is increasing day by day. The denial of their evil governance is analogous to the denial of alcoholics and criminals. There is no light at the end of their tunnels.

The health services are very scarce in the East and Southeast region. According to the 1993 census in the Western Marmara province there is 1 doctor for every 736 citizen while in the Southeast there is 1 doctor for every 2296 person and 1 dentist for every 20883 person (55).


Steny H. Hoyer, a congressman from Maryland, provided an excellent summary of what has happened to my people and ancestors living within the borders of Turkey since the formation of the Republic. Describing the Turkish military’s repeated incursions into Iraq and their declared victory after each cross-border attacks as a fiction, he demanded action against Turkish government:

“It is tragic and ironic that Turkey seeks answers to its ‘Kurdish Question’ outside its borders, when in reality it should be working these issues out at home. Turkey’s 15 million Kurds have faced oppression since modern Turkey was forged in 1923. Since then, there have been 28 major Kurdish uprisings. The most recent, underway since 1984, has claimed almost 30,000 lives. According to Turkish Government sources 3,185 Kurdish villages have been evacuated and up to three million people have been internally displaced form southeast Turkey. Despite the severity of the conflict, Turkey refuses access by the International Red Cross to the stricken region. The conflict costs billions of dollars each year and destroys hopes and economic development that is greatly needed in the region.”(56)

Many Kurdish intellectuals and political leaders have been assassinated by government secret agents or forced to escape from Turkey.(57) Musa Anter was assassinated in 1992 and Meded Serhat in 1994. Serhat Bucak and Ismet Imset sought asylum in Britain after their lives were threatened by the state. Ismail Besikci, an anthropology professor of Turkish ethnicity, was sentenced to many years in prison because of his insistence on Kurdish identity. Hatip Dicle, after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity in 1994, was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment for criticizing militarist oppression against the Kurdish population.(58)

A New York Times article is informative about the political aspects of the Kurdish problem in Turkey.

“Three former members of Parliament form a pro-Kurdish political party are serving 15-year jail terms after being convicted in 1994 of supporting terrorism. One of them, Leyla Zana, has become a heroine to groups around the world that seek to portray Turkey as repressive country; her supporters have even nominated her for the Nobel Peace Prize. . . . A new pro-Kurdish political party emerged to replace the one to which Ms. Zana belonged, but it has fared no better. In January all of its senior leaders were arrested and charged with supporting subversion. Since then, more than 200 other members of the party have been arrested. . . . The army’s scorched-earth policy in the mainly Kurdish southeast has given it great success on the battlefield, but has not won many hearts and minds. Many Kurds in the region remain deeply resentful of the Government. Equally important, the United States and other foreign powers that want to help Turkey have found themselves handcuffed by worldwide anger at the way the Turkey is conducting its war against Kurdish nationalism.”(59)

Turkish authorities have created a legal paranoia worse than McCarthyism that any speech, petition, writing or peaceful demonstration that is sympathetic or empathetic to the Kurdish ordeal immediately raises the antennas of prosecutors. As a result, journalists, authors and even members of parliament are indicted for their statements critical of the official policy.(60)

When the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HADEP)(61) was banned and its 31 officials were convicted of advocating violence and separatism, in a June 11, 1997 letter, the Washington Kurdish Institute (WKI) called on the State Department to protest Turkey: “It is incomprehensible that a NATO ally and government which promotes itself as a democracy could undertake such repressive measures without facing international condemnation.” The letter urged the U.S. Government to pressure the Turkish Government “to abandon undemocratic, militaristic responses to the cultural and political aspirations of its Kurdish citizens.”(62) The U.S. has employed a double-standard regarding the Kurds. “Those in Iraq are the pitiable, persecuted victims of arch-villain Saddam Hussein, whereas Turkish Kurds are deemed troublemakers and terrorists who need to be controlled.”(63)

Fortunately, the European Union, perhaps due to the proximity to the region and fear of mass immigration, appears to be more sensitive to the plight of Kurdish people. After awarding Leyla Zana with the European Parliament’s SakharovPrize, the European Parliament in a recent “Resolution on the release of Leyla Zana” condemned the Turkish policy of imprisoning Leyla Zana and other Kurdish politicians and the repeated human rights violations and urged for a political solution that would recognize the economic, social, political and cultural rights of my people.(64)


Ernest Chantre, a French anthropologist described the Kurdish type after studying the skulls and features of 332 individuals in 1897 as follows:

“The physiognomy of the Kurds breathes savagery: their characteristics are hard, their eyes, of a fierce brightness, are small and sunken under the orb. The men are most commonly dark, tall, and lean and have uncommon strength. They wear hardly anything except for a mustache and the cover their heads with a turban that is sometimes of gigantic proportions. Their step is firm, they hold their heads up with pride, and their look has a supreme arrogance. They do not laugh or talk much.”(66)

As a Kurd, I cannot stop myself from laughing at the French anthropologist for discovering “savagery” and “arrogance” in the breath and look of my people. To justify their occupation of Kurdish lands, colonialists perhaps believed in their own lies. How could they expect those people to laugh and talk while they, the “civilized” westerners, were plotting their destruction by planting puppet rulers in a region whose borders were drawn by the colonialists? How could they expect Kurds laugh and talk while their skulls were measured by foreign anthropologists who knew or cared little about their centuries old tragedy?

This year, 1998, is 2610 by the Kurdish calendar which dates from the victory of Medes forces against the Assyrian empire at Niniveh, north of Mosul.(67) Linguists and classical historians generally find our roots in Medes, Iranian people moving down from central Asia and settling around the Zagros mountains in the 1200 years BC.(68) The Bible, in both Old and New Testaments refers to Kurds as the Medes frequently.(69) There are numerous theories or mythologies tracing Kurdish heritage to Indo-European people from Ukraine, or to Melik Kurdim who ruled a city established after Noah’s ark landed on the Mt. Ararat. There is even a mythology, which is my favorite, that we are descendants of demons and jinn who raped 400 virgins during Solomon’s reign! The hegemons not only wrote the history, but also made up mythologies to demonize Kurds.

