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The Kurds and Identity Politics

The Kurds and Identity Politics Free Essay


This paper provides detailed information on the Kurdish minority in Turkey. It examines the various criteria of their national identity, suggested by outstanding researchers Kwame Appiah and Jessica Knouse. The paper also analyzes the politics of Turkey and Iran towards the Kurds. Special attention is drawn in particular to the history of this ethnic group, its struggle for independence. The peculiarities of religion, cultural, and social life are also characterized. The major objectives of this ethnic group stated as well. The appropriate methods and ways of the implementation of the goals by the Kurds are investigated in this paper.

Keywords: identity politics, norms of identification, Kurdistan, Ottoman Empire, Iran.

The Kurds and Identity Politics

Identity politics is considered to be one of the instruments of current policy. Thus, one should distinguish between the usage of term ‘identity politics’ as it may be employed as politics (a political struggle) and policy (a political line). Thus, policy is widely accepted, and it focuses on the creation of new communities by the political elites. Particularly, special attention is drawn to their role in making national, religious, and local identities. The policy of identity began with the forms of ethnic minorities’ suppression to work out the recommendations of their rehabilitation, reconsideration of their part and place in the world, with the groups changing their opinion of themselves and their role in society. Thus, it helps to rule over the diversity of multinational communities. The main idea of such an approach consists in the formation of conception ‘we-belonging’ and the establishment of the line ‘friend-or-foe’. Therefore, there should be a clear distinguishing between the terms ‘identity politics’ and ‘identity policy’.

The application of identity politics is better observed after studying some ethic group. For example, it can be the Kurds. They live in Turkey (eastern and southern eastern parts), Iran (western part), Iraq (northern part), and Syria (northern part). The group includes around 32 million people. Another one or two million live in diasporas. Thus, the aim of this paper is to investigate the different aspects of the Kurds’ life – the history of struggle for their independence, including the goals of this minority, to analyze how they attain their objectives and their success of the latter, etc.

Classification of Identity Norms

According to Kwame Appiah (2006), there should be a special arbitrary identity level, for instance, A, and it has several criteria of ascription. Moreover, some people identify somebody as A, while some people treat others as A’s. Thus, A has his/her norms of identification. “These criteria of ascription for A are some qualities on the basis of which the one distinguishes people into those he/she does and those he/she doesn’t reckon in A’s” (Appiah, 2006, p. 16). If the appearance serves as a criterion for identity, one may notice that the Kurdish people resemble Arabs but with fair hair and blue eyes that are unusual for the latter. The Kurds were in contact with other European nationalities, and this connection has affected the lives of future generations and their culture. Thus, it means that this criterion is incorrect to realize what identity policy is.

Historical Conditions and Formation of the Struggle

Territory, for example, the settlement of the Kurdish people in Turkey, can be singled out as a separate criterion. The geographical location of these regions in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran plays an important role in defining the vital capacity and strength of Kurdish political organizations that try to oppose the central governments of these countries. The first record of the the Kurdish state could be dated to 1150, when Persian shah Sanjar founded the province of Kurdistan. The Ottoman Kurdistan appeared simultaneously. During the medieval ages, the original Kurdistan was annexed because of the innumerable amount of local wars. The relations between the Kurds and Turkey began in 1514, when the large territory of Iran was annexed by the Ottoman Empire, including all Kurdish territories. The relations were based on the religious propinquity. Since the 17th century, the policy of the Ottoman Empire was aimed at the “turkization” of the Kurdish nation (Bozarslan, 2000). There were no common views among the nation and the people living in remote districts. These challenges prevented the Kurds from the creation of their independent state. The first political association was founded in 1889, and its members stood for the independence through the armed revolt. The Kurdish elite had managed to benefit from the tensions between Europe and the Ottoman Empire and the internal issues of the latter. The problems began after the collapse of Ottoman Empire (Bozarslan, 2003). The Treaty of Serves, which provided the creation of independent Kurdistan, gave hope to the Kurds. Since their main goal to create their own independent state was set and pursued. However, this Treaty was abrogated by the signature of the Treaty of Lausanne. The “hidden war” against the Kurds had lasted since 1984. The Kurdish language is prohibited, and the nationality itself is not still recognized as separate one. However, but it does not mean that there is Kurdish identity. The resumption of the fierce struggle for Kurdish independence started in 1984 from the armed conflict between the Government of Turkey and the fighters of Labor Party of Kurdistan. The conflict has not been settled yet (Cornell, 2001). Thus, one may conclude that the Kurds have the right to create their independent state due to the historical reasons and implications.

