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Kurdistan*

Mosul/Irbil

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History

An ancient people which has never had its own state, though they may be the descendants of the Medes, the ruling people at one time in the ancient Persian Empire. They defended themselves against Xenophon who led Alexander's armies through their land. He called them the Kardokhawi.

They occupy parts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan in the former Soviet Union. Salah ud Din (Saladin), the only great Muslim soldier known to most westerners, was a Kurd.

Before the first world war three quarters of Kurdistan was in the Ottoman Empire and one quarter in the Qajar Persian Empire. Their status then was no worse than that of the other nationalities in those empires.

At the peace conference it was at first proposed (by President Woodrow Wilson) to create Kurdistan out of the scattered peoples. The draft Treaty of Sevres in 1920 allowed for the creation of a state of Kurdistan as well as Armenia in the eastern parts of the former Ottoman territory. The Mosul vilayet (Ottoman governorate) would have been joined to the Kurds now living in modern Turkey. This treaty was never ratified. Turkey had been rejuvenated by Kemal Ataturk and had reconquered eastern Anatolia, ending the possibility of independence for Kurdistan.

The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 recognized this new Turkish power and omitted mention of Armenia and Kurdistan. It has been suggested that fear of the revolutionary regime in Russia and a desire to create strong neighbors in Turkey, Iran and Iraq affected this decision. Britain was interested in controlling, through Iraq, the oil in Kurdistan.

The League of Nations awarded Mosul to Iraq (ruled by Britain as a League of Nations Mandate) in 1925, ignoring the treaty of Sevres. However, the effect of the unratified treaty of Sevres was to create an aim for the nationalists, who commenced to fight for it. Current estimates of population are 4 million in Iraq, 9.5 million in Turkey (but perhaps only about 2 million actual Kurdish speakers), 5 million in Iran, 1 million in Syria and 1 million in Armenia (and a few in Azerbaijan). They speak different dialects and don't necessarily understand each other. Not all the Kurds in Turkey speak Kurdish (like English-speaking Welsh).

A guerrilla war in Turkey has been going on since 1984. There are believed to be 10,000 guerrillas of the cult-like Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK).

During the 1970s the Kurds became a pawn in the disputes between Iran, Iraq and the United States. The Shah of Iran requested that the Iraqi Kurds make trouble for Saddam Hussein in order to bring pressure on him to agree to the frontier being drawn in the center of the Shatt al Arab waterway. The US sent them arms. When the agreement was signed Iranian and American support was withdrawn. The Kurds were then massacred by the Iraqi government. The evidence of former American intelligence employees is that neither the American nor the Iranian governments wished to allow any kind of Kurdish entity. Turkey was an important ally of the US in the anti-Soviet alliance system (NATO). Iran was also regarded as an ally.

Documents discovered following the Gulf War show that the Iraqi government, and especially its agent Ali Hassan Majid, had a policy of systematic massacre in which several hundred thousand Kurds were killed and over 400 villages completely destroyed. These actions are comparable with the other 20th century crimes of genocide such as the Soviet Union in Poland, Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot. Poison gas was used. Concentration and extermination camps similar to those of the Nazis have been identified.

At the end of the 1991 Gulf war the Iraqi Kurds rose against the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein after American calls for them to do so but they were again massacred when Saddam's army counter-attacked and they had received none of the military assistance they believed they had been promised. Thousands died as they attempted to escape the country by climbing the high mountain passes on the Turkish border. Others fled to Iran.

In May 1991 after western public outcry the British and American governments called for UN supported "safe havens" for the Kurds and sent troops to occupy parts of northern Iraq. However, only some kind of secure Kurdish political entity would guarantee their safety. So far there is still no sign that any major government will help them achieve a Kurdish state by recognizing the administration - perhaps because the Saudis do not want to create a new entity, even if Sunni, and especially if it is democratic.

In August 1991 Turkey chased Kurdish guerrillas from Turkey into the frontier area of Iraq and occupied part of the Iraqi territory, indicating that Turkey has no intention of allowing Kurds any autonomy. It can be assumed that if there were signs of an independent Kurdish state in the area of the "safe havens" Turkey would attack it - and did, March 1995.

In 1993 there were reports that Iraqi forces were continuing to massacre Kurds and were reoccupying part of the land, presumably believing the international community has no will to stop him (after watching Bosnia).