The heartland of my people, Kurdistan, centers around the Taurus and Zagros mountain ranges divided by Turkey, Iran,Iraq and Syria. Some of the cities with a Kurdish majority population are Diyarbekir, Mus, Bitlis, Van (Turkey), Zakho, Amadiya, Mosol, Arbil, Kirkuk, Suleimanieh (Iraq), Urumiye, Mahabad (Iran). There are approximately 14 million Kurds in Turkey (20 % of the population), 7 million in Iran, 4 million in Iraq, one million in Syria, half a million in Armenia, 100 thousand in Lebanon, half a million in Germany and 100 thousand elsewhere, totaling 27 million. In the United Nations there are 135 nations whose population is less than the Kurds.(70)

Kurds are overwhelmingly Muslim, some 85 percent being of the Shafii Sunnite sect. Kurds are religiously discriminated against by the so-called secular Turkish government that employs about half a million clergymen, all belonging to theHanefite sect, which is popular among the Turkish majority. There is a small number of the Kurdish population that followsYezedi religion. There are some who are atheists and there are also a few who reject clergy-made sects derived from medieval Arab teachings and strictly follow monotheism. I belong to the last group.(71)

Kurds converted to Islam in the 7th century. The Kurdish leader Saladin became a legend by his heroic defense against the Crusaders in the 12th century. After the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the beginning of the 20th century, nation-states emerged in its vast territories, and soon after the World War I the region witnessed many revolutions.

The Kurdish Simko uprising in Persia occurred in 1921-22. A revolt led by Kurdish cleric Sheik Said against secular Turkish government in 1925 was followed by Khoybun and Dersim revolts until 1938. After the World War II, Komala, an underground Kurdish political party, was formed in Iran. In 1945, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, the leader of the Barzani tribe, formed the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraq and started an uprise. In the same year, KDPI formed in Iran. One year later the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad was formed. This first (and so far, the last) Kurdish republic lasted just one year. In 1947, Barzani had to retreat to the Soviet Union. In 1952 UKDP was formed in Iraq while Kurds revolted in Iran. In 1958, after a military coup in Iraq, Mullah Mustafa Barzani returned to Iraq. The Kirkuk massacre of 1959 was followed by unrest and revolts in 1960 against Turkish military junta. From 1961 to 1970, the mountains of Kurdistan witnessed six Kurdish revolts which were provoked or suppressed by Iraqi offensives.

In 1970, by a 15-point peace settlement, Iraq declared the war with Kurds over and Iraq established close relations with the Soviet Union. After the military coup in Turkey, as a University Student in Ankara, Abdullah Ocalan, formed the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) to promote the Kurdish struggle against the Turkish nationalistic regime. In 1974, Barzani raised another insurrection only to be suppressed by Iraqi’s seventh offensive. Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Eastern Cultural Organizations (DDKD) was formed in Turkey. Following the collapse of Kurdish insurgency led by KDP against Iraq’s Baath regime, another Kurdish party, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), was formed by Jalal Talabani, a tribe chieftain in Iraq. In 1978, PKK started guerrilla operations against the Turkish government. In 1979, Mustafa Barzani died in the USA. The same year, the so-called Islamic Revolution took control of Iran and continued the Shah’s policy of oppressing the Kurdish minority, this time in the name of God and holy imams! Two major Kurdish uprisings against the Iranian regime were suppressed ruthlessly in 1979 and 1980.

Turkey experienced another military coup in 1980 that dissolved political parties. The following year KDPI staged another offensive in Iran, and tried again in 1982 and 1983. The same year, the Turkish military, armed by NATO-supplied weapons, started operations in northern Iraq against Kurdish guerrillas. On the eastern front, Iran took back Kurdish gains and PUK made a peace agreement with the Iraqi government. The cycle of orchestrated offenses by Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi governments against revolting Kurds was repeated many times until Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. An unforgettable event of this era was the use of chemical weapons against Kurds in Halabja.(72) The date of Halabja massacre that killed at least 5000 civilians was 16 March, 1988, a time when Saddam Hussein was the celebrated U.S.’s hit man in the region.

“In the late afternoon of 16 March the first wave of Iraqi planes appeared over the town to drop their bomb-loads of mustard gas, nerve gas and cyanide. Within a few hours as many as 5,000 people were dead and as many again lay burned and gasping for breath from the effects of the chemical attack. . . Men, women and children lay dead with no visible marks of injury, but with faces distorted by asphyxiation. . . Despite the scale of the massacre and the fact that Western journalists were on the scene within days, the international reaction to the bombing was muted. . . The eight-year Iran-Iraq war had entered its end game, and the world powers were unwilling to take action against Iraq for its use of illegal weapons in such a way as to appear to be siding with Iran. . . The Arab states stayed firmly on Iraq’s side, although they were in no doubt as to what had happened. When a Kurdish delegation appealed to Kuwait to protest against innocent civilians being sprayed with poison gas, the were asked by a Kuwaiti official: ‘What did you expect to be sprayed with, rose-water?’ “(73)

After the U.S.-led allied air offense against Iraq, Kurdish people revolted again against the Iraqi regime. Operation Provide Comfort created safe havens for the Kurdish population against Iraq’s air-force. Enticed by the encouragement and promises of the C.I.A. and the Bush administration that American air-forces will protect them from Iraqi helicopters, Iraqi Kurds organized a campaign against Baghdad. (74) They were betrayed by the American government once again. In desperation, one Kurdish faction betrayed the other and Saddam’s tanks moved in Kurdistan killing and arresting hundreds of Kurdish dissidents.(75)

In 1992, Newroz celebration in the eastern part of Turkey turned into a bloody skirmish between the Turkish military and Kurdish villagers. The Turkish military is continuing its routine incursions to the northern Iraq. The following year PKK declared a unilateral cease-fire, but it lasted less than a year. Turkish newspapers drummed for continuing military offensives; they interpreted the cease-fire as a sign of weakness on the Kurdish front. When Turkish president Ozal who courageously suggested some political solutions for the Kurdish problem passed away, extermination of Kurds continued to be the only solution for the Turkish regime.

