Kurdish Studies and language classes at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU)

A letter was released by MTSU yesterday announcing further development of the institution’s budding Kurdish Studies programme. Last August MTSU announced that it would begin teaching Kurdish. MTSU is only one of three universities in the US where Kurdish is taught. The other two are the University of Arizona and Portland State University. Here is the text of that letter:


At the direction of President McPhee, plans were developed to create a Middle East Center (MEC), which officially came into being in December 2006. From July 2006 through June 2009 MTSU had a Department of Education Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Languages grant to initiate language programs in Arabic and Hebrew, develop courses for a new Middle East Studies (MES) minor, support faculty members working in MES, and offer workshops for middle and high school teachers in the region that presented ways to incorporate the study of the Middle East in their curriculum.

With the foundations of the MES program well established, Dr. Allen Hibbard (director of the MEC) met with the MES faculty and students to discuss future goals. The Kurdish Students Association attended the meeting and members advocated for the development of a Kurdish Studies program citing the large Kurdish community in Middle Tennessee. Dr. Kari Neely, professor of Arabic, supported the motion agreeing that language programs need strong community support to be sustainable. Dr. Canak, the faculty advisor for the KSA, also supported the motion along with several other faculty members. As a member of the Foreign Language Department, Dr. Neely volunteered to take the initiative on the project.

Dr. Neely started modestly offering a special topics course for the Middle East Studies minor “Introduction to Kurdish History and Culture” in the Spring of 2009 which immediately filled. The success of the topics course allowed Dr. Neely to submit proposals for a two-year sequence in Kurdish language that were accepted by the Department of Foreign Languages and the University Curriculum committee. Seeking funding for a professor to teach these courses, Dr. Neely applied for and obtained an Access and Diversity grant from the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR).

MTSU hired Mr. Deniz Ekici, a PhD candidate at the University of Exeter, as a full time faculty member. Mr. Ekici is an accomplished author of Kurdish language instructional materials. He is the author of both Beginning Kurmanji Kurdish (an interactive DVD-ROM) and Kurmanji Kurdish Reader. Additionally, his background in Kurdish Studies has allowed him to collaborate with MTSU faculty members to co-teach general MES courses while incorporating Kurdish themes. In the 2011 year, Mr. Ekici will offer Intermediate Kurdish in addition to the Elementary Kurdish. In order to reach a larger audience, he is developing an online course to be offered in the Spring of 2012 through MTSU. Mr. Ekici teaches a standardized version of Kurmanji (Behdînî) rather than a particular regional version.

With these developments, MTSU is uniquely positioned to become a center for Kurdish Studies in the United States for a number of reasons. First, we are situated near to the largest Kurdish community that gives scholars the ability to have direct experience with a Kurdish community and practice their Kurdish language skills in context. Also, it allows international Kurdish students to easily adjust to life in the United States. Second, there are already two faculty members (Dr. Neely and Dr. Clare Bratten) who are interested in Kurdish issues and who incorporate Kurdish issues into the MES courses. Dr. Bratten teaches Media in the Middle East and Dr. Neely will be teaching Introduction to Middle East Studies and Peoples of the Middle East in addition to occasional offerings of Women in the Middle East. Thus, Kurdish themes are present in three of the primary courses in the MES minor.

The Kurdish Studies program at MTSU continues to grow through the support of the administration and MES faculty. MES faculty and KSA members are working with the university on new projects to help strengthen and enrich the program. Chief among the goals is to strengthen ties with international Kurdish institutions, especially within Kurdistan.

KHRP Report: Mother-Tongue Education in the Kurdish Regions

Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) today published a briefing paper entitled Culture and Language Rights – Mother-Tongue Education in the Kurdish Regions. The paper concludes that mother-tongue education, which in itself may be regarded as a fundamental right under international law, is not adequately recognised, protected or promoted in the Kurdish regions, serving as a barrier to conflict resolution in that area. The paper provides a comparative legal and practical overview of the use of mother-tongue education in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey today and makes some key recommendations for governments, civil society organisations and the international community on how to resolve the outstanding issues.


The use of mother-tongue languages is a crucial means for minority groups to express their cultural identity. The use of mother-tongue languages in education, both as the language of instruction and as an academic discipline, is a basic right, which serves to protect and promote this aim. Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey (hereinafter referred to as the “States”) are obliged under international human rights law and standards to guarantee this right.

However, to varying degrees, these States are failing to fulfil their international legal obligations in this regard, resulting in many individuals from minority groups being denied the enjoyment of this and various other fundamental rights.

The KHRP Briefing Paper provides an overview of the use of mother-tongue education in the States mentioned above and provides some key recommendations on how to tackle language right issues, which hinder conflict resolution in that region. The Briefing Paper is divided into five main parts:

(i) an overview of the relevant obligations under international law;
(ii) an overview of the national legal framework in each of the States;
(iii) a discussion of the importance of the right to mother-tongue education;
(iv) an analysis of the current status of the use of mother-tongue education in the States; and
(v) key recommendations for governments, civil society organisations and the international community on how to resolve the language rights issues discussed in this Briefing Paper.

**Click here to download the full (19 pg) report in .pdf.**

Kurdish economic, social and cultural rights in Turkey

On 20 May 2011, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) adopted concluding observations following its review of Turkey’s initial report on the implementation of the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The process is designed to strengthen collaboration between State and civil society actors around human rights promotion and protection.

In advance of this review, Kurdish Human Rights Project (KHRP) had raised a number of concerns about Turkey’s compliance vis-à-vis the Kurds with its obligations under the Covenant by submitting a list of issues to the committee. KHRP also attended the Committee’s review of Turkey’s report, which took place in Geneva on 3 and 4 May 2011. This was a part of the Committee’s 46th Session.

For example, Article One of the Covenant states that ‘[a]ll peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development’ and that states ‘shall promote the realization of the right of self-determination, and shall respect that right…’

In the report submitted by Turkey, its initial report to the Committee during this session, it references Article One’s right to self-determination as follows:

The Turkish nation is composed of citizens equal before the law irrespective of their origins. In the context of the Turkish nation, common denominator is citizenship. Every citizen has the right and power to lead an honourable life and to enhance his/her material and spiritual well-being in national culture, civilization and law order, by benefiting fundamental rights and freedoms set forth in the Constitution, in line with the principle of equality and social justice. Every Turkish citizen has effective access to government to pursue their political, economic, cultural and social development.

KHRP’s ‘List of Issues’ report methodically examines the Turkish report, poses questions and concerns, and then offers extensive background information regarding each particular article of the ICESCR.

Regarding Article One, for example, KHRP asked for information on the steps the Turkish Government was taking to promote the right of Kurdish people to self-determination, details of any policies and measures being pursued by the Turkish Government to ensure that Kurdish people are proportionally represented in national and regional political parties, and details about the people arrested under laws prohibiting written Kurdish in election campaigns and the proportion of those who are Kurdish.

KHRP then offers this background material on issues raised in Article One:

1. The Turkish Constitution was designed, in 1982, in conformity with Turkey’s strict adherence to a single Turkish nationalism. By failing to recognise any other ethnic identity except Turkish, Turkey refuses to grant its ethnic minorities their right of self-determination.1 For the Kurds, who make up approximately 23 per cent of Turkey’s population, this refusal is felt through Turkey’s embargo of their cultural and political freedoms.

