Values and Attitudes among Kurds

Research Report
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The report "Values and Attitudes among Kurds" by the Kurdish Studies Center is out! The field study, which the report is built on, was carried out by Rawest Research with the support of Heinrich Böll Stiftung Istanbul.  On the basis of empirical data collected in 11 cities, the report aims at contributing to a better understanding of the values and attitudes of Kurds over the age of 18 years, and to present similarities and differences both among themselves and between them and the Turkish society.

The most general output of the report is that Kurds, in addition to the similarities and differences they have with the rest of Turkey, also display differences among themselves depending on factors such as worldview, political tendency, migration and sometimes gender. An extended summary of the report can be read below. For downloading the entire report, please follow the link at the bottom of the page.

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Kurds are Muslims, Libertarians and Democrats 

Identities such as Muslim, Libertarian, Religious and Democrat stand out among the participants. While Muslim, Religious, Conservative identities are more embraced by AKP voters, Libertarian, Muslim and Kurdish rights defender identities are predominantly visible in HDP voters. Kurdish nationalism seems to be prominent in the 10% band among Kurds. In the case of the Kurds who vote for CHP, Secular and Liberal emphasis stands out and distinguishes them from other groups.

Life Satisfaction is Low

The Kurds clearly differ from the rest of Turkey when it comes to life satisfaction. More than half of the participants share that they have low life satisfaction. Those who are live in the region, in small cities, men and young population make up the groups that are less satisfied with life. Household incomes of the participants are low and their households are more crowded than Turkey’s average. The majority of the participants are in the low-income group.

Religiosity is still strong in Kurds

Religiosity has positive meanings in the perception of more than two-thirds of the participants. The rate of those who describe religiosity with negative connotations is around 10%. Positive concepts such as “goodness”, “morality”, “spirituality” stand out as examples while negative concepts are such as “unnecessity”, “bigotry” and “oppression”. Religiousness of HDP voters is not low contrary to the popular belief. Political views on religious practices do not differ significantly. More than four-fifths of HDP voters pray regularly or infrequently. The proportion of those who regularly pray is close to each other for HDP and AKP voters (44% to 50%). Even though the rates are close, HDP and CHP voters have a significant dominance in those who do not practice at all, or those who have practiced before, but reduced/quitted over time.

It is seen that those who position themselves in the group of non-religious are largely composed of those on the left of the political scale and HDP voters. The proportion of men in this group is more than twice that of women.

Attitudes differ according to gender, political opinion and immigration experience

In terms of values and attitudes, the Kurds stand out as having high political and social similarities with the rest of Turkey. Issues such as worldview, political tendency, immigration and sometimes gender stand out as the main factors that distinguish Kurds from each other. The economy is a common problem for almost all participants. If we look at the points where the Kurds diverge within themselves, while the Kurds living in the region and the West agree on issues such as education and the justice system, those living in the region also highlight women’s issues and the Kurdish issue in addition to these. 

Participants see the Kurds ahead of the Turks and themselves ahead of both communities in terms of all universal and moral values such as hard work, hospitality, benevolence, honesty and environmentalism. The reproaches against the “corruption” in the society and especially the change of young people are also widely shared. The view that young people’s morals are deteriorating is supported by 87% of those who live in small cities. Although this rate decreases in the Kurds living in the West, it is accepted as 65% in total.

Considering the gender perceptions of the participants, it is understood that although there is a relatively liberal attitude towards women, traditional stereotypes also maintain their strong influence. Compared to Turkish society, the Kurds have a more liberal approach in terms of gender issues. The groups that have this tendency are those who see themselves mostly on the left and HDP voters. Those who see themselves on the right and AKP voters consider that men and women are not equal, and the authority should belong to men, mostly based on traditional and religious grounds.

In addition, it is seen that the phenomenon of migration is an important factor influencing the experiences of Kurds and that a “more Turkish” Kurdishness is constructed, which is also shaped by “migrated generations”. Agendas, demands and identification forms of Kurds living in the west of Turkey and planning a future there are gradually changing. This situation differentiates the Kurds in the West from the Kurds in the Region. 

Generations Differ From Each Other

The educational level gap between Kurds and their parents sets them apart from the rest of Turkey. The gap between the education levels of the participants and the education levels of their parents is wider. On the other hand, children of parents with a high level of education also positively differentiate from others. When it comes to the age of marriage of the participants, it is seen that single people differ greatly from both married and parents. The age deemed appropriate for marriage by single people is 8 years older compared to married participants and 10 years older compared to their parents.