The Kurdish parties HEP and DEP won some seats in Turkish parliament, but when they demanded a political, rather than a military solution for the Kurdish problem, they were arrested and imprisoned.(76) Besides filling the prisons with Kurdish politicians, intellectuals and journalists, the Turkish military has been using secret contra-guerrillas to assassinate prominent Kurdish leaders; contras have filled many graves with prominent Kurdish figures such as journalists Halit Gungen, Cengiz Altun, Yahya Orhan and Huseyin Deniz, author Musa Anter, and politician Mehmet Sincar. These are just few names among a lengthy list of assassinated Kurdish intellectuals.(77) Recently, mass Kurdish exodus from Turkey to Italy and other European countries alarmed the European countries.(78)


The Kurdish population is still hanging on in a region soaked in blood with racist wars, revolutions, revolts, coups, offenses, massacres and incursions. My people are stranded in the middle of four oppressive racist countries. And there is no hope unless they end tribal rivalry and battles between factions and start forming lobbies around the world where international justice and moral responsibility are not as popular concepts as the color of money and power. We are reminded of this fact by Richard Falk, professor of International Law at Princeton University:

“Few observers in 1918 would have guessed that the vague promise of a Jewish homeland in the Balfaur Declaration would result in Jewish statehood before the acknowledgments of Kurdish national identity would have led to Kurdish statehood. There are important lessons to be learned, of success and disappointment, in these two disparate experiences, each shaped and deformed by the outcome of major wars within the region and beyond. Perhaps the central lesson is the relevance of a focused movement that represents and unifies the people in question. A secondary lesson is the importance of becoming a subject of geopolitics rather than being continuously cast in the role of object.”(79)

There are many Kurds in Western countries, especially in Northern Europe.(80) I believe that the Kurds living outside of Kurdistan, with their intellectual, political and financial resources, will eventually create an international Kurdish movement that will lead to a democratic, free and secure land for the Kurdish population.

“Self Determination” was a buzz word in international law during the turn of the 20th century. But after colonialism mutated into another stage, into a clandestine form, the international community started worrying about the integrity and stability of states with ethnic minorities. The right of “self-determination” that worked against colonialism now could turn the nation states into amoebae, dividing them to fragments.

The General Assembly of the United Nations suggested a new formula in 1960 to protect nation states against disintegration: “Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”(81) However, the 1970 Declaration on Friendly Relations and the 1993 Vienna Declaration carved an exception from the broad protection of nation states. The disclaimer of the 1993 Vienna Declaration extended the protection only to the governments representing the whole people in the territory without discriminating on the basis of race, creed or color.(82) Now there is a strong opinio juris in the field of international law that balances the demands of minorities for self-determination with the interest of states in unity and stability by comparing the nature of self-determination and the nature of the government.(83) Minority demands ranging from minimal destabilizing effects to secession will be balanced with the regimes of the states ranging from absolute dictatorship to all-inclusive democracies. The more authoritarian a regime, the more rights for minorities will be recognized.

After giving eight examples to illuminate what self-determination (may) mean or what it may aim to do,(84) Professor Fredric Kirgis elaborates on the tension between the right of states to remain intact and the rights of minorities for self-determination: . . . .

“In this schema, a claim of right to secede from a representative democracy is not likely to be considered a legitimate exercise of the right of self-determination, but a claim of right by indigenous groups within the democracy to use their own languages and engage in their own noncoercive cultural practices is likely to be recognized, not always under the rubric of self-determination, but recognized nevertheless. Conversely, a claim of a right to secede from a repressive dictatorship may be regarded a legitimate. Not all secessionist claims are equally destabilizing. The degree to which a claimed right to secede will be destabilizing may depend on such things as the plausibility of the historical claim of the historical claim of the secessionist group to the territory it seeks to slice off.”(85)

Considering the authoritarian nature of Turkish democracy and the current trend in international law,(86) should the Kurdish minority struggle for self-determination leading to secession, or for self-determination leading to an autonomy and equal rights with the Turkish majority? Kurdish people are divided on this question.(87) Professor Falk thinks that self-determination in terms of secession is possible but very difficult to attain:

“Given Kurdish numbers, self-identification, and association with specific territory over a period of at least 2,000 years, and given the consistent Kurdish experience of abuse and discrimination on behalf of the Kurdish peoples exists. Yet given the strength of statist and adverse geopolitical forces, as well as the fragmented character of the Kurdish movement, an argument for more modest or minimalist claims on behalf of the various Kurdish peoples may seem currently persuasive. Only the Kurds themselves can make these choices, but the failure to do so is likely to lead to new frustrations.”(88)

I agree that struggle aiming toward secession is not politically and socially feasible. (89) Even if secession in one of the countries becomes a possibility, the other neighboring states will become paranoid regarding the Kurds in their territory. For instance, if Iraqi Kurds come close to gaining their independence (which they did), Turkey as a member of NATO and a strategically important country can prevent it (which it did, too). “Any grant of independent homeland to the Kurds will be blocked by Turkey or its allies as a dangerous precedent. Resistance to such an idea will also come from other States like India where several sizable minorities are demanding self-determination”.(90) This will create an opposing pressure in the international arena discouraging superpowers afraid of risking the stability of the entire region which is both politically and economically crucial for the western world.

Furthermore, many Kurds have immigrated to the western part of Turkey either for economic reasons or by being forced to immigrate by the Turkish military. Major cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir now have a huge Kurdish population, especially in their ghettos. There is also a considerable number of intermarriages between Kurdish and Turkish populations. Despite the official racism and occasional provocations by racist organizations the majority of Turkish population still does not have hostility against Kurds. A separate Kurdish state, even if politically possible, would not be desired by many Kurds who have already started a new life in the western part of Turkey. I agree with David McDowall that the Kurdish struggle has strong roots and ultimately will win autonomy in the region: “In the event of military defeat Kurdish nationalism was likely to go to ground, in hibernation for the next spring. It remained most unlikely to die.”(91)

The history of Kurdistan is a proof of Kurdish heroic resilience and resistance against assimilation and genocide orchestrated by powerful countries. “One must question why state authorities make such a bogey of Kurdish nationalism. The usual state argument that Kurdish aspirations threaten the territorial integrity of the state is at best only partially convincing, for autonomists outnumber separatists in the Kurdish communities of all three countries.”(92) The Kurdish problem will remain dormant in the region unless the host countries transform their regimes from authoritarianism to democracy.

As for Turkey, it has much more to lose if it continues to deny Kurds their fundamental rights. Trying to solve the Kurdish problem via bayonets, tanks and bombs has been very costly for Turkey economically, politically and socially. Inflation and unemployment are in disastrous dimensions, and Turkey, despite its yearning to join the western world, lost its chance to join the European Union because of its horrible human rights record. Not only the Kurdish minority, but the Turkish majority too will benefit enormously if Turkey can teach its disoriented generals their real duty.

The Turkish oligarchy, consisting of military leaders, media moguls, big businessman, and their puppet politicians, has opened another huge front besides the Kurdish one. The bizarre secular religion practiced in Turkey has alienated many traditional citizens and pushed them to become more radical. At least one third of the Turkish population is subjected to great oppression because of their modest demands for religious freedom, such as being able to wear head-scarves in schools and universities.(93) So, with the generals guiding Turkish politics, Turkey has taken great risks. Turkey cannot afford to fight against both religious and Kurdish segments of its population.

