Kurds are one of the largest ethnic populations in the world without a country.
The Kurds are an ancient people who have inhabited the area of Kurdistan for as long as 8,000 years. The Kurdish language cannot be taught legally in Iranian schools. It is banned entirely as a language in Syria, and Turkey has prosecuted people for using it even as recently as 2003. The only part of Kurdistan where the language thrives is Iraq, and Iraq hosts Kurdish refugees from the other parts of Kurdistan. Although the language in Indo-Iranian in origin, “the historical development of the Kurdish language (both grammar and vocabulary) is distinct and different than the other members of the Iranian language family,” according to Wikipedia.
For centuries the Kurds have been persecuted much like the Jews of Europe and the Native tribes of North America. For instance, in the 16th century, as the Ottomans conquered more and more of Persian, entire Kurdish regions of Anatolia were systematically destroyed. Cities were and crops were burned and the people who survived were forcibly marched to Azerbaijan and even further east, as far as 1,500 miles away to Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush mountains.
Because of their ethnic identity, Kurds have continually sought autonomy from the governments that have split Kurdistan. When the Ottoman Empire finally decayed out of existence in the early 20th century, many Kurds expected that autonomy. When it failed to materialize, they believed that the newly created Turkish republic had betrayed them. Backed by the United Kingdom, Turkish Kurds declared independence in 1927 and established the Republic of Ararat, which was never recognized by the international community. In 1931Turkey resumed control over the disputed area. Turkey again suppressed Kurdist revolts in 1937-1938, while Iran did the same in the 1920s. The Soviet-sponsored Kurdish Republic of Mahabad, in Iran, lasted barely more than one year after World War II. Kurds fought Iraq’s Baathist government for independence in the 1960’s and in 1970 rejected limited territorial self-rule within Iraq, unsuccessfully demanding larger areas including the oil-rich Kirkuk region.
During the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime implemented anti-Kurdish policies and practices which were widely condemned by the international community. Among the more notorious actions against the Kurds under his rule was the Halabja poison gas attack, when Saddam used of chemical weapons against the Kurds. Thousands died.
Later, Saddam’s army, under the command of Ali Hassan al-Majid, carried out a systematic genocide of the Kurdish people. From March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, more than 2000 Kurdish villages were destroyed and an estimated 50,000 Kurds were killed in rural areas. The large Kurdish town of Qala Dizeh (population 70,000) was completely destroyed by the Iraqi army. The campaign also included Arabization of Kirkuk, a program to drive Kurds out of the oil-rich city and replace them with Arab settlers from central and southern Iraq. Kurdish sources report the number of dead to be greater than 182,000. Saddam Hussein is currently on trial and no doubt awaiting sentencing for his crimes against the Kurds.
So should Kurdistan be autonomous?
Since we invaded the country, the most peaceful portion of the Iraq has been the Kurdish north. I have seen several articles about non-Kurdish Iraqis moving to Iraqi Kurdistan to escape the violence. One has to wonder if this mass migration will result in the violence being brought to the doorstep of the peaceful Kurds. To a degree, it already has in cities like Kirkuk and Mosul.
Kirkuk itself is a thorny issue within the issue of Kurdish autonomy within Iraq. Kirkuk is in a region with vast oil resources, but lies on the southwestern edge of the Kurdish area. Negotiations with the Baathist government in 1970 broke down over whether or not Kirkuk would be part of the Kurdish autonomous region.
Iraqi Kurds want independence. It would seem at first glance that an independent Kurdistan would be reasonable, except that our ally Turkey objects. Turkey has the largest population of Kurds.
The area that would make an ethnic Kurdistan actually spreads into six countries: Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. An estimated 25-40 million Kurds inhabit the area, which is approximately the size of France. If Iraqi Kurds win independence, there could very easily be a domino effect in the other five countries with Kurdish populations. This would destabilize the entire region, especially Turkey, Iran and Syria. I can’t imagine anyone wants to see any of these countries, especially Iran or Syria, destabilized.