The Kurds in Turkey (Kurdish: Kurdên li Tirkiye, Turkish: Türkiye'deki Kürtler) are an Indo-European people first mentioned in ancient Greek sources. Based on these sources it is believed that Kurds are remnants of ancient Cordueni who established an ancient Kingdom near modern-day Diyarbakir in the first century BC. Cordueni were under the cultural and religious influence of Hurrian. Most Kurds live in Turkey, where their numbers are estimated somewhere between 11,400,000 and 15,000,000 people. Both figures include Zaza people as Kurds. These figures are for the number of persons who identify as Kurds, not the number who speak a Kurdish language, since many self-identified Kurds speak only Turkish. Estimations based on mother tongue data leads various estimations of Kurdish population in Turkey ranging from 6% to 23%, Ibrahim Sirkeci claims the closest figure should be above 17.8% taking into account political context and as a result the potential bias in responses recorded in surveys and censuses. Another source, based on the 1970s census, estimated that Kurds comprised around 8.5 million out of a total population of 35 million in Turkey (24%). Also the population growth rate of Kurds in 1970s was given as 3.27%.
Today, most Kurds in Turkey live in big cities (like Istanbul) or in Southeastern Turkey. There are also Kurdish people living in Tunceli Province and in the Central Anatolia Region, concentrated to the west of Lake Tuz (Haymana, Cihanbeyli, Kulu, Yunak) and also scattered in districts like Alaca, Çiçekdağı, Yerköy, Emirdağ, and Zile. Traditional Kurdish-inhabited regions inside present Turkish borders are sometimes referred to as Turkish Kurdistan. According to a March 2007 survey, Kurds and Zazas together comprise an estimated 13.4% of the adult population, and 15.68% of the whole population.
Kurdish separatist armed movements such as the PKK and KADEK continue to mount actions against the Turkish state and are held responsible for approximately 35,000 casualties of civilians and troops over the past two decades.
Between 1983 and 1991, it was forbidden to publicize, publish and/or Broadcast in any language other than Turkish, unless that language was the first official language of a country that Turkey has diplomatic relations with. Though this ban technically applied to any language, Kurdish, being the first official language of no country although widely spoken in the Kurdistan region, was to be the most affected.
Turkey's treatment of its citizens of Kurdish origin has been a frequent subject of international criticism. Due to the size of their community, the Kurds are viewed as a threat to Turkey's national security. Kurds have largely resisted forcible assimilation policies of the government since 1930s. The main official strategy for assimilating the Kurds has been suppression of their language. Most Kurds have retained their native tongue, despite the governmental efforts over several decades to promote Turkish among them.
In the aftermath of the Koçkiri rebellion there was talk in the new Grand National Assembly of Turkey of some very limited forms of "autonomous administration" by the Kurds in a Kurdish region centred on Kurdistan. However, all this disappeared in the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923.
The main part of the uprising was over by the end of March, as the Turkish authorities crushed the rebellion with continual aerial bombardments and a massive concentration of forces. More than 50,000 Turkish troops were mobilized against the rebellion. The military strength of the Kurds was 15,000. In this rebellion, Turkish government used its airplanes for bombing raids in the Diyarbakır area. During this operation, the airfield near Harput road was used.
This rebellion is considered as the first modern Kurdish war of liberation, and it was organized by a committee called Khoybun (Being-oneself). It brought together numerous patriotic Kurdish societies formed since the World War I in Cairo and Istanbul. In October 1927, a village near Mount Ararat was designated as the provisional capital of Kurdistan. Khoybun made appeals to the Great Powers and the League of Nations, and also sent messages to other Kurds in Iraq and Syria to ask for co-operation.
Turkish Army mobilized 50,000 troops to suppress the rebellion. Since Dersim region was closer to Ankara than the previous rebellious regions, Turkish Air Force was used more effectively against the uprising. Sabiha Gökçen, Turkey's first female pilot and the adopted daughter of Atatürk, took part in the bombing raids against the Dersim Kurds.
Seyit Riza was himself captured on 5 September 1937 and was hanged, together with ten of his lieutenants, on 18 November. Retribution by Turkish forces claimed at least 40,000 Dersimlis, who were deported and massacred following this defeat.
During the 1980s Turkey began a program of forced assimilation of its Kurdish population. This culminated in 1984 when the PKK began a rebellion against Turkish rule attacking Turkish military and civilian targets. Since the the PKK's militant operations began in 1984, 37,000 people have been killed. The PKK has been continuing it's guerrilla warfare in the mountains. However since 1995, and especially since the AK Party came to power there have been numerous reforms and the situation has greatly improved. As a result the fighting is limited to approximately 3000 fighters.
The Kurdish culture in Turkey is allegedly close to culture of Kurdish people in other regions and it has contributed greatly to the culture in Turkey. However, culturally Kurds in Turkey are much more closer to Turks since they share a common history and cultural background.
