Kurdish History

Figure 1.--

The Kurds are a non-Arab ethnic group living in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and the former Soviet Union (Armenia and Azerbijan). Most Kurds are at least nominally Sunni Moslems. They speak an Indo-Germanic language quite destincr from both Turkish and Arabic. The Kurds were ruled for centuries as part of the Ottomon Empire. The British promissed their own country during World War I. After the War, however, this did not occur. Winston Churchill, who at the time was Colonial Secretary, had wanted to create a Kurdish, but was persuaded by Colonial Office officials not to do so. Instead the Kurds were divided between Turkey, Persia (Iran), and Iraq with disastrous consequences for the Kurdish people.


The Turks who have perhaps the largest Kurdish population , about 12 million people. The Turks refuse to even acknowledge the Kurds, referring to them as Mountain Turks. Turkey in the 1980s-90s fought a 15 year war against insurgent Kurds. The struggle was conducted by the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The PKK is very knowledegavle about the mounaneous territory that dominate the border region of Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. They have mountain bunkers and access to black market supplies. The PKK was founded by frustrated Kurdish students in Turkey who indoubtedly had many grevances. The Pkk became dominated by Abdullah Ocalan. He seems an unlikely guerilla leader He once said that his marriage to a middle-vlass politican was proof of his ability to withstand the hardships of a guerilla struggle. The PKK began its war against turkey (1984). The death toll after 15 years reach 35,000 people--mostly Kurds in southwestern Turkey. Ocalan not only targeted the Turks, but also Kurds that resisted his dictatorial control of the PKK. PKK members complain about being labeled terrorists, but their willingness to attack civilians has landed them there. Then the United States assisted Turkey to arrest Ocalan who was found in Kenya (1999). The demise of Sadam and the establishment of a Kurdish-controlled area of northern Iraq has to an extent changed the dynamic of the struggle. the PKK is, however, in a state of limbo. Many remain loyal to Ocalan, but are unsure just how to persue their struggle. [Marcus] They continue to launch occassional attacks in Turkey. The Turks have begun to attack suspected PKK bases in Iraqi Kurdistan. The future is uncertain. Turkey continues to persue policies intended to supress Kurdish national identity. The PKK does not have the ability to drive the Turks out of Turish Kurdistan. The Turks do not seem capavle of destroying the PKK, especially now that the Kurds control northern Iraq.


The Kurds in Iran and Iraq figured in Cold War politics, turning to both the Soviets and Americans for support. They have also been used by Iran and Iraq in the conflict between those countries. The Shah of Iran reached an agreement with Saddam to stop supporting Kurds in exchange for regaining the land and waterway in the south along Iraq and Iran border. Iraqi government agreed with that and Iran stopped supporting Kurds, causing the Kurdish revolt to collapset. It was at this time the Iraqi government started a severe campaign of supression against the Kurds. The Shah was replaced in the Islamic Revolution and Saddam invaded Iran, seeking to capitalize on the domesric turmoil. Many Kurds joined with the Iranians to fight Saddam.


Saddam Hussein did recognize the Kurds, who populate northern Iraq and make up about 17 percent of the Iraqi population, as a constituent Iraqi ethnic group. This was more than Turkey has done. After Saddam seized power, Saddam reacted severely to Kurdish efforts to gain some autonomy. Gradually Saddam began to attack the very fabric of Kurdish life. the Kurds fought with the Iranians against Saddam and in 1998 Saddam turned his poison gas on both the Iranians and Kurds. He also unleased a devestaing program to change the ethnic ballamce in nother Iraq, esopecially around the oil fields. Several thousand Kurish villages were attacked, ten of thosands of Kurdish villages dispaved and killed, and Arab colonists brought in to replace them. After Saddam's failed invasion of Kuwait in 1990-91, the Kurds revolted. Saddam's offensive drove millions into the mountains where the elderly and children began to die from exposure. The United Nations created a safe haven which was enforced by an American no-fly zone. Democratic elections were held in 1992 and two political parties, the PUK and KDP dominate the politics of the Kurdish area of Iraq. Fighting between the two partices occurred in 1994 and Saddam has intervened, but the United States extended the non-fly zine south, forcing Saddam to move his forces south. A peace agreement between the oarties was signed in 1999. Economic conditions with the end of inter-party fighting, democratic elections, and protection from Saddam have greatly improived in recent years. In addition, the Kurds received 13 percent of the revenue under the U.N. sponsored oil for food program, roudhly equivalent to their share of the Iraqi population..


Marcus, Aliza. Blood and Belief: The PKK and the Kurdish Fight for Independence (New York University, 2007), 351p.


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Created: 1:21 AM 12/20/2007
Last updated: 1:21 AM 12/20/2007