Most of the participants identify themselves as Muslim/Sunni/Shafi’i. Although their parents are religious, some participants state that they are not as religious and do not perform prayers as their parents. In this respect, it can be said that religiosity differs compared to the previous generation and a change has occurred in line with a more rational understanding.

Positioning in Center and Right is More Predominant

Results of the research falsify the assumption that the majority of Kurds position themselves on the left of the political spectrum. Most Kurds position themselves not on the left, but in the Center (47,2%). Although the majority outside the Center is positioned on the Left (31,2%), a significant portion (21,4%) also positions itself on the Right. While positioning on the right and left is one of the main factors affecting the differences in attitudes, as expected, the existence of common denominators among these different worldviews draws attention among the Kurds in terms of approach towards values.

For religious participants, religious view functions as a determining factor in political choices. As a manifestation of this, there is a strong acceptance among religious-conservatives from the rightist point of view that the leftists are “distanced from religion”. This image of the left may determine the distance to the left and the closeness to the right among religious conservatives.

Political-national fears of partition and external threats, one of the prominent elements which define the rightist/conservative point of view, also seem to find a response in right-wing/conservative Kurdish participants. A significant portion of the participants (28%) think that “Jews rule the world”, “Zionists have their eyes on these lands” and that there are external threats against Turkey. Such fears seem to be weaker in participants close to the left.

Nationalism Trends Differ from Turkey in General

Nationalism as a phenomenon bears negative connotations in majority of the participants. It is understood that this approach is related to the “Pan-islamism” or leftist internationalist worldview for some participants, while it is related to understanding and experiencing Turkish nationalism as an exclusionary form of nationalism. In this respect, understanding nationalism in a dominant and exclusionary form can reveal a distant attitude to this phenomenon. 

However, when a more concrete context such as Kurdish nationalism is adopted, a loosening in this negative sense is evident. In this case, participants consider Kurdish nationalism as relatively more acceptable because they attribute a meaning that does not exclude other identities and claims rights. In this context, about one-third of the participants consider themselves to be Kurdish nationalists at a high level. While two-thirds of HDP voters embrace Kurdish nationalism at a medium or high level, nearly half of AKP voters adopt this identity.

Perception of Inequality is Strong

Majority of the participants think that Kurds and Turks are not equal before the state. While AKP voters have the opinion that inequality has decreased from past to present, HDP voters have a strong perception of inequality in terms of economy and identity. While less than a quarter of AKP voters share that there is no equality, this rate is more than half for CHP voters and more than three quarters for HDP voters. Similarly, this opinion is shared by one-third of the rightists and three-quarters of the leftists.

Participants refer to the solution process as a period when inequalities decreased, and both Kurds and Turkish society were “relieved”. For this reason, support for the solution process turns into an attitude that cuts all participants horizontally, as is the case with the issue of mother tongue.

Common Demand: Mother Tongue

The most frequently emphasized problem and demand for the Kurdish issue by the participants is the mother tongue. Mother tongue stands out as the common demand of all Kurds with different views. Again, the most important issue regarding the perception of inequality is the mother tongue. Some participants think that Kurdish should be taught as the language of education and teaching while others think that it should be taught as an elective course. It is also emphasized that this issue cannot be resolved unless the employment problem is resolved even if Kurdish becomes the language of education and teaching. Again, participants largely agree on demands such as public service and education in mother tongue. Those who position themselves both on the right, in the center and on the left, or in another categorization, also those who are from the AKP, HDP and CHP state that they support these demands.

Voter Behaviors

The parties most supported by the participants are HDP and AKP. CHP ranks third. When we look the changes in voting preferences compared to 2018, it is seen that AKP and MHP lost votes while parties such as CHP, Deva and Gelecek increased their votes. HDP votes are also partially decreasing.

If the party with which they are close does not participate in the elections, half of the participants boycott or withdraw to their indecisive positions instead of voting for the second party. CHP and MHP stand out as second party preferences. HDP voters prefer the CHP option while AKP voters prefer MHP. Deva Party is the third party option of AKP voters. It seems that the AKP lost 16% of its votes and at least 11% of this point switched to the opposition. On the other hand, the votes transferred from CHP and HDP cannot balance AKP’s loss of approximately 5 points. For those who did not vote in 2018 and will vote for the first time, AKP falls behind CHP. 4 out of 10 voters who did not vote tend to protest. This rate is around a quarter for first-time voters. Therefore, although the people who did not vote tend towards the opposition more, the motivation of this group to vote is still lower compared to others.

Selahattin Demirtaş is the politician deemed closest by the participants. Deniz Gezmiş follows him. Erdoğan ranks third among living politicians, and seventh overall. Süleyman Soylu and Devlet Bahçeli are the politicians that the participants see the most distant from themselves.