“Every day the regime is killing our people for nothing other than seeking their rights, and the world remains silent” [Revan Javid, co-chair of political arm of PJAK, in Iran]
Writing in Front Page Magazine on July 27, 2015, Joseph Puder poses the question, “Who really deserves statehood?” The Op-Ed discusses, Kurds, Palestinians and Double Standards and commences with a Washington Post headline on June 2, 2015 “Obama makes an Impassioned Case for a Palestinian State”.
Puder’s question is no overstatement given the facts, that is the historical record. By contrasting well researched records, he is able to demonstrate the ugliness of political bias, which is often justified as nations having interests. Noting that Obama and his Administration are eager to establish yet another unstable and likely terrorist Arab state [ there are 21 Arab states] called Palestine, while largely ignoring, if not betraying the Kurds in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Turkey, Puder’s exposure is seldom appreciated. While the case he lays out is topical in so far as the Obama administration is concerned, the roots of the problem date back to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.
He points to the apparent observation that the Obama administration will not act on its own to correct an injustice done to the Kurds 92 years ago. It has cast a blind eye on the oppression the Kurdish people have endured under the regimes of Tehran, Ankara, Baghdad and Damascus. This, despite the fact that they are one of the largest national groups globally without a state of their own. In other words, it would appear that justice for the Kurds is subjected to the whims of Shiite-Muslim Iran, Sunni Muslim Turkey and the Iraq Shiite -Arab government in Baghdad.
During, 2015, the US handed over veto power on economic and military aid for the Kurds to the Shiite prime ministers of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki and Haider al-Abadi. Baghdad appeared to be the clearing house for weapons shipment to the Kurds who had gallantly stopped the Islamic State’s [IS] onslaught throughout northern Iraq. Thus the Kurds equipped with the subject defensive arms were able to defeat IS, while the heavily armed predominantly Shiite Iraqi army shamelessly retreated from the advancing IS forces who had reached as far as the Baghdad suburbs. Significantly, in the process, the Iraqi army abandoned the US supplied arms which came to make up a large amount of the IS arsenal.
Unlike the Palestinians, the Kurds are truly an indigenous people. They constitute the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East and yet have never obtained a permanent nation state. Approximately 25 to 35 million Kurds inhabit a mountainous region straddling the borders of Iran, Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Armenia.
Puder questions why the US elected not to arm the peshmerga Kurdish forces with modern and offensive arms directly to facilitate their defeat of IS, in consideration of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s overriding influence in Baghdad. At the time, the Kurdish forces lacked heavy arms in the form of tanks and artillery, and more so air power. He felt that as the Kurds proved themselves in fighting IS, they were worthy of US support to a far greater extent than the hapless Iraqi army. Saddam Hussein expelled more than 37, 726 Kurdish families from Kirkuk, historically a Kurdish city, replacing them with Arabs. In this, the Obama administration sided with Baghdad!
An interesting insight on how the Kurds were denied a state can be found in Chapter 2 of Oil, Power and Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda – the British creation of Iraq [Jan 25, 2004].
The Ottomans ruled most of Kurdistan from the 1600s until its collapse after WW1. In 1880, during one Kurdish uprising , Sheikh Ubaidullah wrote to the British, “The Kurdish nation is a nation apart. Its religion is different from that of others, also its laws and customs—-we want to take matters into our own hands. We can no longer put up with the oppression which the governments [of Persia and the Ottoman Empire] impose on us.” Regrettably, subsequent history, demonstrated that neither the British nor the American empires, despite their claims to benevolence, would bring justice to the Kurds.
The Kurds were promised independence by the world’s major powers following WW1. Quoting Point 12 of President Woodrow Wilson’s 1918 “Fourteen Points, “—-the nationalities under Turkish rule should—–be assured—an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.” However, Kurdish aspirations were betrayed and then suppressed for British imperial interests.
Returning to and elaborating on the Lausanne, Switzerland event of July 23, 1923, a treaty signed by the allies and the new Turkish government, which made no mention of Kurdish independence. What it did do was to cede much of Kurdistan to the new Turkish government, one which promptly banned all Kurdish schools, organizations and publications! In the decades which followed, Turkey refused to acknowledge Kurdish ethnicity by calling them “mountain Turks”, and outlawing the Kurdish language. Ataturk’s government brutally crushed a 1925 Kurdish revolt against the Lausanne Treaty. The entire period stretching from 1920 to 1930 was one of government assaults, mass deportations and massacres against the Kurds.
