Kurdish Geopolitics Past and Present
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Who are the Kurds? Most of us have heard about them but don’t know who they are. Are they a race, a religion, a country? As we see from the following example, even
Europeans who are much closer to the Kurds still do not have a complete understanding of the Kurds or the middle east in general: In the West, the left and liberal minded people in general, especially in the Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon countries, have usually supported or at least expressed some sympathy with the struggles against both European colonialism and U.S. policies in Vietnam. But as soon as the problem shifted to Biafra, Southern Sudan, Kurdistan or Eritrea - in short, whenever the national question was raised within a third world country - this section of the public opinion has tended to remain silent and confuesed.1
This lack of knowledge about the Kurds and Middle East in general is a major wall between resolution of the many problems that exist in the Middle East. I would like to
give you a better understanding of what it is to be Kurdish by describing to you the past and present condition of Kurdistan, the state or territory that the Kurdish people
populate. A brief understanding of the history of the Kurdish people is all that is needed to successfully accretion just why we should be more involved and educated about the current political activities surrounding Kurdistan and the countries that infringe upon it.
The Kurdish people have the unfortunate distinction of being the only community of over 15 million in population that has not achieved some form of national statehood.2
This is the problem that needs addressing, people without a country. There Kurds territory, would be country, consists of the mountainous regions of central and northern Zargos, the eastern one-third of the Taurus and Pontus, and the northern half of the Amanus ranges (see F1).4 The Kurdish are an ancient people who about 4,000 thousand years ago started to trickle into Kurdistan in limited numbers to settle there.3 By the classical era in 300 b.c. the Kurds were already experiencing massive population movements that resulted in settlement and domination of many surrounding regions.5
Although they did at times rule over the land outside the mountains, for the most part, the Kurds home ended where the mountains ended. The Kurds as a distinct people have only survived in the mountains.
6 The relationship between the Kurds and the mountains is so
strong that they have become synomonis.7 These mountains are also the axis for five major countries, which include Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the former Soviet Union.
Since the end of World War I, Kurdistan has been divided into these five sovereign states, in which a significant population of Kurds inhabit (see below).
Notice that the total number of Kurds in all countries is larger than that of Iraq but smaller than Iran. Barring a catastrophe, Kurds will become the third most populous
ethnic group in the Middle East by the year 2000, furthermore, if present demographics trends hold, the Kurds will replace the Turks as the majority ethnic group in Turkey itself.9 The Kurds remain the only ethnic group in the world with indigenous representatives in three world geographic blocs: the Arab World (in Iraq and Syria), NATO (in Turkey), the South Asian - Central Asian bloc (in Iran an Turkmenistan), and until recently the Soviet bloc (in the Caucasus, now Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia).10
The most important features of Kurdistan society since the end of medieval times has been it’s strong tribal organization, with independence or autonomy being the
political status of the land. Kurdish society was well underway of developing a political culture but this was disbanded by the redistribution of their county at the end of the first World War. But strong Tribal confederacies still remained as a form of social organization and authority in which people put their allegiance.11
Kurdish lands, rich in natural resources, have always sustained and promoted a large population. While registering modest grains since the late 19th century, but
particularly in the first decade of the 20th, Kurds lost demographic ground relative to neighboring ethnic groups.
this was due as much to their less developed economy and healthcare as it was to direct massacres, deportations, and famines. The total number of Kurds actually decreased in
this period, while every other major ethnic group in the area boomed.12 Since the mid 60’s this negative demographic trend has reversed, and the Kurds are steadily making a
comeback. There is now one Kurdish city with a population of nearly a million(Kirminshah), two with over half a million (Diyarbekir, Kikuk), five between a quarter and a half million (Antep, Abril, Hamadan, Malatya,Sulaymania), and 13 cities with a quarter of a million (Adiyamamn, Dersim, Dohuk, Elazig, Haymana, Khanaqin, Mardin, Qamishli, Qochan, Sanandja, Shahabad, Siirt and Urfa).13 The Kurds as well as demonstrating a more than substantial population also have their own language. The Kurds are speakers of Kurdish. Kurdish is related to the northwestern subdivision of the Indo-European family of languages. It is completely separate of Semitic Arabic and Altic Turkish.14 This evidence of substantial population and a language different than those of the regions around them, show that Kurdistan and the Kurds are a separate entity from the overlaying countries of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the former Soviet Union, and should be treated as such. This leads us into the problem at hand, the Kurds are not receiving the respect that an automous society deserves. The blame for this problem lies mostly in the fact that the surrounding countries don’t recognize Kurdistan as an automous society and there for do not have to respect there wish to be a free state.
Kurdistan in the state that is now, is just a region of the middle east, which overlays several other countries that the majority of the Kurdish people inhabit. The Kurdish are only recognized as minorities and unwanted people and can only hope to be granted the right to live in peace, alone without ever having an official country. The Kurds have, in some countries, been so bold as to even demand equality and citizenship.
