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September 22, 2014 / 27 Elul, 5774
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Justice for the Kurds?

Pro-Kurd protest

Photo Credit: Gili Yaari/Flash 90

The Treaty of Lausanne made no mention of Kurdish independence; instead, the Kurdish population was divided into different areas of Northern Iraq, Southeastern Turkey, and parts of Iran and Syria. Exact figures are difficult to calculate and in dispute, but it is clear that Kurds now constitute large minorities in these different countries. In Iraq they constitute 17% of the population, in Turkey 18%, in Syria 10%, and in Iran 7%. In all these countries they have suffered from oppression. In 1962 about 120,000 Kurds were denied citizenship in Syria on the specious grounds that they were not born in that country. Kurdish land in northern Syria in 1973 was confiscated and given to Arabs. Their language and books were banned from schools and their traditional celebrations prohibited.

Kurds challenged the state of Turkey by an armed insurgency in the 1980s but were suppressed. Turkey had outlawed the Kurdish language and forbidden Kurds to wear their traditional dress in the cities. It encouraged the Kurds to move from their mountain base to the cities to dilute their identity. The Turkish Constitution includes an apartheid clause that all citizens of the country must be ethnic Turks.

Aggression against the Kurds has not only been political and constitutional; it has also been physical. In the armed fighting between Turkey and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Part (PKK) — formed in 1984 and the leader of which leader has long been imprisoned– about 40,000 people were killed, many of whom were PKK fighters. In the 1990s, more than 3,000 Kurdish villages on the borders of Iraq were destroyed by Turkey. Turkish planes have, on many occasions in the last few years, attacked PKK bases and killed civilians in northern Iraq. And in March 2012, Kurds in a number of Turkish towns, including Istanbul, who were celebrating the Kurdish New Year (Nowruz) were arrested or wounded by riot police.

In Iraq chemical weapons were used against them in 1988: their villages were burned, thousands were killed. The attempted rebellion by the Kurds after the Gulf War of 1991 was crushed by Iraqi troops. Saddam Hussein destroyed more than 4,000 Kurdish villages and killed perhaps as many as 180,000 civilians. Only after the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein had ended did Iraqi Kurdistan become an autonomous but not fully independent regime, an area that was extended after the U.S. invasion of 2003. The alternative Kurds face is either greater autonomy in the individual countries in which they live, or an independent state of their own.

The international community and the world media have argued feverishly for a Palestinian state. No such attention or concern has been accorded the Kurds — or the brutality towards them or the oppression they have suffered — both of which are very much greater than anything experienced by the Palestinians.

The Turkish government donated the funds for the 70 foot high monument recently dedicated to “international activists” and erected in Gaza City’s Port. The monument bears the names of the nine “martyrs” killed by Israel commandos in May 2010 when they were on the Mavi Marmara, one of the vessels that tried to break the legal Israeli naval blockade of Gaza to prevent armaments being shipped that could be turned on Israelis. The Turkish Foreign Minister, who referred to the “oppressed” Arabs in Gaza, ignores with a mote in his own eye, the oppression of the Kurds in his own country. Those purportedly concerned with human rights and self-determination have rarely, if ever, expressed support or even paraded for an independent Kurdish state. If a Kurdish state is “unthinkable,” as Arabs argue, so, logically, is a Palestinian one. Surely the conclusion should be clear that if a Palestinian state is justified and endorsed by the international community, shouldn’t similar approval and endorsement be given simultaneously to the creation of a Kurdish state?

Originally published by the Gatestone Institute http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org 

About the Author: Michael Curtis is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University, and author of the forthcoming book, Should Israel Exist? A sovereign nation under assault by the international community.


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