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Kurdistan

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Can There Be a Kurdistan The Kurdish people of southwest Asia represent one of the largest ethnic groups in the world with no sovereign state to call their own. With the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the desire to create an independent Kurdish state has intensified and created conflicts between the Kurds and the modern states of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The Kurds’ aspiration of creating a new ethnic state in the Middle East has only served to further destabilize an already unstable region. But to prevent future turmoil, the creation of a new nation-state could be a necessary precaution. The dream of a Kurdish homeland is an old one, but after thousands of years, whether or not it can be achieved remains far from certain. The Kurdish people represent a distinct ethnic population within the Middle East. Unlike most of their surrounding neighbors, they are of neither of Turkic nor Arabic descent (Global Security, “Kurdish Conflict”). They are ethnically and linguistically distant relatives of the neighboring Persians, but have for millennia have maintained a unique cultural identity inhabiting a area from the Zagros Mountains to the eastern Taurus Mountains and part of the Mesopotamian plain (Black). Though they can trace their origins in the region back over 25 centuries to the Empire of the Medes, the Kurds can claim only brief and scattered moments of independence (Global Security, “Kurdish Conflict”). One such moment occurred relatively recently gauged against this people’s ancient history. And because of the failure of that opportunity, the modern Kurds began a renewed fight for independence that continues today. At the end of World War I, the victorious Allies (mainly Britain and France) redrew the map of the Middle East by dismantling the Ottoman Empire. When Sultan Mehmed VI signed the Treaty of Sevres (1920), the Turks agreed to post-imperial national boundaries that included only territory on which ethnic Turks lived (Black). The new Turkish borders did not include the Kurdish region, as the Treaty of Sevres granted them autonomy under British control. But the Treaty of Sevres was never ratified by the Turkish Parliament, and once Kemal Ataturk came to power, the Turks pushed for a renegotiation of the treaty with the Allies resulting in the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) (Black). This new treaty provided Turkey with large sections of the Kurdish region; the British then decided to include the majority of the remaining Kurdish territory within the borders of the newly created nation of Iraq. The Kurds staged a rebellion against the Turks in the north and the British in the south, but were crushed by superior forces. This missed opportunity to create an independent Kurdish state was the impetus that began the modern Kurdish independence movement. The largest group of Kurds resides within the national borders of Turkey. Because of the size of the Kurdish population, they are viewed as the only minority that could pose a threat to Turkish national unity (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Turkey”). And due to the location of the Kurdish lands, containing the headwaters of both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Turkish government refuses to ever consider the notion of an independent Kurdistan for fear of loosing access to the strategic water resource. Since the 1930s, the Ankara has actively sought to assimilate the Kurds into Turkish society. The government’s chief strategy for assimilation has been the suppression of the Kurdish language (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Turkey”). Teaching the Kurdish language in schools, printing Kurdish language news papers, Kurdish radio broadcasts, and even wearing traditional Kurdish garb were all prohibited (Black). Yet despite the official ban on speaking or writing in Kurdish, the Kurds have maintained their native language. Ataturk and his successors attempted to eliminate the idea of a separate Kurdish ethnicity within Turkey, even going as far as re-designating the Kurds as “Mountain Turks” (Black). It was not until 1991 that the ban on the Kurdish culture was lifted in Turkey. The Turkish government’s ban on all things Kurdish was not met lightly by the Kurds. They staged various uprisings throughout the 1930s and 1940s, but that was to pale in comparison to what was to come. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Partiya Karkere Kurdistan – PKK) was formed in the 1970s by students in Ankara, and beginning in 1984 they mounted and increasingly violent insurrection (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Turkey”). The mountainous terrain of southeastern Turkey highly favored the PKK fighting to create a Marxist state out of the Kurdish area. Launching from camps inside of Syria, Iran, and Iraq, PKK guerillas used indiscriminant violence in bombing government buildings, courthouses, and even fast food restaurants (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Turkey”). PKK gunmen even sought Turkish government targets outside of the country. They conducted coordinated attacks in Western European cities against Turkish diplomatic installations and businesses, ironically ones often operated by Kurds (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Turkey”). The government responded by forcibly displacing over a half million noncombatants. By 1994 over 160,000 Turkish troops had been mobilized for operations against an estimated 75,000 full and part-time PKK guerillas (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Turkey”). The Turkish government forces were bolstered in their efforts against the PKK by support from Iraqi Kurds who depended on Turkish enclaves from which to launch cross border strikes against the Hussein régime in Iraq. Although fewer in number than Turkish Kurds, the Kurds in Iraq are the most politically active. Like Turkey, the government of Iraq has long refused to consider the prospect of Kurdish independence. The portions of Kurdistan that lie within the Iraqi borders are rich with oil and gas deposits, making it too great a prize to relinquish. Yet ever since the foundation of modern Iraq in 1932, the Kurds have struggled to gain their independence. But it was not until the Ba’ath Party came to power in 1968 that the Kurds launched a major revolt (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Iraq”). In the resulting all-out war against the Iraqi government, the Kurdish forces were crushed. The ensuing reign of terror the Hussein régime imposed devastated the Iraqi Kurdish population. In the mid 1970s, Saddam Hussein began adopted a policy of eradicating the Kurds from his country. Over the next fifteen years, the Iraqi army bombed Kurdish villages and poisoned Kurds with cyanide and mustard gas; an