We, the Kurds, considering the past and current geopolitical circumstances, should give up our claim of independence and ask for autonomy or a federal system. The future of the world is moving towards unification and globalism. This strategy will also attract international support and will work much better for us. We, as the indigenous people of Mesopotamia, should demand the protection of international law to secure our culture, language, political institutions and entitlement to land. The definition provided by the United Nation Indigenous Study perfectly applies to us:

“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, considered themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.”(94)

Our distinct history, culture, ethnicity and ancestral lands are elements that make us indigenous people of Mesopotamia. The human rights of the Kurds are not only violated as an indigenous people, but also as minorities. Turkey is in clear violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which declares: . . .

“In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of their group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language.”(95)

We the Kurds should be able to be ourselves, like the Turks are able to be themselves. We do not have any desire to ban Turkish. We do not have any wish to force Turks to confess that they are a tribe of Kurds. We do not have any aspiration to force the Turkish population to name their children in Kurdish names. We have no reason to hate the Turkish music or Turkish poetry. We have no plan to destroy and burn Turkish villages. We have no intention to force Turks to immigrate.

Turkey and the international community have a moral and legal duty to allow us to enjoy our culture and use our language. We should be able to name our children in our language and teach them. We should be able to celebrate our holidays without governmental intrusion and involvement. We should be able to sing in Kurdish and write in Kurdish. We should be able to greet our Turkish neighbors with our Kurdish attires on. Our towns should be safe from military attacks. We should not be forced to leave our lands. We should not be killed or jailed when we do not approve racism. Our children should not be forced to say “happy is he who can call himself a Turk.”

Yes, I am a Kurd and I pray for freedom, justice and peace for all.



Edip Yuksel


After reading several articles on the linguistic, social and political aspects of bilingualism, certain memories of my childhood revived with much more meaning. Those articles did not contain much new information. They were common sense for me, since I had experienced most of the cases. However, I did not have a clear and systematic interpretation of my experi­ences. Now I know the reason my father suddenly forbid us from speaking Kurdish after we moved to the city. Now I realize how oppressive the government was. Now I appreciate the importance of bilingual education.

I was raised in a bilingual family. I spoke Kurdish until I was eight years old. At age nine, when we moved from a small eastern town to Istanbul, the biggest city in western Turkey, I was suddenly obliged to speak Turkish. Turkish was the only national language with high prestige. Indeed, it was the only prestigious language of my country. Kurdish, the language of approximately a twelve million, had much negative connotation. Speaking Kurdish was a declaration of ignorance and inferiority. Though at that age I was not fully aware of this racist attitude, I was influenced. My father did not have enough ammunition to fight against that pressure. He could not protect our original self-esteem. He submitted fully, even in the privacy of his home. Fighting back probably would be useless. The city with its mighty social, political and economical institutions was a ruthless mold reshaping every irregular individual thrown in. In order to resist that terrible molding machine you needed to be economically independent and heroically resistant. Unfortunately, my father was neither.

We were molded.

The communication language of our family changed dramatically. My father declared martial law against his own mother language which he had spoken until his late forties. My mother did not know a single Turkish word when we were banned from speaking our mother language. It was not that difficult for my father. He had learned Turkish as his fourth language while doing his military service. He had studied Arabic and Persian in religious schools. Being one of the top experts in Arabic language, he was invited to teach Arabic at the university. While he was trying very hard to polish his Turkish, we were struggling to communicate with our mother; sometimes sneaking in Kurdish.

In retrospect, I see that our family was victimized by the ruling majority. As a result, I traded my Kurdish for Turkish. My father ended up teaching Arabic in Turkish with a heavy Kurdish accent. My poor mother started speaking a new language, Kuturkish, a mishmash of Kurdish and Turkish. Nobody could understand her except us. Curiously, I started missing my mother tongue. I hope I will be able to recover it in its pure form. Alas, I am not sure whether my mother will be able to understand it.


An Open Letter to the First Lady of Turkey

By Leyla Zana

September 27, 1998

Dear Berna Yilmaz,

Because you are the wife of Prime Minister, you probably receive hundreds if not thousands of letters from people all over the country.

Some ask for peace,

Some for work.

Other share with you a problem with the hope that you will be part of its solution.

Some want to reach goals that may not be attainable.

There are still others who write you and tell you that they can not pay the cost of an operation for their loved ones and those who can not pay for the prescribed medication.

Some may be the relatives of deceased ones in the hospitals who may ask you to write to a hospital to let it release the body of deceased person since they can not pay for the hospital costs. And of course, there are other letters, the ones that congratulate you for your work or recognize you for your achievements.

I thought I too would add a letter, be another one in your mail list. You don’t know me or you may know me through the media or shall I say the way media has projected me. For example, a “Bandit!”, a “Terrorist!”, a “Separatist!” a “Traitor!” or a convicted member of PKK. The list goes on.

I am not the least concerned to be associated with these descriptions. They, in a way, point to the alleged players on the stage whose roots go back to history. I want to refer to a bleeding geography and also to the concerted efforts of the ruling circles to deny the very existence of a people. I am referring to the struggle of those who are standing up to oppression for peace, freedom, brotherhood, democracy and labor rights. I have in mind their principled stands and how they were seen fit to assume those names. In other words, I am referring to the reality of my country, of its peoples and the state of affairs that are unfolding in it.  If it needs to be stated again, I belong to those who seek peace.

I know you through the media. Your warm disposition, friendly face, interested and humble ways that come across in numerous places. So I am writing this letter to you as a woman and also as a mother. Because I think we have at least those two things in common. But then I may be mistaken.  You may ask what prompted this letter?

A few years back, I read in an interview your views about the ongoing conflict. You were asked to comment on the war between the Turkish army and the PKK. While you did the usual, calling the question a problem of the southeast, but you also uttered the taboo words, the need for peace and a humane approach to resolve the conflict. I may not be quoting you verbatim, but I remember you saying that you did not want the mothers to cry and that you were very worried about the state of things.

These words were moving, not the usual remarks of the wife of Prime Minister. There was no disguised form of chauvinism, racism, and the talk about blood in your remarks.

Then I remember the accident/incident in which your son hurting himself in a sporting event was sent to Austria with a private plane to get proper medical care. The televised images of your sadness were real. You were distraught. You wanted to be with your son and the anxiety was showing all over your face.

