Surname Law, the first step towards Turkification

In Turkey, the Surname Law was passed in 1934 as a means of Turkification. While on the one hand, there were military attacks, on the other hand, there were attempts to assimilate the peoples through laws such as the Surname Law.

The Surname Law, one of the founding laws of the Turkish state, was passed on 21 June 1934, published in the Official Gazette on 2 July 1934 and came into force on 2 January 1935. The law stipulated that all people living within the borders established by the Turkish state were obliged to bear a surname.

When the law came into force, the newspapers said: "No one will be recognised by class differences anymore, everyone will have the surname they want." However, this was not the case. The Turkish state ended the culture of descriptive epithets attached to the first name and associated surnames with Turkishness. This was especially true for the Kurdish people.

Almost all Kurds registered as Turks born on 1 January

Since the surname law stipulated that the surnames to be given had to be in Turkish, no Kurd could take a surname in their own language. On the contrary, they were given names fixed by the Turkish state. Moreover, while giving the Kurds surnames and registering them as Turkish, the Turkish state also fixed their birthdays and continued its attempts to erase the Kurds' past, not only with their surnames, but also with their birthdays. After the enactment of the Surname Law, almost all Kurds were registered as born on 1 January.

The Unity and Progress Committee (Ittihad ve Terakki), which gained strength during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, first began with social engineering. The most important attack of the Committee, which sought to Turkify the various peoples and religious groups existing in the Ottoman Empire, was the genocide of the Armenians in 1915. From 1915 until the establishment of the Republic, the Committee carried out numerous attacks and massacres in order to expel Armenians and Greeks and settle the people they wanted instead.

“Social engineering evolved into ethnic engineering”

The social engineering of the committee evolved into ethnic engineering with the establishment of the republic. Dr Nazım, one of the most important Ittihadists of the time, explained their aims in a meeting as follows: "What did we make this revolution for? What was our aim? Was it to remove Sultan Hamid and his friends from their seats and chairs and replace them? I do not want to believe that this is the case. I have become your friend, comrade and brother in order to revive Turkishness. I want the Turk, and only the Turk, to live and have independent sovereignty in this community. Let us destroy elements other than the Turk. No matter what religion and sect they belong to, it is necessary to purge this country of all elements that are not Turks. Religion has no value in my eyes. My religion is Turan. Shame on us if the complete cleansing and certain extermination is not carried out! We cannot sit where we are sitting today. Tomorrow, they will grab us by the arms and throw us out. They will not only throw us out, but kill us. The revolution knows no mercy. It thinks only of the goal it wants to keep alive, and if there are obstacles and hindrances, it destroys and removes them."

In this process, there were attacks and massacres against other peoples, especially the Kurds. While on the one hand, there were military attacks, on the other hand, there were attempts to assimilate the peoples through laws such as the Surname Law.

Census and Surname Law

For a long time after the introduction of the Surname Law in Turkey, the Kurds did not adopt a surname, but went on with their lives without turning to state authorities. The Turkish state deployed hundreds of officials in Kurdistan to give surnames to the Kurds and to determine their number. The aim of these officials was not to give the Kurds the surnames they wanted or to listen to their problems, but to find ways to register them and make them slaves of the Turks.

And so, it was. The officials' task was to take the first step towards erasing the Kurdish past by travelling from village to village in Kurdistan and registering people with the date of birth of 1 January. As a second step, they gave the Kurds surnames. This was to get the Kurds to fully adopt a Turkish identity. The officials did this in accordance with nationalism, one of the founding codes of the Turkish state, and the maxim of Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, then Minister of Justice: "In Turkey, races other than Turks have only one right, which is the right to be slaves of Turks."

"True Turk", "Son of Turk" and "Mountain Turk"

Kurds were not allowed to take a surname in their own language. The ban on the Kurdish language began with the Surname Law. A Kurd could not profess his Kurdish identity even in Turkish. This was clearly stated in the name ordinance issued by the Ministry of the Interior at the time. The ordinance explicitly stated: "Surnames such as Kürtoğlu, Arnavutoğlu [Kurdish son, Albanian son], etc., which refer to one's race, are forbidden."

While people in Turkey adopted surnames of their own choice, in Kurdistan surnames were given according to a list available to the responsible officials. The people were not consulted in any way. The Republic, which had established a system based on the destruction of the Kurdish past, took its most important step and gave Kurds surnames that were often insulting or emphasised that they were Turkish.

Some of the surnames given specifically to Kurds were Türk (Turk), Öztürk (True Turk), Türkoğlu (Son of Turk), Kantürk (Blood Turk), Aslantürk (Lion Turk), Türkdoğan (Born Turk) and Dağtürk (Mountain Turk).