Islam and the Kurds

Authored by: Mehmet Gurses

Routledge Handbook on the Kurds

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  August  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138646643
eBook ISBN: 9781315627427
Adobe ISBN:


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In late January 2016, a member of Turkish Special Forces assigned to expunge the pro-PKK armed youth from the Sur district of Diyarbakir made an unusual announcement from the city’s historic mosque, Ulu Cami. PKK is the Kurdish abbreviation for the Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan, an insurgent organization in Turkey that has been fighting the government on and off since 1984. The commander began his announcement with “I am reaching out to you from the holy mosque” and ended it with a call to the armed militias that had dug in for over a month to “surrender for a peaceful and brotherly co-existence.” 1 A few days later in Cizre, also in the Kurdish south-east and under military lockdown for the same reason, a message apparently written by the Turkish army on the wall of a house proclaimed “Allah [God] is with us” and asked locals to cooperate with the army. 2 On February 5, 2016, during a Friday mass prayer held at one of the biggest mosques in the Kurdish-majority city of Batman, many attendants walked out in protest of the cleric’s sermon, in which he praised the fallen members of the Turkish army and asked the congregation to keep them in their prayers. 3 On March 18, 2016, in Van, another major Kurdish province in the east, Muslim Kurds walked out of the mosque during the weekly Friday prayer in protest of the cleric’s sermon, in which he referred to the spirit of the Canakkale (Dardanelles) battle of World War I, which resulted in the Ottomans repulsing a British invasion attempt in 1915, as the unifying spirit between Muslim Kurds and Turks, and invited the congregation to pray for the fallen. Some shouted in protest “why don’t you invite us to pray for those [Kurds] fallen in Sur and Cizre? Aren’t they too martyrs?” 4 The location from which the announcement was made, a mosque; the content of the message written on the wall (God is with us); and finally the reaction of pious Muslim Kurds to Islamic sermons raise important questions on the role Islam plays in the conflict between the Turkish Republic and its Kurdish minority.

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