The Kurds are a nation that has never been allowed to come into existence.
The landlocked homeland where thirty million or so of them live is divided between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. They hoped that, like other peoples, they would have “self-determination” after World War One and the breakup of the Ottoman empire; it never happened.
As you may know, horrifically oppressed like others under Saddam Hussein, they gained after his fall de facto autonomy – in the fraction of their homeland that is northern Iraq. There they set up a democratic state that has had its lapses but is on the whole a beacon of hope for the region. They have been the most effective in stopping and then rolling back ISIS.
This Kurdish state and the government which barely controls the rest of Iraq have been trying to discuss a future that would fairly preserve Kurdish autonomy. The Iraqi government is a sectarian travesty, the Kurds have realized that the negotiations are hopeless.
Tomorrow, Monday, they will hold a referendum with the question: “Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region’s administration to become an independent state?” To say it’s non-binding is an under-statement: it will be a sounding of opinion, with no immediate practical consequence.
Yet it is stridently, even ferociously, opposed by not only the Iraqi government, Iran, Turkey, the Arab League, but the US, the UK, France, and the European Union. The Iraqi government threatens military action if the referendum goes ahead, Iran masses troops on the border, the other powers say “Don’t do it.”
Well, what do you think about it?
I append now a bit of history that I stuck at the beginning of my rather crude human-rights picture book, Think Like a Mother. My list of the Kurds’ attempts to be free was compiled in 1995 and I won’t try to bring it up to date. For the Kurds, it’s always more of the same.
… They are the world’s largest community that has not attained some form of self-rule. It’s not for want of trying:
…the Baban revolt against the Ottoman empire (1806-08), the uprisings of 1815, the revolt of the Bilbas in 1818, Mir Mohammed’s revolt (1832-36), various revolts crushed in 1837, the revolt of Bedir Khan Bey (1843-47), the revolt of Yezdan Sher (1855), the revolt of Sheikh Obeidullah (1880), the revolts of Sheikh Mahmoud against the British in 1919-20 and 1923, the 1925 revolt and its horrific repression, the Mount Ararat revolt of the Hoyboun league (1930), the revolt of Simko against Iran (1920-30), the revolt of Jafar Sultan against Iran (1931), the revolt of Sheikh Mahmoud and then of Ahmed Barzani against the British (1931), the revolt of the Barzanis (1933), the revolt of the Kurds of Dersim (1936-38), the revolt of Mustafa Barzani (1943-45), the crushing of the Kurdish Mahabad republic and hanging of its leaders (1946-47), the revolt of the Kurds of Juanroj (1956), the revolt of Mustafa Barzani (1960), the revolts in Iraq of 1961-64 and 1965-66, the Kurdish peasants’ revolt in Iran (1967-68), the Iraqi attempts to crush the Kurds by war (1969-70) and assassinations (1970-74), the war in Iraq (1974-75), the renewed war in Iraq (1976-78), the war of Iran on its Kurds in 1979, the uprising against Saddam Husein after the Gulf War of 1991…
In August 1983, eight thousand male Kurds of the Barzani clan “disappeared.” Iraqi authorities did not admit to arresting or killing them, but President Saddam Husein remarked in a speech: “All those people were severely punished and went to Hell.” Throughout the summer of 1988 the Iraqis carried out a huge extermination, obliterating more than four thousand villages (down to scraping graveyards and filling wells with concrete) and ousting about a million people, thousands of whom were transported to the large pits in which they were to be shot and buried. An Iraqi aim has been to depopulate (of Kurds) a broad zone along the Iranian border, and to move a large proportion of Kurds to distant areas on the other side of Iraq where they will lose their identity. At present the Kurds of northern Iraq are precariously protected from Iraqi fury by a United Nations no-fly zone, and have held elections of their own.
Turkey–which had already (from 1894 on and especially in 1915) stamped out its other great pre-Turkish minority, the Armenians–long denied the existence of its twelve million Kurds, calling them “Mountain Turks,” and forbidding use of Kurdish language, names, or music. Turkey is now launching all-out war in its southeastern provinces, using 220,000 troops, plus warplanes and helicopter gunships made in the U.S., against 20,000 guerrillas of the Kurdish Workers Party. Both sides use brutal methods, burning villages and expelling the villagers either to deny refuge to the guerrillas, or for consenting to join the government-organized “village guards”; by March 1994, 874 villages had been burned and a million people forced out. …
Kurds dying before an Iranian firing squad, 1979.