A Kurdish story

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

For thousands of years, the Kurdish people have populated a large swath of land comprising parts of Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, a promise for an independent Kurdish homeland was sought.

In 1923, the Republic of Turkey was recognized under the Treaty of Lausanne. Ambitions of Kurdish statehood, however, were trampled as France and Great Britain partitioned the Middle East into a patchwork of “independent” oil-producing states.

We all know what happened decades after that. Set adrift in a sea of war, sectarian violence, and the treacherous oil economy, the Kurds remain a stateless nation. But their battle for survival hasn’t shown signs of letting up. In fact, developments in the Middle East since the Sykes-Picot Agreement that had carved the region into spheres of influence between Britain and France have only cultivated an ever-growing desire for self-determination among the Kurds.

Uprisings were waged and different factions were formed to advance the nationalistic agenda. However, the diaspora has made it all the more difficult for these factions to create a single united front. The Kurdish population is distributed among four countries and, in the absence of a homeland, Kurds have been left to decide whether they are Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, or Turks.

Cultural repression was also rampant, especially in Turkey where the government there prohibits any mention of Kurdish culture and history and usage of the Kurdish language.

What is also confounding this problem is the differing perspectives that were adopted by the Kurdish people’s main political factions. In the aftermath of the Gulf War, Iraqi Kurdistan was established and the Kurds in northern Iraq earned greater autonomy. However, the ideological differences between the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) have led to a bloody power struggle that has complicated the movement for self-determination even more.

Still, the Kurdish people persisted, having supported the US in the Invasion of Iraq in 2003. They fought alongside American forces against Saddam Hussein’s regime all while being confident that Kurdistan has earned a powerful ally. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, on the other hand, was having none of it when it stepped up attacks on the US-backed Turkish government. The PKK was officially branded as a terrorist organization and there were efforts to contain the organization’s movements.

Following the execution of Saddam Hussein and the democratization of Iraq, the unstable leadership that the US had built up in the country contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. The spillover of the Syrian Civil War into Iraq had nurtured the terrorist organization’s reach, controlling large areas between Raqqa and Mosul and posing an existential threat to the Yazidi and the Kurdish people.

The Kurds, along with the PKK, fought back against IS and had contributed to the effort of containing its growth. It was in the city of Kobani when the Kurds, supported by airstrikes from the US, successfully pushed the extremists back and initiated the eventual destruction of their murderous caliphate in the Middle East.

Throughout the campaign against IS, the aspirations for nationhood grew more loudly. This has only irked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who wanted to quash the Kurdish separatist movement once and for all.

The Trump administration, despite considering the Kurds a “special people and wonderful fighters” who should never be abandoned, refused to support the Kurdish-led Syria Democratic Forces (SDF). This allowed the Turkish military to move against the SDF in what could pass off as a ln indirect attempt to beef up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power.

Betrayed and virtually embattled, the SDF had to accept an uneasy alliance with Russia and al-Assad’s government to check Turkey’s direct entry into the Syrian Civil War.

The US, for its part, has only proven itself to be just as treacherous as the French and the British. There are no permanent friends. Only permanent conflicts. But for the Kurds, these conflicts will only contribute to nationalistic fervor, which is something no superpower can trample on.