2. The boldest way by which the Turkish Government denies Kurdish people their right of self-determination is through the criminalisation of political organisations and civil society institutions which advocate Kurdish rights and freedoms. By aligning political sympathies for the Kurdish people with a separatist threat, the Turkish Government has been able to use anti-terror laws to outlaw pro-Kurdish parties, expunge their members from parliament and authorise their subsequent arrest. Since the early 1970s the Turkish Government has instigated a policy of systematically banning peaceful and legitimate Kurdish political parties. This long-standing policy has had a constraining effect upon the ability of Kurdish parties to participate in the Turkish political system.

3. A second exclusionary device takes the form of prohibitions on written Kurdish languages in election campaigns. Laws which formerly prohibited spoken Kurdish have, in the past, justified the imprisonment of members of Kurdish political parties. The number of Kurdish people arrested under the present prohibition on written Kurdish is unknown. A corollary effect of this language restriction is the preclusion of Kurdish citizens from participating in the election process, many of whom cannot read Turkish.

4. Without democratic decentralisation in the Kurdish regions, the ability of Kurdish people to contribute to the formulation of national policies is extremely limited. The establishment of a properly representative decentralised body or bodies in the Kurdish region is essential for the realisation of Article 1 of the ICESCR by Kurdish Turks.

In each successive article, KHRP cites extensive research and legal casework to demonstrate significant areas where the Turkish Government has failed sufficiently to meet its obligations under the ICESCR, in spite of statements that it makes in its initial report submitted in June 2008.

To fully appreciate the failings of the Turkish Government to ensure economic, social and cultural rights of the Kurds in Turkey, it is essential to read the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, then the report submitted by Turkey, followed by the KHRP ‘List of Issues’ report.

The ICESCR can be downloaded here (.pdf).

Turkey’s report to the Committee (June 2008) can be downloaded here (158-page Word document).

The Committee’s questions/issues (June 2010) for the Turkish delegation can be downloaded here (5-page Word document).

The KHRP ‘List of Issues’ report (May 2010) can be downloaded from the KHRP website here.

In the concluding observations, the Committee noted principal subjects of concern and provided recommendations for Turkey. KHRP welcomed, in particular, the comment that in light of the fact that Turkey ‘recognizes only Greeks, Jews and Armenians as minorities, the Committee expresses concern about the absence of a broad legislative framework for the recognition of all minorities…including the Kurds, the Roma and the Arameans.’ KHRP joined the Committee in urging Turkey to recognise all the minorities in its territory and to provide them the full opportunities to enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights and to adopt the necessary plans of action for this purpose. The full report on the Committee’s concluding observations can be downloaded at the 46th Session Website.

Below are a few excerpts from the KHRP report and their corresponding articles:

Article Two: Non-Discrimination

10. There is no comprehensive law on non-discrimination in Turkey. The existing legal framework is fragmented and refrains from incorporating sound and effective measures aimed at eradicating discrimination against the Kurds. A first step towards this goal requires that statistical information about Turkey’s ethnic or linguistic groups is obtained. As yet the Turkish authorities have failed to conduct any such census or other comprehensive survey along these lines.

12. The only legislative provision outlined in Turkey’s report which has as its specific rationale the elimination of discrimination is Article 216 of the Penal Code, which is concerned with the incitement of racial hatred. However, this provision has not been applied to oral, written or other expressions which target the Kurdish population. Further, the European Commission has criticised its discriminatory application by certain public prosecutors in order to prosecute personalities expressing “pro-Kurdish views”, rather than to punish racist remarks.

Exclusion of Kurds from definition of “minority”

13. Turkish official policy on minorities is based on the Lausanne Treaty signed on 24 July 1923, which provides protection only for non-Muslim minorities. Since the majority of Kurds follow Sunni Islam, they are excluded from minority protection. In contra-distinction to religious minorities, such as Greek-Orthodox, Armenian and Jewish peoples, the Kurdish identity is not recognised by the Turkish legal framework. As a result, Turkey’s most significant minority population are denied the rights available to non-Muslim minorities.

15. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in its Recommendation 1201 (1993) proposes the following definition: “… the expression “national minority” refers to a group of persons in a State who: a) reside in the territory of that State and are citizens thereof, b) maintain long-standing, firm and lasting ties with that state, c) display distinctive ethnic, cultural, religious or linguistic characteristics, d) are sufficiently representative, although smaller in number than the rest of the population of the State or of a region of that State, and e) are motivated by a concern to preserve together that which constitutes their common identity, including their culture, their traditions, their religion or their language.” Turkey should adopt this definition in order to give effect to Article 2 of the ICESCR. In May 2003, the European Parliamentary Commission on Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Common Security and Defence Policy condemned Turkey’s refusal to accommodate the linguistic and cultural rights of the Kurds and stressed the need for Constitutional reform. This sentiment has since been echoed by other European bodies.

Article Three: Gender Discrimination

27. The discrimination faced by Kurdish women with regard to access to education stems from Article 42 of Turkey’s Constitution, which provides that only Turkish may be taught as the mother tongue in Turkish educational institutions. A study in Turkey examining the influence of speaking Turkish on socio-economic indicators found that 90 per cent of women in the eastern and southern Turkish regions who do not speak Turkish did not finish primary school, are illiterate and are employed either as agricultural or unpaid family workers. This study further concluded that since Kurdish women and girls speak Kurdish at home, any restriction on educational opportunities will subsequently restrict any opportunities to learn Turkish and integrate into mainstream society. Although the KHRP recognises that this information precedes Turkey’s ratification of the Convention, there is a dearth of more up-to-date information about the impact of speaking Turkish on socio-economic indicators in relation to Kurdish people.

Article Eight: Right to Trade Unions

54. Restriction of trade union activities and labour rights by the Turkish authorities has a particularly negative impact on the country’s Kurdish population. Kurdish trade unionists have been subjected to allegations of involvement in terrorism, as is the case with many Kurdish politicians, socialists, lawyers and anyone else who argues for rights for the Kurds or working people. Furthermore, union activities must be carried out in Turkish, weakening the ability of Kurds to organise on their own terms. Eğitim-Sen was forced to remove a clause in its constitution supporting the right to education in one’s mother tongue. Kurds are also particularly vulnerable to the practice of ‘internal exile’ of activists, the compulsory transfer of an employee to a part of the country far from home, without the possibility of being accompanied by spouse or family. An unspoken but well understood element of this practice is that it involves uprooting a person generally of Kurdish origin, ethnicity and language group and transferring him to a Turkish-speaking area where they will be more or less isolated.

Article Fifteen: Cultural Rights

Freedom of expression is not applied in the same manner to the Kurdish language as it is to the Turkish language. Furthermore, the Turkish Government links Kurdish associations to terror groups.

116. Such discrimination is also found in the area of expression of Kurdish culture. Celebrations such as Newroz, the Kurdish new-year celebration, are limited and overseen by the authorities. The Government’s refusal to support such cultural issues results in violence and arbitrary detention.

117. Kurdish culture is also found in the Kurdish alphabet which is different to the Turkish alphabet. The Kurdish alphabet has the additional letters of “Q, W, X”, which are prohibited in Turkey. Although such letters can be used in Kurdish names people will be unable to register them for official use. The recent case of Kemal Taşkin and Others v Turkey highlights these issues the Kurdish people struggle with.

Self-congratulatory end note: In its report to the 46th Session Committee in Geneva, KHRP (in Article 13: Right to Education) cited Kurdistan Commentary’s report on Mother-tongue education in Kurdish (06 Dec 2009). Kurdistan Commentary is proud to be a contributing part of this process.


