The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at
Sat Aug 19 00:00:25 MDT 2000

See the entire work at:

The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and

the Sheikh Said Rebellion, 1880-1925

By Robert Olson, University of Texas Press, Austin


The Sheikh Said rebellion was the first large-scale nationalist
rebellion by the Kurds. The role of the Azadi was fundamental in its
unfolding. Kurdish intellectuals and military officers lay at the heart
of the nationalist movement, in terms of organization and recruitment.
The paramount influence of the more secular or noncleric Kurdish
nationalist organizations must be seperated from the rebellion itself
and its sheikhly leadership. The Sheikh Said rebellion was led largely
by sheikhs, a deliberate determination by the leadership of Azadi from
1921 onward. These decisions were defined and given force in the Azadi
congresses of 1924. The fact that the rebellion had a religious
character was the result of Azadi's assessment of the strategy and
tactics necessary for carrying out a successful revolution. While the
Sheikh Said rebellion was a nationalist rebellion, the mobilization,
propaganda, and symbols were those of a religious rebellion. It must be
remembered that it was and continued to be characterized by most Turkish
scholars (such as Behcet Cemal and Metin Toker) as a religious
rebellion, instigated by reactionaries, who happened to be Kurds,
against the secularizing reforms of the Kemalist government from 1922
onward (especially the abolition of the caliphate on 3 March 1924 and
the National Law Court Organization Regulation among others).

It should be noted, however, that recently some Turkish scholars have
also characterized the rebellion as "a nationalist rebellion in
religious garb". The basis of this is the fact that Sheikh Said was an
ardent nationalist, as demonstrated by his earlier career. The consensus
of scholarship in the 1960s and 1970s (much of it emanating from Western
social scientists and orientalists) that nationalism and genuine
religious commitment and spirituality, especially Islamic, are
incompatible is not valid in the case of Sheikh Said's rebellion. The
Iranian revolution of the 1970s and 1980s has demonstrated forcefully
the fallacy of this sort of reasoning. Martin van Bruinessen, the only
scholar who has studied the rebellion in any detail, has stated
emphatically that "the primary aim of both [Sheikh Said and the Azadi
leaders] was the establishment of an independent Kurdistan." Sheikh Said
is an example of a man who was simultaneously an ardent nationalist and
a committed believer. Many
of the leaders of the Azadi and of the rebellion may have been genuinely
upset by the abolition of the caliphate. For the averae Kurd who
participated inthe rebellion, the religious and nationalist motivations
were doubtless mixed. Most of the Kurds thought that the sheikhs who led
the rebellion were religious and, more importantly, Kurds.


Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222

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