estimated 4,000 Kurdish villages were destroyed by the Iraqi army in the 1980s (Human Rights Watch, “Iraqi Kurdistan 2001”). After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the United States enforced a No-Fly Zone over northern Iraq in an attempt to protect the Iraqi Kurds from Saddam’s wrath. But even under the watchful eye of American fighter planes human rights violations continued: mass arrests, torture, summary executions, “disappearances,” and forced relocations were the norm during Saddam’s rule. During the last decade of the Hussein régime hundreds of Kurdish political prisoners were admittedly executed as part of the “Prison Cleansing Campaign;” an additional 16,000 others “disappeared,” never to be heard from again (Human Rights Watch, “Iraqi Kurdistan 2003”). To ensure control of the oil fields around the Kurdish city of Kirkuk, the Iraqi government implemented a policy of Arabization, forcing thousands of ethnic Kurds from their homes, farms, and businesses. Many of the more valuable Kurdish properties were given to Ba’ath Party officials as gifts, while the rest was distributed to Arab families to entice them to move into the area (Global Security, “Kirkuk”). Kurdish fortunes have fared a bit better since the second U.S. led war against Iraq. They now administer a semi-autonomous area in northern Iraq. They have their own 175,000- man “army” and are even issuing Kurdish stamps on visiting passports (CBS News). And while the rest of Iraq is mired in sectarian violence, Kurdish controlled regions are enjoying relative peace and prosperity. In Erbil, the self-styled capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, there is a building boom. A new mall is being constructed, along with an opera house and an apartment complex offering units selling for $1 million (CBS News). Ethnic Kurds are even returning to places like Kirkuk, from where they were once forcibly removed by Saddam Hussein. Kurds have even made significant political inroads in the local government there, obtaining positions on the city council, with the police, and other government agencies (Gas and Oil Connections). They are now flooding the city with Kurdish teachers, doctors, engineers and lawyers in hopes that Kurdish political and cultural dominance in Kirkuk will translate into Kurdish control of the oil wealth there (Gas and Oil Connections). As in the other countries in which they now reside, the Kurds in Iran are also waging a struggle for independence. The Iranian Kurds initially viewed the 1979 Islamic Revolution as a vehicle for promoting Kurdish independence. But Khomeini warned Kurdish leaders that any attempt to dismantle Iran would be met with a harsh response (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Iran). Despite the warning, perhaps attempting to seize on the chaos of revolution, the Kurdish Democratic party of Iran staged a well-organized rebellion in 1979, but the revolutionary government was ready (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Iran”). Intense fighting continued through the early 1980s, but by 1983 the Iranian government had asserted its control over the Kurdish area. Armed conflict between the Kurds and Iran flared again with the onset of the Iran-Iraq War. The governments of both Iran and Iraq feared that the Kurds on either side of the border would unite in an effort to exploit the two nations locked in war. But neither Tehran nor Baghdad was willing to accept the loss of their Kurdish territory, and the insurrection was again put down. Following government attacks on Kurdish guerilla forces in 2004, Tehran struck a deal with neighboring Turkey to wage a joint struggle against the Kurds (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Iran”). In the years since, the Iranian government has wasted no opportunity to quash Kurdish independence movements. Revolutionary security forces have been dispatched to kill Kurdish activist leaders, and on one occasion in 2005, helicopter gunships were used against a Kurdish village, killing more than a dozen and wounding 200 others (Global Security, “Kurdistan – Iran”). Unlike their brothers in Iraq, the situation of the Kurds in Iran appears to be worsening with time. Although Political realists know it is not plausible in the near future, the Kurds continue the struggle toward creating an independent homeland. Their national pride is strong, but without the support of larger, more powerful nations, such as the United States, will probably never realize the dream of a Kurdish state. During the waning years of Hussein’s régime, the United States supported Kurdish autonomy. But in the years since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Washington has been unwilling to support an independent Kurdish region within Iraq for fear that it would further destabilize an already volatile situation in the region. The U.S. has adopted an official policy of standing up a “unified” Iraq (Olson). This policy is supported by Turkey, a key U.S. ally in the region. But even without obtaining independence, the Kurds have made great strides within the Iraqi government. The former leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) militia Jalal Talabani, know as Mam Jalal (Uncle Jalal) to his constituents, was elected President of Iraq (New Yorker), along with several other Kurdish militia leaders who obtained similarly high posts within the new government. But after decades of fighting for Kurdish self-determination with the PUK, even Uncle Jalal realizes the unlikely hood of Kurdish independence. He now finds himself defending Iraqi unity, and mending fences with the other major Kurdish political faction, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) (New Yorker). Even if the PUK and KDP could resolve their issues of power-sharing and declare an independent Iraqi Kurdistan, the new nation would face a bevy of problems. The new nation would undoubtedly control vast mineral wealth, but being landlocked it would be at the mercy of its neighbors to transport it’s wealth to the world market (Olson). Neighbors like Syria, Iran, and Turkey who would all be hostile towards an independent Kurdistan for fear that their Kurdish minorities would soon follow suit and declare their freedom. The Kurds have traditionally been close friends with the United States. An independent Kurdistan would likely continue this friendship, seeking close economic and possibly even military partnerships (Olson). These close ties between Kurdistan and the U.S. would certainly create additional strife between its new neighbors, especially Syria and Iran. The hope of seeing an independent Kurdistan has driven generations of Kurds to fight for just that. But that hope looks just as bleak now as ever. Though they have made inroads towards autonomy within the borders of one nation, within several others they continue the fight, proving yet again that the Kurds have no friends but the mountains.
