There is no such thing as a Kurd...

11th March 2015
...But they aren't 'Mountain Turks' either

On the 12th of September 1980, the Republic of Turkey experienced its third coup d'état in just over 20 years. The coup was backed by the United States and led by General Kenan Evren who subsequently served as the nation's president. Evren previously commanded Turkey's Kontrgerilla, a military division which was part of the United States' wider destabilisation efforts in multiple countries collectively known as Operation GLADIO. Throughout the '50s, '60s and '70s the Kontrgerilla were responsible for inciting violence against ethnic minorities, torturing intellectuals, assassinating students as well as killing 36 trade unionists during a rally in Istanbul's Taksim Square. The operations of the Kontrgerilla ultimately gave the military the pretext it needed to declare a coup and implement martial law. A sharp decrease in ethnic and political strife followed. After taking power and successfully homogenising Western Turkey, Evren concentrated his offensives against minorities in the still multi-ethnic South East which he blamed for the country's instability. These remaining minorities, who were once fully integrated participants of the society, were now marginalised, resulting in the creation of separatist movements in the last quarter of the 20th century.

When speaking on the issue of Kurds, Evren stated "There is no such thing as a Kurd. They are mountain Turks" and mentioned the etymology of 'Kurd' apparently coming from the 'Kart Kurt' sound made when traversing the snow-covered mountains of the South East. Aside from the issue as to why 'they' as 'mountain Turks' can't have the right to be called 'Kurds', there were mixed elements of truth and fiction in Evren's position on this matter which typified the Turkish government's stance on ethnicity since the republic's founder Kemal Ataturk (literally 'Kemal father Turk') and his movement promoted the idea of 'Turkishness'.


The nation state of Turkey occupies the entirety of the Anatolian peninsula, most of the Armenian highlands, the Northern tip of the plain of the Fertile Crescent, the Northern end of the Zagros Mountain range as well as South Eastern Thrace. The ethnic situation in Anatolia like many other places throughout the world, is largely a reflection of the operating languages of the various polities that have administered it throughout history, rather than a juxtaposition of unrelated peoples occupying the same area.

The dominant language across most of Anatolia for over a thousand years prior to Turkish was Greek and up until the 20th century this language was still spoken all around the coastal provinces of the peninsula - a testament to the maritime nature of Greek polities throughout history. When the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 there were still around 200,000 Greek speakers permitted to live in the new state, however the final nail in the coffin for the Greek language in Anatolia came about with Operation GLADIO's activities in the newly NATO-aligned Turkey; Kontrgerilla-planned incidents such as the Istanbul pogrom and numerous mob attacks forced a further 100,000 Greeks to emigrate en masse. The Greek-speaking population in Turkey today is estimated as being less than 5000.

The arrival of the Seljuks in the 11th Century heralded the beginning of the spread of Turkic languages throughout Anatolia, to which modern-day Turkish belongs. Before this, the Turkic languages were largely confined to the centre of the Eurasian landmass. Today, Anatolia is home to the largest population of speakers of any Turkic language; this is primarily the result of nearly a millennium of Turkish-speaking administration rather than the literal replacement of the original Anatolians with peoples from elsewhere – hence why Turks collectively resemble their immediate neighbours more than other Turkic speakers further afield in Turan and Siberia.

The highlands to the East of Anatolia have been home to numerous Armenian-speaking polities throughout history; the Seljuk invasion of this Armenian heartland caused some Armenians to move to the Mediterranean coast where the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia eventually formed during the period of the Crusades. Whereas Greek-speaking Christians became just as adversarial as their Arabic-speaking Muslim counterparts to the foreign Crusaders (known as Fragi in Greek and Faranja in Arabic), the small Armenian state, insecure with its precarious situation in this area was more open to forming alliances and even political inter-marriage with the invaders. It was a similar fear centuries later that a growing Russian Empire recently successful in annexing North Caucasus, would take advantage of manipulating Christian Armenian subjects of the diminishing Ottoman Empire to establish a foothold in the Middle East which contributed to the Ottoman leadership's justification of the genocide that followed. In 1915 the Ottoman Empire using the largely Kurmanji (Kurdish) Hamidiye regiment set about to deal with the Armenian issue which resulted in the murder of hundreds of thousands of people, the dispossession of hundreds of thousands more as well as forced mass conversions to Islam. The area where this occurred is now part of the claimed Kurdish homeland.


There is no such thing as a 'Kurdish' language, there is Kurmanji, Sorani, Kermashani, Laki, Shabaki and Zazaki to name but a few; all are separately spoken languages and not all mutually intelligible. A Sorani cannot communicate with a Kurmanji and vice versa without switching to the use of a third language such as Turkish, Arabic or Farsi. These languages which are collectively referred to as 'Kurdish' are all members of the Iranian linguistic family (however do not all form part of the same sub-branch within this family) and occupy an area on the frontier of historical Iranian empires. These mutually unintelligible languages are incorrectly referred to as dialects of the 'Kurdish' language. Nearly all the speakers of these languages are bilingual and speak the administrative state language of the country they live in whether that be Turkish, Arabic or Farsi. The two most largely spoken Kurdish languages, Kurmanji in Turkey and Sorani in Iraq have fundamentally different grammars and vocabularies, the result of the former's ties to the culture of Anatolia and the latter's to that of Mesopotamia. Contrary to its use in the mainstream media, 'Kurd' and 'Kurdish' should not be used to refer to a single people with a single language but rather a blanket term for speakers of a subset of various non-Farsi Iranian languages not including languages such as Shabaki or Zazaki.

