Northern Kurdistan (Ku: Bakurê Kurdistanê, briefly Bakur) is the unofficial name of Kurdish majority areas in today’s Turkey. It includes most of the eastern and southeastern parts of Turkey which border Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia and Nakhchivan.
Bakur is the largest part of divided Kurdistan. Its larges city Amed (Diyarbakır) is known to be unofficial capital of Greater Kurdistan.
The mountainous region south and south-east of Lake Van, between Persia and Mesopotamia, was in possession of the Kurds before the time of Xenophon, and was known by the Greeks as the “land of the Carduchi” (in Greek Καρδούχοι), Corduene.
At most of their advance in the Middle East, the Romans dominated Turkish Kurdistan and the western part of present-day Kurdistan. The kingdom of Corduene was for example vassal of the Roman Empire between 66 BC – AD 384.
Middle and New Ages
In the Middle Ages, the Kurdish populated areas of the Middle East came under the domination of the local Kurdish chieftains, although they never established a united nation state. Amid the 10th and 11th centuries the region was ruled by the Kurdish dynasties of Marwanids and Shaddadids. From the 14th century, the region was mostly included in the Ottoman Empire. The Kurds had a form of autonomy within the empire. Some emirates and principalities were semi-independent.
In 1920, the Treaty of Sèvres provided for the creation of a Kurdish state on the remains of the destroyed Ottoman Empire, as for the other peoples of the region. But by the Treaty of Lausanne 1923, the Middle East was divided into several countries that do not take the right of Kurds into account to dispose of their land. Indeed, of great geopolitical importance in the region, Kurdistan is also rich in oil and water.
With the creation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkish authorities forbade Kurdish language and surnames, the word “Kurdish” itself was forbidden and Kurds were referred to as “Mountain Turks” by the Turkish politicians . Faced with this denial of the Kurdish fact and the Kurdish identity, the Kurds have risen several times. The uprisings were violently repressed by the Turkish army.
On May 5, 1932, the Turkish Parliament promulgated a law of deportation and dispersion of the Kurds. This law aims at the massive deportation of Kurds to Central Anatolia and the settlement in the Kurdish territories of Turkish-speaking immigrants from the Balkans  in order to accelerate the “turkification” of the Northern Kurdistan. According to some estimates, from 1925 to 1939, Bakur lost about one-third of its population as a result of mass killings and mass deportations.
Northern Kurdistan covers parts of Southern Caucasus, Southeast Anatolia and Northern Mesopotamia. Because of having no status, its borders with the rest of Turkey can not be specified.
Northern and eastearn regions of Bakur are mountainous. Mountains had significance throughout the Kurdish history. In addition to their importance for defence, they have been birthplaces of myths. Some prominant mountains are Cudi, Ararat, Nemrut, Suphan, Cilo. Bakur’s Mesopotamian region which covers Mardin, Urfa and Amed is generally flat.
Northern Kurdistan is rich by water. Near East’s significant rivers like Euphrates, Tigris and Aras originate there. Two largest dams of Turkey, Atatürk and Keban are built on the Euphrates. Lake Van which lies between the provinces of Bitlis and Van is the largest lake of whole Kurdistan. Other major lakes are Hazar and Erçek.
In Bakur, Kurds are the absolute majority. But there is a conflict in estimates of the Kurdish population in Turkey. According to CIA, the number is 14.3 million which makes up 18% of 81.6 million. Turkish authorities accuse the CIA of exaggrating Kurdish population . On the other hand, Kurdish Institute of Paris estimate the number between 15-20 million. Kurmanji is the premiere Kurdish dialect in the region. Beside it, Zazaki-speakers can be found in Dersim, Bingöl, Elazığ, Siverek, Varto and partly in Diyarbakır.
Since the late 1980s, Turkish state deported millions of Kurds to the western provinces under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Indeed, this has been part of the state’s Turkification policy. As a result, İstanbul became “the largest Kurdish city” despite the assimilation of Kurds residing there. Today, nearly half of Bakuri Kurds live in Turkish cities and roughly half of Kurds live in Turkey and “Turkish Kurdistan”.
Significant minorities in Bakur are Turks in northern and northwestern part, and Arabs in southwestern part.
The region is predominantly Muslim with a small Christian minority in Mardin and Amed (mostly Syriacs followed by Kurds and Armenians). In Dersim province, Koçgîrî, north Bingöl and Karakoçan; Alevis are the majority while the other settlements in Bakur are generally Sunni. The Yezidis of Bakur whose traditional settlements are Batman and Mardin left their soils for Germany in 1970s and 80s.
In comparison with the rest of Turkey, fertility rate in Kurdish provinces is higher.
Turkey is divided into 81 provinces (İl or Valilik) which are administrated by the governors appointed from Ankara. The provinces are further divided into districts and municipalities. The counties (İlçe or Kaymakamlık) are administrated by Kaymakams appointed by the Ministry of Interior. The mayors (Belediye Başkanı) and village chiefs (muhtar) are elected by the people.
Since the Atatürk-era, human rights of Kurds were denied by the Turkish state. Atatürk’s Justice Minister, Mahmut Esat Bozkurt’s a well known statement: “Turks is the master of this land. Those who are not genuinely Turkish have only one right in Turkish homeland: The right to be slaves!”.
Turkey’s one of main policies has been the erasing of Kurdish culture. Kurdish language was officially banned between 1924 and 1991. Even today, Kurdish language education is outlawed. All TV Channels except the state-run TRT-Kurdi was shut down in 2016.
Amid the 1980s, a Kurdish guerilla group named PKK started an uprising. The conflict is ongoing and spread to the Northern Iraq.
Aside from the armed insurgency, legal political parties also appered in Kurdish-majority areas. In spite of being opressed by the government and facing many other hardnesses, pro-Kurdish HDP wins the elections in the region.
HDP (Halkların Demokratik Partisi: Peoples’ Democratic Party), the largest pro-Kurdish political party is supported by the secular left-wing Kurds. Smaller parties are HAKPAR, ÖSP, and KDP factions.
As 31.08.2018, 99 of 102 elected HDP mayors have been removed and replaced by appointees since September, 2016.
Agriculture and farming are main sources of income. Thanks to the geography and climate, there is a wide variety of agricultural products. Besides, water-rich areas enable fishery while the hilly regions offer apiculture.
100% of Turkey’s oil and gas reserves are located in Northern Kurdistan, specifically in Batman and Amed. But still compared to the reserves in Rojava and Bashur, petroleum resources in Bakur are limited and lower-quality.
1. Link: gauchemip.org
2. Kubilay Yado Arin, « Turkey and the Kurds – From War to Reconciliation? Link
4. L’Afrique et l’Asie modernes, numéros 140 à 143, Centre de hautes études administratives sur l’Afrique et l’Asie modernes, 1984, p. 52-53.
5. Les Kurdes, un peuple en détresse (French) by Kendal Nezan. Hommes et Migrations, Vol. 1116, no 1, novembre 1988, p. 31.
6. T24.Com.Tr (Turkish independent news portal)
7. EurAsia Daily: Kurds in Turkey: deportations, ethnic purges and destruction of gene pool by Arman Hagopian
8. Middle Eas Forum: Erdoğan’s Graying, More Kurdish Turkey by Burak Bekdil
9. Bozkurt, 1930, P.3