- John C. Thompson
25rd September, 2017
Pity the poor Kurds. There are between 30 to 45 million of them in the Middle East today and recent history has not been kind. Today, 14 years after the Americans overthrew one of their most brutal foes, the Kurds of Northern Iraq are holding a referendum to decide whether they should – once again – seek to have a nation of their own.
It is said if you want to live peacefully, chose your neighbours carefully. Like the Koreans, the Kurds got the short end of the stick and haven’t had much peace over the centuries. They also serve as a vivid illustration of Samuel Huntingdon’s ‘fault line’ premise in his 1997 Book, The Clash of Civilizations.
The Koreans were long caught between China to the Southwest, Japan (or whatever maritime power dominates that part of the Pacific) to the East, and the Mongols followed by the Russians to the northeast. Neighbours like this make for a colourful history, particularly in bright red hues.
The Kurds have a similar problem: Historically, they were lodged where the Persians, the Turks and the Arabs all collided, with time out for the occasional threat (like more Mongols and Russians) from out of the North. The Kurds were in the area before the Turks or the Arabs appeared on the scene, they may even predate the Persians. However, in Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus or Ankara, nobody cares about that.
In the early 20th Century, particularly as the Ottoman Empire came crashing down in WW-1, the Kurds finally heard about this new idea called ‘nationalism’ and started to think it could have some value for them. However, Turkish nationalists, Persian nationalists, and Arab nationalists who were under British and French heels just didn’t have it in them to leave any room for a Kurdish nation.
Since the Middle East took on its modern boundaries, Kurds find themselves in Iran, in Iraq, in Syria, and in Turkey, a few of them were even stuck in the USSR. There were a couple of half-hearted attempts at creating a compromise Kurdish entity… but who (other than the Kurds) remembers the short-lived Republic of Ararat, the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, or the two-year life span of the Kingdom of Kurdistan in northern Iraq?
The Kurds know a lot about oppression, they’ve been on the receiving end of it more or less continuously from every point of the compass. There have been a dozen insurgencies, massacres galore, a few rebellions, episodes of ethnic cleansing, assassination of leaders, systemic discrimination and so on. They’ve made mistakes too, harnessing socialism to Kurdish nationalism made them few friends in the 1970s-and ‘80s, and even today the Turks get a free pass for going after PKK bases.
However, since Saddam Hussein failed, the Kurds have contributed mightily to the stabilization of Iraq; fought hard against ISIS; and generally been cooperative. However, they have not been seeing much in the way of benefit for this. Hence the question today for Iraqi Kurds on whether or not they should create an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq.
The Kurds of Iraq deserve an independent state and they probably would make a great success of it… if left alone. From the dim view of the referendum being taken in Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara, that is not likely to happen.
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