The Kurds are a sub-national group who are neither Arab nor Persian. They have their own language, customs, literature, folklore, and a distinct awareness of their own identity. There are around 25 million Kurds. They largely live in Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and the Common Wealth of Independent States (CIS). Of out which, around 3.5 million Kurds live in Iraq, 6 million in Iran, and 14 million in Turkey. The remaining Kurds spread over the Common Wealth of Independent States. In fact, they are the largest racial group in the world without their own country.
Kurds Claim for a homeland
The Kurds have struggled for an independent homeland which they call Kurdistan for a long time. The movement for an Iraqi-Kurdistan started in 1945 in Iraq. During this war, the Kurds were around 23% of the population.
In 1961, Mustapha Barzani declared Kurd areas independent from Iraq and tries to establish a Kurdish homeland. This revolt continues for 9 years. But Iraq defeats the Kurds.
However, the Kurdish-Iraqi Pact of March 1970 which ends the conflict, has put down various provisions. They are the right to use the Kurdish language, end of discrimination against Kurds, equal distribution of resources in Kurdish areas, freedom for Kurds to establish their own students, youth and women’s organizations, and recognition of Kurdish nationality.
However, the conditions of this pact were only partially into effect. Thus the Kurds never enjoy the important provisions regarding recognition of Kurdish language, non-discrimination, organizations of students, youth and women and administration of Kurdish areas by Kurdish officials. Iraq adopted a “law of autonomy for the Kurds” which did not fulfill any of the promises held out in 1970.
In September 1980, war broke out between Iran and Iraq and lasted for 8 years. Iraqi Kurds supported Iran in this war but did not get any help from Iran. Iraqi Kurdish groups formed a joint association called the Kurdish-Iraqi Front with a common aim of regional autonomy in a confederal Iraq. However, Iraq retaliated against the Kurds for their support of Iran in the war. They use poisonous gas against them in the town of Halabiya. As a result, it kills around 5000 Kurds and destroys many villages.
The Gulf War
Kurds got an opportunity again during the Gulf war to revolt against Iraq. Many areas in northern Iraq including the rich oil fields of Kirk which were under the control of the Kurds rebelled against Saddam Hussein’s government after Iraq’s defeat in May 1991.
However, they did not receive full support from the alliance forces and Saddam Hussein cracked down heavily on them.
As a result of the Gulf War, several tens of thousands of Kurdish refugees move to Turkey, Iran, and Syria. Under UN sanction, a safe haven was created for these refugees north of the 36° parallel in Iraq by the Western allies and the flow of refugees was stemmed. In April 1991, the United Nations Security Council passed an unprecedented resolution asking Iraq to end the “repression” of the civilian population, especially the Kurds.
Kurds in Turkey
In Turkey, the militant Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) supported by Syria and based in that country started a movement for Kurdish independence in 1984. Turkey in the exercise of its right of “hot-pursuit” crossed the international border into Iraq to curb PKK guerrillas established in northern Iraq. A virtual buffer zone was created by Turkey in areas controlled by Iraqi Kurds sympathetic to Kurds in Turkey. The Turkish Air Force bombed and strafed Kurdish villages in 1991.
Later, the Turkish government allowed the use of Kurdish names, Kurdish language, and Kurdish dress. But an insurrection in 1992 led to renewed violence and repression.
Kurds under Abdullah Ocalan
Abdullah Ocalan of the PKK emerged as an undisputed leader of the Kurds. Under his leadership, they set up an oil company –Kurdoil. They set up the Kurdoil in order to export oil as an independent identity from areas under Kurdish control. But, in February 1999, Turks attacked northern Iraq and captured Abdullah Ocalan. He was imprisoned and charged with treason, attempting to imperil Turkey’s territorial integrity by breaking away its eastern Anatolia province.
Thus, he was sentenced to death for these charges and for his violent 15-year campaign which resulted in the death of 30,000 people. Ocalan has stated that he is not aiming at independent Kurdistan. But he aims for the freedom to teach Kurdish in schools and colleges and respect for Kurdish identity. He has also contended that only if he is freed, he can ask the PKK to lay down arms.
However, the Turkish Government did not obey Ocalan words and he was under detention. The Government and Parliament have to consider several aspects before coming to a decision.
The United States of America and Kurds
The Kurds’ hope for a just solution to their claim for a “homeland” went up when the United States of America led alliance forces overthrew the Saddam regime in Iraq in April 2003 and established the “Transitory Authority” and the governing council.
The Constitution framed by the Iraqi Parliament is federal, republican, democratic, and pluralistic in character. Shias and Kurds favor a federation while the Sunnis oppose it for fear of being swamp by the other two groups.
The Iraqi general elections held on Dec 15, 2005, for a 275 member Parliament was largely peaceful. However, there was a failure to win agreement between Shias and Sunnis on important issues, emphasizes the gulf that still exists between them and also the Kurds.
The Shia Prime Minister, Nouri al Malki could not keep the coalition government intact and the radical Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr pulled out his followers in Sept 2007. This led to a political crisis in Iraq. Thus, Malki re-organized his government.
The then U. S. President, George Bush has announced that the United States of America troops in Iraq would be brought down from 20 to 15 combat divisions in July 2008. Presently, the opinion is that Malki is surviving because there is no alternative.
On November 17, 2008, Iraq-US pull-out pact required Washington to withdraw its forces within three years, i. e., by December 2011. They will pull out from cities by June 2009 and will not use Iraqi soil to attack neighboring countries.
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