The Struggle for Kurdistan

JONATHAN SIMMONS

The sporadic fighting so common to the area of the Middle East known as “Kurdistan” bears witness to one of the world’s longest-running struggles for independence.  The Kurds, an ethnic group divided primarily between modern Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, have been fighting for an independent nation – or, alternatively, for greater autonomy in the nations in which they live – for decades (1).

Today, major Kurdish movements in Iraq and Turkey often have competing goals and methods, with Iraqi Kurds attempting to run a semi-autonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, while Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey oppose the Iraqi Kurdish parties and instead push for a truly independent Kurdistan, to serve as a homeland for all the Kurdish people (2).

Major Kurdish uprisings first began following the fragmentation of the Ottoman Empire after World War I and the creation of the modern nation-states of the Middle East.  The Turkish government under Mustapha Kemal Ataturk rejected the Treaty of Sevres, which would have provided for the creation of an independent Kurdistan (3) – leaving Kurds to become an ethnic minority in multiple nation-states in which the ethnic nationalism of the majority (Turkish, Arab, or Iranian) is a basic part of the national identity.

Although Kurds now have a certain level of autonomy in Iraq, they continue to face problems elsewhere.  In Turkey, Kurdish activists are often arrested, and Kurdish-language broadcasting and education is largely banned (4).  Iranian Kurds are also frequently subjected to discrimination, in part because they are largely a Sunni religious minority in the majority-Shia Muslim country (5).  In Syria, Kurds are often arrested for belonging to unregistered political parties (5).  Such abuses are frequently cited by Kurdish activists as a reason to not to halt, but rather to continue, activism on behalf of the Kurdish people.

Sources:

1.  O’Toole, Pam. February 17, 1999. “A People Divided by Borders.” Retrieved January 24, 2011 from the BBC website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/218849.stm

2.  Salaheddin, Sinan. March 24, 2009.  “PKK Kurdish Rebels: We Won’t Stop Fighting in Iraq.” Retrieved January 24, 2011 from the Huffington Post website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/24/pkk-kurdish-rebels-we-won_n_178391.html

3.  The Washington Post Company. 1999. “Who Are the Kurds?” Retrieved January 24, 2011 from the Washington Post website:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/daily/feb99/kurdprofile.htm

4.  Schleifer, Yigal. October 5, 2005. “Opened with a Flourish, Turkey’s Kurdish-language schools Fold.” Retrieved January 25, 2011 from the Christian Science Monitor Website: http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/1005/p07s02-woeu.html

5. Amnesty International.  2008.  “Iran: Human Rights Abuses Against the Kurdish Minority.” Retrieved January 26, 2011 from the Amnesty International website: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE13/088/2008/en/d140767b-5e45-11dd-a592-c739f9b70de8/mde130882008eng.pdf

6. Human Rights Watch.  November 26, 2009.  “Syria: End Persecution of Kurds.” Retrieved January 26, 2011 from the Human Rights Watch website:  http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2009/11/26/syria-end-persecution-kurds

Further Reading:

Council on Foreign Relations Backgrounder: Inside the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK)

BBC News World: A people divided by borders

BBC: Turkey unveils reforms for Kurds

Human Rights Watch: Turkey: Kurdish Party Banned

CBSNews, Opinion: Kurdish Iraq: An Emerging Success

Smithsonian.com: Kurdish heritage reclaimed

Newsweek: The End to a Long Conflict

Time: Behind Turkey’s Kurdish Problem

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