#TwitterKurds takes the civil disobedience campaign online

A campaign on Twitter is underway to raise awareness of the situation of the Kurds in Turkey and to bring the situation to the attention of the international media.

The campaign, dubbed #TwitterKurds, has been organised by UK-based blogger and human-rights activist, Hevallo, who says that journalists in the UK tend to shy away from reporting on the Kurds saying ‘there is no real link to the UK and there are other conflicts that are more newsworthy.’

While other conflicts across the globe capture the world’s attention, the Kurds’ struggle for ethnic and linguistic equality in Turkey goes largely unnoticed in the mainstream press. Hevallo says that one of the main issues hindering the ability of global media to report on this particular conflict fairly and accurately is that ‘Turkish propaganda and psychological misinformation cloud the issue and many people still regard the Kurds’ legitimate struggle for basic rights in Turkey as “terrorism.”’

The Kurd as ‘terrorist’ is an all too common theme in the Turkish press and often in European press as well. Little effort is made to reach beyond the Turkish propaganda machine and clichés to reveal the truth.

The #TwitterKurds campaign will attempt to do just that by reaching out to journalists, politicians, bloggers and social media activists, policymakers, news agencies and human rights organisations with the message: ‘Speak Out About the Repression of the Kurds in Turkey’ and to give the Kurdish people a voice as they struggle daily on the streets of Turkey against a repressive regime.

Kurdish politician and leader of the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), Selahattin Demirtaş, said acts of civil disobedience planned by the BDP and the DTK (Democratic Society Congress) will be democratic and peaceful. ‘Don’t send the security forces against us; if you are going to send someone, send government representatives, send the interior minister. Security forces aren’t our counterpart to talk to; our counterparts are the politicians,’ he said.

However, security forces have been sent against them. The civil disobedience campaign has been met with batons, tear gas and high-pressure water cannons. In fact, just since the beginning of this year Turkish police have already used up their entire annual stock of tear gas in repressing demonstrations. In the same amount of time thousands of Kurdish protesters have been arrested.

Given the difficulties of getting this information to the attention of the global press, #TwitterKurds plans three days of mass Tweeting to get the message out. Turkey’s general election is slated for 12 June, just three weeks away. Over the next three Fridays (27 May, 03 and 10 June) in the run up to the elections, while Kurds are boycotting the official Turkish Imams and praying outside of the mosques instead, Kurds and friends of Kurds will be Tweeting en masse to speak out with one voice against the suppression of the Kurds in Turkey.

This collective suppression of the Kurdish population is due, in part, to ‘the silence in the international community,’ says Hevallo. By Tweeting, he says, ‘we are able to reach a wider audience than say, Facebook. If we are disciplined and smart about this, a well-constructed Tweet with a link to a well-written article, photograph or video can convey our message and give the Kurdish side’s point of view. Our Tweets will expose the truth about the Kurdish question in Turkey.’

Politicians are making the rounds in Kurdish areas of SE Turkey trying to garner votes. Yesterday Turkish PM Erdoğan was on the campaign trail in the city of Şirnex (Şırnak in Turkish). Surrounded by rooftop snipers and army helicopters he announced to the crowd of Kurds: ‘My brothers, we will build new hospitals, airports, schools and health clinics. For us [the party in power], there is no separation between a Turk and a Kurd. Let us serve you.’

Kurds have four demands and hospitals, airports, schools and health clinics are not among them, though this is a step up from the washing machines and dishwashers offered in the 2009 election.

Kurds are engaging in a massive campaign of civil disobedience for the right to education in Kurdish, the immediate release of imprisoned Kurdish politicians, an end to Turkey’s military operations against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and the abolishment of Turkey’s 10 percent election threshold law for parliamentary representation.

‘Until our demands are heard by the government and until concrete steps are taken, we will remain on the fields and on the squares,’ said Demirtaş.

#TwitterKurds says that until Kurdish voices are heard by the international media and until people start paying attention, the campaign will remain on the Twitter timelines.

Join the campaign at #TwitterKurds!

Azadî Friday: from Qamişlo to Houran

20 May 2011

Îna Azadî   جمعة آزادي   Freedom Friday

Kurdish opposition sites on Facebook have come together to make Şoreşa Ciwanên Kurd the official FB site of the Kurdish revolution in Syria and they are calling this Friday ‘Îna Azadî’ or Freedom Friday in Kurdish. Other opposition FB groups have followed suit and put up banners that have ‘azadî’ in Kurdish, and also spelled out in Arabic letters ( آزادي). Many have also included the Arabic word for freedom (الحرية). Some sites have included the tag lines ‘From Qamişlo to Houran’ to show support for protesters nationwide, and ‘The Syrian people will not be humiliated.’ Everyone will be protesting tomorrow to demand freedom and the restoration of dignity to the people.

Below are some of the creative banners on these FB sites.

Kurdish Awakening in Syria

After taking the lead in Friday’s demonstrations, waving Syrian flags emblazoned with the word ‘AZADÎ’ (Kurdish for freedom), Kurds in Syria have taken another bold step. Yesterday the National Movement of Kurdish Parties in Syria threw its political weight behind the mainstream opposition and announced its own initiative to resolve the current crisis in Syria. Twelve Kurdish political party leaders gathered in Qamişlo to make the announcement, demanding ‘concrete steps’ be taken to end the repression and transform the country into a democracy.

The political group, in its first official statement since the uprising in Syria began more than two months ago, has outlined a comprehensive plan for democratic change and fundamental reform at all levels. The plan is an effort to end one-party rule and the monopoly of power, and to build a modern, civil state that would ensure justice and equality of rights and, ultimately, achieve a true partnership of all citizens in the management of affairs of the country.

Syrian authorities announced on Friday plans for a ‘national dialogue’, but Kurdish leaders say that there are essential steps and reforms that need to be implemented before any national dialogue can take place.

Mohammad Ismail, a senior member of the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria said that the Kurdish declaration was issued to show that Kurds ‘are a part of the national struggle for freedom in Syria.’ Kurds, the country’s largest ethnic minority, make up some 10% of the country’s population, estimated to be around 22 million.

In making the announcement, the Kurdish National Movement made it clear that it believes that a comprehensive national dialogue is the best solution to end the current turmoil in the country. However, to make the dialogue work reforms need to be in place first.

The declaration called on the government to refrain from the use of violence and allow protesters to freely express themselves, to implement the presidential decree lifting the state of emergency and martial law, and to abolish all special courts and laws. It called for the release of all prisoners of conscience and political prisoners and to allow political movements and parties to publicly pursue their political activities. It asked for the cancellation of all discriminatory policies and decrees applied to the rights of the Kurdish people, the reinstatement of citizenship for the ‘maktoumeem’, and to focus attention on Kurdish areas of the country that have been neglected in the past.

They asked for an inclusive national conference without the dominance of any one party, the first of its functions being the adoption of a new draft constitution that eliminates the privilege to any one party, and includes the recognition of national, political and linguistic pluralism. Most importantly, it would need to offer constitutional recognition of the Kurds and the protection and security of cultural rights of all national minorities and religious groups in the country.

The declaration also recommends the separation of legislative, executive and judiciary powers, and the independence and strengthening of the judiciary as well as media and press freedoms.

Watch videos of the reading of the announcement in Qamişlo yesterday. Mohamed Mousa, the Secretary of Kurdish Left Party, is reading the declaration.