The Kurdish experience in Iraq hardly differed where the Kurds rose up for self-rule. Approximately 80% of the Kurds supported independence. An independent Kurdistan was set up in northeast Iraq around Suleimanieh in 1919 by Sheik Mahmoud Barzinji declaring himself the ruler. According to London’s main political officer in Baghdad, “–the Kurds wish neither to continue under the Turkish government nor to be placed under the control of the Iraqi government.” The British wasted no time in removing him from power and also crushed several subsequent revolts in 1922, followed by the RAF bombing of Suleimanieh in 1924.
Neither the British, nor the Turks were interested in Kurdish self-determination. The British were primarily interested in ensuring that the former Ottoman Province of Mosul, an area populated by Kurds and Turkomans was incorporated into the new state of Iraq, not Turkey. They were primarily motivated by oil and feared that without the oilfields near the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, the new state of Iraq would not be economically viable.
In December 1925, the League of Nations decided in favor of the British, incorporating the Mosul region into the new state of Iraq and promised that it would recognize “the right of the Kurds who live within the frontiers of Iraq to establish a Government within those frontiers.” The League declared: “The desire of the Kurds that the administrators, magistrates and teachers in their country be drawn from their own ranks, and adopt Kurdish as the official language in all their activities—-will be taken into account”
Promises such as these proved as empty as the others made by the British and the League and by 2004 [today], the Kurdish people remain the largest ethnic group in the world not to have achieved statehood.
July 7, 2014 LA Times; The Kurdish Option: An Independent State for the Kurds by Timothy William Waters’ introductory comment , “This moment requires statesmanship” is attributed to Secretary of State John F .Kerry, “a man not known for irony.” Apparently he uttered these words in a June 2014 meeting with Massoud Barzani, president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region. Kerry’s appeal was for the Kurdistan leadership’s assistance in fighting Islamic militants overrunning northern Iraq . It was accompanied by a plea for the Kurds to form a new government in Baghdad, rather than seek independence. In reality, Kerry was pressing the Kurds to remain a province of Iraq. Washington had long insisted on Iraq’s unity—-“worshipped at the altar of a unified, yet unnatural Iraqi state”, as foreign policy analyst Leslie Gelb had written. Kerry failed to recognize that Kurdish independence would advance interests and better reflect American values.
The original promise of a Kurdish state, dating back over a century, was an expression of America’s commitment to self-determination for peoples longing to be free. Kerry asked the Kurds to be statesmen. Water’s concluding remarks;” Statesmanship is a quality we associate with states. The Kurds have long wanted one; perhaps now is the time. For that to happen requires statesmanship——from us.”
Delovan Barwari’s piece in the Jerusalem Post of September 13, 2016, “The Kurdish Experience in Iraq” provides further insights into the incompetence or prejudice of western leaders. Barwari lives and works in Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region where he is the editor-in-chief of Kurdistan 24 English. He reports on US Vice President Joe Biden’s rushed visit to Ankara on August 24 to appeal to America’s decades old ally in pursuit of America’s objectives. To appease the Turks, Biden warned the YPG fighters to leave Manbij, a city that they had liberated from ISIS.
The Kurds recalled the 1975 US betrayal when the CIA first supplied weapons to them to fight Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Then, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger brokered a deal between Tehran and Baghdad, abandoning the Kurds resulting in a tragic outcome. The rapid shifts in alliances were of constant concern to the Kurds, as they had repeatedly experienced western betrayal previously when the neighboring powers objected.
Words of advice from Delovan Barwari, “—–the US and other global players would be more successful in reducing the unrest in the Middle East if they addressed the aspirations of the various ethnic and religious groups at the heart of the multiple conflicts in the region, and ended their support for oppressive regimes and extremist groups.”
September 4, 2016 Israel Hayom; The Kurds, against all odds by Professor Eyal Zisser
In this very current rather short Op-Ed, Zisser displays particular skill in support for the Kurds who do this day fail to have their pursuit for their own state addressed. They are presently maintaining a dialogue with the Syrian regime and the Russians who use them fight the Syrian rebels. Curiously enough, the latter are supported by Turkey and the Arab states.
