“Today, 40 million Kurds are the world’s largest ethnic group without a country of their own. They also stand out as a Muslim community that has a culture of gender equality. Female fighters go into battle shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts. After a century of struggle a free Kurdistan is emerging from the ashes of Syria and Iraq.”
June 24, 2014
The Toronto Sun
Iraq is imploding in a fiery mess as it nears its expiry date, and from its ashes a new nation is rising — Kurdistan.
While pundits debate who is to blame for this “unforeseen” crisis, it has little to do with the ill-fated invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the George W. Bush-Tony Blair team, or the limp foreign policy of Barack Obama.
What is emerging today is a result of seeds planted nearly a century ago.
This summer marks the 100th anniversary of World War I. The war that was supposed to end all wars, not only failed in keeping Europe at peace, it devastated the Middle East in more ways than one.
While the victorious allies imposed humiliating and crippling reparations on Germany in 1919, it was left largely intact.
Germany’s ally in the east, Ottoman Turkey, was not so fortunate.
The victorious British and French gobbled up the Arab lands the Ottomans had ruled for 400 years as “Vilayets” or autonomous provinces.
They were based on the ethnic, tribal and at times religious character of the areas.
But the victorious European powers carved out countries with borders they seemed to have drawn using a geometry set.
As it fought Germany on the western front in 1915, Great Britain convinced the Arabs of Hejaz, under Emir Hussein, to betray their fellow Muslims, the Ottoman Caliphate.
In return, Britain promised freedom for the entire Arab lands as one independent country.
But Emir Hussein was being double-crossed.
What he didn’t know is that months before he signed the pact with Britain, the British had signed the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement with their allies the French.
According to this treaty, the prime real estate of the Arab world — Syria (including Lebanon and what is today Israel and the West Bank) and Mesopotamia — would come under British and French rule.
Meanwhile the “independent Arab State” promised to the Emir of Hejaz was to be in the barren desert lands of what is today Saudi Arabia.
France ended up with Syria and Lebanon while Great Britain managed to keep the territories stretching from today’s Israel and Jordan all the way to the areas that included Basra, Baghdad and Mosul, places where oil had just been found.
To keep control over these new found oil-rich lands, the British created a completely artificial country they called Iraq.
To placate the now homeless royalty of Hejaz (who had by then been expelled by the Saudis) London made one of the Emir’s sons the new “King of Iraq” in a land that was foreign to him.
In all these machinations, the people who suffered most were the Kurds.
Instead of granting them nation status, Kurdistan was cut into three countries, with Turkey taking over the western Kurds and the rest divided between French Syria and British Iraq. (Eastern Kurdistan has been under Iranian occupation since the 17th century.)
Today, 40 million Kurds are the world’s largest ethnic group without a country of their own.
They also stand out as a Muslim community that has a culture of gender equality. Female fighters go into battle shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts.
After a century of struggle a free Kurdistan is emerging from the ashes of Syria and Iraq.
The West, particularly the U.K. and France, owe it to the Kurds to recognize Kurdistan’s independence and not push it back into Arab subservience.