Analysis of Kurdish Geopolitic

Who are the Kurds? Most of us have heard about them but

don’t know who they are. Are they a race, a religion, a

country? As we see from the following example, even

Europeans who are much closer to the Kurds still do not have

a complete understanding of the Kurds or the middle east in


In the West, the left and liberal minded

people in general, especially in the Scandinavian

and Anglo-Saxon countries, have usually supported

or at least expressed some sympathy with the

struggles against both European colonialism and

U.S. policies in Vietnam. But as soon as the

problem shifted to Biafra, Southern Sudan,

Kurdistan or Eritrea – in short, whenever the

national question was raised within a third

world country – this section of the public opinion

has tended to remain silent and confuesed.1

This lack of knowledge about the Kurds and Middle East in

general is a major wall between resolution of the many

problems that exist in the Middle East. I would like to

give you a better understanding of what it is to be Kurdish

by describing to you the past and present condition of

Kurdistan, the state or territory that the Kurdish people

populate. A brief understanding of the history of the

Kurdish people is all that is needed to successfully

accretion just why we should be more involved and educated

about the current political activities surrounding Kurdistan

and the countries that infringe upon it.

The Kurdish people have the unfortunate distinction of

being the only community of over 15 million in population

that has not achieved some form of national statehood.2

This is the problem that needs addressing, people without a

country. There Kurds territory, would be country, consists

of the mountainous regions of central and northern Zargos,

the eastern one-third of the Taurus and Pontus, and the

northern half of the Amanus ranges (see F1).4 The Kurdish

are an ancient people who about 4,000 thousand years ago

started to trickle into Kurdistan in limited numbers to

settle there.3 By the classical era in 300 b.c. the Kurds

were already experiencing massive population movements that

resulted in settlement and domination of many surrounding

regions.5 Although they did at times rule over the land

outside the mountains, for the most part, the Kurds home

ended where the mountains ended. The Kurds as a distinct

people have only survived in the mountains.6 The

relationship between the Kurds and the mountains is so

strong that they have become synomonis.7 These mountains

are also the axis for five major countries, which include

Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the former Soviet Union.

Since the end of World War I, Kurdistan has been divided

into these five sovereign states, in which a significant

population of Kurds inhabit (see below).


Notice that the total number of Kurds in all countries is

larger than that of Iraq but smaller than Iran. Barring a

catastrophe, Kurds will become the third most populous

ethnic group in the Middle East by the year 2000,

furthermore, if present demographics trends hold, the Kurds

will replace the Turks as the majority ethnic group in

Turkey itself.9 The Kurds remain the only ethnic group in

the world with indigenous representatives in three world

geographic blocs: the Arab World (in Iraq and Syria), NATO

(in Turkey), the South Asian – Central Asian bloc (in Iran

an Turkmenistan), and until recently the Soviet bloc (in the

Caucasus, now Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia).10

The most important features of Kurdistan society since

the end of medieval times has been it’s strong tribal

organization, with independence or autonomy being the

political status of the land. Kurdish society was well

underway of developing a political culture but this was

disbanded by the redistribution of their county at the end

of the first World War. But strong Tribal confederacies

still remained as a form of social organization and

authority in which people put their allegiance.11

Kurdish lands, rich in natural resources, have always

sustained and promoted a large population. While

registering modest grains since the late 19th century, but

particularly in the first decade of the 20th, Kurds lost

demographic ground relative to neighboring ethnic groups.

this was due as much to their less developed economy and

healthcare as it was to direct massacres, deportations, and

famines. The total number of Kurds actually decreased in

this period, while every other major ethnic group in the

area boomed.12 Since the mid 60’s this negative demographic

trend has reversed, and the Kurds are steadily making a

comeback. There is now one Kurdish city with a population

of nearly a million(Kirminshah), two with over half a

million (Diyarbekir, Kikuk), five between a quarter and a

half million (Antep, Abril, Hamadan, Malatya,Sulaymania),

and 13 cities with a quarter of a million (Adiyamamn,

Dersim, Dohuk, Elazig, Haymana, Khanaqin, Mardin, Qamishli,

Qochan, Sanandja, Shahabad, Siirt and Urfa).13 The Kurds as

well as demonstrating a more than substantial population

also have their own language. The Kurds are speakers of

Kurdish. Kurdish is related to the northwestern subdivision

of the Indo-European family of languages. It is completely

separate of Semitic Arabic and Altic Turkish.14 This

evidence of substantial population and a language different

than those of the regions around them, show that Kurdistan

and the Kurds are a separate entity from the overlaying

countries of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the former Soviet

Union, and should be treated as such. This leads us into

the problem at hand, the Kurds are not receiving the respect

that an automous society deserves. The blame for this

problem lies mostly in the fact that the surrounding

countries don’t recognize Kurdistan as an automous society

and there for do not have to respect there wish to be a free

state. Kurdistan in the state that is now, is just a region

of the middle east, which overlays several other countries

that the majority of the Kurdish people inhabit. The

Kurdish are only recognized as minorities and unwanted

people and can only hope to be granted the right to live in

peace, alone without ever having an official country. The

Kurds have, in some countries, been so bold as to even

demand equality and citizenship.