Part One

Part Two

New book: Kurdish Identity, Disourse, and New Media

About the book
Informed by the interdisciplinary approach of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and theories of identity, nation, and media, the study investigates the ways Kurds, the world’s largest stateless nation, use satellite television and Internet to construct their identities. This book examines the complex interrelationships between ethno-national identities, discourses, and new media. Not only offers the first study of discursive constructions of Kurdish identity in the new media, this book also the first CDA informed comparative study of the contents of the two media. The study pushes the boundaries of the growing area of studies of identity, nationalism and transnationalism, discourse studies, minority language, and digital media.

Dr. Sheyholislami’s book will be available in mid-June from Palgrave Macmillan.

-Discourse, Media, and Nation
-Kurdish Identity
-Kurdish Media: From Print to Facebook
-Discourse Practices of Kurdistan TV (KTV)
-Textual Analysis of KTV
-Discourse Practices of Kurdish Internet
-Textual Analysis of Kurdish Internet
-Discussion and Conclusion

About the author
Jaffer Sheyholislami was born in 1960 in the city of Mahabad in Mukriyan Province. He is currently an Assistant Professor at the School of Linguistics and Language Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. He teaches courses in the areas of applied linguistics and discourse analysis on a variety of topics such as language and power/ideology, sociology of language, research and practice in academic writing, and language and media.

He earned his PhD in Communication at Carleton in 2008. His main research interests lie with a critical understanding of language and other semiosis in social life. Currently, with Co-editors Dr. Amir Hassanpour and Dr. Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, he is preparing an edited volume on the Kurdish language with a focus on the social, political and legal aspects of the language and how these are intertwined with education and identity in Kurdistan. His other areas of research have included: critical discourse analysis of the representation of Kurds in the US and Canada, Iranian ethnic media and citizenship in Canada, the semiotic construction of Canadian national identity, the dialogic nature of blogging in educational settings, and the place of blogging in the construction of Kurdish imagined communities.

Kurds in the middle: Turkish-Syrian relations

Turkish PM Erdoğan and Syrian President al-Assad

The demonstrations spreading through Syria will surely have implications beyond Syria’s borders. Syria’s neighbour to the north, Turkey, seems particularly concerned that the unrest may spread too far and affect growing Turco-Syrian relations. Relations—political, economic, and otherwise—have been improving at a brisk pace over the past decade. But relations between the two neighbours have not always been so friendly.

The decade of the 1990s, the last decade in Syria of the safe haven for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan or PKK), saw severely strained relations between Damascus and Ankara; almost leading to war. Syria tolerated the PKK’s presence, if not tacitly embracing it. Damascus had little, if any, weight in political or other battles against Ankara and used the PKK as a proxy against its enemy to the north, all the while pretending the PKK were not even present on its soil.

While Damascus allowed the PKK militants to operate and train in Syria, there were red lines. The major limitation was that they leave the domestic Kurdish population alone. There was, however, great interest amongst the Syrian Kurds in the goings-on of the PKK and other groups operating within Syrian borders.

Due to the numerous restrictions placed on Kurdish cultural expression in Syria, Kurds there had always celebrated their culture in private. The PKK’s presence in the country managed to pull the Syrian Kurds from a private sphere existence to a more public one, which mostly happened through PKK-organised Newroz and other cultural celebrations in Kurdish areas of the country.

In 1998 PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was forced from Syria and the PKK moved out leaving a vacuum in its wake. Syrian Kurds had been politicised to some extent by the PKK’s presence and, after the group’s departure, Kurdish political parties stepped in to fill the void.

Around that same time Turkey and Syria signed a security agreement (the Adana Agreement), paving the way for improved relations between the two countries. And since that time these Kurdish political parties, though illegal and not well coordinated amongst themselves, have attempted to speak for the Kurds of Syria.

Watching al-Assad address the nation on Wednesday.

As mentioned previously, relations between Turkey and Syria have continued to improve, particularly since the AKP’s rise to power in Turkey in 2002, paving the way for increased trade and military cooperation. However, one issue continues to concern Ankara. That issue, as before, is the Kurds and the 800km common border between the two countries. So worried are the Turks that Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkish National Intelligence (MIT), was dispatched this past Sunday to Damascus to express Ankara’s concerns about the spreading social unrest in Syria.

Two years ago the two countries formed a High Level Strategic Cooperation Council (HSCC) and held their first joint military exercises just under a year ago, in April 2010.

Turkish PM Erdoğan and Syrian President al-Assad have been speaking frequently on the phone since protests started spreading from Dera’a in the southwest corner of Syria.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has conferred with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Mouallem to offer Turkey’s assistance in the event of a reform process towards a democratic regime.

A major concern for Turkey is the Kurdish minority in Syria. Some 10% of the population, they face severe restrictions on cultural and linguistic expression, and systematic and pervasive human rights abuses by the Ba’athist regime. The state of emergency that has been in force since 1963, gives the security agencies virtually unlimited authority to arrest suspects and hold them incommunicado for prolonged periods without charge.

Why does Turkey fear the collapse of the Assad regime? The downfall of the current Ba’athist regime could perhaps lead to some autonomy for Syria’s Kurds. Turkey ultimately fears a strengthening of Pan-Kurdish aspirations for an independent state. Ankara sees Damascus as a key player in helping restrain Kurdish ambitions and subsequently see its help in the reform process as a way to keep al-Assad in power.

Linguistic mosaic along the Syrian-Turkish border (click for larger image)

While Turkey has eased—if ever so imperceptibly and begrudingly—its restrictions on Kurdish expressions of culture and language in the past several years, Damascus still does not acknowledge the Kurds’ existence and brutally represses any attempts on their part to promote ethnic equality.

Turkish PM Erdoğan, speaking on Monday to journalists, confirmed he had urged the Syrian president over the weekend to adopt a conciliatory spirit with his people.

‘We advised Mr Assad that responding to the people’s years-old demands positively, with a reformist approach, would help Syria overcome the problems more easily,’ said Erdoğan.

Whether responding to Erdoğan’s advice or trying to pre-empt the Kurds from joining the wave of protests across the country, al-Assad has begun discussing reform. In an announcement today, SANA (the official state news agency) said the president had formed a panel to study granting citizenship to stateless Kurds living in Syria.

In 1962 the Syrian government carried out a special census in the al-Hasakeh province which stripped almost 150,000 Kurds of their citizenship. These Kurds and their descendents have been stateless for decades now, prohibited from public sector employment, banned from travelling abroad, and unable to marry Syrian citizens. Today the stateless Kurds number some 300,000.

The announcement said that the census committee would complete its work before 15 April, at which time al-Assad would issue a decree based on the committee’s decision.

On Tuesday al-Assad accepted the resignation of his 32-member cabinet. One news agency has reported that a member of the Syrian Kurdish community will be offered a high-level position in the new cabinet. This would be more of a symbolic gesture aimed at appeasing Kurdish discontent in the country.

Kurds, for the most part, have so far stayed out of the current protests.


Karayilan: Syria must recognise Kurdish identity. Kurdish Info, 30 March 2011.

Couvas, Jacques. Why Erdoğan can’t let Assad down. IPS, 29 March 2011.

Karam, Zeina. Syrian president orders study on emergency laws. Bellingham Herald (AP), 31 March 2011.

