The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism (Re:Questions for Xxxx)

Xxxx Xxxxx Xxxxxx xxxxxxxx at
Thu Feb 1 00:47:08 MST 2001

Johannes. wrote:

>Certainly this is true for the 1920ties, but history is a dynamic
>Indeed the 1923 Lausanne treaty was the result of the Turkish war of
>independence and marked a sort of concession from the imperialist
states by
>accepting a Turkish state. But wasnt Kemal supported by the Kurds in
>fight against the intervening capitalists?

Kemal was supported by Kurds during the national struggle against the
British. Turkish national struggle was an _Anatolian_ based movement, so
it received considerable support from rural Kurds. After the regime was
established, the support declined.  Kurds were not happy with the
modernizing reforms of the Kemalists, some which included land reforms
to eliminate semi-feudal land structures in rural areas. According to
the article below, some of the Kurdish leader" wanted to protect their
land, their domination of the markets for their livestock , and their
control of the legal system, all or some of which seemed to be
threatened by the secularizing and centralizing reforms of the central
government". Here is more info:

***The Emergence of Kurdish Nationalism and the Sheikh Said Rebellion,

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.

Many other crucial events, factors, and developments played a role in
the rebellion. Many of the leaders wanted to protect their land, their
domination of the markets for their livestock , and their control of the
legal system, all or some of which seemed to be threatened by the
secularizing and centralizing reforms of the central government in
Ankara. The Sheikh Said rebellion was a turning point in the history of
the Kurds in that nationalism was the prime factor in its organization
and development. This is
indicated by the fact that the subsequent large rebellions by the Kurds
were nationalist and religious, employing nationalist symbols and
propaganda. The Sheikh Said rebellion clearly demonstrated the direction
that Kurdish nationalism was to take. In the Zeylan (1930) and Agri
(1926-1932) rebellions, nationalist Kurdish slogans were used

This does not mean that traditional motivations of banditry and tribal
feuds, as well as personal vendettas, were not prominent casual factors
in the rebellion. In this and in other senses, the rebellion could be
described as "primitive," as Amal Vinogradov
describes the Iraqi revolt of 1920. But the Sheikh Said rebellion , like
the Iraqi rebellion, was a genuine national response to fundamental
dislocations in the political and socioeconomic spheres. Like their
Kurdish counterparts who had gained so much experience by their
participation in the Hamidiye Regiments and in World War I, the Iraqi
tribesmen (some of whom were Kurdish) who fought in the Ottoman army
benefited from the military experience they gained in World War I. One
of the
interesting developments concerning the Sheikh Said rebellion of 1925
and the Jangali rebellion of Kuchak Khan in northern Iran from 1914 to
1921 is the supposed efficancy of arms and technology in supporting
revolution and rebellion by dissident and nationalist minority groups.
The participation of Kurdish, Arab, and Iranian tribesmen in the
Ottoman, Qajar, and British armies and their familarity with the
substantial technological and military changes that had been occurring
since the 1880s may have contributed to their conviction that these
weapons and organizational methods could be used effectively in their
own national movements. Their assessmens may have been sound. It was
misfortune of all three rebellions, however, that they were challenged
and defeated by more powerful forces and stronger nationalisms. In the
case of the Kurds, it was the stronger state
and more developed nationalism of the Turks. For Kuchak Khan in Gilan,
the same was true. But, in additions, the Jangalis were deprived at
crucial junctures of aid from the Soviet Union and the Communist
movement. The Jangalis' opponent, the
Iranian government, backed and supported by the British, was able to
defeat the rebels. Unlike the Sheikh Said rebellion, British forces
played a major role in the suppression and defeat of both the Jangali
movement and the Iraqi revolt. It is possible that exposure to modern
weapons, but not to modern diplomacy, may have caused the leaders of all
three rebellions and/or revolts to act prematurely.

