Settlement wars in Turkish Kurdistan

Dutch researcher Joost Jongerden investigated the resettlement politics in Kurdistan (Turkey). He discovered that there was a fundamental conflict between government agencies as to the most desirable use of public space in a rural areas. This space was cleared by the Turkish army in the 1990s, during its fight against the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK).

The return of the population and the reorganisation of rural areas are current topics in war-torn countries. In the 1990s, southeast Turkey was the scene of a war between the Turkish army and the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). In its efforts to effectively control the guerrilla activities of the PKK, the Turkish army cleared an estimated 3000 to 4000 villages. According to the Turkish authorities this led to the displacement of some 400,000 people but according to human rights organisations 4 million people (the majority of them Kurds) were displaced. Most of them settled in towns inside and outside of the region.

Various studies have indicated that a sizeable majority of the displaced rural population would rather return to their own village. Although various programmes have been developed to facilitate this return, few people have actually returned.

Army opposes return

Jongerden investigated the return policy of the Turkish government. He discovered that various government agencies had wide-ranging and even conflicting ideas about 'returning'. Agencies mainly concerned with public safety - the army and governors in the region - have insurmountable objections against a return of the rural population. They fear that the people are sympathetic towards the PKK, and will once again enable this organisation to organise itself in rural areas.

Conversely agencies that focus on developing the region believe that rural areas cannot remain permanently uninhabited. However these agencies do not want to see the former settlement structure restored, and their inhabitants return. Rather they consider the clearance of so many villages as an opportunity to develop a new settlement structure for rural areas. This structure should be built up around villages that can fulfil the role of local centres, and facilitate the downscaling of administration.


Joost Jongerden's research was funded by NWO-WOTRO.

Last updated: 30 Apr 2016
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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