Many Kurds in Turkey speak only Turkish, but about 5 million people speak a Kurdish language (7-8% of the total population). There are 3,950,000 people speaking Northern Kurdish (1980 estimate), 1 million people speaking Dimli (1999 estimate) and 140,000 people speaking Kirmanjki. Speakers of Kirmanjki and Dimli are also known as the Zaza people. The two Zaza languages have a 70% lexical similarity to each other, about the same as is found between Spanish and Romanian.
Between 1925 and 1991 the performance or recording of songs in the Kurdish language was banned in Turkey. Some singers, like İbrahim Tatlıses and Ahmet Kaya, sang in Turkish, while others like Grup Yorum violated the ban and were imprisoned or fled to various countries, especially Germany. A black market, however, has long existed in Turkey, and pirate radio stations and underground recordings have always been available. Though there is no current ban on performing Kurdish language music, it is effectively prevented from being broadcast on radio or television through censorship systems.
Some of the foremost figures in Kurdish classical music of the past century from Anatolia include Mihemed 'Arif Cizrawî (1912 - 1986), Hesen Cizrawî, Şeroyê Biro, 'Evdalê Zeynikê, Si'îd Axayê Cizîrî and the female singers Miryem Xanê and Eyşe Şan.
Şivan Perwer is a composer, vocalist and tembûr player. He concentrates mainly on political and nationalistic music - of which he is considered the founder in Kurdish music - as well as classical and folk music.
Another important Kurdish musician from Turkey is Nizamettin Arıç (Feqiyê Teyra). He began with singing in Turkish, and made his directorial debut and also stars in Klamek ji bo Beko (A Song for Beko), one of the first films in Kurdish. Arıç rejected musical stardom at the cost of debasing his language and culture. As a result of singing in Kurdish, he was imprisoned, and then obliged to flee to Syria and eventually to Germany.
There is no existing evidence of Kurdish literature of pre-Islamic period. Some sources consider Ali Hariri (1425-1495) as the first well-known poet who wrote in Kurdish. He was from the Hakkari region.
Since the 1970s, there has been a massive effort on the part of Kurds in Turkey to write and to create literary works in Kurdish. The amount of printed material during the last three decades has increased enormously. Many of these activities were centered in Europe particularly Sweden and Germany where many of the immigrant Kurds are living. There are a number of Kurdish publishers in Sweden, partly supported by the Swedish Government. More than two hundred Kurdish titles have appeared in the 1990s.
Turkey's treatment of its citizens of Kurdish ethnicity has been a frequent subject of international criticism. Since 1930s, Kurds have resisted the forcible assimilation and Turkification policies of the Turkey's government. Since 1984, these resistance movements included both peaceful political activities for basic civil rights for Kurds within Turkey and also a violent armed rebellion for a separate Kurdistan state.
Due to the size of the Kurdish population and the existence of separatist movements the government's main strategy for assimilating the Kurds has been language suppression, yet a majority of Kurds have retained their native language. Use of Kurdish language in public was banned in 1983, during Kenan Evren's presidency in Turkey. The ban was lifted in 1991 during the presidency of Turgut Özal who was of partial Kurdish descent. Turkish remains the only official language, and use of any other language as a first language is not allowed in schools.
In June 2004, Turkey's public television TRT began broadcasting a half-an-hour Kurdish program, and on March 8, 2006, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) allowed two TV channels (Gün TV and Söz TV) and one radio channel (Medya FM) to have a limited service in the Kurdish language. This legislation came into force as an effort to meet one of the European Union’s requirements for its membership talks with Turkey. The new regulation will give radios five, and televisions four weekly broadcast hours.
Despite these reforms, use of Kurdish in public sphere and government institutions are still severely restricted. On June 14, 2007, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reached a decision to remove the elected mayor of the Sur district of Diyarbakir, Abdullah Demirbaş and the elected members of the municipal council. The high court endorsed the decision of the ministry and ruled that "giving information on various municipal services such as culture, art, environment, city cleaning and health in languages other than Turkish is against the Constitution.
This is despite the fact that according to the above mentioned municipality, 72 percent of the people of the district used Kurdish in their daily lives. In another case, the mayor of the Diyarbakır, Osman Baydemir, is being subjected to a similar set of interrogations and judicial process. His case is related to use of the Kurdish phrase Sersala We Pîroz Be (Happy New Year) in the new year celebration cards issued by the municipality. The prosecutor wrote: "It was determined that the suspect used a Kurdish sentence in the celebration card, ‘Sersala We Piroz Be’ (Happy New Year). I, on behalf of the public, demand that he be punished under Article 222/1 of the Turkish Penal Code".
The Turkish Constitution bans the formation of political parties on an ethnic basis. Several Kurdish political parties were shut down by the Turkish Constitutional Court for links to the PKK, and some party members were imprisoned. PKK is listed as a terrorist organization internationally by a number of states and organizations, including the USA, NATO and the EU.