The Sheikh Said rebellion was tribal. The proportionate number of
nomadic tribesmen who took part in the rebellion was much higher than in
the Iraqi and Jangali rebellions. Few tribal or peasant cultivators
participated in the rebellion as combatants. Indeed, as indicated above,
the leaders of the rebellion did not even try to recruit the tribal and
peasant cultivators, either because they thought that the peasants were
simply too much under the thumb of the landlords through fear, coercion,
or indifference. The role of the tribal and peasant cultivators was much
greater in the Iraqi and Jangali rebellions. It is difficult to know how
much land was owned by derebeys or agas within the area of rebellion,
although there were a number of large landowners in the extended area
(e.g. Diyarbakir) of the rebellion. If tribal chiefs are classified as
derebeys or agas , then it seems that most of them were engaged in
animal husbandry. But the landlords of the Diyarbakir plains opposed the
rebellion. They played a principal role in assuring that Diyarbakir
remained loyal to the Turkish government when it was attacked and
besieged by Sheikh Said. The cooperation of these agas with the
government is another indication of the strong ties that the Kemalists
had already established with many Kurdish agas and chiefs. It was a
premonition of a future when they were to become one of the mainstays of
the Ataturk coalition.

The rebellion did not demonstrate much tribal coordination with urban
dweller. Diyarbakir, heavily Kurdish did not rise in support of the
rebels. The populace of Elazig initially surrendered without fighting,
only to turn against the rebels because of their excessive looting and
pillage. Again urban participation in the Iraqi and Jangali rebellions
was greater than in the Sheikh Said rebellion. The coordination with
urban groups was inhibited ny the territorial isolation of the core area
of the rebellion.
Communication, except on horse or donkey, was impossible, especially
after the telegraph lines were cut. Also, telegraph lines had not yet
been extended to many towns. The establishment of Azadi in Erzurum after
1921, in addition to the split in Kurdish nationalist movement, resulted
in less contact with the Kurdish nationalists in Istanbul, although, as
we have seen above, contacts between Azadi and Istanbul were maintained.
The ulama and sheikhs played a large influential role in the Jangali and
Iraqi rebellions, as they did in the rebellion of Sheikh Said. Their
input in the rebellion of Sheikh Said was significantly greater than in
the other two.

The Sheikh Said rebellion, then, was a prototype of a post-World War I
nationalist rebellion. Its weaknesses were the usual ones: inter-tribal
rivalry and Sunni-Shi'i differences, especially represented by the
Hormek-Cibran tribal conflict, contributed to the lack of success of
rising. These cleavages were exacerbated by the
Naksibandi/non-Naksibandi differences as well. These, rather than the
differences between Zaza and non-Zaza speakers, played an important role
in the evolution of the rebellion and in the growth of Kurdish
nationalism. Urban-rural cleavages, tribal-peasant and landowner-tribal
hostilities, and antithetical secular-religious orientations among its
leaders all contributed to its lack of success. The Sheikh Said
rebellion represented an incipient nationalism that was also challenged
by a strong nationalism that had mobilized in the course of the past
thirty years, gathered strength during World War I, and further
energized by the war of liberation with the power of an organized state
behind it. Turkish nationalists claimed the territory on which the
Kurdish nationalists wanted to create an independent Kurdistan. The
Turks also proclaimed a nationalism that was inclusive of the Kurds,
however prejudicial, while Kurdish nationalism, imperatively so, was
exclusive of the Turks and their nationalism. This made Turkish
nationalism initially stronger ideologically
than Kurdish nationalism.

The Sheikh Said rebellion demonstrated, territorially, and politically,
the increased vulnerability of the Kurds as a result of the
displacement, deportation, and massacre of Armenians during World War I.
The removal of the Armenians also removed the
buffers of protection that their presence and nationalism offered the
Kurds. The situation of the Kurds and the suppression of their
nationalism was even more ironic in light of their eager participation
in the deportation and massacre of the Armenians in 1915 and
subsequently. The truly tragic meaning that the elimination of the
Armenians held for the Kurds and Kurdish nationalism was recognized, as
menitioned earlier, by some of the Kurdidh nationalist leaders such as
Halid Beg Cibran.

In assessing the effect of the rebellion of Turkey's history and
politics, my position differs from that of Erik Jan Zurcher and that of
Metin Toker. Zurcher in his recent study assigns the Sheikh Said
rebellion and its aftermath only two paragraphs, while he devotes an
entire chapter to the purges of 1926. Metin Toker, on the other hand,
wrote an entire book on the subject of the Sheikh Said rebellion, in an
attempt to demonstrate that it represented a turning point in the
history of the modern Turkish
republic. To be sure, Toker states that one has to make a distinction
between the event of the rebellion itself and its consequences. As an
event , says Toker, the rebellion was not much. As soon as the Turkish
armed forces were able to
mobilize, it was crushed. The tenor of my argument here is that the
Sheikh Said rebellion, as an event, was much more important than Toker
suggests and profoundly more so than Zurcher indicates.