Stateless Kurds in Syria. Report No. 5. KurdWatch, March 2010. (opens as .pdf)

Sinclair, Christian. Silencing of Kurdish Voices in Syria. Paper presented at ‘New Voices, New Media, New Agendas?’ Workshop sponsored by Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO), Berlin, February 2011.

More than one million signatures for mother-tongue education in Kurdish

1,100,000 signatures have been collected within the framework of the campaign launched two months ago by Democratic Society Congress (DTK) to demand ‘education in mother tongue’ and were presented to the Assembly Petition Committee of the Turkish Parliament on Thursday.

The petition, which began two months ago after the call of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) to demand ‘education in Kurdish mother language’, has ended. While more than 1,100,000 signatures were collected within the framework of the campaign, it was underscored that the number of signatures would have exceeded 10 million if the campaign had not been carried out symbolically. Signatures were collected to present to Speaker’s Office, UNESCO, the UN and the EU.

About 10 packets of paper full of signatures collected under the campaign with the support of institutions such as HAK-PAR (Rights and Liberties Party), KADEP (Participatory Democracy Party), İHD (Turkish Human Rights Association), MAZLUMDER (Association of Human Rights and Solidarity for Oppressed People), Eğitim Sen (Education and Science Worker’s Union) and MKM (Mesopotamia Cultural Centre) were taken from the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) general building to the Assembly. Nearly a million signatures collected with same demands will also be conveyed to UNESCO, UN and EU officials. According to information received, some of the signatures will be sent to the UN Representative in Ankara on Monday while the other two institutions are expected to respond to the appointment request.

DTK Co-chair Aysel Tuğluk and BDP Group Vice-President Ayla Akat Ada, representatives of organisations supporting the campaign, held a meeting in the Assembly. Speaking at the meeting, Tuğluk remarked that 1,100,000 signatures were collected and they had reached their goal in a very short time by turning the campaign into a common struggle. Tuğluk also pointed out that the problem of mother-tongue education can not be handled separately from the Kurdish problem and added; ‘The Kurdish issue is a multi-dimensional problem of rights and freedoms. This hundred-year problem can be solved through the extension of rights and freedoms which passes through dialogue and reconciliation.’

'I will rip your tongue out, Minister!'

The Mother-tongue education in Kurdish debate is a contentious one; a red line in politics that no major political party wishes to cross.

Earlier in the week, Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu and MHP deputy Ahmet Duran Bulut got into a heated debate over education in a native language.

Bulut, accusing the Education Minister of supporting mother-tongue education, said: ‘The education minister is talking about two native tongues. I will rip your tongue out, minister.’

Çubukçu responded in a written statement saying that she was ‘appalled by his threats, and find[s] it absolutely troubling for humanity, especially given that I have not made any statements expressing support toward education in two languages. I have always been clear on the matter. Turkey’s official language is Turkish, and education is in Turkish.’

In September, PM Erdoğan spoke on the issue saying, ‘You can open courses in your mother tongue. But if you expect us to allow official education in the mother tongue, we will not be in for that. The official language in Turkey is Turkish.’

For more on the issue of mother-tongue education in Kurdish, read Kurdistan Commentary’s essay ‘Mother tongue education in Kurdish’ from December 2009.

Thousands march for Kurdish language rights

Tens of thousands of Kurds held a huge demonstration to mark UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day in Diyarbakır. Kurds also demonstrated in other cities across the region including Hakkari and Van. Marches were held in Europe as well.

Taking the lead in yesterday’s demonstration was the organisation Tevgera Ziman û Perwerdahiya Kurdî (TZPKurdî, Kurdish Language and Education Movement in English). The head of the BDP’s (Democratic Society Party) local organisation M. Ali Aydın, KURDİ-DER’s director Burhan Zorooğlu and BDP deputy Hamit Geylani were the key speakers and addressed the placard-carrying crowd of thousands.

Several months ago, TZPKurdî began a campaign called ‘Read, Speak, Write in Kurdish Everywhere’, launched against the prohibition of the Kurdish language in certain spheres in Turkey.

TZPKurdî has suggested three measures to resist the repression of Kurdish in Turkey: 1) to promote the Kurdish language in education, 2) to speak the language in private as well as in public venues and 3) to speak it at all political events. Currently, the use of Kurdish in the political arena is forbidden according to the Law on Political Parties.

Dressed in Kurdish national clothes Kurdish women also participated in the demonstration and called on the Turkish government to stop all restrictions on the use of Kurdish language. Demonstrators held banners reading ‘without mother language there is no life.’

KURDİ-DER’s Rifat Öztürk read the joint statement of the NGOs and institutions supporting the demonstration.

Öztürk said there is an ongoing denial of Kurdish language since the creation of Turkish Republic about 80 years ago. He criticised Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s approach to the Kurdish question and his defence of the motto of the Turkish state: ‘One Language, One Nation.’

He mentioned Erdoğan’s statement about cultural rights of Turkish immigrants in Germany where he labelled assimilation a ‘crime against humanity’ and called on the Turkish government to recognise the linguistic rights of Kurdish people in Turkey.

Öztürk also called on the Turkish courts to recognise the rights of Kurdish politicians whose requests to defend themselves in Kurdish have been routinely denied. When spoken in court, Kurdish is often referred to by the presiding judges as an ‘unknown’ language.

‘Like all the other nations and communities mother language is sacred and one of the basic values of the society for the Kurdish people,’ Öztürk said.

BDP deputy Hamit Geylani also made a speech saying that the trial of Kurdish politicians in Diyarbakır is a trial where the Kurdish language is being tried. ‘There will be no freedom until or language is free,’ he said, and added that ‘the struggle of Kurdish people for their language will go on.’

Amnesty International (AI) has now recognised Kurdish and will began to use it on its website. AI signed a protocol with the KURDİ-DER Batman (Elîh) branch in order to translate all written documents into Kurdish for one year.

In February 2009, Ahmet Türk, then head of the now defunct DTP, spoke Kurdish in the Turkish parliament to honour International Mother Language Day. TRT quickly cut the live broadcast.

To learn more about the issue of mother-tongue education in Kurdish, read Kurdistan Commentary’s essay on the subject here:

All photos below of the demonstrations are from the website Yüksekova Haber.


Tens of thousands marked International Mother Language Day. Firat News Agency, 21 February 2011.

Kurdish people in Europe step up Mother Language Campaign. Firat News Agency, 21 February 2011.

Who’s mad as hell? Anyone? Kurdistan Commentary, 16 November 2010.

DTP Leader speaks Kurdish in Parliament. Kurdistan Commentary, 24 February 2009.

Death of Arabisation mastermind, Mohammed Talib Hilal

from Gemya Kurda

Mohammed Talib Hilal, author of the infamous 1963 Arabisation booklet ‘A Study of the Jazira Province from National, Social and Political Aspects,’ died on Wednesday (09 Feb) at the age of 80. Hilal’s ‘security report’ is one of the most racist documents ever produced by a Ba’ath party official. The report, published on 12 November 1963, contained a 12-point plan that was meant as a guide to action and a source of inspiration in the management of the Kurdish issue in Syria.