The Kurds as religion goes are three fifths Sunni

Muslims of Shafiite rite. There are also some followers of

mainstream Shiitem Islam. The overwhelming majority of the

Muslim Kurds are followers of one of several mystic Sufi

orders. The rest of the Kurds are followers of there own

unique religion that is only found in Kurdistan. Three of

these ancient, indigenous faiths that still exist today are

Yezidism, Yarsanism or Ahl-i Haqq, and Alevism or Kizil

Nash.15 As we see from this testimony of the Kurds separate

language, uses of original and regional religions, and large

concentrated population, they no undoubtedly qualify as a

entity that deserves recognition as a automous state. So we

now must address the problem, and what it is that keeps this

idea of automous recognition from happening.

In each of the new post war countries, the Kurds found

they were treated with suspicion and pressured to conform to

the ways of the majority. Their old independence and

traditional pastoralist way of life was significantly

interrupted. They were expected to learn the language of

the new state in which they found themselves, Turkish,

Persian, or Arabic, and to abandon their Kurdish identify

and accept Turkish, Iranian, or Arab nationalism. “As a

tribal and traditionally minded society the Kurds wanted to

be left at peace, but few then were nationalists”.15 Some

tribes tried to resist the encroachment onto their culture

but were unsuccessful against the organized governments of

the infiltrating states.

“In Turkey more than 10 million Kurds are forbidden to

use their own language or to describe themselves as

Kurds”.16 In the 1920’s and 30’s Kurds rebelled against

this discrimination and the government reacted with more

suppression and even deported thousands from their homeland.

These imprisoned and condemned Kurds were officially called

“Mountain Turks”.17 The continued suppression of over 10

million people has resulted in the rise of Marxist

guerrilla groups.18

In Iran The Kurds were similarly brought under control

in the 1920’s. In 1946 the Kurds of Mahabad succeeded in

declaring an independent republic, but it only lasted a few

months, and the authorities hanged the ring leaders. Tribal

chiefs were allowed to register tribal lands and personal

possessions and were welcomed into the Iranian ruling elite,

in return for making sure their tribes obeyed the

government. After the shia revolution the Kurdistan

Democratic Party o Iran rebelled after the demands for

autonomy were refused by Tehran.19

In Iraq there were a number of revolts against Bagdad,

mainly by Mullah Mustafa Barzani, the famous leader of the

Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq. From 1964 until 1975

Barzani was strong enough to maintain an intermittent state

of war and peace negotiations. In 1974 the governing Ba’th

party offered Kurds autonomy, but the Kurds believed it

lacked substance and they reverted to war strongly supported

and encouraged by Iran. But in 1975 the Shah of Iran, who

had supported Barzani, signed the agreement of Algiers with

the Iraqi and abandon the Kurds to their fate; as a result

the Kurdish resistance collapsed. The success of the Iraqi

Kurds in the field of language and education have, however,

enabled them to create impressive literature and a fully

adequate written language, and have produced a generation of

Kurds whose primary and secondary level of education have

been in Kurdish. Such achievements will undoubtedly help

the Kurds of Iraq in their future efforts to preserve their

cultural and ethnic Idenity.20

Will the Kurds be able to hold onto their ethnic

identify with out outside help? Will the already suppressed

Kurds be able to uphold their language and religion? I

thing that is for sure is that as long as the Iranian and

Iraqi’s oppress the Kurds their will always be someone who

is willing support or at least pretend to support the Kurds

even if only for political reason or because it is to their

advantage too. Sadly enough this method of support is used

a lot by western countries to manipulate or maintain a

strategic advantage over surrounding Middle Eastern nations.

For example “at the end of World War I, the British

introduced the idea of Kurdish nationalism, and the Treaty

of Sevres (August 1920), whereby Britain and Turkey first

tried to conclude their hostilities after the war, contained

two articles related to the autonomy of the Kurds.”21 But

this Treaty was never fully realized because soon the

British changed their minds and shifted their attention

toward Iraq in order to exploit oil, the Kurds were left out

to dry. Some observers of the U.S. policy in the Persian

Gulf are increasingly puzzled over our failure to exploit

the Kurds as a potential strong card against the Iraqi’s.

Supporting the openness of the Iraq and Haddam Hussein,

particularly the leaders of the oppressed Kurdish minority,

would be a useful political and strategically move for the

U.S.. A spokes person for the Kurdish Democratic Party says

the “U.S. should look more closely at the international

situation in Iraq. And this can only be done by talking to

the opposition.”22 So we see two occasions where help was

indeed needed but not given. In one instance we have a

country using the Kurds to get their hands on some oil, and

on the other we see the U.S. not offering help even though

they would gain a significant advantage over countries in

the Middle East, even when the Kurds acknowledge that the

U.S. help would be just a ploy to get an advantage on Iraq.

Some believe that the U.S. is the Key to the Kurdish

question in the Middle East. This is a very optimistic idea

because of the complexity of the problem, “unless the

Americans succeed in developing a coherent and consistent

Middle East policy, one should not expect consistency or

predictability from the Middle East and the Kurds.”23

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