For many years now, I have been asking myself and especially political figures, why is it that 5.1 million stateless Palestinian Arabs deserve statehood, while 29,360,000 stateless Kurds have been denied the same privilege?
Cynically speaking, it appears as if the involvement of Jews in the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs, pervasive anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere and, the influence of oil rich Arab states on behalf of the Palestinian Arabs, has elevated the Palestinian cause above that of the Kurds.
Amidst the turmoil and violence Iraq has experienced since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his Baathist regime, Iraqi Kurdistan seems to be a relative island of tranquility and progress. Fighting between the Kurdish factions of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) led by Jalal Talabani (currently the president of Iraq) and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) led by Masoud Barzani came to an end in the 1990’s. In January 2006, the two parties agreed to unify their separate governments. On May 7, 2006, the 111-member National Kurdistan Council – the Kurdish Parliament – voted unanimously in favor a unified government. Barzani was elected as president of the region. Under the unification agreement, both the president and the prime minister will be from the KDP while their deputies and the speaker of the parliament will be from the PUK.
It is in the areas under Kurdish control that elements of a modern state can be observed: defined borders, an elected parliament, a government, common language and culture, a flag, a capital (Erbil), a reasonably modern army with command and control, diplomatic and consular representations by and in Kurdistan, an international airport, a bustling economy and above all, Iraqi Kurdistan has a strong sense of identity.
Unlike most other parts of Iraq or the Arab Middle East, Kurdistan is far more democratic, secular and moderately Islamic. Women participate in national life and civil society is vibrant. The Kurdish parliament has recently outlawed polygamy - a practice common throughout the Arab world. The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has also adopted English as its second language, after Kurdish, and relegated Arabic to third place. Since 1991 many of its youngsters have grown up speaking only Kurdish and, increasingly less and less Kurds speak Arabic.
British and French machinations prevented the establishment of an independent Kurdish state following WWI and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. The Treaty of Sevres in 1920, considered the creation of a Kurdish state however, France and Britain divided Ottoman Kurdistan between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It was formalized under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.
The neighboring states with large Kurdish minorities, and Turkey in particular, oppose Kurdish independence. Turkey fears that its 15 million Kurds might want to join an independent Iraqi Kurdistan. Syria’s 1.5 million Kurds located in Northeastern Syria adjacent to Iraqi Kurdistan have been “ethnically cleansed” by the Baathist regime of the Assads in Damascus. Arabs have been sent by Damascus to the Hasakeh Kurdish province after the discovery of oil, displacing the native Kurds. Iran’s 6 million Kurds are largely contiguous to Iraqi Kurdistan and Tehran's mullahs are not comfortable with an independent Kurdish state, they prefer a Shiite led unitary government in Baghdad they can control.
The Arab Sunni Saddamites are fiercely opposed to an independent Kurdistan, federalized Iraq, or even an autonomous Kurdish region, while the neighboring Arab states (and the Arab League) fear the creation of another non-Arab state in the region.
Considering the persecution and genocide Kurds suffered under Saddam Hussein and the Baath party, Iraqi Kurds have more than a legitimate claim to independence. Saddam's gassing of the Kurdish village of Halabja in 1988, murdering 5000 men, women and children immediately, and 12,000 in the next three days, makes Kurdish demands for separation from Arab Iraq understandable. The Bush Sr. administration encouraged the Kurds to rebel against Saddam, and when they rose up the U.S. abandoned them to Saddam's brutality, resulting in the killing of thousands and the displacing of many more thousands of Kurds. The U.S. is morally obligated to support Kurdish choices, particularly since the Kurds are America's best friend in Iraq.
The Kurdish Regional Government has presented its demands to the Iraqi government, which include adding the city Kirkuk (an oil producing city) to its region and other areas with a Kurdish majority, as a condition for its remaining part of Iraq. If, however, a civil war between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq should flare up, the Kurds have declared that they might consider secession. Additionally, the Kurds will bolt out of Iraq should it be dominated by an Islamist government.
The largest obstacle to Kurdish independence is Turkey’s threat to close its border and airspace to Iraqi Kurdistan, thus preventing the flow of trade and commerce. It is America's role (since the U.N. will not do it) to pressure Turkey to allow self-determination for the Kurds just as it has pressured Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. If America is honest in its belief in self-determination for all people, than the Kurds, much more than the Palestinians, deserve their independence. An independent Kurdish State and a similar independent Shia and Sunni states in Iraq, might be America's best exit policy for an artificial state (Iraq) created by British colonial and commercial ambitions.
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