Kurdistan Conflict: Historyand Overview:1Kurdistanis a roughly defined geo-cultural region in Middle East with the population of28 million with an area covering more than 200,000 km² situated between Turkey,Iraq,Iran and Syriaequal to the area of France. It is mainly inhabited by Kurds who are an ethnolinguistic group residing mainly in Taurus and Zagros Mountain. The languagespoken in this region is mainly Kurdish, which is related to Northwest IranianGroup and majority of the inhabitants are predominantly Sunni Muslims withminor population of Shias, Yazidis and Christians. The dominant ethnicity inthis region is Kurds. 2Althoughthe prehistory of Kurds is somehow unknown but according to someanthropologists their ancestors have believed to have inhabited in same regionfor millennia or long before 16th century.
They are believed to be ofheterogeneous origins containing number of earlier tribes i.e. Guti, Kardouchoior the inhabitants of ancient Mesopotamia. Moreover, they are also consideredthe descendants of Median Empire who invaded Assyria which present day Iran andpartially Anatolia which was later invaded by Alexander.612 BC is considered asa first Kurdish year by Kurdish nationalists. On this date, they conquered thepowerful Assyria and hence dominated Persia and Central Anatolia Then duringthe Islamic conquest of the Old Iranian realms, the final necessary culturalinfluence was introduced to create the beginning of Kurds, which was indeed animportant factor in securing the position of Kurds along with their neighborsin embracing the Arab culture through conversion to Islam.
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Soon after theadvent of Islam their fate was linked to Arab rather than the previous Median orSassanid Empire. From 9th century onwards, the Kurds started playing aneffective role in Arts, culture and even in their own politics. The rule ofAyyubid dynasty is considered the most successful period of Kurdish power whichwas founded by The Great Saladin who is best known for epitomizing the Kurdishmilitary reputation.
Before World war one the Kurdish lifestyle used to benomadic. Soon after the disintegrationof Ottoman Empire and according to the treaty of Severs, Different nationstates (Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria) came into being. Since there was noseparate Kurdistan, so the Kurds were divided within the four new nation stateswhich developed nationalism among the Kurds.
Although Kurds were promised to begiven a separate states according to treaty but the deal was rejected byMustafa Kemal Ataturk. Kurdistan was fragmented more than before which gavebirth to various separatist movements among Kurdish Groups. Riseof Kurdish Nationalism:Kurds then started fighting for their rights buteach time their uprising met with brutal suppression by the states. Kurds feltoppressed and then they started fighting for the independence. Although in manyoccasions, Kurds were promised autonomy by successive administrations inTurkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran; and each time the promise always persistedunfulfilled, the Kurds then revolted and then the revolt was every timebrutally crushed resulting in the annihilation of Kurdish villages, massacreand further killing of Kurdish people. Along with the political suppression,the Kurds had also experienced cultural suppression. In Turkey, Iran, Iraq andSyria, there had been widespread movements following the policy of forced integration.
Kurds were many times prohibited to speak their own native Kurdish language in publicareas. 3Theywere often compelled abandon their Kurdish names and to adopt local ethnicnames, in order to get a proper job or to for the enrollment of the Kurdishchildren in educational institutions. Their books, music and clothing wereconsidered illegal and they had to camouflage them in their households. Ifauthorities searched their houses and anything regarding Kurdish came out, theycould face lifetime imprisonment. In recent years, both Iran and Turkey to someextent have relaxed their complete cultural suppression, while Iraqi Kurds havebeen successful in achieving autonomy.
TurkishKurdistan:4Kurdswere treated harshly at by the Turkish government, which tried to deprive themof Kurdish identity by labeling them as Mountain Turks, further repressing temby outlawing their language and forbidding them to wear traditional Kurdishcostumes. A Marxist organization Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) was established byAbdullah Ocalan whose aim was to create an independent Kurdistan which wasallegedly supported by Soviet Union was declared a terrorist organization bythe Turkish state. There was a peace process between the two entities which tosome extent limited the Guerilla war imposed by PKK. Many of the PKK fighterstook refuge in Lebanon in the 1980s. The also went to the Palestinian refugeecamps and fought along the Palestinian Popular Liberation Front (PELP), aleftist group against the Israeli invasion in Lebanon in 1982.
In 2002, when TayyipErdogan’s AK Party formed the government, Erdogan took an adopted liberal approachthan predecessors as he brought several reforms that allowed more cultural andlanguage privileges to Kurds. DespiteErdogan’s limited autonomy to Kurds, Kurdish activists still complained aboutcontinued repression and demanded greater changes. IranianKurdistan: 5Iranfaced an insurgency right after World War II. Under the protection of Soviettroops who had occupied parts of north-western Iran during the war.