It was the anxiety of a mother. Watching you, I did not want to think that you were the wife of Prime Minister, I wanted to understand you as a mother. A part of you had been hurt and you wanted to be with your son as soon as possible. And you finally got to see him.

And yet, there are mothers in Turkey, forget about being able to be with their children, do not even know where they are. They cannot reach them, embrace them, smell them or touch them.

They do not even have a grave site for them, a place these mothers could shed their tears.

These mothers, for years now, every Saturday, meet in front of Galatasaray High School at noon, with pictures of their loved ones in their hands. They want to share their pain by means of peaceful sit-ins.

They do not loiter, they do not block the traffic, and they do not attack the spectators.

They want to sit there in front of that high school to voice their deadening silence about their losses.

The names of their loved ones were Mehmet, Hasan, Yavuz, Aysel and Savas at one time. But they all have one name now: disappeared ones.

The names of the mothers are Emine, Esma, Yildiz, and Pervin. Now, they have one name as well: the mothers of disappeared ones or Saturday Mothers.

Do you know what is happening to them for weeks now?

Elite police forces with their batons, shields, and guns accompanied with the sounds of siren attack these mothers, pull their hairs, haul their bodies, beat their torsos, subject them to pressurized water and force them to board the waiting busses for police stations. They are then kept for a few days and then released. These mothers gather in front of that high school for what they feel in their hearts. Will they ever stop coming? Dauntlessly, they come back. Their crime is to be the Saturday Mothers. Their crime is to love their sons and daughters.

You are a mother and they are mothers.

You have a son named Hasan and another named Yavuz. They had sons at one time.

You love your children. These mothers are even denied a opportunity to express their love for their children.

Moreover, these mothers don’t want other mothers to face their predicament. In other words, they love the children of others as well. They don’t want any disappearances. They love peace so that war will not consume their loved ones. And because of that, they keep coming back to the same spot for weeks and sit for hours without getting tired. In other words, their love is boundless, deep and universal.

One Saturday, I urge you, please, to go to Galatasaray High School. Go see those mothers. Take them a flower, a carnation, or a September rose, and be part of their pain. If only for a few minutes, be a Saturday Mother, be a mother of the disappeared. Don’t be afraid of elite police forces. Don’t be afraid of the sounds of siren that have legitimized lawlessness, injustice, and oppression. The police won’t touch you. No, they will not be able to touch you. Then, believe me, you will love yourself more and your children too.

You can be one of the “first” ones to do so. You can set aside the so called traditions of hundreds of years.

Remember that Princess Diana broke the tradition of remaining aloof, and became one of the people, and was mourned by millions when her untimely death arrived. And she lives today in the hearts of additional millions because of her principled stand against the threat of mines.

Back to our country, the cease-fire that PKK declared goes on despite the provocation, despite the silence of many in the positions of authority.

You said, mothers should not cry. But mothers are still crying even as one side to this war is willing to take the road of peace.

Here is a golden opportunity for you. You can bring the crying Turkish and Kurdish mothers together. And the mothers of disappeared as well.  Or you could choose to be the mother of only Yavuz and Hasan. …

(Translated by the staff of the American Kurdish Information Network)




*Author, human rights activist. J.D., University of Arizona College of Law (1998). I extend thanks to professor Robert A. Williams, Jr., the co-author of a textbook on Indian Law, for his inspiration. He is also the author of my favorite law review article, perhaps the only law article with no footnotes. See: Robert A. Williams, Jr., Vampires Anonymous and Critical Race Practice, Michigan Law Review, Vol. 95, No. 4, p. 741, February 1997. I also thank professors, David Gantz, David Golove, Tony Massaro, Leslye Obiora and many other members of faculty and administration at the University of Arizona College of Law for their encouragement and support during my legal education. … My ultimate thanks go to God for enabling me to immigrate to America, the land of liberty.

(1) Christopher Hitchens, Struggle of The Kurds, 182 National Geographic 32, 60 (August 1992)

(2) Hugh Poulton, Top Hat, Grey Wolf and Crescent, New York University Press, p. 120, (1997) quoting the speech made by former Minister of Justice Mahmut Esat Bozkurt which was published in the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, 16 September 1930.

(3) Mehmet Coban-Muhammed Abdullah, Kavmiyetcilik ve Islam/Metin Yuksel (Racism and Islam/Metin Yuksel), Tevhid Yayinlari, Istanbul, (1980). Kul Sadi, Metin Yuksel, Madve, Istanbul, (1992). For extensive information on Gray Wolves, see: Hugh Poulton, supra note 2, pp. 130-167.

(4) I was sentenced to 6 years of prison because of two published articles promoting Islamic revolution in Turkey. For a summary of my prison experience see: Edip Yuksel, Kitap Okumanin Zararlari (Dangers of Reading Books), Beyan,Istanbul, pp. 52-59 (1988).

(5) In Turkish: “Ben ezelden beridir hur yasadim hur yasarim/Hangi cilgin bana zincir vuracakmis sasarim.” I had no problem with the content of the Turkish national anthem; I just protested the authority.

(6) In Turkish: “Ne mutlu Turkum Diyene”

(7) In Turkish:  “Bir Turk Cihana Bedel” (Ironically, as of June 11, 1998, one dollar has more value than 260,000 Turkish Liras!)

(8) “At the beginning of the century, under the [Ottoman] Empire, the term ‘Turk’ had been a humiliating designation reserved for ‘rude peasants.’ . . . It was this deep-seated contempt for Turks which provided the background for the emergence of an arrogant and aggressive ‘Greater Turkish’ nationalism. Turkism only became respectable with the Kemalist victory, when it was set up as the official ideology of the new state. The contempt and humiliation which the Turks had suffered turned into a feeling of arrogant superiority and contempt for non-Turks.” A People Without A Country: the Kurds and Kurdistan, edited by Gerard Chaliand, Zed Books, London, p. 59, (1993).

(9) See APPENDIX for my personal experience.

(10) That is, brother Edip.

(11) Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds and the Future of Turkey, St. Martin’s Press, New York, pp. 106-108 (1997).

(12) In 16 March 1988, Iraqi forces used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians living in the town Halabja and killed 5000 men, women and children. See, Human Rights Watch, infra note 72.

(13)  The Turkish military, as a member of Nato, receives massive military aid from the U.S. Similarly, Saddam Hussein’s military, which has been massacring the Kurdish population for decades, was heavily equipped by the United States in 1980’s to punish Iran. Human Rights Watch in its 1995 report demonstrates the inconsistency in the U.S. foreign policy.

