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The “Kurdish Problem” in Turkey

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  1. Introduction.
  2. Turkey's key internal conflict.
  3. How do aspiring democratic societies extend democratic discourse into the sensitive realm of security issues?
  4. The late President Turgut Ozal: Impact in reversing Turkey's traditional policy of denying the existence of the Kurds.
    1. Kurdish assimilation into the over-all Turkish population.
    2. Why did the Turkish authorities begin to reassess their position?
    3. The response of many Turks to Ozal's proposal to rescind Law 2932.
    4. The reforms made by Ozal.
  5. Conclusion.
  6. Bibliography.

The ?Kurdish issue? is Turkey's most difficult and painful problem, one that presents a vast moral dilemma for the country. The issue feeds Turkey's continuing inflation and is the major source of human rights violations and the biggest irritant in Turkey's relations with the European Union. Its most pronounced manifestation, the war in the southeast against Kurdish insurgents, has left countless thousands dead and many hundreds of thousands displaced. Despite the massive Turkish military effort and some significant gains in coping with the Kurdish Workers' party (PKK) insurgency, the fighting continues after forty years, although it has not reached the major cities of Turkey and many have long predicted. (Gunter 2004). The Kurdish conflict is in essence an ethnic problem, and not one of simple terrorism or economics, although both terrorism and economic hardship are indeed part of the current crisis.

[...] Bearers of a long tradition and culture of their own for roughly two thousand years, the Kurds today are rapidly reformulating their own ethnic identity as a community and seeking its expression in legal terms in the cultural and political realm of Turkish life. In generic terms then, the Kurdish problem represents the striving of an ethnic minority to achieve legal recognition as such, and to establish legal rights deriving there from. (Gunter 2004). How do aspiring democratic societies extend democratic discourse into the sensitive realm of security issues and domestic unrest? [...]


[...] From the other side of the ideological spectrum, Ismail Besikci, the Turkish sociologist who had spent more than a decade in prison for maintaining in his scholarly work that the Kurds constitute a separate, ethnic group, responded that these initiatives did not do much for actually relieving the Kurds of the oppression that that had become accustomed to. The problem was the idea of cultural rights, as the Kurds had not been giving to proper cultural considerations that were needed to actually make inroads in the Kurdish problem. [...]


[...] Although there was no direct reference to the Kurdish question, the protocol mentioned that in Turkey there were different ethnic groups which should be able to express and develop their cultural identities. It was argued that this would actually strengthen, not weaken the state. (Kirisci et al. 1997). The Gulf War in 1991 proved a major watershed in the development of the Kurdish problem in Turkey. Following Saddam's defeat, a de facto autonomous area in northern Iraq was created for the Iraqi Kurds, under the protection of the allied Operation Provide Comfort (OPC) housed in Turkey. [...]

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