In 1946, aKurdish Republic was declared in the city of Mahabad in the Iranian Kurdistan.By a political group known as KDP (Democratic Pary of Kurdistan) with the helpof Soviets which was later crushed by the Iranian monarchy. It lasted for 10 months,until Soviet troops left Iran under pressure from the United States andagtersigning Yalta Agreement. The president of the republic, Qazi Muhammad washanged while the defense minister of this short lived republic Mustafa Barzaniescaped to Soviet Union and returned to his native country Iraq in 1958. Hence,The Nationalist Party established its militant group and bombed the cities ofIran further revolting against the state. It main objective was to seek greaterautonomy within the Iranian federation but it resulted in Kurdish revoltsuppressed.
Even after 1979 Islamic Revolution the Kurds hoped of achievingtheir destiny but Khomeini declared a holy war on them. To lot of extent, theIslamic Republic of Iran under Khomeini regime was even more aggressive toKurdish separatists than the Pahlavi Shahs, and the first battle between Kurdsand adherents of the new Islamist regime took place less than a month afterKhomeini’s return to Iran in February 1979.6 Aftermerging the power struggle in Tehran between Khomeini’s Islamic party workersand leftist factions of exiled previous President Abol Hassan Bani?Sadr along with Iranianbenefits in the conflict against Iraq, the Islamic regime began fighting againstwith Kurdish nationalists again in 1982. Recently a new political partyknown as free life party of Kurdistan emerged whose demands is same as KDP andis in conflict with the current Iranian democratic regime. Iran has fornumerous times blamed Turkey and USA for supporting it. IraqiKurdistan:In Iraq, The Kurds have faced the similar repressionby the Iraqi government. At first the Kurds revolted in 1923 and 1932 duringBritish rule but were crushed.
By 1961, a Kurdish nationalist waged a massivestruggle against Baghdad after Baghdad refused to fulfill Kurds demands, whichwas successful. Then negotiations were held between the two parties. Thenegotiations were successful and Kurds achieved the autonomous status thusafter the Iran-Iraq war the autonomy was abolished and in 1988 Saddam Husseinpersecuted more than 50000 Kurds in Al Infal campaign. But autonomy was againgranted in 1990. Currently, Iraqi Kurdistan is governed by the President MasoodBarzani. It has raised its own Defense force known as Peshmerga.
Many Iraqi regimespromised autonomy to the Kurds especially after the 1958 revolution, but unfortunatelynone of the promise was fulfilled until the anti-Saddam international alliance recognizeda partial no-fly zone in northern Iraq in 1991 after the first Gulf War.7Tensionsbetween the main political parties of Kurdistan region i.e. the Patriotic Unionof Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party engaged into conflict with each other resultinginto civil war that almost destroyed the autonomous Kurdish administration in1994-97, and some differences remain Soon after the Saddam regime was overthrownduring Iraq War in 2003, the Kurdish Regional Government had to face instanttasks such as rebuilding infrastructure, creating a proper functioningdemocratic administration and adjusting thousands of displaced people after adecade of war and destruction.Overall its efforts exceeded all expectations. IraqiKurdistan largely escaped the privations of the last years of Saddam’s rule andthe chaos that followed his ouster in 2003, and built a parliamentary democracywith a growing economy.
SyrianKurdistan:Soon after the Syrian Independence, A Syrian Kurdishparty known as Democratic Party of Kurdistan was emerged which had similarambitions but they also had a same fate, By 1970, Baathist regime of Hafez AlAssad began Arabizing Syrian Kurdistan, which resulted in displacement ofthousands of ethnic Syrian Kurds. In the early 1970s,thousands of Arabs were shifted on seized Kurdish property along a 200-milestrip on the Turkish border as part of an Arabization procedure that includedbanning the teaching of Kurdish literature from schools. In 2003, DemocraticUnion Party (PYD) and its militant wing known as YPG (Peoples Protection Unit)were established for the rights of Syrian Kurds. Recently, acivil war in Syria has further improved the position of Syrian Kurds, whichembattled the Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in seeking support from Kurdsand in return Kurds were given Syrian citizenship as they were referred asforeigners from 1962-2011.By 2013 Kurds declared full autonomy on theirterritory known as Rojava. CurrentScenario:As the Middle East is stormed by the Arab springfrom 2011, In Syria the Kurds along with the opposing force of Free Syrian Armyrebelled against the current Assad regime which resulted in Syrian civil war.
Assad granted citizenship to the Kurds to prevent Syrian Kurdish conflict whichresulted in autonomous status for Syrian Kurds. By 2014, a Salafist jihadistmilitant organization known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) capturedsome of the regions of Iraq and Syria including Kurdish i.e. Kobani. The YPGalong with the support of US army and Peshmerga successfully liberated Kobanifrom ISIS control. The Kurdish rebels, so far gained international support andour being praised worldwide for their bravery, but the support by westerncountries to Kurdish rebels has strained relations between US and Turkey. TheISIS killing of Kurds created more tension between Arabs and Kurds and IraqiKurdistan is on the verge of getting independence which would be the source ofinspiration for the Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iran.
