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Cassandra Gonzales

A People Without a State: The Story of the Kurdish People

- The Kurds are considered the largest stateless nation, making up the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East.

A People Without a State: The Story of the Kurdish People

The Kurds are considered the largest stateless nation, making up the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East. Its origin dates back to the year 2,500 B.C. when its inhabitants settled in the region comprised by Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. In Turkey it is estimated that there are between 15 and 20 million Kurds, in Iran between 10 and 12 million while in Iraq there are between 8 and 8.5 million Kurds, finally Syria has the lowest proportion with 3.6 million Kurds.

The remaining population is distributed in countries such as Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Their official language is of Indo-European origin and depends on the territory in which they are. For example, most Kurds in Turkey speak Kurmanji, but in the northwest of the Kurdish-dominated area (eg Tunceli and Elazig provinces) Zaza is also spoken.

Kurdistan is defined as a historical and cultural space, it means the land of the Kurds. Although Kurds inhabit at least three different geographical areas within the Middle East as a result of forced displacement, the geographical area known as Kurdistan is located mainly in the mountainous areas of eastern Anatolia, the Zagros range, as well as some valleys and plateaus. adjacent Upper Mesopotamia.

For centuries this territory was divided between the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire, after the First World War and as a result of the Sykes-Picott agreements (1916) and the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), it was divided between four new nation-states : Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

During the war between the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire in the 18th century, the Kurds supported the Ottomans, as they promised them greater autonomy. Even at the end of the First World War, the allies stipulated in section III, article 64 of the Treaty of Sèvres, the Kurdistan question and basically the Kurdish people are guaranteed their independence in one year. However, with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the birth of Turkey as a Republic, the new Turkish government did not want to cede part of its territory and sovereignty to the aspirations of the Kurdish people.

The Kurdish people have made several attempts over the years to create an independent state. In 1922, the Kingdom of Kurdistan was established in what is now Iraq, but it was dismantled in 1924 by the United Kingdom. Later, in 1927, the Kurdish Republic of Ararat was proclaimed as a result of an uprising in southeastern Turkey, but it was overthrown three years later by the Turkish army.

In the same way, in 1946 the independence of the Republic of Kurdistan was proclaimed, which would have its capital in Mahabad by the Iranian Kurds with the support of the Soviet Union, although it was reintegrated into Iran again. The history of the Kurdish people has been subject to violence and lack of recognition by the States that host them, who see their territorial integrity compromised. In response to the lack of support from the international community, independence movements have emerged among the Kurdish people. Among them, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which since 1978 has been demanding the creation of an independent state within Turkey.

Since its inception it was led by Abdullah Ocalan and is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey. Initially the organization professed a Marxist-Leninist political ideology, which stressed the need for a radical transformation of the social and political organization of Kurdish society.

After the Turkish coup in 1980, members of the PKK went into exile in the Bekaa Valley under Syrian supervision. International support was demonstrated mainly during the Syrian civil war, the United States took the opportunity to provide support against the Islamic State (Sanz, 2021). During the Gulf War (1990-1991) an estimated 1.5 million Kurds fled to Turkey and as a result the nation closed its borders, leaving Kurdish refugees stranded and waiting for safety.

In 1992, the Iraqi Kurdistan Front held parliamentary and presidential elections resulting in the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). In 2013, Erdogan invited KRG President Massoud Barzani to Diyarbakir, the de facto Kurdish capital of Turkey. Said historical rapprochement made the KRG a key ally of Turkey, in addition, in March of the same year a peace process with the PKK had begun in a way that benefited the Turkish national interest.

However, Barzani's 2017 announcement to hold a referendum outraged Erdogan as well as Baghdad and Tehran. As a result, the Iraqi government, with support from Iranian, Turkish and US forces, occupied Kirkuk along with other disputed territories, closed the two KRG international airports and surrounded KRG border crossings.

In the historical context of the Kurdish conflict, several events have been distinguished, such as the "Kurdish opening" in 2015, the breakdown of the ceasefire between Turkey and the PKK in July 2015, the withdrawal of US troops from Syria in 2018 and the incursion of Turkey in Syrian Kurdistan in October 2019. The Kurdish people have served the interests of the powers under the promise of international recognition, a State, a territory and freedom. However, Kurdish aspirations do not seem to have accurate results through diplomacy or cooperation due to the constant past of conflicts and broken promises.


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Gonzales, Cassandra. “Un pueblo sin Estado: La historia del pueblo kurdo.” CEMERI, 8 sept. 2022,