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Is There a Turkish Kurdistan?

Mustafa Akyol examines the questions, risks and consequences of Kurdish autonomy in Turkey.
Turkish-Kurdish women flash V for victory signs during a demonstration in support of Syrian Kurds, in the southeastern Turkish town of Nusaybin, near the Turkish-Syrian border, January, 26, 2013. Sitting across the table from top Turkish officials, jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan wields the power to silence guns across southeastern Turkey which have killed more than 40,000 people in a three decade-old insurgency. Reviled by most Turks and held in virtual isolation since his 1999 capture, the Kur

If you follow the Turkish media, and especially focus on news related to Turkey’s southeastern neighbors, you will notice an interesting nuance: The autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq is almost never referred to with its official name. Most Turks rather simply call it “Northern Iraq,” with clear intention to avoid the K word. Others who try to be more realistic speak of “the Kurdish Regional Government.” They, in other words, prefer the word “Kurdish” to “Kurdistan,” because the latter is quite toxic for most Turkish ears.

The reason for this widespread Turkish sensitivity is not hard to see: The geographic area that historically has been called “Kurdistan” is divided since World War I between four countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, the last of them having the largest share. Moreover, groups among Turkey’s Kurds have launched almost two dozen rebellions against Ankara in the past 90 years. This had led successive Turkish governments — and especially the bureaucratic establishment, which was politely called “the regime” — to try to “Turkify” the region. Methods included replacing names of Kurdish locales with Turkish ones, banning the very usage of the Kurdish language, and forcing all Kurds to recite Atatürk’s famous motto: “How happy is the one who says ‘I am a Turk.’”

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