Monday, August 18, 2014

The Kurds

The Kurds are currently in the news and was the topic of Raymond Cannon, a retired British lawyer and amateur historian, who spoke at AACI.  Recently PM Netanyahu gave his opinion that the Kurds deserve independence and that the US should be supporting them.  It is said that the Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state, consisting of ca. 36 million people spread through mainly 5 countries, Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Azerbaijan.  There is also a Kurdish Diaspora, with Kurds spread from Germany (800,000) through Scandinavia, Britain, the US and Canada.
The Kurds are a Persian people and are not Arabs. They were originally mainly Zoroastrians, which was the State religion of the Persian Empire, until the Muslim conquests forced them to adopt Islam.  There were also many Kurds who adopted the Jewish religion and some 200,000 of them eventually moved to Israel, where they have mostly assimilated.  Although the Kurds are mainly Sunni Muslims, some are Shia, especially the Iranian Kurds.  They have an affinity in language and culture with the Iranians and the Iranian Kurds are quite well integrated into Iranian society.  However the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq and Syria have been persecuted by the Turks and Arabs and have long fought for their independence.
After the collapse of the Turkish Empire after WWI the Kurds sought and were offered independence in the Treaty of Sevres, but Kemal Attaturk ensured that they did not achieve independence.  Their historic indigenous area consisting of the mountainous region in central Asia known as Kurdistan was divided mainly between Turkey, Syria and Iraq,  Since 1918 there have been clashes between the Kurds and the Turks and the Arabs.  The worst of these was the Anfal Campaign of Saddam Hussein who sought to "Arabise" their region of Iraq by destroying thousands of Kurdish villages and massacring hundreds of thousands of Kurds during 1990-1992.  This was after the first Gulf War, but the US did not intervene.  The UN Security Council even passed a resolution # 688 at that time accusing Iraq of genocide of the Kurds. 
In Turkey, there was an ongoing war with the Kurds throughout the years and in the 1930s there were massacres of Kurds amounting to ca. 350,000 people.  In Turkey the Kurdish language and Kurdish customs were banned.  Between 1984 and 1994 the PKK the Kurdish Worker's Party fought a war with the Turkish Army.  Finally in 2013 the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, who was captured by the Turks, declared a ceasefire with Turkey.  Since then the situation of the Kurds in Turkey has improved, their language has been recognized and they have been given greater local autonomy.  These changes have resulted partly from the desire for Turkey to be accepted into the EU.  However, it is very unlikely that Turkey would agree to give up sovereignty over eastern Turkey where the Kurds live. 
In Iraq and Syria, a similar parallel situation has developed due to the breakup of those states.  In Syria the small Kurdish autonomous region has managed to remain independent against the Syrian Govt. forces of Bashar Assad and against the forces of the Sunni Islamist group ISIS, that has declared an Islamic State in eastern Syria and central Iraq.  In Iraq, the Kurdish Autonomous Region (KAR) has essentially declared its autonomy from Iraq, its Pesh Merga fighters have captured territory around Kirkuk and control the oil fields that were taken away from them by Saddam Hussein.  With the oil they have a source of income and are close to declaring their independence, having just elected their own President Barzani.  Since they are quite strongly anti-Arab they would make a great ally for the US and Israel, but although Israel supports them, the Obama Administration has not shown any public support for their cause.  Obama seems to think he can patch Iraq back together again, but that is probably impossible given the formation of the extremist Sunni Islamic Republic in its core. Latterly Obama has given permission for aerial attacks, by planes and drones, on IS fighters who are threatening the KAR and minorities in northern Iraq, such as the Yazidis and the Christians, and is providing arms to the Kurds.  However, this will probably not be sufficient to blunt the IS drive for control of most of Iraq.


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