The Kurds as religion goes are three fifths Sunni Muslims of Shafiite rite. There are also some followers of mainstream Shiitem Islam. The overwhelming majority of the
Muslim Kurds are followers of one of several mystic Sufi orders. The rest of the Kurds are followers of there own unique religion that is only found in Kurdistan. Three of
these ancient, indigenous faiths that still exist today are Yezidism, Yarsanism or Ahl-i Haqq, and Alevism or Kizil Nash.15 As we see from this testimony of the Kurds separate
language, uses of original and regional religions, and large concentrated population, they no undoubtedly qualify as a entity that deserves recognition as a automous state.
So we now must address the problem, and what it is that keeps this idea of automous recognition from happening.
In each of the new post war countries, the Kurds found they were treated with suspicion and pressured to conform to the ways of the majority. Their old independence and
traditional pastoralist way of life was significantly interrupted. They were expected to learn the language of the new state in which they found themselves, Turkish, Persian, or Arabic, and to abandon their Kurdish identify and accept Turkish, Iranian, or Arab nationalism. “As a tribal and traditionally minded society the Kurds wanted to be left at peace, but few then were nationalists”.15 Some tribes tried to resist the encroachment onto their culture but were unsuccessful against the organized governments of the infiltrating states.
“In Turkey more than 10 million Kurds are forbidden to use their own language or to describe themselves as Kurds”.16 In the 1920’s and 30’s Kurds rebelled against this discrimination and the government reacted with more suppression and even deported thousands from their homeland.
These imprisoned and condemned Kurds were officially called ”Mountain Turks”.17 The continued suppression of over 10 million people has resulted in the rise of Marxist
In Iran The Kurds were similarly brought under control in the 1920’s. In 1946 the Kurds of Mahabad succeeded in declaring an independent republic, but it only lasted a few
months, and the authorities hanged the ring leaders. Tribal chiefs were allowed to register tribal lands and personal possessions and were welcomed into the Iranian ruling elite, in return for making sure their tribes obeyed the government. After the shia revolution the Kurdistan Democratic Party o Iran rebelled after the demands for autonomy were refused by Tehran.19
In Iraq there were a number of revolts against Bagdad, mainly by Mullah Mustafa Barzani, the famous leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq. From 1964 until 1975
Barzani was strong enough to maintain an intermittent state of war and peace
negotiations. In 1974 the governing Ba’th party offered Kurds autonomy, but the Kurds believed it lacked substance and they reverted to war strongly supported and encouraged by Iran. But in 1975 the Shah of Iran, who had supported Barzani, signed the agreement of Algiers with the Iraqi and abandon the Kurds to their fate; as a result the Kurdish resistance collapsed. The success of the Iraqi Kurds in the field of language and education have, however, enabled them to create impressive literature and a fully
adequate written language, and have produced a generation of Kurds whose primary and secondary level of education have been in Kurdish. Such achievements will undoubtedly help the Kurds of Iraq in their future efforts to preserve their cultural and ethnic Idenity.20
Will the Kurds be able to hold onto their ethnic identify with out outside help? Will the already suppressed Kurds be able to uphold their language and religion? I thing that is for sure is that as long as the Iranian and Iraqi’s oppress the Kurds their will always be someone who is willing support or at least pretend to support the Kurds
even if only for political reason or because it is to their advantage too. Sadly enough this method of support is used a lot by western countries to manipulate or maintain a
strategic advantage over surrounding Middle Eastern nations.
For example “at the end of World War I, the British introduced the idea of Kurdish nationalism, and the Treaty of Sevres (August 1920), whereby Britain and Turkey first
tried to conclude their hostilities after the war, contained two articles related to the autonomy of the Kurds.”21 But
this Treaty was never fully realized because soon the British changed their minds and shifted their attention toward Iraq in order to exploit oil, the Kurds were left out
to dry. Some observers of the U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf are increasingly puzzled over our failure to exploit the Kurds as a potential strong card against the Iraqi’s.
Supporting the openness of the Iraq and Haddam Hussein, particularly the leaders of the oppressed Kurdish minority, would be a useful political and strategically move for the
U.S.. A spokes person for the Kurdish Democratic Party says the “U.S. should look more closely at the international situation in Iraq. And this can only be done by talking to
the opposition.”22 So we see two occasions where help was indeed needed but not given.
In one instance we have a country using the Kurds to get their hands on some oil, and
on the other we see the U.S. not offering help even though they would gain a significant advantage over countries in the Middle East, even when the Kurds acknowledge that the
U.S. help would be just a ploy to get an advantage on Iraq.
Some believe that the U.S. is the Key to the Kurdish question in the Middle East. This is a very optimistic idea because of the complexity of the problem, “unless the
Americans succeed in developing a coherent and consistent Middle East policy, one should not expect consistency or predictability from the Middle East and the Kurds.”23