Metin Toker is correct, however, in asserting that the consequences of
the rebellion for Turkey, especially the Kemalists, were far more
important than the rebellion itself. The main reason for this is that
Toker is convinced, rightly in my judgment, that
military action by the Kurds -even if they had displayed much more
unity, cooperation, and coordination than they did- would never have
withstood a focused attack by the experienced Turkish forces. However,
the rebellion as an event was more important than Toker asserts because
he refuses to acknowledge that it represented a challenging nationalism
in competition with Turkish nationalism and, hence, threatening to the
Turkish state.

In terms of domestic Turkish politics, the rebellion was, in my opinion,
nearly as important as Toker suggests. According to Toker, the rebellion
gave Kemalists, or "radicals" as he calls them, an opportunity to
silence the criticism of the Istanbul press, which was aligned with
oppositional groups and, shortly thereafter, regional newspapers as
well. It also established the legal means via the Restoration of Order
Law and the creation of independence tribunals to arrest the leading
members of the
oppostion forces when the time was ripe, in June 1926 after the
discovery of a plot in Izmir to assasinate Mustafa Kemal. Soon after the
discovery of the alleged plot, twentyone members of the Progressive
Republican party and eleven of the most
important members of the Committee of Union and Progress were arrested.
Some escaped arrest only because they were abroad or went into hiding.
Less than one month after the discovery of the plot, fifteen members of
groups opposed to the
Kemalists were condemned to death. Even the heroes of the revolution and
of the war of liberation, such as Refet Bele, Rauf Orbay, and Kazim
Karabekir, who managed to escape death, were never again to play
significant roles in the politics of
Turkey. The only exception was Fuad Cebesoy.

The suppression of the opposition to the Kemalists in the wake of the
discovery of the assassination plot in Izmir in June 1926 has been dealt
with adequately elsewhere. The point that I wish to make here is that
the machinery to facilitate the crushing of the opposition both
politically and legally was put into place in the effort to suppress the
Sheikh Said rebellion. Ironically, many of those sentenced to death in
the Izmir plot had voted for the very independence tribunals to which
they fell victim. While the Kemalists had to wait until the purges of
June-July 1926, nearly a year after the suppression of the Sheikh Said
rebellion, to rid themselves of remaining opposition, the formal and
organized opposition as represented by the Progressive Republican party
was eliminated when the party was banned on June 3 1925.

Metin Toker writes that it was only after the Sheikh Said rebellion that
three "revolutions" were able to occur: the Code of Civil Law (Medeni
Kanunu Devrimi) of 4 October 1926; the Dress and Headgear Law (Kiyafet
Kanunu Devrimi) of 25 November 1925; and the Alphabet Law (Harf Kanunu)
of 1 November 1928. These kinds of reform would only have been possible
in a Turkey under the Restoration of Order Law. Indeed, Toker sees
similarities between the period of 1925 and that of 1957-60. In both
instances, Ismet Inonu was able to assert his authority to restore order
to the Kemalist program. Unfortunately, argues
Toker, Celal Bayar and Adnan Menderes did not have in 1957-60 the same
power and legitimacy that Ismet Inonu and Mustafa Kemal possessed in

In short, for Toker, the Sheikh Said rebellion remains a symbol of the
impediments -conservativism, religious fanaticism, Muslim brotherhoods,
and formal democratic opposition- that the "radical" Kemalists had to
suppress or contain in order to proceed with their Western-oriented,
capitalist directed, heavy industry-biased modernization program. The
Sheikh Said rebellion emphasized to the Kemalists that this program
might be delayed through continuing political infighting or might not be
carried out at all. The decisions to pursue the Kemalist road to
modernization were probably determined a few years earlier, but
certainly there was a solid core that wished to pursue this course
expeditiously by 1924. It was the Sheikh Said rebellion that created the
atmosphere and the mechanisms to carry out the purges of 1926. In this
sense, Toker's analysis is correct. Zurcher does not sufficiently
emphasize the atmosphere and context of the purges of 1926. The reason
why the Sheikh Said rebellion is so important for the Turkish history is
that the laws and instutions created for its suppression were agreed to
by those who opposed Kemalism. They agreed, no matter how reluctantly,
because no patriotic Turkish official could tolerate a contending
nationalism. Here we have a good example of laws and instutions created
to suppress an "external" enemy that are later used by the group in
power to quash "internal" opposition. The Kemalist opponents and Fethi
Bey realized this and therefore tried to depict the rebellion as a
regional uprising, certainly one that was counterrevolutionary. But the
fact that the rebellion was Kurdish and nationalist severely limited any
objections that they could make. More strenuous opposition would have
produced the charge that they were traitors. As it was, the members of
the Progressive Republican party were charged with complicity in the
rebellion, altough such complicity was never proven.

