Image for Cultural and Physical Genocide: The Kurdish Case in Turkey


Genocide is a systematic use of violence or oppression with the aim of physically eliminating or culturally destroying a social group. The savagery involved in physical genocide often attracts international attention whereas the use of cultural genocide over time often goes undetected.

The methods used in cultural or physical genocide may vary but the end result is the destruction of a group. Nevertheless, the United Nations has failed to recognise cultural genocide as a crime. The closest it came to recognising cultural genocide was in 1994, when Article 7 of the United Nations Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples used the phrase “cultural genocide” or the destruction of the cultural heritage of a group in such a manner that the group as a distinct entity no longer exists. Under pressure from state entities this phrase was omitted in subsequent drafts. This has given some states a free hand to use cultural genocide to destroy the identity of a minority in an effort to create a homogeneous society.

Turkey is one state that has utilised cultural genocide to destroy minorities within its borders. Turkey has also committed physical genocide against Armenians, and, I will argue, against Kurds. A plan for the physical and cultural genocide of Christians and Kurds started in 1915 under the Young Turks. The Young Turks eliminated Christians through expulsions and massacres. Non-Turkish Muslim populations such as Kurds, Arabs and Balkan migrants were dislocated and settled in areas with a Turkish majority population so they could be more easily assimilated.

This plan was instituted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk from 1923, when the modern Turkish Republic was formed. The Kurds were denied of their basic human rights, their language, culture and identity. They were called mountain Turks …

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*Dr Hussein Tahiri is a commentator on Kurdish and Middle Eastern affairs, and his contributions in this sphere are regularly published in Australian and international media. He is currently an adjunct Associate Professor at the Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing at Victoria University, Australia. Dr. Tahiri is a senior contributing writer for The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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