Sykes-Picot: An Agreement That Should Have Never Been – Part III

Pro-Kurdish demonstrator displays tattoo as he attends rally against 20 year ban of PKK in Berlin

By Hiwa Nezhadian:

In Part I and Part II, the agreement and its aftermath for the Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Iraq was discussed.

Western Kurdistan (Syria)

Western Kurdistan has always opposed French or Arab domination. When Qudsi and Azam seized power in September 1961, they campaigned against Kurdish nationalism and accused Kurdish leaders of taking an anti-Arab stance and sympathizing with the Kurds in Iraq. The Damascus regime also decided to depopulate the Kurds and implant Arab families; therefore, they stripped 160,000 Kurds of citizenship in order to “combat Kurdish nationalism and save Arabism”.

To exploit the Kurdish area further the Syrian authorities created the Arab Belt in 1965 and evacuated the Kurdish inhabited land on the border with Turkey and filled it with Arabs to alter the demography of Kurdistan of Syria. The “Belt” was 350 km long and 10-15 km wide. As a result, 2 million hectares of Kurdish farm lands were dispossessed and transferred to the newly-settled Arab villagers from Raqqa and Aleppo.

Meager jobs, poverty, poor economy, lack of industrial and educational institutions forced many who were stripped of Syrian citizenship and could not attend schools, or own land, houses or businesses to migrate to Lebanon. Only in 2011 when the civil war broke out, did the regime grant citizenship to those who were denied it in the 1960s.


The point of this 3-part article is to bring to the surface and summarize the fate of the Kurds in the four countries after the Sykes-Picot agreement. There are some other facts that we should keep in mind. The history of the Kurds is full of ‘hit and miss’ in the political arena. There have been a number of historical opportunities that could and should have been taken advantage of but the Kurds instead proved their shortcomings. For example:

  • Kurds have been intimidated and enticed by religion and those who presented or pretended Islamic values.
  • The events of August 1920 and Sevres Agreement should have been followed up by the Kurdish intellectuals, instead in the following treaty they agreed to send a Turkish representative to the Lauzanne conference in 1923 which indicated to the policymakers of the time that Turks and Kurds are all Muslims therefore they can resolve their issues!
  • The Kurdish Republic of 1946 did not include many Iranian Kurdish tribes and localities, it was limited in geography and mind set.
  • In 1975 the Kurds could have continued the fight despite of the Algiers Agreement, but the leadership quit, resulting in a disastrous aftermath. The Kurds had no plan for what to do if Iranian support ceased.
  • In 1988 Kurds had international support and sympathy after the Anfal operation and Helebja chemical bombing, but the leadership thought they could make a deal with Saddam Hussein, the butcher.
  • Rivalry and lack of trust among political parties and splits amongst them have weakened the struggle, while it has made the enemy more forceful.

Currently South Kurdistan is in the best position in history to declare independence, regardless of whether the neighboring countries or superpowers agree. In a perfect world it’s good to have other countries, including the neighbors’ agreement, but this is not a perfect world, otherwise we wouldn’t have this discussion. Kurdish independence requires Kurdish people’s support. Whether the Kurds ask for basic cultural rights or full independence, they are treated as separatists and dealt with accordingly.

Another issue that I want to bring up is the position of the political parties of Eastern Kurdistan. Kurds in Iran have proven loyal comrades in protecting their kin in Iraq, and so a strong eastern front is necessary for South Kurdistan, it would be a buffer zone (and the same applies about all parts of Kurdistan), resulting in more international recognition for the Kurdish cause.

A majority of the struggles in the Middle East over the past one hundred years can be linked back to the notorious Sykes-Picot Agreement. This should have never been agreed upon. But what happened one hundred years ago is over. The trend today is in favor of the Kurds with much more international support now than at any other time. The constant internet exposure of events makes it easier for the world to be aware of the Kurdish case.

The Kurds however have a much stronger weapon, if only they use it, and that is unity. The only weapon that makes the Kurds less in need of foreign support is unity, respect and cooperation between different organizations. Freedom of Kurds, whether in the form of federalism or independence would create a fertile environment for democracy, peace and stability and economic prosperity in the Middle East. Now is the best time to reverse Sykes-Picot and support Kurdish independence.

Hiwa Nezhadian – Kurdish American Education Society, USA

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