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Together with the irtica (‘religious reaction’), the Kurdish question has constituted the most important challenge to the Turkish Republic since its foundation in 1923. The trajectory of the Kurdish issue has been determined by two features: the state’s denial of its existence; and the emergence of its radical challenge to the state. Official state policy either denied the very existence of a distinct group called Kurds, or presented the Kurds as a threat to Turkey and the Turks as a national entity. The Kurdish struggle, on the other hand, has been at the basis of a series of revolts between 1923 and 1938 and, later on, in the 1970s–1990s, of urban violence and guerrilla warfare.
Since the beginning of the Republic, there has always been a close link between Turkey’s internal Kurdish issue and the Kurdish conflict in the Middle East. Almost all the Kurdish struggles throughout the twentieth century have in fact had a regional dimension, thus playing a decisive role in the foreign policies of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. With the notable exception of President Turgut Özal (1989–93), the Turkish authorities have always considered the formation of an autonomous Kurdish entity within the neighbouring territory as a potential threat to their own territorial integrity, and thus advocated a system of regional security against ‘Kurdish separatism’.