Author: Garabet K. Moumdjian - E-mail
Kurdistan has always been a problem for European powers that have colonial zed and then instituted their mandates in the Middle East. Although constituting the 4th major ethnicity in the Middle East after the Arabs, Turks, and Iranians (Persians) the Kurds were always denied their rightfully owned independent country. With the American invasion in Iraq in 2003 and the major geopolitical shifts that the invasion brought to the area, an autonomous Kurdistan is now a reality. Turkey, Iran,
Syria, and the Iraqi central government vehemently defy the idea of the creation of an independent Kurdistan. They are even against the creation of an autonomous Kurdish enclave in a federative Iraq.
Forcibly settled in some select communities in Western Turkey and several Middle Eastern countries, and partially concentrated in the eastern districts of Anatolia, there lives an atypical ethnic group whom Turks label as "Mountain Turks". Yet this unique ethnic group is totally unrelated to the Turks and possesses a distinct culture, history, and social background. Historical data collected during the last 2 centuries indicates that these people are the original
inhabitants of southeastern Anatolia. History names them the Kurds and their homeland, Kurdistan.
The modern day Turkish Republic was built on the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. During their expansion, the Ottomans conquered and occupied the lands of many peoples. They built a large, yet diverse empire, whose borders extended from southeastern Europe (the Balkans) to the Caucasus including the Middle East, Arabia, and North Africa. Asia Minor and Anatolia became the nexus of this vast state.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, unprecedented luxury, opulence, and indolence corrupted the Ottoman imperial power. Weakness and incapacity in the face of European powers became a permanent feature of the power elite. By the nineteenth century, the whole empire was reduced to "the sick man of Europe."
During these two centuries of weakness, the Ottomans encountered an increasing number of nationalistic and freedom movements. An already strong Europe interfered in the internal politics of the empire. However, European powers were never able to reach a compromising agreement or a final decision on how to divide the Ottoman Empire between them. Thus, Ottoman territorial integrity became a permanent element of the European peace process. The totality of the empire was restored for
almost a century, until the outbreak of World War I.
Most of the nationalistic movements that the Ottomans encountered during the nineteenth century were staged in their European territories. These were backed by different European powers, especially Russia, which for political reasons regarded the Slavic freedom fighting peoples of the Balkans a continuation of its own people. Moreover, Russia used the Slavic population of the Balkans to implement its strategic plans of "descending to the hot waters" that is, the
Mediterranean. Unable to suppress all these freedom movements at the same time, the Ottomans retreated. Consequently, most of the Balkans regained its freedom.
At about the same time (i.e. the middle of the 19th century), peoples in the eastern parts of Anatolia, namely the Kurds and the Armenians, awoke from their centuries long torpor and embarked in nationalistic movements seeking freedom and equality. Yet the remoteness of those peoples and their lands from Europe brought them a fate that was totally different from their European counterparts. Armenian and Kurdish national liberation struggles were handled with an iron fist.
All that Ottoman Sultans were deprived of achieving in their European territories they forced in the eastern parts of their empire. Later, under the cover of the first global war, The Ittihadist Turkish government exceeded even its predecessors when it staged and executed THE FIRST GENOCIDE OF MODERN HISTORY [G.M.] by massacring the Armenian population of Ottoman, i.e. Western Armenia.
After the war, in 1918, Armenians garnered their feeble forces in a tiny republic in the Caucasus. This fledgling state was unable to endure for long. After only two and one half years of independence, it was crushed under a "Blitzkrieg" between Kemalist Turkey and Communist Russia. It was eventually absorbed by the latter. Today, about one half of all Armenians live in this republic that was an integrated part of what came to be known as the Soviet Union.
It regained its independence in 1990 after the demise of communism. The other half of Armenians is scattered around the world. It constitutes the communities that comprise the Armenian Diaspora.
As for the Kurds, they also were the victims of assimilating Turkish policies. Unlike Armenians, Kurds never achieved sovereignty. Today, their homeland is divided between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. All four governments suppress any nationalistic insurgence within their Kurdish population.
Numerically, the Kurds comprise the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East. However, they are forced to accept the identity of the country in which they live. In Turkey and elsewhere, a planned policy of forced assimilation and military action is wiping out all forms of ethnicity and Kurdish national belongingness.
The events of the last two decades in Turkish Kurdistan are valid indications of this.
This narrative strives to shed some light on the history of the Kurds. It deals with almost a century of events (1830-1930) which covers the most active chapter in the history of the Kurdish freedom movements. As an important supplement, Armenian-Kurdish relations are also studied. Noteworthy is the fact that Kurds and Armenians were close neighbors for centuries. Thus, their histories are closely interrelated. Even a cursory analysis of the relations between these two people show
that a close, mutual, and trustworthy collaboration was never realized during their struggle for freedom. This, of course, eventually harmed both peoples. Nevertheless, the turbulent situation that the Middle East encounters in modern times and the numerous wars and conflicts that are staged on its soil are motivating reasons to have a better understanding of the region and its peoples. The Kurds are one such example. They are scattered in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria with ghetto type enclaves in the other Middle Eastern countries.
Iraqi Kurds seem to be the most active. During the past three or four decades, they staged more than one rebellion under the leadership of the Barzani (Barzanji) family. The Iraqi government, with the aid and the military help of the Turkish Republic, crushed those Kurdish insurrections. Some of the Kurdish rebel leaders were murdered. Others were thrown into prison after being charged as traitors to their "host" countries.
In 1945 Kurds in Iran staged an insurrection and for a period of a year established what is historically referred to as "The Kurdish Republic of Mahabad," which was crushed by the armies of the Pahlavi Shah. More recently, Kurds in Iran grasped the opportunity offered by the Islamic Revolution of Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini to extract an autonomous existence for themselves. Although they failed, the Kurds remain a nagging and thorny issue for Iran.
Today, in all the countries in which they live, Kurds are considered to be in a very low socioeconomic level. This is observed especially in the Turkish parts of Kurdistan, where severe limitations on education, dissemination of ethnic culture, and economic opportunities are imposed, the Kurdish language (or languages) and literature is banned, hundreds of villages have been destroyed.
The "Mountain Turks" are yet another case of lost national identities that swim in the murky waters of the Middle Eastern swamp.