Echoes of a Stateless Symphony: The Kurdish Quest for Identity and Autonomy

The Kurdish 20th century was the century of all expectations, all dreams, and above all, all disillusionments. Despite being widely publicized since the rise of the Islamic State in 2014, the Kurds remain largely misunderstood. Their media exposure is intrinsically linked to their instrumentalization by certain powers. Indeed, Kurdish territories are located in oil-rich areas, coveted by many…

Today, according to the latest estimates, there are about 40 million Kurds, primarily distributed across four countries: Turkey (43%), Iran (27%), Iraq (18%), and Syria (8%), in addition to the 4% of the diaspora mainly present in Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia.

This second and final part looks back at the century of all changes for the Kurdish community, which is still in search of unity and autonomy.

The ephemeral hope of a nation

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire aimed to be exclusively Turkish. To curb any attempts at secession within the Empire itself, several militias, including Kurds, participated in the deportations and massacres of Christian minorities, predominantly Armenians. In this context of division and friction, some Kurds harbored the dream of a state, unlike a bourgeoisie very close to the Istanbul power. The first intellectuals rebelled, and the first clandestine newspapers in Kurdish appeared. But the beginnings of a real national consciousness were quickly suppressed by the central power.

With the end of World War I and the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire by Western powers (Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916 followed by the Treaty of Moudros in 1918), the resonance of Kurdish nationalist discourse grew louder. The dream of a nation almost became reality with the Treaty of Sèvres on August 10, 1920. This treaty planned the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of an independent Kurdistan. However, this project never came to fruition. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first President of modern Turkey, rose to power with Pan-Turkic designs. He expelled the occupants from Anatolia and ended Kurdish hopes with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on June 24, 1923. This treaty recognized Turkish sovereignty over the entire territory. This was followed by a real policy of Turkification, rejecting the existence of Kurds. In Kurdish villages, the names of villages were Turkified. From 1932 onwards, speaking the Kurdish dialect was forbidden. Between the wars, numerous opposition movements were silenced. Kemalist Turkey undertook a real policy of denying local particularities in order to homogenize the entire country.

From systematic denial to persecutions

The denial of the Kurdish fact also affected other parts of Kurdistan. Under the Pahlavi dynasty, Iran implemented policies similar to those used in Turkey, despite the brief interlude of the Republic of Mahabad (region in Northwest Iran) which lasted no more than a year in 1946. In Iraq and Syria, Kurds were quickly integrated into the young nations as they were present in hydrocarbon-rich territories. Moreover, the pan-Arab logic in Damascus and Baghdad erased all differences in favor of Arab identity alone. As a result, Kurdish nationalism, however embryonic, fragmented into a multitude of nationalisms as local realities varied from country to country.

The Iraqi case

In Iraq, in particular, the situation became complicated for the Kurds. During the Iran-Iraq war between 1980 and 1988, both belligerents used Kurdish communities to gather intelligence on the enemy. Indeed, the Iraqi Kurdish community provided information on Iraqi troops to Iran. At the end of the war, this led to numerous purges by Ali Hassan al-Majid, cousin of Saddam Hussein, particularly during the “Anfal” operations in 1988. This campaign of reprisals killed more than 100,000 Kurds. Ali Hassan al-Majid ordered numerous massacres with the use of summary bombings and chemical weapons, earning him the infamous nickname “Chemical Ali.”

With the outbreak of the First Gulf War in 1991, the Americans encouraged the Kurds and Shiites to rise up against Baghdad. Taking advantage of the latent chaos in Iraq, the Kurdish territory gained autonomy but not unity. A fratricidal war broke out between supporters of the PDK of Barzani (a more traditional and rural party) and the forces of the UPK of Talabani (a progressive and urban party) between 1993 and 1997.

The Turkish case

In Turkey, the Kurdish community organized politically with the creation of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) in 1978, of Marxist-Leninist allegiance. In a country that categorically denies the existence of the Kurdish fact, this organization used violence for political ends. Thus, a hybrid war unfolded between the central power and a Kurdish organization that unofficially received support from Syria. Damascus agreed, in the 90s, to allow Syrian Kurds to join the ranks of the Turkish PKK provided they ceased all

You May Also Like

More From Author

+ There are no comments

Add yours