The Kurds: still world’s largest stateless nation, Syria’s Free Kurdistan Regional Government

By Dr. M. Koohzad:

Kurd fighter in Syria

Kurd fighter in Syria

The Syrian Arab Spring that started almost two years ago is still in full swing. Under the leadership of al-Assad II, the government has been massacring its own people, many of them civilians. The uprising in Syria, of course, is seen neither in isolation nor as an internal issue. More than a dozen countries are directly or indirectly involved including the USA and, many of the EU members, Russia, China, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia.

The last two, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are supporting the Sunni majority population against the ruling Alawite minority government in Damascus that has some similarities with the Iranian Shia sect of Islam. For the last thirty years or so, Syria has received free oil and financial help from Iran. In the Arab World, Syria has been the only base for Iran for sending money and weapons to the Hezbollah and Hamas groups fighting against the Zionist state of Israel. Fighters from Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia are already there. Even Jihadist and al-Qaeda members have come to Syria to fight.

Turkey’s interest in Syria:

The country of Turkey, however, has been the most concerned of all. It is concerned about the future of its own Kurdish population. Turkey wants to prevent a free Kurdistan Regional Government in Syria similar to that of Northern Iraq. Particularly after the collapse of the USSR, Turkey, which was more interested in the Caucasus and Central Asia, is suddenly paying much more attention to an Arab neighbor. Actually, it has not been so sudden. The Turks captured northwestern parts of Syria, before it received independence from France in 1946. But a bigger problem emerged when Turkey started building dams on the Euphrates. This was part of Turkey’s much larger regional development plan called the GAP, and it damaged Syria’s agriculture. Hafez al-Assad retaliated by housing a Kurdish guerrilla group, the PKK, abbreviated from the Kurdish name of “Kurdistan Workers’ Party.”

Ankara is not concerned about bloodshed or democracy in Syria. Nor is it alarmed about 50,000 refugees entering Turkey. Instead, Turkey is worried about its own Kurdish population. Turkey is currently occupying a major portion of historical Kurdistan. Nearly half of all 50 million Kurds in the world live in Turkey. Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the existence of the Kurds has been denied. They have been called “Mountain Turks.” Their language was banned in 1924. The Kurds have been forcefully assimilated, deported, and systematically massacred. Turkish armed forces, under Ataturk’s direct order, had killed more than 15,000 mostly non-combatant Kurds by 1938 in the province of Tunceli, in and around the city of Dersim. Most of the elderly, women, and children were burned alive.

The rest of the Kurds are unequally divided among Iran (10 million), Iraq (8 million), Syria (2 million), and few of the former Soviet Republics. The majority of the Kurdish diaspora live in Europe. Over one million of them of them are found in Germany. In Washington, the clueless American politicians that are being controlled by lobbyists working for foreign nations divide the Kurds into “Bad” and “Good” Kurds. The Turkish lobby is only second to the Israeli lobby in terms of influence on the US government. In Turkey, the Kurds are “bad” terrorists. Kurds from Iran morphed from being “bad” under the monarchy to being “good” in the Islamic Republic. The Kurds in Iraq also became very “good” after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. Currently, Washington is being advised by Ankara as to what to call the Kurds in Syria. Perhaps they will not be in the “Good” category because they are asking for more freedom.

The Kurds in Iran and Iraq:

Iran is the only country with a province named Kurdistan, but the Kurds there have not fared any better than in Turkey. The Kurds in Iran are actually divided into three provinces in the northwest and western parts of the country. Iran also has about one million Kurds living in the northeast near the borders with Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. Because the majority of the Kurds are Sunni Muslims, they have always been discriminated against in a country where the official religion is Shia Islam. Recently, they were not even allowed to build a mosque in Tehran. The first Kurdish Republic, centered in the city of Mahabad, was destroyed by the last Shah of Iran in 1946 with help from the US, because it demanded more local autonomy. The Kurdish Republic became the world’s first victim of the Cold War. The Soviets abandoned the Kurds because Tehran promised to give the Soviets some oil concessions. The Kurds supported the Iranian revolution but again asked for more local autonomy within a democratic Iran. American-made fighter jets bombarded the Kurds in the city of Mahabad in 1979.

This was not the first time the Kurds were massacred by airplanes. The British RAF was the first to drop bombs and poisonous gas on the poor Kurdish areas in Iraq in the early 1920s. This is due to the mountainous nature of Kurdistan, where soldiers have a hard time reaching their targets. Thus, the air forces have been used frequently by all of the enemies of the Kurds. Unfortunately, the air raids upon the Kurds are not a thing of the far past: the modern Turkish air force continuously kills many Kurds. The country’s first female pilot, the stepdaughter of Ataturk, routinely carried out air raids against civilian Kurds.  Under Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi air force killed the largest number Kurds in that country. In the most famous massacre of the Kurds, carried out in 1988, more than 5,000 Kurds were killed in the town of Halabja.