Kurdish secession fromIraq as an independent state would likely trigger conflict with Baghdad andexacerbate sectarian conflict between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia Arabs. NeighboringIran, Syria, and Turkey are concerned that independence for Iraq’s Kurds couldinspire Kurdish uprisings in their own countries and that an independentKurdistan might harbor militant Kurdish groups. Under Erdogan, Turkey hasboosted extensive economic ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government,including a booming oil trade, but also threatened that it would send itstroops into KRG territory, where the PKK’s guerrillas are known to operate.Many analysts believe that Turkey would not support Iraqi Kurdish independencewithout resolving its own internal Kurdish conflict first.
As of 2015, SeveralKurdish militant headquarters were bombed by Turkey which again fuelled theconflict between PKK and Turkish leadership. Now the Kurdistan conflict hasbecome an international issue for international community.8In recent years, the Iranian Kurds have been tryingto participate in Iranian mainstream politics and elections but the IranianState continues to discriminate against them socially, politically andeconomically. Even now that the conflict in Iraq has escalated and the IraqiKurdish leader, Barzani wants a referendum to decide fate of Kurdishpeople. Many analysts believe that theIranian politicians in the government have no will to ease discriminations andgive Kurds their political rights. The relationship between Iraqi Kurdistan andIsrael fears Iran.
Israel has fully expressed its support for Kurdish self-determinationand independence. 9Israel believes that an independent Kurdistan would be friendlier towardsIsrael. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his 2014 policy speech expressedhis support for an independent and sovereign Kurdistan. He further praisedtheir political commitment and political moderation saying that the Kurdishpeople were worthy of their own self determination and political independence. On 25th September 2017, an independencereferendum was held in Iraqi Kurdistan that was overwhelmingly backed by vastmajority of Iraqi Kurdish voters, at the same time it has raised furtherstrained relations between Erbil and Baghdad. While the Kurdish Regional Government has outlinedthe vote as a decree to have negotiations with Baghdad over the terms of independence,President Haider al-Abadi had instead emphasized that the referendum wasinvalid and hence, threatened to isolate the landlocked Kurdish region. 10Hefurther warned of repercussions and committed that the disintegration of Iraqwould never take place. The referendum has raised alarm in Iraq’s neighborsTurkey, Iran and Syria; they are concerned that the independence of Iraqiindependence would be a source of inspiration for Kurdish minorities in theirstates to break away.
Iraqi Supreme Federal Court strictlyruled on Monday that no region or province can seek independence, which furtherenabled government to strengthen its hand as it seeks to avert a repeat ofSeptember’s Kurdish independence vote. 11Iraqigovernment forces and the Iran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces launched asurprise offensive on Oct. 16 in retaliation. Government forces managed towrest back control of the oil city of Kirkuk and other disputed territories. On 17th December 2017, Thousands ofpeople across Kurdistan had marked their flag day to renew solidarity for thePeshmerga and support for the Kurdistan independence as they continued to feelthe consequences of economic crises and the recent loss of Kurdistan ordisputed areas after the Iraqi forces were order to seize control of IraqiKurdistan soon after controversial referendum. The Kirkuk Provincial Council,in a historical move this spring, decreed to raise Kurdistan flag across Kirkukprovince along with the Iraqi flag.
This move drew condemnation not only byIraq, but also neighboring countries such as Turkey. 12FlagDay was also marked in the town of Khanaqin which fell to the Iraqi forcesafter the events of October. A group ofstudents wearing traditional Kurdish clothing and holding the Kurdistan flagcelebrated with Kurdish dancing, called shaiy. Conclusion:A move toward independence would also risk conflictwith Iran-backed Shia militias and possibly even inflame the sectariancompetition between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia Arab. Iraqi Kurds have claimeddisputed territories beyond the borders of the three provinces that make up theKurdistan Regional Government and where Arabs, Turkmen, and others have livedfor many years. Stoking tensions with Baghdad, Kurdish officials extended thereferendum to the ethnically mixed, oil-rich Kirkuk area, which the Peshmergacaptured in 2014 from the Islamic State. The international community has raisedit concerns regarding the controversial referendum.
UN has categorically warnedof the vote’s potentially subverting effect, while the staunch supporter ofKurds US has said it would only fuel regional unrest and distracts attentionfrom ongoing campaigns to crush the ISIS group in Iraq and Syria. Now only thetime would tell either Kurdistan would be an independent state or an autonomousentity within the four states. Iraq is likely to be hostile to a unilateraldeclaration of Kurdish independence but may be too internally divided to stopit and may find benefits from negotiating a peaceful secession that advancesBaghdad’s and Erbil’s mutual interests. But while the Kurds have focused on theestablishment of a sovereign state as their principal goal, a declaration ofindependence would only be the initial step in the building of a new nation. Asmany other nations have learned, constructing a stable, prosperous state is farmore complicated than proclaiming its existence.