Despite documenting the fact that Turkey has misused U.S. weapons, the  Clinton administration, which says it supplies Turkey with 80 percent of its foreign military hardware, has consistently refused to link arms sales to improvements in Turkey’s human rights record.  Shortly after publication of the June 1995 State Department report, the U.S.’s top military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili, wrote a letter to the U.S. Congress urging U.S. lawmakers not to cut military assistance to Turkey because of its human rights record.

In fact, based on Human Rights Watch interviews with U.S. military personnel, it appears that Pentagon representatives in Ankara are more eager than ever to sell Turkey U.S. weapons, including M-60 tanks, helicopter gunships, cluster bombs, ground-to-ground missiles and small arms.  The U.S. is also involved in co-production agreements with the Turkish defense industry, most notably helping to build the F-16 fighter-bomber, which the U.S. State Department acknowledged may have been used indiscriminately to kill Kurdish civilians, and a new armored personnel carrier. (Human Rights Watch, WEAPONS TRANSFERS AND VIOLATIONS OF THE LAWS OF WAR IN TURKEY ISBN 1-56432-161-4, November 1995. See:

The Washington Post, reporting an improvement in U.S. Turkish military alliance, noted: “While the State Department backs Turkey’s effort to rout the guerillas, it has criticized the military’s and paramilitary’s tactics of killing, forcibly removing or destroying the villages of hundreds of thousands of civilians in the same region. More than 27,000 people have died in the fighting.” (Dana Priest, The Washington Post, July 12, 1998, A23.)

(14) See Mehrdad R. Izady, The Kurds: A Concise Handbook, Crane Russak, Washington, p. 23-49, (1992).

(15) Gerard Chaliand, The Kurdish Tragedy, Zed Books, London-New Jersey, p.30, (1994). Also, Hugh Poulton, supra note 2, at 121.

(16) “It has been official policy in Turkey from 1924 until the last few years to deny the very existence of a Kurdish minority. The Turkish sociologist Ismail Besikci has spent more than a decade in prison for having written about the existence of the Kurds and of Kurdish particularism. Nevertheless the Kurds are an ethnic minority with a language totally unrelated to the Turkish family of languages. Formerly known as the “Mountain Turks”, in recent years they have at least achieved open mention in the press. During Gulf War, the Turkish president, Mr. Ozal, even announced the lifting of the 1983 ban on speaking Kurdish in public.”  Gerard Chaliand, The Kurdish Tragedy, Zed Books, London-New Jersey, p.6, (1994). For the linguistic and historical roots of the name “Kurd” see: Mehrdad R. Izady, The Kurds: a Concise Handbook, Crane Russak, Washington, p. 31 (1992). For instance, Izady provides plausible information that the word Kurd most likely originated from Qardu or Karduk of the Babylonian Medes era which sounds similar to the Semitic Acadian word Qard and Indo-European Persian word Qurd, both of which mean a hero, or a warrior.

(17)  Quoting from Bruinessen’s Agha, Shaikh and State: Michael M. Gunter, The Kurds in Turkey: a Political Dilemma,Westview Press, Oxford, p. 12 (1990).

(18) Dr. Ismail Besikci, a well-known Turkish sociologist spent more than ten years in Turkish prisons for opposing the assimilation policy of the racist Turkish government against the Kurdish minority. For more information, see: id, at 47-49.

(19) Martin van Bruinessen, The Kurds in Turkey, MERIP Reports, No. 121, pp. 10-11 (Feb. 1984).

(20) Gunter, supra note 17, at 46.

(21) Turkiye Gerceginde Kurtler ve PKK Teroru (Kurds and the Terrorism of PKK  Under the Reality of Turkey), Turk Demokrasi Vakfi, Ankara, (1996).

(22) Id, at 6.

(23) The Chapter of the Turkish Constitution describing the political rights and duties starts with Article 66th which reads: “Everyone bound to the Turkish State through the bond of citizenship is a Turk.” Naming all the citizens of a country with the name of the majority race is one of the cause of official racism. The major newspapers and state officials refer to non-citizen Turks in other countries as Turk. This demonstrates that being a “Turk” is not a legal matter, but a matter of race and genealogy. This official double-speak is designed to assimilate the Kurdish minority and deny their identity in the name of citizenship and law.

(24) Turkiye Gerceginde Kurtler, supra note 21, at 8

(25) Political Parties Law, Article 81 (a), (c).(No. 2820, Adopted April 26, 1982)

(25) Fahrettin Kirgizoglu, Kurtlerin Turklugu (The Turkishness of Kurds), Istanbul, 1995.

(26) Kurds Existence Denied in Turkey, Toronto Star, March 25, 1994, at A 26.

(27) A journal article gives the following information about the Kurdish language: “The Kurdish language is divided into multiple dialects, the most prominent of which are Kurmanji, spoken in northern Iraq, eastern Turkey, and Azerbaijan; and Zaza, spoken in western Turkey. Despite these internal differences, Kurdish society developed a distinctive culture which has survived over 2,000 years. The Kurds believe themselves to be a distinct people and have established their own sense of identity.” Olivia Q. Goldman, The Need for an Independent International Mechanism to Protect Group Rights: A Case Study of the Kurds, 2 Tulsa J. Comp. & Int’l L. 45, 67 (1994).

(28) See: Poulton, supra note 2, p. 87.

(29) Amazon from “Amma uzun” (Too long), and Niagara from “Ne yaygara!” (What a noise!).

(30)  Turkish Constitution, Article 26.

(31) Turkish Constitution, Article 28.

(32) Turkish Constitution, Article 42.9.

(33) Turkish Penal Code, No. 2932.

(34) The law about broadcasting tries to prohibit Kurdish language by an arbitrary condition: “Radio and television broadcasts will be made in Turkish; however, for the purpose of teaching or of imparting news those foreign languages that have made a contribution to the development of universal cultural and scientific works can be used.” The Law Concerning the Founding and Broadcasts of Television and Radio, Article 4 (t), (No. 3984, Adopted April 13, 1994). Another law dictates the mother tongue of Turkish citizens: “The mother tongue of Turkish citizens cannot be taught in any language other than Turkish. . . . Taking into consideration the view of the National Security Council, the Council of Ministers by its decision will determine in Turkey what foreign languages can be taught.” Foreign Language Education and Teaching Law, Article 2 (a), (c), (No. 2923). Military leaders, again to avoid using the word Kurd and Kurdish, enumerated the names of non-prohibited languages in law: “It had been decided by the Council of Ministers on March 4, 1992 that in official and private courses education and teaching are to be made in the following languages: English, French, German as well as Russian, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, and Chinese.” Official Gazette, Decision No. 92/2788, March 20, 1992.

