The height of the Ottoman Empire spanned between three continents controlling much of Southeastern Europe, Western Asia and North Africa. The fall of the Ottoman Empire can be attributed to the failure of its economic structure, with the size of the empire creating difficulties integrating its diverse regions economically. The Treaty of Sèvres was the peace treaty between the Ottoman Empire and Allies at the end of World War I which divided the empire in to different spheres of influences. Modern day Turkey, the central area of the former Ottoman Empire, is an ethnic mosaic, made of Alevis, Jews, Armenians, Christian Arabs, Greek and Bulgarian immigrants, Cossacks, Circassians, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Sunni Turkmens, Cretans, Azeris, Georgians, Alevi Kurds and Sunni Kurds, Kyrgizs, Albanians and Bosnians, Roms, Yazidis, Germans settled in the East (“the kartofeln”, the potatoes) and Poles settled near Istanbul in the village called Polonezköy (“the Polish village”) (1). The largest minority in Turkey have been the Kurds. My interest in this ethnic group is because one of my close friends is a Kurd from Iraq and of course who can forget our favorite waiter in Istanbul, Turkey Hamdin Genc. I know that the Kurds are known for their constant struggle to attain an independent nation of their own but my focus will be on their history and role in Turkey as the country applies to join the European Union.
We may not have recognized or been able to distinguish exactly who are the Kurds during our interim trip but they are a considerable amount of this ethnic group in Turkey. Luckily, our group did not go to Taksim square a couple days before our trip to Asia Minor because as the news reported there was a violent demonstration of Kurds. The Kurds or Kurdish people are an Iranic people native to the Middle East, mostly inhabiting a mountainous region known as Kurdistan ("Land of the Kurds") which includes neighboring parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. They speak the Kurdish language, which is a member of the Iranian branch of Indo-European languages. The Kurds number about 25 to 30 million, the majority living in the Middle East, with significant Kurdish diaspora communities in the cities of western Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Israel, Azerbaijan, Russia, and Lebanon. Roughly 55% of the world's Kurds live in Turkey (8). Most Kurds are either bilingual or multilingual, speaking the language of their respective nation of origin, such as Arabic, Turkish and Persian as a second language alongside their native Kurdish. After WWI, many ethnic groups were no longer allowed to migrate between seasons and therefore some groups can be found scattered within the Middle East. The Kurds are a large ethnic group but they do not necessarily pertain to a single country.
Kurdish nationalism emerged after World War I with the ending of the Ottoman Empire which had historically successfully integrated but not assimilated the Kurds. Ottoman policy tended to give local regions limited autonomy. Ottoman sultan Abdul Hamid responded by a campaign of integration by co-opting prominent Kurdish opponents to strong Ottoman power with prestigious positions in his government. This strategy appears successful given the loyalty displayed by the Kurdish Hamidiye regiments during World War I.
Kurds have posed the most serious and persistent challenge to the official image of a homogeneous society (3). Since the 1930s, Kurds have resisted government efforts to assimilate them forcibly, including an official ban on speaking or writing Kurdish. Turkey's Constitution provides a single nationality designation for all Turks and therefore does not recognize ethnic groups as national, racial, or ethnic minorities. However, Kurds who were long-term residents in industrialized cities in the west were in many cases assimilated into the political, economic, and social life of the nation, and much intermarriage has occurred over many...