CIA Map of 'Kurdish Inhabited Area' on Wikipedia's 'Kurdistan' Page

'Kurdistan' has never existed as a political entity and 'Kurds' have never been an exclusively cohesive group of people. 'Kurd' is a catch-all term for Iranian-speaking peoples living on the periphery of the Persian cultural sphere who cannot understand one another and are nearly entirely bilingual. The claimed 'Kurdistan' which straddles the three lands of Anatolia, Mesopotamia and the Iranian plateau, is a linguistically mixed cross-over zone shared by speakers of Semitic, Turkic and Indo-European languages.

Kurdish24 Map of Kurdistan Shalom Jerusalem Map of KurdistanKurdish Institute Map of Kurdistan

The four maps illustrated here, typical of those presented in news media and encyclopaedic websites are false and misrepresentative; even the smallest representation of 'Kurdistan' shown is grossly disproportionate and includes large areas with no Kurmanjis, Soranis or speakers of any other Iranian language for that matter. None of these maps distinguish the mixed areas where only a minority of those people classified as 'Kurds' reside having only moved in since the 20th century but instead includes them as part of the 'Kurdish homeland'. In Iraq and Syria, 'Kurdistan' covers huge swathes of land that have been occupied by Semitic-speaking peoples since time immemorial and covers hundreds of towns with a complete absence of 'Kurdish' speakers. In the South of Turkey there are up to 1 million Arabs in areas which are now routinely displayed on maps as being part of 'Turkish Kurdistan'. Indeed, some behind the Kurdish movement have also thrown a claim to the territorial dispute over Turkey's control of the Levantine city of Alexandretta and even claims over what little that remains of the state of Armenia due to the presence of some Kurmanji speakers there. In Iran, areas that may have no more than a minority of people who are 'Kurdish' and where the majority speak Farsi (or speak languages such as Azeri or Luri in addition to Farsi) as far South as Khuzestan (another area populated by Arabic speakers) are thus now part of 'Kurdistan' or the more subtly named 'Kurdish inhabited area'. Hundreds of towns which have only a minority of Kurds or no Kurds at all and have never been 'Kurdish' (by any kind of criteria) are part of an emerging polity now real within the minds of many both in the West and Middle East. Kurdish nationalism stands as a textbook example of the dangers of irredentism.

The uninformed news media continuously peddle a false and over-simplistic narrative of the Kurdish issue with very few journalists conducting any thorough research to obtain an accurate picture of the situation; this treatment of subject-matter is endemic across the entire industry. The misinformed masses, people from all walks of life, from government ministers to activists protesting in the streets of Western nations who use mainstream channels of media as their primary source of information about the outside world internalise these false narratives as reality and act upon the misinformation they digest. The reality is, the touted 'Kurdistan' would never work when its people cannot even understand one another; one language would ultimately have impress its dominance at the expense of the others and the large indigenous populations who do not speak Kurmanji or Sorani would have to be tolerated by the new state or expelled from the areas their ancestors have existed for millennia. If the Kurdish nationalists get their way, a state where one Iranian-language governs over other Iranian and non-Iranian languages would be born - a situation no different to what we already have today. An alternative would be to balkanise the area and give each linguistic group, no matter how small, its own state. This arrangement would have the added benefit of making the region even easier to control for external powers.

Ne mutlu Türküm diyene

A genocide, the fall of an empire and 3 coups demonstrate the short-sightedness of Turkey's 20th century elite from the closing years of the Ottoman Empire and throughout the existence of the 'Republic'. This same leadership, successful in overcoming severe external pressures, created many internal problems in the creation of the nation state. Perhaps the recent history of this country may not have turned out so bloody had its leadership not held on so stubbornly to the national identity of 'Turkishness'. The concept of a 'Turkish' race, as ridiculous as Germany's 'Aryan' and Israel's 'Jewish' races, put the Turkish-speaking people of Anatolia in a self-perceived unity with peoples in Hungary, Korea and Japan while causing a perceived division in their own minds with their fellow Anatolians and immediate neighbours making it a lot harder for 'Turkish' to be accepted simply as a synonym for 'Anatolian' and phrases like 'Mountain Turks' (designed to assimilate those living in the South East) ridiculous.


The 1933 when the Republic of Turkey celebrated its tenth anniversary, the modern nation's founder Ataturk gave a short speech ending with the phrase roughly translated as "How happy is the one who says 'I am a Turk'". This phrase became one of the most recognised mottos of Turkey and now appears brazenly on a North Cypriot mountainside facing south for the admiration of the island's Greek speaking population. Ataturk presided over many radical reforms; one of which was to cleanse Turkish of loanwords from the neighbouring Arabic, Greek and Persian languages while simultaneously aligning closer to the West by changing its script to Latin and increasing the number of loanwords from languages much further afield. Turkey's greatest cultural success throughout the 20th Century seems to have been in alienating itself from its own region and rural population while at the same time never being truly accepted by its Western allies.

The true etymology of the word 'Kurd' is a mystery, however it most likely does not come from the 'Kart Kurt' sound Kenan Evren mentioned; like the names of many other peoples it may have evolved from a catch-all exonym which evolved into an endonym (a name others use for a people vs. the internal name peoples use to refer to themselves). We can celebrate the distinct languages of this area while emphasising the importance of social cohesion and not take away from acknowledging the oppression any minority (linguistic, religious or otherwise) has endured when facing injustice. Creating a new nation on such tenuous grounds by carving up three, four or five others will not solve any problems, but will only further complicate a disastrous regional situation already the result of continuous external tampering.