Washington has come to the aid of the Kurds, coldly calculating their effectiveness in the struggle against Islamic State. As usual, when it comes to the Obama administration, American policy is shortsighted, merely capitalizing on a tactical and cynical opportunity that could end in the abandonment of the Kurds when American interests call for appeasing Turkey, or as part of a deal with Russia and the Assad regime to end the war in Syria. One can only feel filled with disgust that the true nature of realpolitik may prevail in restoring Assad who has slaughtered well over 400,000 souls!!
“One cannot ignore the fact that the Kurds do not receive the same support and attention from the international media or the same affection that ‘enlightened circles’ across the planet generously grant to the Palestinians.” comments Professor Zisser pointedly. The world does not stand with the Kurds, using them to advance their own interests, but abandoning them in the moment of truth.
Zisser’s concluding remarks; “It appears the regional and global game is too big for the Kurds. When they are called to the table once the fighting ends, they are liable to discover they were invited to be part of the menu, not a fellow victor [called] to feast on the spoils of war.” Yet another despicable thought that in the future, the Kurds may well again be left to their fate.
Almost five years has passed since Victor Sharp’s commendable evaluation entitled, “Who truly Deserves a State – The Kurds or the Palestinians” was published by American Thinker on February 19, 2012.
Victor Sharpe provides a very detailed and incisive exposure to the subject at hand even including an introduction to the earliest known history of both the Jews and the Kurds. His initial comments relate to Israel’s physical smallness, while the world demands it be further reduced to facilitate a 22nd Arab state. a reduction to what Abba Eban once referred to “Auschwitz borders”. A reminder that from time immemorial there has never been an Arab Palestinian state. “Palestine” in name, means a geographic area.
The Kurds are a people like the Jews, deserve a homeland, and have endured historical injustice imposed upon them over the centuries by hostile neighbors and empires. When the Jews rose up against Roman occupation in the 1st century AD, the Kurdish queen dispatched troops and provisions to assist the embattled Jews. Early in the 2nd century AD, Judaism was firmly established in Kurdistan.
The famous Saladin who drove the Christian crusaders out of Jerusalem was distrusted by the Muslim Arabs because he was of Kurdish extraction. The Arabs were aware of the close relationship which existed between the Kurds and the Jews. Saladin was known for embracing just and humane measures in both peace and war unlike the methods employed by the Arabs. The great Jewish rabbi, philosopher and medical doctor Maimonides, at one time served as Saladin’s personal physician.
Saladin was known for fairness towards Christians and for permitting Jews to thrive in Jerusalem. He is credited with locating the Jewish Temple which had been buried under tons of rubbish following the Christian Byzantine destruction.
Writing in the New York Sun of July 6, 2004 under the title “The Kurdish Statehood Exception”, Hillel Halkin questions why the world strongly desires a Palestinian Arab state while dismissing Kurdish national independence and statehood. Apparently the Kurds do not deserve universally accepted self-determination.
Both Sharpe and Halkin are of the opinion that the Kurds, like the Jews but unlike the Palestinians have few friends within the oil-rich Arab world or the international corridors of power; oil being a commodity desperately needed for economic reasons. Halkin points out that the Kurds are far better candidates for statehood than the Palestinians for the following reasons:
[a] their own unique language and culture
[b] sense of themselves as a distinct people for many centuries
[c] have been betrayed repeatedly in the past 100 years by the international community.
Victor Sharpe’s summation speaks volumes and reveals the limitations of the western leaders. One has only to consider that from the time his article surfaced , little activity of any consequence occurred, certainly not the desired resolutions.
To him, the old nostrum that only when the Palestinian Arabs finally have a state will there be peace in the world is a mirage in the desert. Such has been the “Arab Spring”. During the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds were gassed and slaughtered in large numbers. After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds displayed great political and economic wisdom. The difference from the example of the Gazan Arabs who, when foolishly given full control over the Gaza Strip by Israel, chose not to build hospitals and schools, but instead bunkers and missile launchers. To this they have added the imposition of Sharia law, with its attendant denigration of women and non-Muslims.
Finally, in this year, many journalists have sought to focus on the plight of the Kurds. A few come to mind readily:
March 14: BBC News – Who are the Kurds?
July 11: The Algemeiner – The case for Kurdish Statehood by Noah Beck.
August 30: The Telegraph News – The bravery of the Kurds has been ignored by the west for too long by Con Coughlin.
October 6: The Guardian – What about our human rights? Kurds feel force of Turkey’s crackdown by Constance Letsch.