The twelve points of his plan, briefly, were:

1) the displacement of Kurds from their lands to the interior

2) the denial of education

3) the handing over of ‘wanted’ Kurds to Turkey

4) the denial of employment possibilities

5) an anti-Kurdish propaganda campaign

6) deportation of Kurdish ‘ulama (clerics) who would be replaced by Arabs

7) implementation of a ‘divide-and-rule’ policy against the Kurds

8) the colonisation of Kurdish lands by Arabs

9) the militarisation of the ‘northern Arab belt’ and the deportation of Kurds from this area

10) the creation of ‘collective farms’ for the new Arab settlers

11) the denial of the right to vote or hold office to anyone lacking knowledge of Arabic

12) the denial of citizenship to any non-Arab wishing to live in the area

Hilal’s plan was adopted in 1965 by the government and the Ba’ath Syrian Regional leadership. When the report became public in 1968 the government denied that it was an official government opinion and tried to assure to public that it was only Hilal’s personal opinion.

al-Hasakeh region

Hilal was the head of internal security in Hasakeh at the time. He said Kurds were violent by nature and destructive and described Kurdish as an ‘unintelligible language which was used to conceal treason and separatist plotting.’ He prescribed the total denial of Kurdish linguistic rights saying that the ‘Arabisation of education alone would not achieve full culture assimilation’ of the Kurds.

Additionally, Hilal wished to create tension within Kurdish communities by suggesting that ‘some members [of the Kurdish community] were of Arab lineage.’ The plan for the anti-Kurdish campaign was ‘to condition [the Arabs] against the Kurds, then to undermine the situation of the latter and sow in the midst the seeds of distress and insecurity.’

An excerpt of the report shows the racist attitude towards the Kurdish population in Syria:

The bells of Jazira sound the alarm and call on the Arab conscience to save this region, to purify it of all this scum, the dregs of history unit, as befits its geographical situation, it can offer up its revenues and riches, along with those of the other provinces of this Arab territory… The Kurdish question, now that the Kurds are organising themselves, is simply a malignant tumour which has developed and been developed in a part of the body of the Arab nation. The only remedy which we can properly apply thereto is excision.

The Arab Belt policy was adopted, implemented and later abandoned by Hafez al-Asad in 1976. But remnants of Hilal’s ideologies are still seen today. The most recent example was the implementation of Decree 49, which requires state approval for the sale and lease of land in all border regions of Syria.


موت المجرم عراب السياسة الشوفينية بحق الكرد في سوريا محمد طلب هلال Birati, 12 February 2011.

الإعلان عن موت علي كيمياوي سوريا Sawt al-Iraq, 12 February 2011.

McDowall, David (2007). A Modern History of the Kurds, 3rd ed. I.B. Tauris, London.

Paul, James A. (1990). Human rights in Syria. Middle East Watch.

Tejel, Jordi (2009). Syria’s Kurds: History, Politics, and Society. Routledge, London.

Yildiz, Kerim and Georgina Fryer (2004). The Kurds: Culture and Language Rights. Kurdish Human Rights Project, London.

EU Legal Observers Barred from Turkey’s ‘Landmark’ Trial on Kurdish Rights

Richard Howitt, MEP


News release for immediate use
28 January 2011


European observers were barred from a Turkish court room today (Friday), after judges denied the right of 102 defendants to use the country’s minority Kurdish language in what are alleged to be political prosecutions.

Representatives of ten EU countries in an official delegation of the Party of European Socialists were denied access to the ‘KCK’ trial at the Sixth Heavy Penalty Supreme Court in Diyarbakir, Turkey, in which they were due to be international observers.

The trial concerns charges of membership of an illegal organisation – code for terrorism in Turkey – but defendants claim they have been arrested for taking part in peaceful political, trade union and human rights activities.

British Labour Euro MP Richard Howitt who is Human Rights Spokesperson for the European Parliament’s Socialist and Democrat Group was one of those barred and says that personal assurances from Turkey’s Minister of Justice received by the group that defendants were able to mount their defence in their mother tongue had proven to be false.

Richard Howitt MEP said:

It is extremely worrying that the one thing we have been able to witness today is a continuing confrontation over the use of the Kurdish language, which has prevented the proper conduct of what are said to be landmark trials.

It is impossible for us to comment on whether or not these are political prosecutions, but it is right for us to protest against the judicial decision to prevent observers from seeing the cases proceed in the defendants’ absence.

The court room was empty, so why not let us in? Justice was not seen to be done.

Editor’s Note:

The Diyarbakir case is one of 15 cases which Turkey’s Kurdish BDP political party claims have targeted its officials, mayors as well as other political activists. International organisations have recorded that the prosecutions result from 1650 arrests, with a majority of defendants having served 17 months in jail awaiting trial. The BDP says it is committed to wholly peaceful means to achieve civil, political and cultural rights for the country’s Kurdish minority, but PKK terrorism particularly in the mainly Kurdish South-East of the country continues to be a serious threat. The BDP is an observer organisation to the Party of European Socialists, including Britain’s Labour Party.

Reclaiming the Mosul Vilayet: Turkey’s economic, cultural and political re-occupation of Kurdistan, Part Two

Written by W. Karda (W_Karda@yahoo.com) with editorial assistance by KB

Part Two

The story continues from yesterday’s analysis of the economic invasion with an in-depth look at the cultural and political invasions happening in tandem with the economic one.

While the ‘economic invasion’ seems to be the core of many reports and articles, Turkish control goes beyond simply building shopping malls and kebab shops. Perhaps one of the more insidious and threatening issues that has accompanied the earlier mentioned topic is the ‘cultural invasion’ that is spreading like wildfire throughout the Kurdish population in South Kurdistan.

Turkish National Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu

Today local channels in the Kurdistan region show several Turkish songs for each local or western one. They present Turkish soap operas and series, even ‘Valley Of The Wolves’ (Kurtlar Vadisi), which is basically about a Turkish superhero agent, a combination of Rambo and 007, coming to Iraq on a mission against the Americans. The Kurds are portrayed as backwards or as terrorists in these shows, but they are still watched by the locals with great enthusiasm.

As a part of this issue, the Turks seem to have concentrated their efforts on the education system in Kurdistan. Last December, the Turkish National Education Minister Nimet Çubukçu attended an international conference on higher education in Erbil; supposedly to improve education in the region. Her ministry stated that ‘Ankara attaches high importance to Iraq’s initiatives in the education field.’ Çubukçu met several Iraqi officials at the Turkish Consulate General in Erbil, then she visited the Turkish Cihan and Fezalar Universities, built in Erbil by Turkish companies, and afterwards visited several Turkmen schools. [1] [2] [3]

But the genuineness of such ‘help’ from the Turks is questionable. This is all the more apparent if one exams the oppression of the Kurds in Turkey. Restrictions on the Kurdish language prohibit its use in public education, Kurdish TV channels and publications in Kurdish are banned or forced to close down, and Kurdish is not allowed in parliament or in the courts.