The Sheikh Said rebellion gave the Kemalist government a certain
justification for categorizing serious opposition as being in league
with the Kurds, having sympathy for Kurdish nationalism, or favoring
ideologies that would strengthen Kurdish
nationalism, or Kurdish ethnic power. If the red flag of the leftists
was hoisted beside the green flag of Sheikh Said (representing Kurdish
nationalism as well as Islam), the menace of the rebellion's legacy
would be even more of a threat to Kemalism and,
possibly, in the future to the Kurdish statet itself. The rebellion
proved an opportunity to reduce the opposition to Kemalist modernization
through the closing on 30 November 1925 of all tarikats (lodges),
zaviyes (cells), and turbes (religious tombs).
Religious titles were abolished and wearing of clerical garb was
prohibited. The Dress Law was passed on 25 November 1926, aimed against
religious centers of opposition for the purpose of enhancing its
legitimacy against the Kemalists. What is important to note here is that
these laws were passed in an atmosphere of political consciousness on
the part of Turkish public that their implementation and acceptance
would reduce the threat of Kurdish nationalism.

The Sheikh Said rebellion created and provided a means whereby most
serious subsequent opposition to government policies or comprehensive
disagreement with its progress laid open the possibility that the
disaffected groups would be labeled as
traitors. In the aftermath of the rebellion, it was relatively easy to
color opposition forces with a hostile ethnic tinge. The vehicles
created and the laws passed for the suppression of the rebellion and the
symbols of opposition to the Kemalist program that it generated meant
that the consolidation of the Turkish state and of Turkish nationalism
were greatly expedited by the suppression and perceived threat of
Kurdish nationalism. The nationalist aspirations of ten percent of
population had to be denied if the nationalist goals of the other ninety
percent were to be achieved. It is in this sense that the Sheikh Said
rebellion, its suppression, and its aftermath were more important than
the purges of 1926, which simply eliminated the remaining opposition to
the Kemalists' programs. Most of those who were purged or sentenced to
death agreed or would have agreed with the position subsequently adopted
by the Turkish government vis-a-vis the Kurds and their nationalism.
After all, when opportunities arose after 1950 for different policies to
be followed or implemented, they were not.

The suppression of the Sheikh Said rebellion contributed to the
consolidation of the new Turkish republic, the evolution and domination
of the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Firkasi) and the
one-party state it represented up to 1950, and
the greater articulation of Turkish nationalism on which the party and
the state were based. The creation of a one-party state conditioned the
lack of serious discussion of policy alternatives, which in turn meant
that there was a monodimensionality to the
possible ideological solutions to the problems and challenges that the
young republic would confront. It is this unidimensional approach that
led to the great surprise of the Republican People's party at the
strength of appeal of the Democrat party in 1946.
The inability of the Republican People's party to learn from the lesson
of 1946 led inexorably to its defeat in 1950. In this sense, one of the
reasons for the defeat of the People's Party in 1950 was the legacy of
the monodimensionality that the Sheikh Said rebellion and its
consequences introduced into the Turkish polity. In fact, the entire
post-World War II period, when the military was in power in 1960-61,
1973, and from 1980 onward, follows a pattern shaped by the political
and ideological
consequences of the rebellion. Many factors contributed to the emergence
of the modern Turkish polity-the Kurds and Kurdish nationalism may not
be the single most important factor. But their influence on the
development of modern Turkey has been
most underestimated by scholars and students of Turkey.

