Stateless and homeless in Kurdistan

  • 0

Stateless and homeless in Kurdistan

Sunday, 31 December 2023 | Makhan Saikia

Stateless and homeless in Kurdistan

The history of Kurdistan is intricately woven into the fabric of West Asia, encompassing Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Home to the Kurds, the region's largest stateless ethnic group, they number around 35 million, dispersed across the aforementioned nations. Despite their significant presence, Kurds remain without a sovereign state, facing a complex history marked by geopolitical agreements, uprisings, and the enduring quest for autonomy.

The history of Kurdistan is deeply intertwined with the geography, polity, and economy of West Asia, especially the sovereign countries of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. The Kurdish people are largely scattered across these four countries in the region. For centuries, people belonging to numerous ethnicities have migrated, settled, and many have naturally inhabited West Asia, such as Persians, Arabs, Turks, Armenians, Azeris, Chechens, etc. Unfortunately, the Kurds are the only ones who have remained stateless to date.

The Kurds are sometimes regarded as the largest nation without its own independent country. About 25-35 million of them live in the mountainous regions that straddle the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Armenia. The Kurds are probably the fourth largest ethnic group in the West Asian region without a state. They are one of the most widely known indigenous peoples belonging to the ancient Mesopotamian Plains and Highlands. Today, they are mainly scattered over Southeastern Turkey, Northeastern Syria, Northern Iraq, Northwestern Iran, and Southwestern Armenia. As a result, they lay claim to all these territories currently under the occupation of five sovereign nations.

The history of Kurdistan traces back to the historic Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, under which West Asia was divided into separate zones of British and French influence. After the First World War, the Treaty of Sèvres was signed in 1920, proposing the creation of an autonomous Kurdish state as part of the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. However, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the new leader of Turkey, outrightly rejected the Treaty of Sèvres and the demand for an independent Kurdistan. This treaty was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne, negotiated with the Turkish Government, which made no mention of the Kurdistan state. Since then, Kurds across the five nation-states of Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Armenia have raised the banner of revolt for an independent homeland.

By January 22, 1946, Kurds in Iran established the Republic of Mahabad during the Second World War when it was under the control of the USSR.

After the withdrawal of Soviet troops, Iran took control of Mahabad in December 1946. Mustafa Barzani, considered the “Father of Kurdish nationalism”, established the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iraq on August 16, 1946, while in exile in Mahabad. Later, it was renamed the Kurdistan Democratic Party, becoming the most dominant political party among Kurds until the 1970s in Iraq.

By 1961, under Barzani’s leadership, Iraqi Kurds began their rebellion against the Baathist regime of Baghdad for not fulfilling the demand for autonomy. In 1962, Syria stripped 120,000 Kurds of their citizenship. Hafez al-Assad’s regime established an Arab Belt along the border of Turkey in 1973 by displacing thousands of Kurds. In 1974, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) was established under the leadership of Abdullah Ocalan. It is a Marxist organisation aiming to establish an independent Kurdistan in the southeastern part of Turkey. Since 1984, the PKK has been using violent tactics to fight the Turkish state.

Thereafter, the Kurds found themselves in a disadvantageous position with the signing of the Algiers Accord between Iraq and Iran in 1975. As US funding came to an end and Kurdish territory in Northern Iraq was occupied, the Kurdish rebellion suffered a significant setback. Following the collapse of the rebellion, Kurdish fighters were divided into two groups: the original group under Barzani remained, but branding him as a reactionary, Jalal Talabani formed the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Sorani-speaking areas of Central Iraq.

From 1970 to 1990, the Kurds fought in both Iraq and Iran, but they could hardly force the respective regimes to yield to their demands. The worst came in Iraq when Saddam Hussein launched the “Kurdish Genocide” in 1988, resulting in the killing of more than 1,80,000 Kurds. On March 16 of the same year, he unleashed a mustard and sarin gas attack on the Kurds in the town of Halabja, killing about 5,000 of them. Even after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, under the leadership of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Kurds were tortured and completely sidelined in Iran.

With the US-led Operation Provide Comfort and later Operation Northern Watch against Saddam’s regime in Iraq, nearly a million fleeing Kurds came back home from Turkey and Iran. They elected their first Kurdistan Regional Government and National Assembly in 1992. Since then, until the rise of the Islamic State in 2014, Kurdish parties and groups underwent massive changes and faced upheavals in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey but failed to achieve their independent homeland.

Interestingly, the US fully supported the Kurds in its war against the Islamic State in West Asia, particularly in Syria and Iraq. However, once the war came to an end and President Assad regained control over the major war zones of Syria with support from Iran and Russia, the Kurds found themselves still fighting an endless war with the hope that someday, they will have an independent land.

The recent attack by Kurdish rebels and the killing of nearly 12 Turkish soldiers in northern Iraq have again highlighted the continued threat from the outlawed PKK. In response to the killings, the Turkish Army launched massive airstrikes and neutralised around 26 PKK fighters. Subsequently, dozens of pro-Kurdistan opposition activists were affected. The PKK has been designated as a terrorist group by Turkey, the US, and the European Union (EU).

Almost anyone visiting and meeting the Kurds will hear them quip that they are “no man’s land” today. They are the largest group of inhabitants, numbering almost 40 million to date, without having a permanent state. Shockingly, the four major states where the Kurds particularly live — Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria — all of them have either failed or not genuinely shown interest in conducting an apolitical census of the Kurd population.

It is a matter of critical political contestation in all these states, and the successive regimes in Ankara, Baghdad, Tehran, and Damascus have simply ignored the persistent attempts of the Kurds to establish themselves as a single political community for decades now.

Who is responsible for making the Kurds stateless? Can there be a permanent solution? Frankly, the Kurdish dream of an independent state needs support and compromise from Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It is a very intricate issue because all these countries don’t have a consensus on the demands of the Kurdish people and their leaders over the decades. The Kurds have remained homeless simply because of the initial division of West Asia by the European colonial powers and subsequent neglect by the regional rulers of their demands.

Furthermore, the Kurds have enough factions in all these countries, and they do not have a coherent strategy to fight the respective regimes. Today, they are seen as a threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, though they have been living there for decades. So, the road ahead is long and arduous for the Kurds to attain their homeland in the days to come.

(The writer is currently the president of the Global Research Foundation)

State Editions

AAP declares candidates for April 26 Mayoral polls

19 April 2024 | Staff Reporter | Delhi

BJP banks on Modi, uses social media to win voters

19 April 2024 | Saumya Shukla | Delhi

Sunita all set to participate in INDIA Bloc rally in Ranchi

19 April 2024 | Staff Reporter | Delhi

Woman boards bus in undergarments; travellers shocked

19 April 2024 | Staff Reporter | Delhi

Bullet Rani welcomed by BJP Yuva Morcha after 65 days trip

19 April 2024 | Staff Reporter | Delhi

Two held for killing man in broad daylight

19 April 2024 | Staff Reporter | Delhi

Sunday Edition

Astroturf | Reinvent yourself during Navaratra

14 April 2024 | Bharat Bhushan Padmadeo | Agenda


14 April 2024 | Biswajeet Banerjee | Agenda

Navratri | A Festival of Tradition, Innovation, and Wellness

14 April 2024 | Divya Bhatia | Agenda

Spiritual food

14 April 2024 | Pioneer | Agenda

Healthier shift in Navratri cuisine

14 April 2024 | Pioneer | Agenda


14 April 2024 | Shobori Ganguli | Agenda