If we were to list the nations currently living under great injustice during the 21st century, we could not disregard the Kurds, who are suffering from severe oppression, persecution, murder and destruction across the Kurdish territories. If we claim to support human rights, justice and the right of nations to freedom and independence, then we must support the Kurdish people. Those who want justice for themselves must be just to others, and whatever they want for themselves they must want for others. Otherwise, we fall into double standards and a loss of morality.
The Kurds suffer under those who bear a duty to treat others well — the Arabs, Turks and Iranians. They have been denied their political independence for a very long time. Post-Second World War they were prevented from establishing an independent Kurdish state. Instead, what was called Kurdistan was divided between Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia and Turkey. This tore the Kurdish nation apart, creating demographic blocs split between different countries. Kurdistan covers around half a million square kilometres and there are 25 million Kurds, making it and them larger than many modern states and peoples.
Although the size of Kurdistan and its potential population easily qualified it for independence, it now seems as though the victorious wartime powers used this, as they used Palestine, to create a crisis in order to drain the resources and exhaust the energies of the people. The colonial powers were successful, and exhausted not only the Kurds but also the people and energy in Iraq, Iran and Turkey; they spread hatred, resentment and mutual animosity between the Kurds and the Arabs, Turks and Iranians across the Middle East.
Kurdistan straddles the borders of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Armenia and Syria. Most of the Kurds — 16 million — are in south-east Turkey; Iran has 5 million, there are 4 million in Iraq and over one million in Syria. There is also a small Kurdish population in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lebanon, Russia and Germany.
Some historians say that the Kurds descend from the Aryan race, and so they are ethnically closer to the Iranians than to the Arabs and Turks. Others say that they are originally Arabs, but this must be investigated further.
Having suffered at the hands of the Arabs, Iranians and Turks, the Kurds are now suffering at the hands of Daesh, which is trying to control their villages in north-east Syria. They are also targeted by Turkish land and air strikes in an attempt to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish state or region in Syria.
The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, tried to turn the Kurds away from their nationalism and national culture by force. He made it illegal for Kurds to speak Kurdish; they had to abandon their language and culture in favour of the dominant Turkish culture. In addition, the mainly Sunni-Muslim Kurds were oppressed by the Iraqis and denied many of their basic human rights, such as the celebration of their national holidays. Saddam Hussain even used chemical weapons against the Kurds, killing thousands of them in Halabja, despite the fact that the Iraqi government had agreed to grant the Kurds autonomy in 1970 after a harsh conflict that exhausted both sides. A number of Kurdish villages in the north-west and west of Iran have been destroyed by the Iranian military.
On the fringe of the wider Syrian conflict, Turkey is threatening the Kurds and has deployed its armed forces along the border with Syria; the government in Ankara says that it will take action if there are efforts to establish a Kurdish entity in north-east Syria. It is believed that the Turks are providing assistance to Daesh to attack the Kurds, although this is denied by Ankara.
Turkey cares little about the Kurds, but its position on the regime in Damascus drives it to use the Kurds as a cover for its military intervention in Syria. However, Turkey has always attacked the Kurds living in the Kurdistan region of Turkey and has generally prevented them from forming political parties and participating in elections to be represented Turkish legislative bodies. In recent times, however, the ruling Justice and Development Party allowed Kurdish parties to stand in national elections (and they were relatively successful), but their humanitarian and cultural situation is still one of Turkish oppression.
The Kurds have the right to establish their own entity like any other nation in the world, as they are a people with a distinct culture and language. They have the right to assert themselves, manage their affairs and enjoy the rights and privileges enjoyed by people and states around the world. We Arabs always talk about our nation’s right to self-determination and detestable foreign domination, so we must want for others the freedom that we want for ourselves. We must be good neighbours and treat them in accordance with the respect and good relations demanded by our faith; they cannot be left as prey for the Zionists and Americans to manipulate them as they please.
Neither Arabs, Iranians nor Turks have the right to oppress the Kurds or to deny them from achieving their national aspirations. We all talk about freedom and our right to expel colonial forces and have independent states, and so we cannot behave in a contradictory way to what we preach in the media.
There are Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt, along with the Palestinian Authority, which recognise the effect that Israel has had through its colonial settlement of Palestinian land and displacement of the Palestinian people, but there is no official or popular Arab action to support the legitimate demands of the Kurds. We, the people of the Muslim and Arab world, should be the first to understand and sympathise with the Kurdish cause because we have all suffered for many years from oppression, tyranny, persecution, a denial of rights, waste and repression; we should support the oppressed wherever they are, just as we call on the world to support us against those who are oppressing us.
This applies to others in the region as well. Turkey wants to turn Syria into a democracy, but it does not grant democratic rights to the Kurds and continues to persecute them. How can it want to establish a democracy in another country while it does not exercise democracy nor respect human rights in its own country? As for Iran, it talks about liberating Palestine, but it never talks about liberating the Iranian Kurds. Iraq and Syria are no different to other countries which fall into moral contradictions.
The rights of nations are fundamental; there are no types or levels, and they are not subject to mood swings; they are principles that must be respected. Even if the West does not respect the principles they call for, then the honest Muslims should be the first to respect these principles, because they are concerned with sending a moral message to the nations of the world.
The Arab, Iranian and Turkish oppression of the Kurds has pushed them to resort to the West and Israel, which has entered Kurdistan, especially in the Iraqi and Iranian areas, and is now more capable of gathering intelligence there. If the Kurds had their own nation state, respected for what they are, perhaps they would not have turned to Israel for security and military cooperation. The Arabs have always pushed minorities into the arms of our enemies and then later blame them for cooperating with Israel.
Of course, there is no justification for such cooperation, but if the Kurds see Arabs, Iranians and Turks destroying their homes and displacing them, then they will inevitably accept the help of others. Israel is good at seizing such opportunities and benefitting from them.
There are a number of possible solutions to the Kurdish problem which would stop it from being a factor for instability in the region and make sure that the Kurds are not a tool used by the colonial powers and Israel.
The people of the region — Arabs, Iranians and Turks — could unite under the banner of Islam and form a united Muslim state that includes Kurdistan, provided that the Kurds are full participants in this unity. This is an ideal (and logical) solution but, realistically speaking, it is unlikely ever to happen because the concept of national sovereignty is so ingrained in our collective psyche, and we all have distinct cultures and values as well as those we share.
Alternatively, the countries involved could grant the Kurds autonomy, with partial sovereignty preserved in countries with a large Kurdish minority. This internal arrangement is achievable. It would mean that each part of Kurdistan would remain under the sovereignty of the parent states, with agreement between those states on how such autonomy would work.
Of course, the ideal from the Kurds’ perspective would be complete independence across all of Kurdistan. This would require the sovereignty of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria over the parts of Kurdistan within their own borders to be handed over to the Kurds who would form a new state.
No one should believe that the Kurds will give up and stop trying to gain their independence. Instead of attacking the Kurds, therefore, we must look for practical solutions to the problem and everyone in the region must learn from our own experiences of colonialism and the removal of the colonial powers.
Whatever else happens, it is important for the Kurds to commit themselves not to establish any relations of any kind with Israel, or they will turn the region completely against them. Kurdish leaders have established relations with Israel in the past and received arms to fight Iraq, so there are now strong suspicions that the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region will allow its airports to be used by Israel to launch strikes against Iran. Such actions weaken the Kurdish argument for self-determination.
Translated from Al Jazeera net, 15 August, 2015.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.