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Ethnic and religious conflicts are two of the most pressing issues facing Turkey today. This article offers the argument that the development of the Turkish state and identity, and Turkey’s peripheral position in the interstate system, have collectively determined the parameters and dynamics of the conflicts. It is argued that modern Turkish identity has been forged by the state through the nation–state formation process that began in the 1920s. During the transition from Ottoman Empire to Turkish Republic it was deemed necessary to redefine the state and Turkish identity. At the historical juncture, Islam was replaced with other ideals and universals such as Turkism, modernity and étatism. The sudden and large–scale shift away from religion followed by vigorous ethnic assimilation efforts created a contradictory context between the state and ethnic/religious segments of the population. The change also marked the beginning of a new era in the Turkish–Kurdish discord. Another assertion of the article is that the state’s approach to ethnic/religious issues and demands is consistent with the assumptions and predictions of the ethnic democracy model.