The rise of the pro-Kurdish democratic movement in Turkey

Authored by: Cengiz Gunes

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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The political representation of the Kurds in Turkey has been a problematic issue ever since the foundation of the republic in 1923. The main barrier to Kurdish representation in Turkey stemmed from the fact that the Kurds are not recognised as a separate national group, and to claim or advocate the separate existence of a Kurdish nation in Turkey is interpreted as a threat to Turkey’s national security, territorial integrity and unity of the nation. As a result, the articulation of Kurdish political demands or rights was criminalised, and individuals and political parties that demanded group-specific rights for the Kurds were prosecuted. With the establishment of the People’s Labour Party (HEP) in 1990, the representation of Kurdish interests has taken a more organised form. Due to the nature of the political demands they have been raising – such as the constitutional recognition of Kurdish identity – and the institutional legal limitations in Turkey, they have been considered as ‘outsiders’. Consequently, they have been subjected to numerous suppressive practices, broadly speaking, on the basis that they promote Kurdish separatism, and the following parties have been banned: the HEP in 1993, the Democracy Party (DEP) in 1994, the People’s Democracy Party (HADEP) in 2003 and the Democratic Society Party (DTP) in 2009. In the past decade, the pro-Kurdish political parties Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) have increased their influence and power in the local and national levels. The transformation in the Kurdish conflict since 1999 and the democratisation reforms carried out as part of Turkey’s EU accession process throughout the 2000s have increased the political space for the pro-Kurdish political parties to participate in politics and become important political actors. However, Turkey’s descent into authoritarianism in the past two years has undone the progress of the pro-Kurdish democratic movement and resulted in its increased repression, which is ongoing at the time of writing.

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