Over the past century, European powers, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Israel, and the United States have all used the Kurdish people to further their own aims
In 1918, the signing of the Treaty of Versailles effectively ended the Ottoman Empire. Its constituent territories, most significant with respect to a genealogical history of Kurdistan, being Anatolia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, were made the objects of European efforts at a stable organization of new geopolitical entities.
Great Britain and France played significant roles, negotiating (basically between themselves) the lines which were to be drawn and re-drawn across this, now lawless, stretch of former Ottoman territory.
The Treaty of Sevres, part of which governed the reorganization of the Ottoman administration, contained stipulations that sought to guarantee a more equal system of representation for minorities, among them the Kurds.
In fact, Kurdish independence is, itself, the product of betrayal, since the Treaty of Sevres, which provided for an independent Kurdistan in the adjacent areas of Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq where 18 million Kurds were concentrated. Because of the opposition of Turkish nationalists and the indifference of the Western powers, the treaty was not enforced, and the promise of autonomy was never fulfilled.
The Kurds have, as a people, experienced systematic discrimination over the course of much of the last century. Additionally, there are many other, traditionally nearby, minority groups, closely related to the Kurds in terms of language, that have had similar experiences of ethnic exclusion and oppression.
Struggles between these groups are sources of internal conflict. Add to this struggles between these groups and various government entities, and things often become even more chaotic. Where ethnic tensions come to boil, however, is when all of these variables are thrown together into one, revolutionary powder keg, which is inevitably suppressed, perpetuating the infinite cycle of ethnic minority domination and oppression that seems to characterize this type of geopolitical relationship.
There are certainly many accounts during the period, stretching from the end of the First World War to the present day, that illustrate this fact. The Dersim Rebellion represents a key example. To his credit, current Turkish president, Tayyip Erdogan, made an apology for the handling of the suppression of this rebellion by the Turkish military in 2011.
A veterinarian and nationalist activist, Nuri Dersimi, who published a book of his experiences while in exile, writes of fleeing women and children during the rebellion that, “Thousands of these women and children perished […] because the army bricked up the entrances of the caves. These caves are marked with numbers on the military maps of the area. At the entrances of other caves, the military lit fires to cause those inside to suffocate. Those who tried to escape from the caves were finished off with bayonets. A large proportion of the women and girls of the Kureyshan and Bakhtiyar [two rebel tribes] threw themselves from high cliffs into the Munzur and Parchik ravines, in order not to fall into the Turks’ hands.”
During the Iran-Iraq war, each side armed the other’s Kurds. Saddam Hussein’s military actually conducted a chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja, which killed thousands of Kurdish civilians and injured thousands more. Cousin of Saddam Hussein, Ali Hassan al-Majid, Iraqi Minister of Defense (nicknamed “Chem-Ali”), was hanged in 2010 for his role in the attack.
Following the Persian Gulf War, President Bush gave orders authorizing the CIA to aid rebel factions inside Iraq and later urged Iraqi dissidents (Kurds) to “take matters into their own hands.” And they did. However, the U.S. and its allies actually refused to help the rebellion they had helped to foment. This is known as “the great betrayal” by the Kurdish people. A dozen years later, during the Iraq War, the Kurds where betrayed once again.
At one time or another over the past century, the European powers, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the U.S., and at times, even the Kurds’ own leaders, have used the Kurdish people to further their own aims. Now, even as the Kurds have proven to be America’s most valuable ally on the ground fighting the Islamic State (for their own survival), the United States has, once again, betrayed them, by signing a deal with Turkey, a country that has since started to bomb the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
There are plenty of reasons for members of the PKK to be extremely protective. With this being said, it is important to note that, in many ways, the organization is similar to Hezbollah, and that it is often opposed. When fighting the Islamic State, it may be helpful to have allies with the ability to wage relentless warfare, in terms of a constant stream of ideological morale, which they provide to themselves in terms of self-justification.
The Kurdish nation may never truly achieve autonomy. At present, it seems like many ethnic groups have been marked for extinction by the Islamic State. It is specifically for this reason that they must be made nominal allies of the west, in so far as can be sustainability managed in looking forward to a stable future for the Kurdish people, as well as to the same such future for all ethnic minorities in the region.