Right before the American invasion of Iraq, one of the most common sound bites against Saddam Hussein was, “He even killed his own people!”  In fact, Saddam never treated the Kurds as “his” people or even as people: he most often called the Kurds “flies.” However, Saddam’s brutalities against the Kurds were not as bad as Turkey’s tyrannies and state- enforced terrorism against them. It is believed that both Hitler and Saddam have cited Ataturk as their mentor and teacher. This founding father of modern Turkey was a racist and began his own form of Eastern Fascism before the Europeans. Ataturk initiated ethnic cleansing of the Kurds, but brutalities against the Kurds reached the highest level in Iraq. As the number one murderer of the Kurds, Saddam simply repeated Turkish methods of dealing with the Kurds.  For example, the Turks have annihilated many Kurdish civilians, as retaliation against the Kurdish freedom fighters, the Peshmerga, who have never let themselves to be easy targets.  In the summer of 1930, in an attempt to suppress a Kurdish revolt, about 100 intellectuals were sewn into sacks and tossed into Lake Van. Many times, Turkish soldiers were ordered to throw civilians, hands tied, into the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. If Kurds took refuge inside caves, they were first gassed, and then entrances were blocked up with stones, then with bricks and mortar to close their entrances. Saddam Hussein’s atrocities should be seen in this context. 

The Kurds in Syria:

The Kurds have also suffered in Syria. In 1957, a suspected Syrian-Arab nationalist set fire to a movie theater in Damascus that killed 250 Kurdish children. The next year, the Syrian government banned all Kurdish publications. By 1962, based on the results of a government census, over 120,000 Syrian Kurds, about 20 percent of the country’s Kurdish population, were stripped of citizenship. Finally, it was only a year ago that some 300,000 Kurds were accepted as citizens of the country, after half a century of repression. Currently, the Kurds have control over five Kurdish provinces in northeastern Syria on the borders with Turkey. This is making Ankara very agitated.

Whenever the successive Turkish governments, now headed by PM Erdogan, hear or see the word “Kurd”, they get agitated. This word has an effect similar to the effect of a red cape to a bleeding bull. The word Kurd raises the antenna of Turkish state terrorism. The Turks are reminded of the failure of their state- enforced terrorism to wipe out or subdue the Kurds. Ankara, via its Turkish lobbyists in Washington, has been able to sell its Kurdish question as a terrorist problem. Currently, the US is helping the Turks manage its “Kurdish problem” by giving them weapons, including F-16 fighter jets and attack helicopters. American-made weapons are what today kill most of the poor civilian Kurds in Turkey.

Presently, both Ankara and Washington are waiting for the next move by the Kurds in Syria. The Kurds are becoming better versed in making their voices heard.  They are proclaiming that they are able to govern themselves and that they should be left alone. The Syrian Kurds have a model in front of them. They want to do what the Kurds did in northern Iraq. They want to achieve a federation within Syria to prevent the Turks from sending in their security forces. This is very clever, because they will be protected by the internationally accepted political boundaries. The Kurds will have an important role in the future political development of Syria.

Independent Kurdistan:

In the post-World War I Treaty of Severs of 1920, it was Woodrow Wilson’s idea to establish independent states of Armenia and Kurdistan out of the eastern flank of the defeated Ottoman Empire. Only three years later, however, this treaty was annulled when Ataturk created the Republic of Turkey centered on Ankara not Istanbul. In the meantime, the British discovered more information about a large reservoir of oil in the Kurdish- occupied, Kirkuk region. The British wanted the Kurdish oil but not Kurdish people. As a consequence, according to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, most of Kurdistan was given to Turkey, and the British kept the oil-producing regions. The British negotiator of the Treaty of Lausanne, Lord George Nathaniel Curzon, owned a major part of the oil company’s stock. The British later had to import a king from Mecca to create a newly independent Iraqi monarchy out of what they called Mesopotamia in 1932.

The Syrian uprising is not an isolated case in the Middle East. Neither is the Kurdish question. The Kurdish quest for independence now is the longest in history. More importantly, it has finally reached an international scale. The largest numbers of Kurds outside the Middle East, in diaspora, reside in Europe. Turkey is a member of NATO and has applied to become a full member of the EU. In return, the EU member-nations are watching Turkey’s human rights records. With the second-largest standing armed forces, after the US, Turkey has failed to peacefully address the Kurdish question. The Turks consider any talk about this to be treason, terrorism, and separatism.

The UN, USA, and EU should make sure to stop Turkish tyranny against the Kurds. If 50 million Kurds all around the world desire their own independent state, all freedom-loving people on the planet should respect their hopes and wishes. The world’s largest stateless nation deserves their basic human rights respected. They ought to be given the opportunity to govern themselves. A new Kurdistan Regional Government in Syria is a testimony of Kurdish potency, power, and survival. The Kurds will not agree with anything less than full independence from all four occupying countries. An international colony, Kurdistan must see its status as the world’s largest stateless nation change. The Kurdish leadership is matured and experienced enough to pilot their own destiny.

Also by the author: Koohzad, M. “Kurdistan Ignored Even by American Professional Geography Textbook Writers.” The International Journal of Kurdish Studies, Vol. 22, Nos. 1 & 2, 2008, pp. 173-192. 

Copyright © 2012

One Response to The Kurds: still world’s largest stateless nation, Syria’s Free Kurdistan Regional Government
  1. Ari kader
    November 28, 2012 | 05:23

    We must make sure that all parts of kurdistan raise the kurdish flag { do we all agree which is official kurdish flag ? }.

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