It was stated in Chapter 5 that seventeen of the eighteen military
engagements in which Turkish military fought from 1924 to 1938 occured
in Kurdistan. Information about post-1938 Turkish military engagements
is not available, but if it were, a similar situation would probably be
noted. Turkey's armed forces intervened in Hatay in 1938, in Korea in
1950-1953, and in Cyprus in 1974. The military engagements against the
Kurds far exceeded the number of external interventions and engagements.
By the 1980s, Turkey's military actions against the Kurds had assumed
external as well as internal proportions. In 1983, 1985, 1986,
1987, 1988, Turkish forces entered Iraq in order to suppress and contain
Kurdish nationalist and guerilla groups. The struggle against Kurdish
nationalism, in which certain patterns of policies were implemented and
against which certain nationalist,
ideological, and psychological premises and attitudes were initially
adopted in 1925, continued to play an important role in Turkey's policy
decisions more than fifty years after the Sheikh Said rebellion. These
factors will quite likely continue to
influence Turkish policy well into the twenty-first century. Kurdish
nationalism, articulated and symbolized by the Sheikh Said rebellion,
will also continue far into the next century.

The objectives and policies of the third major party involved in the
Sheikh Said rebellion, Great Britain, have been discussed in Chapter 5.
There is, however, another aspect to the international consequences of
the rebellion that should be mentioned. Great Britain had consolidated
its power in northern Iraq through its forward policy, adopted after the
Air Ministry assumed control of
military operations from the War Office in August, 1922. From 1922 to
1925, the RAF, under the command of Sir John Salmond, who replaced Sir
Hugh Trenchard as chief of the Air Staff in 1929, pursued a vigorous
bombing policy against the
Kurds and Arabs in northern Iraq. The bombing forced Turkish forces led
by Colonel Ozdemir to retreat from Rawanduz in June 1923. In many ways,
the formal treaty between Turkey and Iraq on 5 June 1926 was shaped by
the success of the British bombing policies. As we have seen above, the
new Turkish republic was quick to learn from the British. By the end of
1926, Turkey had acquired 106 aircraft. In the following years, air
power was used extensively in military operations against the Kurds. Air
power was an effective means by which the new Turkish republic
consolidated its state power, especially against the Kurds, just as
British air power was instrumental in consolidating Britain's imperial
power in the post-World War I Middle East. The lessons learned regarding
the use of air power in northern Iraq, especiallyduring the period
1922-1925, were used to good
advantage by the British in Sudan, the Northwest frontier, Palestine,
and other places. These examples are illustrative of the relationship
between established empires and new states when two are not in direct
military conflict but both wish to subdue third parties following
policies antagonistic to the empire or to the new state. It became
easier for Britain and Turkey to bomb Kurds "tan to make political
concessions to Kurdish nationalism."

In the period prior to Sheikh Said rebellion, the Kurds (and Turks, too)
had to face the new technology of massive bombing, including incendiary
bombing at night. In the post-Sheikh Said period, the Kurds had to face
the might of an experienced British
air force, as well as the burgeoning and increasingly effective Turkish
air force. It would be more than thirty-five years before the Kurds had
adequate antiaircraft guns. In the intervening years, the Turks and the
British (Iraqi) forces were able to extend their control over areas of
Turkey and Iraq that were predominantly Kurdish. By 1926, the same
bombing policies against the Kurds were followed by Reza Khan in Iran.
The effective use air power andits implied threat played an important in
the origins and consequences of the Sheikh Said rebellion. The
psychological terror it induced in the peasant and nomadic peoples of
Iraq and Turkey and Iran, especially through incendiary night bombing,
proved to be especially effective. Iraq was, according to L. S. Amery,
the British colonial secretary in 1925,"a splendid training ground for
the Air Force".

One of the results of this effective British use of air power between
World War I and World War II largely against the peoples of British
colonies was that it contributed to the unpreparedness of British air
defenses against the Germans at the outbreak of
world War II, what A.J.P. Taylor has called RAF's "doctrine that
overwhelming superiority was the only defence." Right up to the outbreak
of the second World War and even during it, " the policy Lord Hugh
Trenchard, who was chief air marshal from 1919 to 1929, had established
was followed: "Bombing," he held, "could win a war by itself; it was
also the only means of not being bombed by others. Trenchard and his
successors persistently neglected air defense." Trenchard had first
witnessed the great effectiveness of straregic air bombing, sometimes in
coordination with infantry, in northern Iraq during the early 1920s.
Taylor was of the opinion that the successful use of British air power
in northern Iraq contributed to the deterioration of the British army,
the lack of mechanized vehicles, and the failure to create a sufficient
defense system in the 1920s and 1930s. British success against the Turks
and then against the Kurds and Arabs in nothern Iraq in the early 1920s
may have contributed subsequently to the RAF's lack of preparedness
against the Germans on the eve of and during the early years of World
War II. Recent studies have confirmed Taylor's judgments.

[ Prepared by Xalo]

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

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