This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, October 10, 2014

The Spatial Demographics of Turkey versus ISIS

ISIS is currently taking over the Syrian town of Kobani (aka Ayn al-Arab) that sits right on Turkey's southern border, yet the government of Turkey has been reluctant to do anything about it. The reasons are as complex as everything else about the mess in Syria, but spatial demographics certainly play a role. A quick look at any map shows you that the southwestern half of Turkey borders the Aegean Sea, but the southeastern half of Turkey shares a land border with Syria and Iraq. The region of northern Syria, northern Iraq, and southwestern Turkey is predominantly Kurdish (who represent about 20 percent of the population of Turkey), as the map below from the Washington Post illustrates:

The Kurds are predominantly Sunni Muslims, as are almost all Turks and are the members of ISIS, so religion is not the issue. Rather, it is what we tend to think of as ethnicity. Kurds are not Turks, nor are they Arabs (which is mostly what ISIS is), but are ethnically related to Persians and speak a language that is neither Turkish nor Arabic. And, they have high the highest fertility rates in Turkey, as the map below shows (taken from an excellent paper by Orguz Isik and M. Melih Pinarcioglu, "Geographies of a Silent Transition: A Geographically Weighted Regression Approach to Regional Fertility Differences in Turkey,” European Journal of Population 22:399-421, 2006.
The Kurdish southeastern corner of Turkey has not only high fertility, but high levels of illiteracy, and relatively low levels of female employment. It is, in other words, a very different place from western Turkey, where Istanbul is located and where people are likely to have in mind when they think of Turkey. And, as we know all too well throughout the world, differences can (and often will) be used against you. The Kurds have been discriminated against throughout the region, but are sufficiently different even among themselves that they have been unable to create a unified group.


  1. the opportunity exists to carve out a section on N. Iraq and re-define it as Kurdistan. I mean officially, and not just culturally. The Kurds need a home of their own. Truthfully, the new Kurdistan should also encompass some of N. Syria, SE Turkey, and NW Iran. Naturally, those oher nations will refuse. But actually if the Kurds were given their own homeland - the prospects for regional peace would be much improved. Just my thoughts, anyway.

    Pete, USA

    1. Well, I'm guessing that people don't really want to move--they want Kurdistan to come to them (certainly that's the movement afoot in Turkey) rather then everybody trying to find their spot in Northern Iraq.