Political Implications of the Struggle

The Kurdish people stand for the autonomy, but the Turkish government rejects all their intentions. These problems have arisen because of the desperate attempt to deprive the nation of its rights and traditions. The Kurdish elite came to a conclusion that the violent struggle had not proved its value. Thus, the Kurds decided to act in the political realm (Bozarslan, 2000). In the late 1940s, the political system of Turkey started changing. The one-party system was abrogated. In 1950, the Kurdish Democratic Party headed by Adnan Menderes won the parliamentary elections. The constituents from the Kurdish areas gave their votes (about 90%) to the Democratic Party. Some Kurds became the members of the national parliament of Turkey and they even were included in the cabinet council (Cornell, 2001). Thus, the military struggle transformed into a political confrontation. The additional issue is that some believe that the Kurds deserve to be autonomous or even independent, and some do not allow them to exercise their right to autonomy/independence. Kurdistan is divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. During the Cold War, the Kurds supported the communist ideology that popularized the equality, brotherhood, and struggle against discrimination. The Kurdish elite continued trying to attain its objective – the independent state – through the warm support of other minorities (Van Bruinessen, 2003). This method was quite effective because they had gained the support of the other national minorities, and they could use it to attain their objectives such as independence, the creation of their own state, ruling over the territory with the Kurdish people, etc. The foundation of the Labor Party of Kurdistan and the Union of Students favored the strengthening of Kurdish positions in the government since one should stress that the student community is the driving force of any change at any time (Marcus, 2007). The Kurdish people consider themselves to be one nation as the problems of one part of Kurdistan cause the response in others (Van Bruinessen, 1999). The Kurdish population in Iran is represented by the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, Kurdish Communist Party of Iran, and Kurdistan Toilers’ Party. The activity of Kurdish parties affirms the fact that Iran is ready to back this national minority in the acceptable framework (Van Bruinessen, 2003). Thus, the political and social spheres were engaged in the attainment of the Kurdish nation’s key purposes.

Cultural and Religious Peculiarities

The main criterion among these is the establishment of own norms of identification. The Kurds believe to be the descendants of an ancient Iranian nationality – the Medes. The territories, where they had lived before the annexation by Turkey, belonged to Iran. That is why they consider themselves as an Iranian ethnic group (Marcus, 2007). The recent investigations have found that they have ethnically diverse origins, which means that this ethnic group has little in common with the Iranian people. Scientists consider the Kurds, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Georgians, and Jews to be kindred nations. For these people, to be a Kurd means to speak native Kurdish or others (Arabic, Persian or Turkish), profess Sunni Islam, and honor the customs and traditions (Van Bruinessen, 2003). One of the key objectives that the Kurds want to attain is to resume the development of the Kurdish language and traditions. Their culture is rich in oral folk arts. It reflects the desires and aspirations for independence. Many famous poets and authors come from this minority, and they are put in the same row with the world-recognized classic writers.

Special attention should be drawn to the religious beliefs of the Kurds who profess special religion – Yezidizm. The distinguished feature is that one cannot be converted to this religion. Only the person born in an ethnic group is considered to be the truly representative of it, with the right to profess it (Bozarslan, 2003). However, the main idea, which rules the minds and hearts of the Kurdish people, is the creation of Great Kurdistan. This country should include four Iraqi provinces – Kurdistan, Kermanshah, the western part of Azerbaijan, and Ilam, where this ethnic group constitutes from 6 to 7 million people (Bozarslan, 2000). Thus, cultural and religious peculiarities affect the achievement of the key goals and contribute to the ways of their realization.

A Dissenting View of the Classification

Another classification of identity politics is suggested by Jessica Knouse. She singles out three types of attributes, under which identity politics can be defined. The first type is anatomical attributes that investigate the appearance of a certain group. The second type is quasi-anatomical attributes that focus on the matters “in and out of body simultaneously” (Knouse, 2009) such as political preferences, etc. The third type is non-anatomical attributes that concentrate on the issues that cannot be revealed through physical examination. She emphasizes that “Different types of attributes provide the bases for different types of groups” (Knouse, 2009, p. 9) For instance, the Kurds have traditions, customs, and beliefs other than Iranians. They drink wine, whereas the Iranian religion prohibits drinking it. The Kurdish women do not cover their faces, whereas the Iranian women have to wear a shawl and the cloak that covers the entire body (Van Bruinessen, 1999). There are many peculiarities that distinguish the Kurdish identity from others as well.

The Failure of Independence

All the above-mentioned factors explain how historical, cultural, and social peculiarities impel the Kurds to set themselves an objective to gain independence and single out the purposes. In other words, all these elements contribute to the most important goals of this minority – to be independent, to create their own state, to rule over the territories with the Kurdish people, to provide the prosperity of Kurdish culture and language. All these goals can be attained only through the armed revolt or political struggle within the parliament. The progress of the pursuing these purposes was stated earlier. However, all these endeavors could not be called successful. All attempts to gain independence or at least provide the efficient support for the culture and language fail. The Kurds cannot oppose the central governments without any unfavorable consequences. Their military power is weak. The political struggle for independence and the development of culture and language do them no good. Their underground activity is dangerous, and those, who participate in it, are punished severely by the respective governments of Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Thus, one can conclude that the Kurdish struggle for independence is unsuccessful.


Identity politics is seen as one of the efficient methods of the internal policy of any nation. This approach is appropriate for the heads of the state or the government to form one and indivisible nation and govern it without any problems. Despite the governments’ endeavors to assimilate the Kurds, they try to preserve their unique identity and make their dreams of the independent state come true. Their culture, language, traditions, and political views differ from the others and represent them as a unique ethnic minority. They do not give up and continue hoping. Therefore, the above-said is indicative of the fact that the Kurds try to attain their key purposes. They claim that they possess all the means (territorial succession, language, culture, history) to create an independent state. However, the struggle in all the spheres of the everyday life, from culture to the political realm, fails due to the array of unfavorable factors. The major objectives of the Kurdish minority are still not achieved.

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