Riding the coattails of this cultural invasion is the spread of the Turkish language. The fact is that within a couple of years Turkish could easily replace Arabic, which is used as a second language in Kurdistan. One reason for this is that many businesses are controlled by Turks. Kurdish youth realise they are pretty much obliged to learn Turkish so that they may have better a chance of getting a job and communicating with the Turkish management at these companies.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu at opening of Işık University

This linguistic Turkification phenomenon can be dated back to 1993, with the establishment of the first Turkish school in Kurdistan. That first school was Işık College in Erbil, and it was followed by the opening of Nilüfer College in 1994, Işık Primary School in 2005, and Işık Kindergarten in 2006. Işık University was opened in 2008 in Erbil. The Gülen website says about these schools that what ‘makes us so happy is that each and every one of these kids grows up as lovers of Turkey and the Turkish people.’ [4]

Today there are about 15 of these Turkish schools in Kurdistan, with an enrolment of over 5,000. They are, to a certain extent, propaganda machines used to brainwash Kurdish youth and teach them from a very young age the ‘greatness’ of Turkish ‘superiority.’ One student explained that the schools are there for ‘nothing more than teaching naïve pupils in southern Kurdistan how great Turkey, the Ottoman and the Turkish people are.’ [5]

Another Turkish school is slated to open in the Kurdish town of Halabja in which education will be in English, Arabic and Turkish languages, but unsurprisingly, not in Kurdish. [6]

Why do the local KRG authorities tolerate and even support such so called ‘schools?’ While the whole region had one hour of electricity in the 1990s, the Turkish schools had 24 hours of electricity. They were given the best buildings and the best services. Even Nechirvan Barzani himself, the then Prime Minister of Kurdistan, attended the inauguration ceremony of the Turkish university, while neither he nor any other high-ranking officials attended the opening of any of the other university in the region, not even the American University of Iraq-Suleimaniya (AUI-S). And, of course, a Turkish firm is building the new AUI-S campus. [7]

The Gülen organisation has openly supported the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the ruling party in present-day Turkey. It is a highly religious movement, believing in the theories of the most influential Islamic thinker in Turkish Republican history, Said-i-Nursi, who was a Kurd. Hence, they are using the religious background in an attempt to turn the Kurds into state puppets.

‘The AKP and Gülen share a common vision of how to solve the Kurdish problem,’ says Hakan Tahmaz, the author of a book on the Kurds. ‘Both use the rhetoric of a Golden Age at the time of the Ottoman Empire, when Turks and Kurds were united by their Muslim faith.’

The Gülen movement has ties to various Turkish media outlets including the newspaper Zaman and the TV channel Samanyolu TV. Until 2006, Zaman used euphemisms such as ‘eastern tribes’ to refer to the Kurds. Samanyolu TV airs programmes such as Tel Türkiye (One Turkey), which reflect a similar position. Liberal Islamist intellectual Serdar Yilmaz compared Tel Türkiye to the modernist ideology of the early Republic. ‘It doesn’t ask why villagers are sceptical of the newcomer, or why they support the PKK. It presents them as imbeciles who can only be sorted out by an enlightened westerner,’ he said.

The fundamental aim of the Gülen Movement and its schools, Yilmaz adds, is to create ‘moral, obedient citizens.’ Hence their interest in the Kurds. ‘For them, the Kurds are the [Turkish] Republic’s naughty children who need to be taught proper manners.’ [8]

Fezalar's Selahadin Ayyubi College

With this knowledge, why do the Kurds in the South, and especially the elites, allow their children to be taught by the Turks when they think that Kurdish should be annihilated? When speaking it is enough to be labelled a ‘terrorist’? When members of parliament turn on their colleagues for using it? When it is still considered a ‘non-existent’ or ‘unknown’ language? When towns and villages and even animals names have been changed? When Kurdish letters of the alphabet are banned? When Kurdish channels and publications run the risk of closure and Kurdish writers and journalists are put behind bars for hundreds of years?

As a rightfully worried writer stated: ‘What’s bad is to fill Kurdistan with only one type of investment…Turkish. For a day to come in which [the Turks] seize what is behind and in front of the Kurds, for a time to come in which our children forget how to say kaka and replace it with kardeş. Hence, we will lose the whole of Kurdistan not just Kirkuk…It seems like this excessive “goodwill” from the Kurds will become a nightmare for eternity…The balance must be restored to its natural condition before Kurds become strangers in their own Kurdistan.’ [9]

While it seems like Turkey has been able to completely integrate the Kurdistan region through economic and cultural means, its influence politically is no less dominant, and it has also been able to direct much of the political machinations in the cities which lie outside the borders of Kurdistan region, namely Kirkuk and Mosul, hence completing its dominance over the region once called Mosul Vilayet.

In a recent article ‘Ankara’s Neo-Ottoman Policy’ the author also questioned Turkey’s involvement in Kirkuk. ‘Is the present dispute over Kirkuk between the Iraqi Kurds, Arabs and Turkmans or between the Iraqi Kurds and Ankara? While Ankara tells Iraqis that they “cannot impose a solution on the others [Turkmans],” it turns around and dictates its own solution on them by calling for a special status for Kirkuk in order to empower its Turkman proxies in Iraq.’ [10]

Turkey’s role in Kirkuk and its influence on the decisions of political issues in the city were explained earlier, but what is also worth noting is that in 2003, the previous Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yaşar Yakış stated that Turkey wants a representative of its own in the Iraqi government that will be established after the fall of Saddam Hussein. ‘Because we know the people involved better than anyone and we can stop the Americans from making mistakes,’ Yakış explained. [11]

In fact Turkey already had a representative in Iraq, namely the ITF (Iraqi Turkmen Front), a Turkish political puppet-party that was founded by the Turkish army in 1995 with all its usual anti-Kurdish slogans and decisions made and refined in Ankara but publicised and implemented in Iraq. [12] [13] [14]

And through its influence, Turkey with its puppets has played significant roles in delaying the national census and Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. They also have increased tensions amongst the ethnic groups of the city who had previously coexisted peacefully for centuries.

Turkey is also heavily supporting the anti-Kurdish Al-Hadba party in Mosul in various ways. For instance, Turkey is working on opening a satellite TV channel for al-Hadba. As one politician clarified: ‘Since 2003 and the fall of Saddam Hussein, Turkey has worked effectively to organise nationalist Arabs in Mosul with the aim of using them against Kurdish power in the province; moreover, Turkey also seeks to control the province’s economy, which has been very successful.’

Al-Hadba political poster from 2010 elections

This politician also mentioned that most of the support for al-Hadba comes from the Turkish consulate in Mosul, which Turkey opened after 2003. ‘Until recently, Turkey’s only consulate in all Iraq was in Mosul city…the Turkish consul in Mosul is the true governor of Mosul.’

Turkey’s support for al-Hadba was also mentioned in the WikiLeaks cables. An April 2009 cable noted that Turkey ‘played an unhelpful role in recent Iraqi provincial elections through its clandestine financial support of the anti-Kurdish al-Hadba Gathering.’ [15]

It is also worth noting that today there are 13 permanent Turkish military bases as well as 3,235 Turkish officers, spies and gendarmerie inside KRG territory, with all sorts of military equipment ranging from BKC guns to armoured vehicles and tanks. These bases were established in early 1990s to carry out military activities, intelligence gathering and spying and they still seem to function and operate their anti-Kurdish agendas from inside Kurdistan. [16]

In late December 2010, Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan denied the existence of Kurdish nationality and language in his country when he said, ‘[t]here is one and only one language in this country and this is Turkish. There is one and only one nationality and this is the Turkish nationality. There is one and only one flag and this is the Turkish flag.’

This is the kind of rhetoric that has dominated Turkish-nationalist discourse since independence. As a result, massacres, genocides and total annihilation have been the only policy the Turks have utilised against the Kurds. As such, one must wonder why the KRG greets such Turkish invasions with open arms, and whether the Turkish stance will be any less-nationalistic, chauvinist and fascist towards Kurds across the border.

There are nationalist slogans posted as you enter the cities of Diyarbakır and Van such as ‘Happy is he who calls himself a Turk’ or ‘Be proud of being a Turk!’ It is not impossible to envision the day when upon entering Suleimaniya and Erbil visitors may be greeted with signs like ‘A Turk equals the universe’ or ‘A Turk among humans is like a lion among animals!’