(35) Poulton, supra note 2, at 213.

(36) Gunter, supra note 17, at 54.

(37) Poulton, supra note 2, at 213.

(38) See, Chaliand, supra note 15; Gunter, supra notes 17, 18 and  Meiselas, infra note 40.

(39) Human Rights Watch/Helsinki in the 7th Report in 22 August 1996 defended Mr. Anar and other authors for defending the human rights of Kurdish minority: “Article 8 of the 1991 Anti-Terror Law has frequently been used to punish peaceful expression, especially concerning the ethnic Kurdish population and the conflict in southeastern Turkey between government security forces and the PKK. In late 1995, an amendment of Article 8 permitted the release from prison of an estimate one hundred persons jailed for peaceful dissent; however, many today are still being tried and punished under the amended Article 8 and under other laws that stifle peaceful expression.”

(40) Susan Meiselas, Kurdistan: in the Shadow of History, Random House, New York, p. 296, (1997) Mehdi Zana’s wife, Leyla Zana was also imprisoned and tortured at the same time. She was later elected to Congress from Diyarbakir. She is currently in prison serving a 15 year prison term. I recommend a book published by the American Kurdish Information Network (AKIN) on Leyla Zana: Free Leyla Zana!, Edited by AKIN and Human Rights Alliance (HRA), 1997, Washington, D.C. Can be obtained from

(41) Gunter, supra note 17, at 44.

(42) Hasan Cemal, Adini Ne Koyarsan Koy (Whatever Name You Assign), Sabah, February 8, 1998.

(43) Television Nation, Wired, December 1997, p. 98.

(44) Ibid.

(45) Gregory J. Ewald, The Kurds’ Right to Secede Under International Law: Self-determination Prevails over Political Manipulation, 22 Denv. J. Int’l L. & Pol’y 375, 397 (1994).

(46) See all Turkish newspapers dated March 20-22, 1997. For instance: Sule Turker, Elif Ergu, Nevruz Atesini DevletYakacak (The State Will Kindle the Fire of Newroz), Sabah, 20 March 1997.

(47) Bol Kutlamali Nevruz (Newroz With Plenty of Celebrations), Sabah, 21 March 1997.

(48) Newroz is a compound Kurdish or Persian word consisting of “new ” (new) and “roz” (day). In Turkish the same word would be “Yenigun”

(49)  Cengiz Candar, Nevruz, Newroz, Nevroz…, Sabah Newspaper, 22 March 1997. Another pro-democracy Turkish columnist, criticizing the Turkification of Nevruz, complained “One more people’s holiday is stolen by the State.” MehmetAltan, Devlet Eliyle Sivil Toplum (Civil Society By The Hand Of State), Sabah Newspaper, 24 March 1997).

(50)  “Since 1982, the government no longer accepts typically Kurdish names.” Gerard Chaliand, The Kurdish Tragedy, Zed Books, London-New Jersey, p. 34 (1994).

(51) “The Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz criticized the Bulgarian government for its policy denying the Turkish minority of their cultural, religious and administrative rights.” All major Turkish newspapers, November 4, 1996.

(52) In 1946, one year after the establishment of the United Nations, my people appealed to the international conscience, though with unrealistic demands: “During the past 25 years the Kurds have and are suffering severely under the tyrannical regime of Turkey. . . . It is indeed a misfortune that the world is on the threshold of peace and many conferences are held to discuss and solve the world problems, and the Kurds in Turkey are unable to have their voice heard in these conferences. . . . In view of such a calamitous and hopeless situation our Party demands that this criminal Kemalist gang which calls itself a government be removed and the Kurdish people given its full natural rights and full opportunity to self-determination.” Quoted in Gunter, supra note 17, at 14.

(53) Milliyet, 27 and 28 February and 1-3 March 1993. For the details and evaluation of the poll see: Poulton, supra note 2, at 248-251.

(54) Pulton, supra note 2, at 249.

(55) Fatih Cekirge, Turkiye Rakamlari (The Turkey’s Numbers), Sabah, August 9, 1998.

(56) Congressional Record, November 7, 1997.

(57) McDowall, infra note 65, at ix.

(58) Id, at ix.

(59) Stephen Kinzer, In Scorching Kurds, Turkey Burns Itself, The New York Times, May 3, 1998, 6 WK.

(60) Paul J. Magnarella, The Legal, Political and Cultural Structures of Human Rights Protections and Abuses in Turkey, 3 J. Int’l L. & Pract. 439, 455 (1994).

(61) Despite harassment and threats by the Turkish authorities, HADEP received more than 1.2 million votes.

(62) Hadep Leaders Convicted in Turkey, Zagros, Washington Kurdish Institute, February 1998.

(63) Ewald, supra note 45, at 404.

(64) The Resolution of the European Parliament ends with the following articles: “1. Condemns the repeated human rights violations in Turkey, which chiefly target representatives of the Kurdish people; 2. Is particularly shocked by the sentencing of Leyla Zana to a further two years in prison and urgently reiterates its call for her release and for the release of all political prisoners;  3. Expresses its deep concern about the deteriorating political and institutional situation in Turkey, and notes the lack of any improvement with regard to the protection of human rights and the promotion of the rule of law; 4. Reaffirms its conviction that there can be no military solution to the Kurdish question and therefore calls on the Turkish authorities to engage in direct talks with the Kurdish people’s representative organizations, with the aim of finding a peaceful political solution enabling their economic, social, political and cultural rights to be recognized; 5. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the governments and parliaments of the Member States and to the Turkish Government and Grand National Assembly.” Minutes of 08/10/98 – Provisional Edition Human Rights, B4-0945/98.

(65) I recommend the following book for its comprehensive treatment of Kurdish history: David McDowall, A Modern History of the Kurds, I.B. Tauris, New York, (1996). Also see: Mehrdad R. Izady, A Concise Handbook: The Kurds, CraneRusak, Washington, (1992); James Ciment, The Kurds: State and Minority in Turkey, Iraq and Iran, Facts On File, Inc., New York, (1996),  and A Contemporary Overview, edited by Philip G. Kreyenbroek and Stefan Sperl, Routledge, New York, (1992). Susan Meiselas’ documentary work is another valuable source. See supra note 40, and infra note 66.

