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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Turkey's Kurdish Question
Henri J Barkley & Graham E Fuller

(Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998)
239pp. Index. £47.00; ISBN 0-8476-8552-7. Pb.: ISBN 0-8476-8553-5.

The Kurdish issue in Turkey is one of the most painful problems for Turkey and constitutes a significant part of the tension in Turkey's relations with the West as well its neighbours in the Middle East. In the last two decades more than 20,000 people have been killed and many hundreds of thousands displaced.

To research and publish on the Kurdish issue in Turkey, while not forbidden, entails a fine balancing between the limits of free speech on this issue and the pressure for informed debate. In Turkey's Kurdish Question the authors strive to 'encourage greater debate in Turkey' (p. xviii). In this way they hope to move beyond the political stalemate where the Kurdish issue is perceived by the Turkish political authorities as merely a function of the economic difficulties of the southern eastern part of Turkey and the terrorism of the PKK.

Thus, controversially, the authors define the Kurdish issue as an ethnic problem in need of an ethnic solution. That means a move towards acceptance of cultural diversity in Turkey. The authors argue both against assimilation of the Kurds and a military solution and for wide-ranging political and economic reforms.

The book is comprehensive in its analysis of the domestic political scene in Turkey, albeit less so on the role of the Kurdish issue in Turkey's foreign relations. Drawing on the yearlong research and experience of the two authors Turkey's Kurdish Question amply covers the existing research-field. It includes a balanced assessment of the PKK as it has modified goals and transformed itself into a political spokes-partner for the Kurds; analysis of the range and dynamics of the many legal and illegal Kurdish movements and political parties (including the sensitive issue of the Sunni-Alevi divide and relations with the Turkish left); description of the receptiveness and stance on the Kurdish issue among Turkish political parties, governments, civil society (half a page only!), business associations, media, intellectuals and academia and the Turkish population.

Taken as an up-to-date analysis of the Kurdish issue in Turkey, including their internal and external political ramifications and an assessment of the possible solutions, the book more than fullfills its aims. However, as a contribution to provoke debate within Turkey the book will most likely fall short. The analysis is bound to offend in Turkey with its persistent criticism of Turkish state institutions and call for wide ranging democratic reforms. That there are such limits for political discourse in Turkey is, of course, very unfortunate, but the authors, with their in-depth knowledge of Turkey are most likely well aware of this.

Thus, this book may be yet another contribution to the ongoing critical debate of Turkey's Kurdish Question in the West, rather than furthering the debate of these issues in Turkey.

Eva Østergaard-Nielsen, St. Antony's College, Oxford University

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