Works Cited
Black, Eric. "Kurdish History 101." Eric Black Ink. 24 Oct. 2007. 25 Jan. 2008 .
"Ethnic Kurds Try to Take Greater Control of Northern Iraq's Oil Wealth." Alexander's Gas and Oil Connections. 22 May 2003. 23 Jan. 2008 .
"Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan." Human Rights Watch. 2001. 23 Jan. 2008 .
"Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan." Human Rights Watch. 2003. 22 Jan. 2008 .
"Kirkuk." GlobalSecurity.Org. 21 Jan. 2007. 21 Jan. 2008 .
"Kurdistan - Iran." GlobalSecurity.Org. 12 Nov. 2007. 21 Jan. 2008 .
"Kurdistan - Iraq." GlobalSecurity.Org. 20 June 2007. 21 Jan. 2008 .
"Kurdistan - Kurdish Conflict." GlobalSecurity.Org. 27 Apr. 2005. 21 Jan. 2008 .
"Kurdistan - Turkey." GlobalSecurity.Org. 20 June 2007. 21 Jan. 2008 .
"Kurdistan: the Other Iraq." CBS News. 03 Aug. 2007. 22 Jan. 2008 .
Olson, Robert. "An Independent Kurdistan?" Al Mosul. 23 Jan. 2008 .
“Profiles of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.” The New Yorker. 05 Feb. 2007. 22 Jan. 2008…...

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...and Iran) who oppose the idea of an independent Kurdistan for fear of destabilisation in their own countries. Primarily Turkey who would lose a sizeable chunk of land to a new Kurdistan and similar tracts of land in Iran and Iraq, this fact has led to decades of violent conflict and political oppression and persecution against the Kurds, a fine example of this is during Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq where he vehemently sought to remove Kurds from Northern Iraq though a campaign of deportation and mass executions, these attacks where called ‘Anfal’ a word which has come to represent the entire genocide over the decades. One particularly notable act of violence was the Halabja chemical attack in 1988 where Hussein ordered chemical attacks in which nearly 5,000 civilians were killed. It is violence and persecutions like this where extreme separatism arouses and eventually leads to more widespread problems. Turkey on the other hand is not totally innocent of the persecution of the Kurds, although it has not gone to the extremes of Iraq yet the Turkish army has still been brutal in its approach. In the early eighties, the Kurdistan Workers Party began a campaign of armed guerrilla warfare against Turkey which cost the lives of nearly 35,000 people. The ordinary Kurds were once again the victims of this campaign. More than three thousand villages were burned by the Turkish army in retaliation for supposedly cooperating with the Kurdistan Workers Party and those who fled to the......

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...decade later, by aerial bombardment and the use of poison gas and artillery shelling aimed at quashing any Kurdish opposition. In 1984, the largely unknown Kurdish Worker's Party launched what would become a decade of attacks on Turkish forces, with frequent retaliatory purges and evacuations of Kurdish villages by Turkish soldiers. Proquest (Manning, 1996) But with Kurdish dreams of independence crushed, once-unified Kurdish political groups began fighting each other, until the U.S. brokered a cease fire in 1994. The division caused the rival groups to seek outside aid. One groupthe Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK)-turned to neighboring Iran. In response, the other group, the KDP, asked its former arch enemy, Iraq, to join forces to oust its Kurdish rivals from northern Iraq. Although the U.S. missile attacks prompted Saddam Hussein to remove his troops from northern Kurdistan, the pro-Iraqi KDP remains firmly in control. And the U.S. has made it clear that it will not fight a war to save the Kurds. As one anti-Iraqi Kurdish political official recently told a U.S. reporter: "The Americans are just interested in there being no fighting. They want `no war, no peace'-they want us to hang in limbo, as we always have."Steven Manning Proquest (Rhodes, 2000) The division of the Kurdish people among four modern nation states Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran - and their struggle for national rights has been one of the constant themes of recent Middle Fast history. There are also......

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