Is Turkey becoming an apartheid state?

Over the last several months, Erdogan has furthered his purge, removing democratically elected Kurdish mayors and replacing them with his own appointees, and imprisoning more HDP leaders. What happens next?

 Nearly a century ago, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk declared the independence of the Republic of Turkey. The new state arose from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. While the Ottoman Empire was a patchwork of different peoples, Atatürk envisioned Turkey as a state predominantly for Turks. Turkish nationalists largely eradicated the Armenian community in a pre-planned and centrally directed genocide. Many Greeks had fled Turkey in the run-up to independence, and Turkish nationalists forced out most other Greeks in subsequent pogroms.

From the very beginning of the Turkish Republic, however, Turkish leaders had to face Kurdish unrest. In 1925, Kurds rose up in the Sheikh Said rebellion upset with what they saw as Atatürk’s assault on religion. Two years later, İhsan Nuri Pasha declared the Ararat Republic, a Kurdish state in far eastern Turkey along the Iranian and Armenian borders. Atatürk ordered his army and air force to crush that entity. In 1936, the Kurdish rebellion erupted in Dersim in protest of forced Turkification and mandatory relocation to dilute non-Turkish identities. Once again, the Turkish army crushed the uprising.

Not all discrimination was at the point of a gun. Beginning with Atatürk and continuing until Turgut Özal took the helm in the 1980s, Turkey industrialized and modernized its economy, but bypassed the Kurdish east. Some of this neglect was deliberate, although some were also simply the result of geography. Still, the long-time ban on the Kurdish language—including the use of some Latin letters present in Kurdish but not in Turkish and Kurdish cultural expression—has widened the gulf between the Kurds and Turks.

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