In all regards, it almost seems like total dominance by the Turks in the Kurdistan region is imminent. The census and Article 140 have been delayed repeatedly because of Turkish interference in Iraqi internal politics. Turkmen (ITF) have been used against the Kurds in Kirkuk. And in Mosul, Turkish influence seems to be on the rise. A local politician remarked how he occasionally heard from Arab sheikhs close to al-Hadba praising the Ottoman Empire and remarking that ‘Mosul had a golden time when it was under the Ottoman Empire,’ and ‘they don’t mind if Mosul is again controlled by Turkey.’ [15]

Turkish Consul, Aydın Selcen, says about Turks and Kurds: '...our past, our cultural heritage and even our DNA is common.'

Aydın Selcen, Turkey’s General Consul in Erbil, has said: ‘Turks and Kurds have lived together for a thousand years, and they created a common culture and a common heritage together. Their past is common and their future is also in common…we have many things in common. Our frontier is common, but also our past, our cultural heritage and even our DNA is common.’ He also pointed out there is a common language between the two nations. [17]

This, of course, is absurd. It seems as though they are once again trotting out the old Turkish myths about ‘brotherly coexistence.’ And how can the ancient Hurro-Median history of the Kurds have commonalities with the more contemporary history of the Turks of a different geographic origin? For that matter, Kurdish is an Indo-European language while Turkish belongs to the Altaic family. In fact everything about Kurdish culture is different from that of the Turks. If there is commonality, it is the result of assimilation that the Turks have carried out in the North for more than a century. And it is already in covert motion in the South. What will be next then? The announcement of Sun Language Theory 2.0?

In conclusion, the fact must be clarified that no one is against friendly diplomatic and economic ties between any two countries or nations, so long as they are based on mutual respect and mutual interest, aimed at helping each other to develop, guaranteeing respect and each other’s sovereignty. But the case here is completely different. Turkey is trying to establish a stranglehold in Kurdistan to drain its goods, undermine its sovereignty and ultimately crush its rightful hope for freedom and liberty. The Turks, showing their forte in hypocrisy, on one side pretend to help the region rebuild itself with ‘investments,’ and on the other, support and push other ethnic minorities and nationalist groups to stand against the Kurds’ rightful demands for freedom.

Map of 'Turkey' on CD-Rom prepared by Istanbul’s provincial education directorate. A harbinger of Turkey's grand vision for the region?

What is most surprising is that it seems that the KRG tolerates and in fact, even supports this insidious spread of the cultural and political dominance of a nation notorious for its abusive manners and practices towards Kurds for centuries. A message from a representative of Barzani in 2003 stated: ‘We welcome the Americans and are waiting for them to liberate Iraq, but if they end up bringing a Turkish occupation instead of Saddam Hussein, we may be forced to fight.’ [11]

What seems to be the fact these days is that they themselves are bringing a Turkish occupation on the Kurds of the South and sponsoring it wholeheartedly. Some have falsely interpreted the recent developments perhaps to assuage Turkish tensions with the KRG. But even in a scenario where Kurdistan one day gains independence with the blessings of Turkey, it will still be captive to Turkish dominance due to the KRG’s extreme and singular reliance on Turkey. This would render independence futile, for Kurdistan would be at the mercy of the Turks and have to rely on the not-so-gracious hands of the Turks for decades to come.

In the end, despite all the preposterous remarks made by the Turkish Consul in Erbil, he was right in one thing when he said: ‘[in the next three years] the frontier dividing us will be rendered obsolete.’ Indeed, in the near and foreseeable future, the Kurdistan region may end up, just as the Mosul Vilayet was, a fully integrated part of Turkey in everything but name.


[1] Education minister to attend conference in Arbil. Today’s Zaman, 14 December 2010.

[2] Turkish National Education Minister in Irbil. The Free Library, 15 December 2010.

[3] Turkish National Education Minister Cubukcu in Irbil (video). Cihan Medya, 14 December 2010.

[4] Gülerce, Hüseyin. Turkish Schools in Northern Iraq. Today’s Zaman (via Fetullah Gülen’s Website), 14 November 2007.

[5] van Wilgenburg, Vladimir. “They taught us how great Turkey is”. Kurdnet, 29 August 2006.

[6] Turkish school to open in Halabja. AKNews, 25 August 2010.

[7] Acar, Yusuf. Northern Iraq’s first Turkish university opens. Today’s Zaman, 25 November 2008.

[8] Turkey: The Country’s Biggest Religious Movement Educates Kurds, and not Everyone Is Happy. EurasiaNet, 02 March 2009.

[9] Talabani, Abdul Wahab. اليس غريبا؟! الاتراك يطورون التربية والتعليم في كوردستان. PYD Rojava.

[10] Ahmed, Mohammed M.A. Ankara’s Neo-Ottoman Policy. KurdishMedia, 16 January 2011.

[11] Bar’el, Zvi. Nightmare scenarios for all. Ha’aretz, 28 February 2003.

[12] An Evaluation of Turkey’s Turkmen policy: (Part I) The unconstructive role of the Iraqi Turkmen Front in the Turkmen Policy. Iraqi Turkmen Journal, 27 March 2009.

[13] Alasor, Roni. Kirkuk Meeting without Kurdish representatives!!! Kurdish Institute of Brussels, 03 July 2008.

[14] Iraq’s Neighbors: Help or Hindrance? United States Institute of Peace.

[15] Turkey meddles in Mosul province. Kurdish Globe, 25 December 2010.

[16] Iraqi Kurdish Paper Says Turkish Military Bases Inside Kurdistan Region. iStockAnalyst, 01 August 2008.

[17] In all aspects our relations will diversify, deepen and expand. The Kurdish Globe, 08 January 2011.

Kurdish approved for use in Iraqi parliament

Iraqi Council of Representatives

Beginning next month, Kurdish-speaking members of the Iraqi Council of Representatives (parliament) in Baghdad will be allowed to use Kurdish during parliamentary sessions.

The new Iraqi constitution was approved in June 2004 and Article 4 states that ‘Arabic and Kurdish languages are the two official languages for Iraq.’ However, according to the constitution, the manner of implementing the rules of this article ‘shall not be direct but will be defined by a law.’

Apparently, that legal ‘definition’ will now include its use in Parliament and at the meetings of the Council of Ministers.

Kurdistan Alliance member Mueyed Teyib remarked that Kurdish parliamentarians could have demanded to speak their native language in previous sessions but had not introduced a demand given their knowledge of Arabic as well. He also said that ‘[a]lthough Kurdish parliamentarians know Arabic, we introduced a demand in this session to speak Kurdish for the recognition of Kurdish in the parliament as a Constitutional right.’

Teyib expressed that technical preparations are being made for Kurdish in the parliament hall, saying, ‘After the end of parliament abeyance, each Kurdish person will be free to speak Kurdish by the beginning of February.’ Teyip added that translation services will be provided in this respect, calling attention to the translation services given in other parliaments where different languages are spoken.

The Iraqi Council of Representatives has 325 seats. Forty-one of those seats (13%) are held by representatives from the three northern governorates under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. Dohuk has 10 seats; Erbil, 14 seats; Suleimaniya, 17 seats.

In Turkey, home to some 20 million Kurds, the use of Kurdish is not permitted in parliament or in the courts.


Kurdish allowed in Iraqi parliament. ANF News, 20 January 2011.

The legal status of the Kurdish language in Iraq. Niqash, 07 November 2007.