chapter  6
Turkey and the Kurdish issue: a transnationalized domestic problem
Pages 21

Turkey’s approximately 15 million Kurds constitute up to twenty per cent of the country’s population and account for about one half of all Kurds. Iraq’s roughly 4.5 million Kurds constitute around fifteen per cent of the total Iraqi population. Iran’s Kurdish population is probably a little larger than Iraq’s, although a smaller percentage of the Iranian national total, while Syria is home to in excess of 1 million ethnic Kurds.1 The traditionally and predominantly Kurdishpopulated areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria are geographically contiguous, and had formerly and for the most part been incorporated within the Ottoman empire’s borders. Thus, until the decolonization and state-creation processes of the twentieth century, interaction between the largely mountain-dwelling and frequently nomadic Kurds was relatively free and open, although linguistic, tribal, regional and religious differences ensured that Kurdish society remained fragmented and fractious. Although it might be said that ‘the Kurds only really began to think of themselves as an ethnic community from 1918 onwards [… ] for Kurdish nationalists there can be no question that the nation has existed since time immemorial, long asleep but finally aroused’ (McDowall 1996: 4). In other words, the rise of Kurdish national consciousness roughly coincided with the incorporation of Kurds into the newly created states of Turkey, Iraq and Syria, as ‘the Kurds found themselves separated from each other by default rather than by design’ (Kirisci andWinrow 1997: 85). Unsurprisingly, therefore, the twentieth century witnessed frequent Kurdish revolts against Turkish, Iranian and Arab attempts at nation building and assimilation, and in support of the self-determination that had been denied them. In short, the Kurdish ‘question’ has been a transborder one since the Ottoman collapse and is rooted in the global phenomena of decolonization, state creation, nation building and the emergence of the principle of national self-determination.