In September 1996 after Iraqi forces attacked Irbil in alliance with the Kurdish Democratic party (Barzani), Turkey announced it would set up a Security Zone, like Israel's in Lebanon. Hopes for Kurdish independence seem as far away as ever. 3000 years of fighting for independence will continue, but even when given it they don't seem able to unite enough.

Following the war in 2003 the Turkish policy seems to be unchanged: to occupy or control the Iraqi Kurdish area to prevent independence. It is reported that the agreement with the US to permit US troops to cross Turkey to invade Iraq from the north, includes an agreement for Turkish troops to occupy the Kurdish areas. If so, it would have guaranteed a future guerrilla war against the Turks. However, Turkey refused to allow US troops to use Turkish bases.

Here is a report (December 2005) that Kurds in Iraq are ready to fight for independence.

In December 2007 Turkey has began to attack Iraqi Kurdistan with air strikes.

Syria
The revolution in Syria during 2011-2012 (so far) may liberate the Kurdish region of Syria from central control. If so, would they cooperate with the Kurds of Iraq and Turkey? There are signs in August 2012 that the Turkish government is wary that this might happen, destabilising the Kurdish region of Turkey.

Languages

Kurdish, an Into-European language related to Farsi and Pashto.

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Politics

There are several Kurdish nationalist parties. In Turkey the Kurdish Workers' Party attracts the nationalists but is mainly a Marxist Party. The problem of non-Marxist Kurds is that all nationalist parties are forbidden by the Turkish constitution and the Workers Party is the only one they can join. Thus members of the party might not all agree with its public aims, a classic Marxist state. How this will be affected by the collapse of communism in the neighboring Soviet Union remains to be seen (so far, 1995, not much).

In Iraq the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and other groups campaigned ostensibly for an autonomous region within a democratic Iraq. At first they co-operated with the Turkish government in opposition to the Kurdish Workers' party. But in March 1995 the Turks again occupied part of Iraqi Kurdistan, as they did in July 1991.

Elections were held in May 1992. These might have marked the formation of Kurdish state, in name part of Iraq but in practice independent. However, unless it can secure some recognition from the outside world it is unlikely to succeed. Its leaders still proclaim that they wish to remain part of Iraq, provided that Saddam disappears.

Unfortunately, by May 1994 it was clear that the two main parties were fighting each other. The 'parties' were really clan alliances. In the west, Barzani's group controlled the Turkish frontier area centered on Mosul; in the south Talabani's group controlled the Iranian frontier area, centered on Irbil. Not a success.

Their disunity proved catastrophic when, in September 1996, Saddam's troops occupied Irbil allegedly in alliance with Barzani and in response to alleged Iranian assistance to the other group.

After an agreement between the two factions, arranged by American envoys, the Kurdish Parliament met for the first time in October 2002. This was believed to be a step in the preparation for a possible war against Saddam Hussein by the US.
Following the invasion of Iraq by British and American forces, Iraqi Kurdistan has a provincial assembly and has members of the transitional government of Iraq.

Talibani has become President of Iraq. Where are his real loyalties? His career has included alliances with Saddam, with Barzani, with the Iranians, and against each, sometimes switching several times. Does he believe Iraq will survive? Is he ready for Kurdish independence if that becomes possible? No-one can see into his mind.

In theory the Kurdish region is a democratic partly autonomous state. In practice it is divided into two regions, controlled by the two clans or families. As in Pakistan the "parties" are barely concealed Dynasties

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Economics

An independent state could support itself on the oil revenues, if it could get the oil out. Oil smuggling has been the main income.

The economy is hindered by the fact that all economic activity is subject to the unofficial "tax" from the control by the ruling clans in the form of bribes and nepotism. Like many oil economies there is hardly any other economy.

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Green/Ecology

Saddam Hussein's troops have tried to poison the soil as well as the people. Although this could be one of the richest agricultural areas of Iraq (it has some rain in the winter) Saddam was so obsessed with killing the people that much of the land is uncultivated.

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Human Rights

Until April 1991 Kurds were forbidden to use their own language in public or private in the Republic of Turkey.

In Iraq they have been subjected to genocide by the Ba'ath party government led by Saddam Hussein.

In Iran they have been discriminated against as many of them belong to the Sunni branch of Islam rather than Shi'ism. Their political demands for autonomy have been resisted by the Islamic government, and before the revolution, by the Shah.

There are reports of political prisoners and torture in the autonomous region.

Last revised 1/08/08


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