A Brief History of Kurdistan:
An early regional presence
Kurdish people can claim one of the longest ethnic histories in the middle east. Their lineage dates back to as early as 2400 BC, where they occupied the same lands as they do today. However many foreign invasions and immigrants shaped the face of the Kurdish people over time. Though Kurds had followed the teaching of Islam since an Arabic invasion in the 7th century, their culture remained distinctly different from all the others found around it. This early separatism would lay the groundwork for problems in outside parties ruling the area.
Under the Ottoman Empire
Starting in 1843, the Kurdish area of the middle east, then known as Vedr-Khan Bek, fell under the Ottoman rule. A massive Kurdish uprising there in 1847 lead to swift suppression by Ottoman forces that would continue until the Empire fell. The oppression suffered under this system led to the first attempt in organizing a national Kurdish movement as early as 1908. After the first World War, the defeat of the Central Powers made the Middle Eastern regions protectorates of British and French imperialexpansion.
Between the wars
Between 1920 and 1923, there existed an uneasy peace in the former Ottoman Empire. Territories were being created, lines redrawn, and nationalities divided by the Allied powers, with little regard to anything but their own interests. The Treaty of Sevres which was drawn up in August of 1920, provided for the division of Turkey between allied powers and smaller ethnic groups that desired an autonomous homeland. Among these nation hopefuls were the people of Kurdistan. However, the traditional Kurdish homeland was too valuable for conflicting parties to give up. Britain wanted to retain control of Northern Iraq for the oil rich Mosul area. Turkey’s new leader, Mustafa Kemal also refused to give up any lands in the south to Kurds, despite their support of his rise to power. After driving out the Allied occupation forces, Kemal left little chance for the Kurdish minority to secede. Satisfied by their own gains in the region, Britain and France decided not to press the matter of Kurdistan, and the matter was excluded in the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne. Fairly soon afterwards, Turkey passed laws prohibiting the teaching or speaking of the Kurdish language in public places.
After World War II
World War II and the subsequent Cold War made the Kurdish people pawns of pawns. The middle east was being divided up between areas of American influence and areas of Soviet influence, causing both internal and external strife for many newly formed nations. However, the Kurds again had a chance for an independent state. The Iranian portion of Kurdistan was under Soviet occupation, and the Soviets allowed Qazi Mohammed, a respected religious and political leader, to create and lead the Mahabad Republic of Kurdistan. During this time Mohammed also founded the Kurdish Democratic Party. However, once again, the good fortune of the Kurds wasn’t meant to be. Lasting less than a year, the Mahabad Republic was never granted full independence or autonomy. Soviets withdrew their forces from the area in 1947 and the Iranian central government, backed by the US and Great Britain, destroyed the Kurdish republic and executed the leaders.
The problem of Iraq
During the 1950’s and 60’s Iraq waged massive campaigns to rid Iraqi territory of Kurds. The war went on and off for nearly twenty years, with widespread massacre and atrocity inflicted on the Kurdish people. The situation worsened to the point to where a United Nations mediator was requested to resolve the conflict. A ceasefire was reached in 1970, and the Iraqi government passed the Autonomy Law of 1974, which insured Kurds’ basic rights and control of their own affairs. However, reforms implemented by this law never came about, and in 1975 Saddam Hussein started bombing Kurdish villages, destroying an estimated 5,000 by 1980. Iraq also tested their first chemical weapons, cyanide and mustard gas, on Kurdish civilians. During the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980’s, Iran provided arms to Iraqi Kurds, and Iraq provided arms to Iranian Kurds, again reaffirming the Kurdish role as pawn of the middle east.
The Iranian Revolution
When the Shah’s authority started to crumble in 1978, Iranian Kurds moved to take control of their own affairs. Kurdish civilians took control of military garrisons, weapons stockpiles, and gendarmerie outposts. The KDPI held public press conferences for the first time in thirty years, requesting a federal republic of Kurdistan within Iran. The Kurds lent their assistance to Ayotollah Khomeini’s rise to power, and he promised them constitutional amendments protecting their freedoms. Predictably, Khomeini’s government did not live up to its promises and fighting again started in the Kurdish countryside. The Kurds lost much of the control they had during the overthrow of the Shah due to eternal disunity. Since the Kurds could not defend themselves against the superior technology of the Iranian government, guerrilla tactics and terrorism grew to be their most powerful weapon.
Split between five countries, each group of Kurds in the middle east had different aspirations dependent on where they lived. Each had a different government to deal with and a different set of circumstances. Many times, Kurds in different regions of the same country would have conflicting interests, making it exceedingly difficult for any organized political unit to contain the views of all. For this reason Kurdish political parties became factions of factions. Since the early 1970’s, Kurdish political parties have been fighting each other as well as outside governments, weakening their political voice in the world even more.
The Gulf War
In conjunction with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, the Iraqi military violently put down a northern Kurdish uprising. The United States encouraged peace accords between Kurdish factions in Iraq, largely to undermine Saddam’s authority and to get a foothold in the area, but did nothing to help the Kurdish plight in Iran or Turkey. More than one million Kurds fled Iraq, and about 600,000 remained in refugee camps in the northern no fly zone created by Operation Provide Comfort. In this small area of autonomy, the Kurds held their first free elections in 1992. However clashes between rival Kurdish factions made the government ineffective. Seeing Kurdish elections in Iraq caused panic over Kurdish elections in Turkey, subsequently the Turkish government to banned The People’s Labor Party from parliament.