IR & Politics

Identity Politics – Report on a case: PKK

Although the European system had the moral, political, and enlightenment doctrines of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, before the French Bourgeois Revolution in Europe, people’s lives, daily behaviors, and lifestyles were shaped by religion and monarchy, not by the moral, political, and virtuous acts and doctrines once written. The legitimacy of religious institutions for the king to be a ruler because he was chosen by God, and thus the submission of people to the king, created a crisis of identity in people (Heywood, 2019, p.175).

However, after a while, as a result of the Enlightenment movement formed in Europe, the people who experienced an identity crisis began to mobilize for individualism and humanism. In the first place, the development of humanism began to increase the value of human existence in general and to remind them of the identities of human beings in general. It then showed people how important their identities as a free individual were by raising their confidence in the individual’s mind, consciousness, and the possibility of making the best choice for themselves freely. The organization of both individualism and the philosophy of individualism in society was not enough for the French Bourgeois Revolution. The idea of ​​a civil union was needed for people to unite and fight for their rights. This idea was also the idea of ​​civil nationalism. As a result of the combination of individualism, humanism and civil nationalism, the French Bourgeois Revolution took place in Europe. The unification and reform of society by people of the same or similar cultural, ethnic, national, religious, sexual and social class has formed a new phenomenon in the academic world. It was an identity policy phenomenon.

Identity policy arises from the desire of social groups with a common identity to pursue their common interests. Namely, people of the same or similar cultural, ethnic, national, religious, sexual, and social class are grouped together and create a common set of political goals and fight for it. The formation of identity policy and its politicization in America, Europe, and Africa since the 1950s is largely due to the oppression of people with identities (Gamson, Joshua, 2009, pp. 354-362). They are either identified by other people, groups, or the government solely on the basis of their identity, that is, gender, religion, race, and so on. When they think they are being discriminated against, they politicize and fight for their identities. In today’s system of international relations, the crises that cause the most conflicts are the crises over identity policy. Therefore, this phenomenon, which combines social interdisciplinary areas in the modern academic world, is one of the most socialized and politicized concepts in the modern world.

A descriptive outline of the PKK movement.

In modern international relations, the struggle of ethnic minorities with states is more important than the struggle of states against each other. Because ethnic minorities are always a threat to the sovereignty of a state within a state, most nation-states today no longer focus on each other, but on groups within themselves, and therefore balance their foreign and domestic policies (Chandra, Kanchan, 2012). One of the conflicts of ethnic minorities in our modern world is the issue of independence between Turkey and the PKK terrorist group. In 1961, the constitutional amendments further expanded the freedoms of students and workers, and relations between the south and the north of Turkey began to expand on a larger political level. The freedoms brought by the new constitution led to the formation of a new idea, a new way of thinking – the leftist system in the working class and the new generation of students in eastern Turkey. After the 1960s, when the process of urbanization and education of the East and the West took place, the idea of ​​the left began to grow in the East of Turkey. As a result, the economic inequality between Turkey’s Western geography and the East began to turn into an act of protest, first within the TIP party and then through the PKK terrorist group. Thus, the PKK terrorist group was established in 1978, aimed at establishing a state that would cover the south of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and the north of Iran, and became a military group that wanted to own the territory on Turkey’s southern border. However, although the PKK, the Kurdish right-wing party, was considered a leftist party in 1978, their struggle until 1984 was directly against the leftists and leftist ideology. The post-84 struggle has focused mainly on Turkish power (Wood, Graeme, 2007). This grouping mainly includes Kurds, who are an ethnic minority in Turkey, with a multifaceted approach. Although the ideological goal of the group is the freedom of the Kurds as a cultural factor, ideologically it combines issues such as democratic confederalism, leftist ideas and ethnic nationalism (Jongerden, Joost, 2016). Despite being Turkish citizens, these people in southern Turkey were allegedly discriminated against in society and exploited linguistically, culturally and economically because they were different from the Turkish nation. Therefore, they formed the PKK terrorist group and began to fight against the Turkish state so that the Kurdish nation could live in a more just economic system and in a country where they could use their culture and language comfortably. This terrorist group, which conducts more specific operations in the southern geographies of Turkey, Syria and Iraq, is constantly in the state of asymmetric warfare within the Turkish state. Although founded in the 1970s, almost every year since its inception, Syria, Turkey’s southern borders, Iraq, the Gulf and elsewhere have been embroiled in conflict and terrorist attacks. They are fighting diplomatically both in the geographical areas of southern Turkey and in the Turkish Grand National Assembly for the establishment of a Kurdish state and for the Kurds living in the south of the country to freely use and discriminate against their languages ​​and cultures. At the diplomatic level, in particular, in today’s Turkish politics, the PKK or the Kurds are not a direct representative party in the Parliament, but the presentation of the People’s Democratic Party in the party program shows that there is a doctrine of Kurdish rights:

“Our Party, by determining the actuality of the goal of a free and democratic country where there is no poverty and misery, where justice, equality and freedom come to life, all problems are freely discussed, nobody conceals their religious and ethnic identity, no such identities are imposed on anyone, is at peace with its history and all its neighbors; It aims to bring together every individual and organization against all kinds of discrimination and exploitation regarding labor, ethnic and religious identities, women, sexual orientation and gender identity, environment and natural resources, in order to enable the people to establish their own democratic administration.” (Party program on the HDP’s website, 2021).

An analysis of the PKK movement.

This selected example is directly related to the ongoing identity policy in our modern world and the transformation of identity policy into a conflict. In our modern world, the transformation of identity policy into a conflict occurs mainly on ethnic identities (Aytan Gahramanova, 2006). The transformation of ethnic identity into a conflict in states today is largely the result of the misregulation of international law. International law creates a contradiction in the norms of international law, both by giving peoples the right to self-determination and by giving states the right to sovereignty. (Center for National Studies, 2018). As a result of this conflict, conflicts between ethnic identities and state actors can occur within a state. The reason for the conflict between ethnic Kurds and the Turkish state in Turkey is based on this principle. The Kurds want to use their self-determination to establish their own state, and the Turkish state wants to use its sovereignty to ensure the security of its territory. Thus, it is clear that the essence of the problem is neither in the Turkish state, nor in the Kurds. Therefore, the armed conflicts that have been going on in Turkey for years through the Kurds through the PKK cannot be resolved. For the conflict to be resolved, either the Kurds must be deprived of this right or the Turkish state’s right to sovereignty must be limited. For example, under Saddam Hussein, the Kurds in Iraq were more discriminated against than in Turkey. As a result of the conflict between various groups in Iraq, including the Kurds, the sovereignty of Iraq has been violated and the Kurds have gained the status of independence there. As a result, Turkey is rightly fighting for the right not to violate its geographical rights in today’s international relations, and not to jeopardize its sovereignty as a state. The Kurds are also trying to achieve their goals using the opportunity of self-determination provided by international law. As a result, the problem in this conflict is neither in the ethnic minority Kurds, nor in the Republic of Turkey. The only problem is the misregulation of international law.



  • Marcus, Alizia. PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence – Blood and Belief. New York and London: New York University Press, 2007. [Turkish translation: Kan ve İnanç: PKK ve Kürt Hareketi, translated by Ayten Alkan. İstanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2009]

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Ali Mirzazada

Ali Mirzazada is a Research Fellow at the Caucasian Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies, Azerbaijan
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