(66) Meiselas, supra, note 40 at 6 (1997). This large size book is a must for those who want to learn about the struggle, culture and history of Kurdish people. It is filled with pictures, maps, historical documents, newspaper clips, memoirs, and drawings related to Kurds living within the borders of Iran, Iraq and Turkey. For more information on the book please visit the website: The book is available at

(67)  John Bulloch & Harvey Morris, No Friends But the Mountains, Viking, p. 50 (1992).

(68) Id. at 56.

(69) See, the Bible: II Kings 17:6; II Kings 18:11; Ezra 6:2; Esther 1:3,14,18,19; Esther 10:2; Isaiah 13:17; Isaiah 21:2; Daniel 6:8,15-28; Jeremiah 25:25; Jeremiah 51:11,28; Daniel 5:28; Daniel 8:20; Daniel 9:1; Daniel 11:1; Acts 2:9-11.

(70)  See: Edgar O’Ballance, The Kurdish Struggle, St. Martin’s Press, N.Y., p xxi (1996).

(71) I have discussed this issue in “19 Questions For Muslim Scholars” published both in Turkish and English. The English version can be downloaded from:

(72) Iraq’s Crime of Genocide: the Anfal Campaign Against Kurds, Human Rights Watch, Yale University Press, pp. 68-78, 149-153 (1995).

(73) No Friends But the Mountains, John Bulloch & Harvey Morris, Viking, pp. 142-143, (1992). After 10 years, the aftermath of Halabja massacre is told by Dr. Christine Gosden, head of medical genetics at Liverpool University in England. She “told the CBS news magazine that she was the first Western doctor to observe the health problems in the city. . . Some survivors of the attack are still suffering from health problems, including nerve damage, brain damage, untreatable skin diseases, infertility and cancers. ‘What one sees is very rapidly advancing cancers of particularly horrible types,’ Gosden said ‘I don’t think anybody in 1998 should have to die of these circumstances. ‘The chemicals also caused hideous birth defects that may continue for generations to come, said Gosden, who hopes to draw aid for the victims from international relief agencies.” Nerve Gas-Iraq, Associated Press, (AP US & World) Sun, Mar 1, 1998.

(74) Evan Thomas, et al, Bay of Pig’s Redux: How the CIA’s Secret War in Iraq Turned into Utter Fiasco, Newsweek, March 23, 1998, p. 36. See also: Michael Ignatieff, Power in the Service of Morality Abroad, U.S. News & World Reports, November 18, 1996. Alan Cooperman and Kevin Whitelaw, The Kurds: Guns, Money and an Endless Dream, U.S. News & World Report, September 16, 1996.

(75) Id., at 44.

(76) Gunter, supra note 17, at 73.

(77) Id, at 68-73.

(78) Frontier Wars, The Economist, January 10, 1998.

(79)  Richard Falk, Problems and Prospects for the Kurdish Struggle for Self-determination After the End of the Gulf and Cold Wars, 15 Mich. J. Int’l L. 591, 601 (1994).

(80) I could not find any statistics regarding the Kurdish population outside Kurdistan. Washington Kurdish Institute’s web site shows “distribution of hits according to country of origin.” This information might provide a rough idea about the comparative interest to Kurdish issues. The countries from which the website visited the most are the United States, Canada, Sweden, Australia, United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Norway, Italy, Finland, Netherlands, France, Japan, and Belgium, ranked in descending order.

(81) Quoted in: Fredric Kirgis, Jr., The Degrees of Self-determination in the United Nations Era, 88 Am. J. Int. L. 304, 306 (1994).

(82) Ibid.

(83)  Ibid.

(84)  “(1) The established right to be free from colonial domination with plenty of well-known examples in Africa, Asia and Caribbean. (2) The converse of that? a right to remain dependent . . . as in the case of . . . Comoros, or Puerto Rico. (3) The right to dissolve a state, at least if done peacefully, . . . as in the case of former Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. (4) The disputed right to secede, as in the case of Bangladesh and Eritrea. (5) The right of divided states to reunite, as in Germany. (6) The right of limited autonomy, short of secession, for groups defined territorially or by common ethnic, religious and linguistic bonds, as in autonomous areas within confederates. (7) Rights of minority groups within a larger political entity, as recognized in Article 27 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and in the General Assembly’s 1992 Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. (8) The internal self-determination freedom to choose one’s form of government, or even more sharply, the right to a democratic form of government, as in Haiti.” Id. at 307.

(85) Id. at 308.

(86) See: Edip Yuksel, Cannibal Democracies, Theocratic Secularism: The Turkish Version, (1998), Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law, Winter 1998. The Turkish version of this article was published in Turkey: Edip Yuksel, Devlet/Democracy/Oligarsi/Teokrasi, Ozan Yayincilik, Istanbul, (1997). I was expecting this book to be banned by the government. However,  it has not yet been. It is a nice surprise. Nothing is predictable in Turkey, including repression and oppression.

(87) “Kurds living in Middle East were generally in favor of modest solutions within the boundaries of existing States, while Kurds living in exile were overwhelmingly in support of the establishment of a single sovereign State, to be called Kurdistan.” Falk, supra, note 79, at 591.

(88)Id, at 603.

(89) Dr. Amir A. Majid, of London Guildall University, noted that self-determination (meaning independence) is very weak for Kurds. Citing some authors, the decisions of International Court of Justice, and the U.N. General Assembly resolution 1514 of December 14, 1960, he claims that it is very difficult to make a case for Kurdish independence according the Customary International Law. See: Amir A. Majid, International Human Rights and the Kurds, 2 Ann. Surv. Int’l & Comp. L. 53, 60 (1995).   Recently, the main Kurdish guerrilla group gave up its demand for independence. Reuters North America news agency reported on Sun, Apr 12, 1998: “The leader of Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) Abdullah Ocalan said the PKK did not want a separate Kurdish state to be carved out of southeastern Turkey. ‘Following a realistic policy of Kurdish independence does not mean changing the borders,” he said. Ocalan did not clearly state his group’s demands, apart from saying they wanted a thorough restructuring of the Turkish state. “This restructuring is taking place in all European countries, but the only country moving the opposite direction to this is Turkey,’ he said.”

(90) Majid, supra note 89 at 60.

(91) McDowall, supra note 65, at 448.

(92) Ibid.

(93) Yuksel, supra, note 86.

(94) See S. James Anaya, Indigenous Rights Norms in Contemporary International Law, 8(2) Ariz. J. Int’l & Comp. L. 1, (1991).

(95) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 27 (1966).