The Kurds have, in varying degrees, been subjected to policies of denial, assimilation and violent oppression in the four countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria) of which they are citizens. There is no doubt that Turkey, with its multi-party politics and relative democratization since the 1950s, displays major differences from the other three countries. One major difference has to do with the socioeconomic status of Kurds. With the wave of growing urbanization beginning in the late 1950s, a majority of Kurds migrated to and settled in the Turkish-dominated western half of the country. They were able to take on professional careers as long as they refrained from claiming “Kurdishness.” A significant number of them married and mingled with Turks, with whom they share a religious identity as Sunnis and Alevis. They have thus been socioeconomically integrated to a certain extent.
Another major difference in Turkey is in respect to the position of Kurds in politics. Turkey's Kurds have, since the introduction of multi-party politics in the 1950s, been represented both in local government organs and in Parliament as long as they did not claim “Kurdishness,” and later even as Kurds after the gradual easing of restrictions on the expression of Kurdish identity since the 1990s.
Since the early 1990s the question of how to preserve Turkey's territorial integrity against the rise of Kurdish nationalism has been hotly debated in the country. While state elites have remained loyal to the Kemalist policies of suppression of the Kurdish identity by legislation and force, politicians have increasingly tended to assume the position that the country's territorial integrity can only be protected through piecemeal recognition of Kurdish citizens' democratic rights and freedoms. A parallel division has taken place among the Kurds. While the vast majority have committed to a democratic solution involving autonomy, a minority has been in favor of independence.
Ever since the start of that debate, I have been in favor of the preservation of Turkey's territorial integrity; the preference of most Kurds and Turks has been in that direction since separation is likely to cause great suffering. I have, however, defended that the protection of the country's territorial integrity can only be achieved through full recognition of Kurdish demands and consolidation of freedom and pluralism. I have also advocated that if Turkey is going to win the loyalty of its Kurdish citizens and the respect of all Kurds, it has to reconstitute itself as a fully democratic country -- a state rather than a nation. I have asserted that this would be the only way Turkey can turn the international dimension of the Kurdish problem from being a potential menace to an advantage.
With the collapse of the autocratic Arab nationalist regime in Iraq, the Kurds of Iraq have gained broad autonomy. With the autocratic Arab nationalist regime in Syria giving signals of eventual collapse, broad autonomy for Kurds in Syria is now on the agenda, too. Sooner or later the same may be true for Iran. Ankara basically has two options: It will either continue to avoid recognition of the common demands of Kurdish citizens for autonomy and lead the country into chaos and separation. Or it will ensure the integrity and welfare of the country by respecting the democratic demands of Kurds both inside and outside the country. The growingly close political and economic relations between Ankara and Arbil (Hewler), the capital city of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, should be indicative to all concerned which option is the sound one.